How do we come to know?

"Western education predisposes us to think of knowledge in terms of factual information...By contrast, within the indigenous world the act of coming to know something involves personal transformation."

from F. David Peat, Blackfoot Physics: A Journey Into the Native American Universe

This brings up a quandary I always have when teaching within a western system: how do I bridge this?


mj said...

Facts and information can be wonderful catalysts for personal transformation if they are woven into the fabric of your thinking. I have experienced a great deal of tranformation from the way I allow the information I acquire to become part of my unfolding narative.

The issue, I think, is whether the information is the king or merely a cabinet member.

So you acquire information....and then what? What's it for? What do you do with it?

Learning has to be more than hanging pretty wallpaper in your mind.

Sarah said...

I prefer to discuss (orient around) the 'common sense' that things are not 'nouns', but rather 'verbs'. At least with america english, people seem to get a glimpse.

Cindy said...

I think one way to bridge the gap is to teach the stories. I teach college English, and when we begin to explicate, I use poems from Joy Harjo and the short stories by Sandra Cisneros. Here, we can begin to look at language from a point of reference separate from the rules of langauge.


Inspiring Newsletter said...

Malidoma Some teaches Westerners how to enter into a kind of indigenousness frequently. What I think his approach tends to focus on is empowering Westerners to use their/our own medicine gifts in a serious way, and that works to the degree that people are ready to be serious. Those who aren't aren't, and it's not hte teacher's job to impose difficulties on them without their consent; but there are plenty who are ready and desperate to engage deeply and change deeply...anyway, we are all indigenous people, and we all know things in a non-fact-based way, we just don't know we know this way, we're in the habit of doing a lot of other things instead and have to unlearn those. Btu all of us have ancestors who did ritual and lived in community with the other world and considered the unborn and the elderly and the dead. None of us would be here if we didn't have ancestors like that. We all have the privilege of calling on an ancestral line that carried some medicine at some point somewhere. The other thing Malidoma does is to tell his own story and to share his own poetry, and this is what you (Joy Harjo) do and what I try to do. Although I'm a Westerner, I am also an indigenous person, and when I share my story, if I'm honest about what's going on, i have to include the parts of myself in the narrative that dont' conform to linearity and thinking and domestication. So I see sharing my story as a service too, even if I'm not any kind of authority on the medicine of my ancestors or of Malidoma's ancestors or anything. But I've learned what my own story is only by hearing Malidoma share his story many times, and by being surrounded by indigenous people for a sustained period of time in Africa. Also by engaging in doing ritual myself, by making the choice to dive into that world, whatever the risks might be--but it started with Malidoma sharing his stories and his poetry, his way of lookign at rthings, his way of navigating language, this popped my head open. And ulitmately you cna't do this within a Western system, because some of the students are there for money or prestige, not for their own spirits...but some of them are there for their own spirits, and those are the ones you can teach. That's my long-winded two cents, couldn't resist chiming in since this is a topic I"ve thought about frequently.

One last thought, I think it helps to find people right the way they are, I think it's a modern habit to find things wrong and try to correct them, and a long time ago people mostly found things right exactly as they were and then changed them as spirit moved them to, as desire moved them to, not as a cognitive idea of how they ought to be different from how they were might have motivated them. This articulation of this idea of finding things right must be credited to Victor Baranco. I think it's the way the Dagara live, or lived, or tended to live.

Joy said...

Thanks "Marci" for your deep and insightful comment--as you said, "long and personal", so I'm not posting it completely. However I am posting this part of it.

"From Marion Woodman, on the Definition of the Soul.

" The soul for me, is the divine part of us that is embodied in this physical form for a few years. Eventually it is released, but I see the soul as the embodiement part. I see pirity as the energy, the formless energy that can come in union in the body. Example; A grat dancer like Nureyey can prepare his instruent. His muscles can be in perfect shape through his attention and his concentration. So, his consciouness, his light in his body. . .which for me is the soul. . .can be a perfect instrument. But, he's a great dancer when spirit is in union with that instrument. The leap is in the union of soul and spirit. In order for this to occur there must be soul work. Soul work is about the soul becoming strong enough to accept the union. If it is weak, or if the body is not conscious, the spirit could come in an casue a psychotic episode. It's like a Rolle Royce enegine in a Volkswagen car. I think of the soul as feminine because it's the receiver, in both men and women. The artist, the poet, the muscian has to have a receiver and just hope to God that the Spirit will come and touch into soul so there will be a poem come of the union or a piece of music or art. It's in that surrender to the transcendent, that art is created.

Amma tells a little story of asking a great Indian muscian, How he learned to play so beautifully. This was his response. First i spent years learning my instrument and i mastered it, then i spent many more years learning the theory of music, and i mastered that, then i picked up my instrument and played from the deep that is within me.

Joy... pray be it is time for you to just play."

Yes, for all of us to...play.

Cassie Premo Steele said...

Hi Joy,

I am teaching Native American women's writing this summer using your Reinventing anthology at the University of South Carolina, where you will be visiting this fall.

The quote from David Peat struck me because I have definitely seen this at work in my students... they are learning by being transformed. One of them wrote in one of her response papers that she's learned more from the class than she had in her whole education.

I look forward to meeting you when you are here.

All best,