After a summer supper of fresh greens, corn, peaches—all of my favorite things and most of them straight from my friends' garden—the high mountain air is growing chill. Bears in the wild dark will begin to roam. We move inside as the guests of honor reach for their guitars and jump into song as though there is nothing else that could please them more. I've been invited to join this group of organizers and performers headlining the Indigenous Ways Music Festival in Santa Fe, musicians from different nations who yet share a common musical language and spirit.
Sage Bond has driven all day from the reservation in Arizona where she lives. She rucks up her beautiful face and pelts high raw power notes across the ceiling; they ripple down and curtain us not only in sound, but something flung from her soul. Keith Secola—the so-named Bruce Springsteen of the Indigenous music world—is as bad-ass a rock star as you'd hope for; his hard face carved with canyons and infinite kindness. He backs up Sage on his flute; two tribal lawyers take up the drums and rain stick. Magic. When Keith rolls into his biggest hit, Indian (NDN) Car, the small group of us can't help but jump up and dance. A plaintive song of freedom is offered up by a Maori artist and signed for the deaf because—though there are no deaf with us—the signing is itself a kind of music painting the air—a haunting beauty, at least in this man's hands.
Sage Bond, Keith Secola
These new friends have all known the sharp angles of the world, and yet have managed to shape them into a circle of gratitude. And to include me in that circle, though I am nothing but lucky to be here.
At the time, I was reading about The Thanksgiving Address—a river of words as old as the nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy who recite it—known more accurately in their Onondaga language as The Words That Come Before All Else.
At the beginning of every gathering and every week of school, young students and adults alike pause to recite—not the Pledge of Allegiance (liberty and justice for all having eluded them)—but in a language older than English, a litany greeting all members of the natural world—the Earth, Waters, Fish, Plants, Animals, Trees, Medicine Herbs, Winds, Thunderers, Sun/Moon/Stars, Enlightened Teachers, The Creator—each, with gratitude. The recitation is long, taking the freshest moments of morning to bend attention toward each gift that is already ours.
Although this practice is rooted among people living in the NorthEast, gratitude has shaped indigenous cultures across this land. Gratitude shapes the brain as well, research now tells us, opening up the limbic system so that happy chemicals can run wild. When gratitude is the first word and the last, everything in between is enough.
Deidra Peaches, video
I drive home from dinner in silence, the music echoing from some deep well in my interior. I recall the candid, confident greeting of each guest, locking my eyes in true meeting; a clarity of presence, a generosity of spirit - all of which - I'm imagining, stands on the practice of gratitude. I try to imagine our nation's leaders beginning each session of Congress with this kind of Thanksgiving recitation. Or corporations, Monday at 8am. Starting with the enough which is already ours, and moving forward from that amplitude, together.
Now, more than ever, I want to stand on the ground of gratitude. I want to start this day, and every day, with a heart holding the grace of all that is given, singing the words that come before all else. . . I want, in this life, to shape myself into one clear note, flung to the sky, in the music of thanksgiving.
All the best,