Life With My Elder
By Deborah J. Adler, > >
one who also is known as U’tana A’qua No gi’ Su
Noted journalist Bill Moyers recently wrote: “Consider yourself among the fortunate
of the world if you have just one friend …who tells you the truth when the world is seducing you with flattery, or when
it lets fly its slings and arrows, reassures you those things, too, shall pass.”
Such is the presence of Grandmother Pa’ris’Ha in my life. In the past
eighteen years of my association with this great teacher I have come to learn through experience that personal growth cannot
be accomplished from the “sidelines.” In other words, any personal growth that is heavy on intellectualizing and
short in putting principles into action is self-deception. Furthermore, personal growth is not a “solo” sport. It’s
a “team” deal. It requires a coach, i.e. a reflection that, just like the mirror, shows it “like
it is”- with no distortion, no effort to cover up or deny that which it sees.
I invited Grandmother Pa’Ris’Ha into my life eighteen years ago to be
such a reflection for me because I wanted to reach my full potential as a human being, as a child of God, God expressing on
this earth. I am human, and as such, I am prone to self-deception and bias, particularly when growth becomes uncomfortable,
which all growth is. Alone, I can justify holding back or pulling back rather than stretching – especially
when it’s going to hurt – for a multitude of reasons (all of which fear-based). But my “coach” is
there to remind me of my commitment to excellence and to stay on me to go the distance. Why? 1.) Because I asked
her to. That’s the role I asked her to play in my life, and, 2.) Because I stay “in the game”
and don’t give up on myself.
As my mentor, my coach, Pa’ris’Ha cannot force me to do anything, and
cannot make me care enough to go the distance on my commitment. But so long as I am in there giving it my best
effort, she is along side of me pushing, encouraging, nurturing. If she observes that I am not giving my best effort
or appear to be giving up on myself, she will ask, “Is this it? Are you quitting?” As long as I say
“No” she stays in the game with me. That’s our agreement.
the road seems longer than I think I can make, and that’s when she tells me if I can’t make it on my own faith,
walk on hers – that she has enough for both of us. Anyone who has ever run a marathon knows, and that’s what a
commitment to spiritual growth is – a perpetual marathon – that at some point about three-quarters of the way
into the race, your muscles are straining, every fiber of your being is beset with doubt as to whether you can keep going
another step; your mind is taunting you with “Give it up. It’s not worth the price.” In that
moment of truth you either pull out or find the resolve you need to keep going. Once I show the resolve to keep
going, Pa’Ris’Ha is relentless in helping me to get to the finish.
If I look as though I am growing
dependent, I can expect a loud and distancing silence that lets me know very clearly I have my own work to do, and I have
to be the one to do it. She’s not there to carry me. Some teachers gather up “followers.” Pa’Ris’Ha
trains and works only with leaders. She constantly challenges us to walk to the right and the left of her, not behind her.
Some are too squeamish to work with an Elder. As
a reflection, an Elder’s observations are not always “pretty” – but they are, as the mirror shows,
100% accurate. Although scathing at times, I still find
my Elder’s directness refreshing in comparison to the “smoke and mirrors” bullshit I have seen come from
some who call themselves “teachers.” They are more concerned
with being liked than truly aiding their students’ growth. Ask any good Drill Instructor – being “liked”
is nowhere in their consciousness. Putting their recruits through the paces required to “toughen them up”
for the job ahead is top priority. There’s no room for soft-peddling information or falling
short on physical conditioning. Lives hang in the balance. It’s no less a critical need in the realm of spiritual growth.
Help a person to deceive themselves, and you may well be aiding and abetting their death.
An Elder, a gifted Coach or Mentor, is like a skilled surgeon who, when approaching
the removal of a cancer, knows they must remove it all. Their patient has asked that of them, and has trust in their capabilities.
There can be no half-measures to be effective. And like the dedicated surgeon, who once the removal of harmful elements is
complete remains to see the reconstructive part of the surgery through to completion, so is Pa’ris’Ha right there
after the “tearing down” phase with her hand outstretched to say “now let’s rebuild together.” She
is loving and nurturing and thorough. Any mother or father who has had to step between their beloved and imminent danger has
been such a presence in their children’s lives.
An Elder is a master of “roles.” If I have mother issues, the
Elder takes on that role so I can encounter myself and my behavior. The Elder becomes “The Ogre” to
help us face the hideous sides of ourselves and heal that which stands between us and true spiritual growth.
