The Hollowing of Humanity

By Ken Wells - 08/05/2022


Series Three: Blog Forty-Eight

Every person born in this world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique”. -Martin Buber

There is an old Blackfoot buffalo legend that speaks to the sacred nature of living things. The tribe could not get the buffalo herd to stampede over a cliff in order to provide meat. The buffalo would approach the cliff and then turn aside. It looked as though the Blackfoot would not have meat for the winter

As the story goes Minnehala, the daughter of one of the chiefs, got up early one morning to draw water for the family. She looked up and just above where she was standing near the cliff were the buffalo. She said “Oh, if you would only come over I would marry one of you!”

To her surprise they all began to walk over to her. One of the old buffalos, the shaman of the herd said “Alright, I’ll take you up and off we go!” Minnehala cried out “Oh, no!” But, the shaman buffalo replied “Oh, yes! You made your promise. We’ve kept our side of the bargain and off we go!”

Later in the morning the family got up and wondered what happened to Minnehala? The father looks around and determined by tracking the footsteps that she had run off with a buffalo. So he decided to get her back. He put on his walking moccasins and with his bow and arrow went looking for Minnehala. He walked a great distance and came to a buffalo wallow. The wallow was a place that buffalo would roll around in the mud to get the lice off their backs.

While he wondered what direction to go next a magpie flew up to him. The magpie had magical powers. The father spoke “Oh beautiful bird, my daughter ran off with a herd of buffalo, have you seen her?” The magpie replied, “there is a beautiful girl sitting with buffalo not too far away from where we are right now!” To that the father asked the magpie to go tell her that her father was at the wallow. So the magpie flew and told Minnehala that her father was at the wallow while the buffalo were asleep. Minnehala responded “Oh no, this is very dangerous. The buffalo will kill us all! Tell my father to wait and I will try to work things out”. Soon, her buffalo husband woke up, took off a horn and told Minnehala “Go to the wallow and get me some water”. So Minnehala went to the wallow where her father was to get the water. Her father urged her to escape. But, Minnehala knew that the buffalo would track them down and kill them. So she returned to the herd in an attempt to figure something out. When she returned her buffalo husband determined that he could smell the presence of her father nearby. He summoned all the buffalo and alerted them to the danger. The buffalo gathered and did a buffalo dance. They then went to the wallow and trampled Minnehala’s father to death until his mangled body almost entirely disappeared. Minnehala cried. Her buffalo husband said “why are you crying?” She said “This was my father!”  The buffalo said “But what about us? We have children and family. You cry for your father, but you don’t cry for us!” However, the buffalo husband had some compassion and sympathy and told Minnehala that if she could bring her father back to life again, he would let her go!”

So, Minnehala turned to the magpie and told him to find a piece of her father’s remains. The magpie could only find a small piece of backbone. Minnehala took the piece of bone laid it on the ground and placed a blanket over it. She began to sing a magical song with great power. As she sung, her father was resurrected underneath the blanket. The buffalo were amazed and asked Minnehala, “Why don’t you do this for us? We will teach you our buffalo dance and when you have killed our families, do this dance and sing this song, and we will all be brought back to life again”.

This Blackfoot legend points to the evolution of sacred life among animals and human beings. The story emphasizes the sacredness of relationship between all living things. The cycle of life requests a sacred ritual that highlights the value of life given so that other life can live. It points to the sacred death, burial and resurrection of all living things.

Martin Buber in his classic work “I and Thou” underscores the sacredness of life. Buber explains the sacred nature when a human being recognizes the mutual uniqueness and value of other life. It involves a process of cultivated sacred respect for the other, both human, animal and plant. When the relationship between people and all living things is valued, there is a certain “I-thou” significance that gives reverence to the cycle of life. Buber also defines the “I-It” relationship as one of objectification. Others are treated as an object completely outside of ourselves. There is an emphasis on others viewed as objects to be used.  Treating life as an “it” destroys the sacred quality of life force.

Addiction is symptomatic to the development of “I-it” relationships. Craving reduces everything and everyone to a simple means to an end which is to get high.  The only thing that matters is to get what you want when you want it. The entire worldview for an addict can be defined as an “I-it” relationship.

Historically, the Blackfoot Native American lost its sacred relationship to the buffalo when white men stormed the prairies with an “I-it” mentality and mercilessly slaughtered thousands of buffalo for their hides. They left their meat to rot in the sun. The Blackfoot lost their food supply and their central object for ritual life.

Extreme consumerism, war and political infighting all come from an “I-it” mentality. Few credible scientists doubt the reality of global warming and most agree that our “I-it” way of objectifying the planet is doing irreparable harm with the result of a bleak future for the generations that follow us.

The ego that sees a “thou” in life force is not the same ego that sees an it. Your whole psychology changes when you address existence as an “it”. When countries go to war they must make the enemy an “it”. Death count of the enemy is a statistical “it”. Treating people, plants and animals as “I-thou” is impossible in the presence of rotting, infected egos that promote “I-it”. People are objects to be controlled and enemies to conquer. Suffering and loss of life is only referred to as casualties.

Addiction recovery requires that we create an “I-thou” relationship to ourselves and others in the world we live. In our world, may we remember the legend of the Blackfoot and return to the sacred treatment of all living things.

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