Pa’Ris’Ha is real. I have traveled to many places with her
as part of the Society of Yunsai over the years. I was there when she returned to her homeland of Cherokee N.C., after many
years absence. I was there on another occasion when her own mother traveled with a group of us to Cherokee to re-establish
her connection with a homeland that she had been in denial of for many years. We sat in respect of this woman in her own process
of self-discovery and self-healing as she shared childhood memories of her full-blooded Cherokee mother (the Grandmother who
raised Pa’Ris’Ha and taught her the ways of the Traditional People.)
Her mother shared with us her regret that she had rejected what her mother had offered
her and also expressed her gratitude that her daughter, Pa’Ris’Ha, had been there to learn those ways from the
People don’t fake moments like that. Those were heartfelt, sincere
revelations of a woman who had been touched by the memory of home. A woman nearing the end of her time, on a spiritual pilgrimage.
that Pa’Ris’Ha is not Cherokee are absurd. What are those claims based on? That she’s not on
the government rolls? Her grandmother refused to be registered by the government. Pa’Ris’Ha refused
to be registered by the government.
In the late 1980’s I researched the inner workings of one of the American Indian
Centers outside of Cleveland. I discovered that “green cards” – the documentation proving a person is at
least one-quarter “pure American Indian” – were being sold for $100 to anyone who wanted to become a “genuine
blood Indian.” So those government roles mean nothing. They show who registered. They cannot authenticate
a person’s heritage, or blood lineage. To claim that a person’s absence from the roles infers, or worse, “proves”
a person’s lack of a claim to blood lineage is pure ignorance.
Hundreds of southeastern woodlands
people fled into the forests at the time of the “Great Removal” of the Cherokee People to Oklahoma by the U.S.
government. It stands to reason, in order to stay in this part of the country without persecution that people of Cherokee
descent would not admit to being Cherokee, much less “register” themselves
as “Indians” with the government. At that time in our country's history and social and political climate, the social stigma
of being an indian was greater than the prejudices which existed pervasively against Negros.
On another visit to Cherokee with Pa’Ris’Ha and a group of associates
of the Yunsai Society, we were sitting around a campfire site at a place where we had rented cabins for the week. A
young woman who was the owner’s daughter approached us one afternoon and spoke to Pa’Ris’Ha. She had brought
out a number of beautifully hand-carved wooden animals and objects that her grandfather had made. She wanted to show us because
she had overheard our conversation about ancient symbols. She asked Grandmother if she would teach her the stories
of the carvings.
As Pa’Ris’Ha shared the meanings of the various symbols carved by the
grandfather, the young woman eye’s sparkled with life, like a fire kindled from within. She shared that for years she
couldn’t ask her grandfather about the carvings - that he wouldn’t talk about them. No one, she said, talked about
their Cherokee heritage because it was a stigma not talked about. It was something to hide. She shared that there
were others like herself who hungered to know about their heritage, but there was no one to teach them. She came to Grandmother
asking for all of them.
What Pa’Ris’Ha teaches was “given to be given.” Those
who taught her charged her with the responsibility of passing on the knowledge to those who came responsibly seeking. As to
the legitimacy of her heritage, she is known and respected as an Elder amongst Traditionalist Indigenous Peoples on all continents.
She will not identify those people because it would violate their privacy, indeed their safety, and would be considered “vulgar”
in the ways of her people.
I can tell you I have been present on numerous occasions to witness her reception
by some of those Traditionalists. She is honored and respected. Her counsel is sought in matters affecting the People, as
well as the planet. She is trusted as a fierce warrior and guardian of all that is Sacred. She is trusted because they know
she will not betray them, even to fend off attackers and critics. She stands in her Truth. That is real.
Pa’Ris’Ha is a powerful teacher, healer, world leader. She is recognized
as such in many circles. Powerful people attract powerful opposition. In fact she teaches that one can measure the power of
the commitment they have made by the force of the opposition that comes back to it.
I have witnessed Pa’Ris’Ha walk into a group of detractors, greet them
warmly and genuinely, and in a matter of minutes, totally disarm their arguments and hostility with simple Truth. She faces
the opposition, as she teaches us, in faith and, embraces it as an opportunity to be the Peacekeeper. She walks her talk.
I know. I have worked alongside Grandmother Pa’Ris’Ha for 18 years. My
name is Deborah Adler. I am also known as U’tana A’qua No gi’ Su. I am a songbird, a writer, a teacher,
a healer, a minister, a businesswoman, a spiritual archeologist. I consider myself privileged to know Pa’Ris’Ha
as Elder, Sister, Associate, and Friend.
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