By Mike Myers
I recently had a conversation with my brother about a workshop he attended focused on “Conscious Discipline” which is described as: “Conscious Discipline® is built on the premise of developing discipline within children rather than applying discipline to them. The Conscious Discipline process applies equally to parents, child care givers, educators, and patient caregivers.”
His comment was that it was interesting that this was something “new” to non-Indigenous folks but actually deeply engrained in our Teachings and original systems of child growth and development. What ensued was a lively discussion of how these Teachings underline some very key and important Indigenous understandings of how not only individual, but societal and national development has occurred and can be the foundations of nation re-building once again.
What we explored was the understanding of “Conscious Intent” that is a parallel and equally important element of growth and development. These two elements are not being positioned as an “either/or” proposition but rather as two (and possibly more) complimentary dynamics that are demonstrated in our philosophies and world-view starting with our Creation Stories.
There are many variations on the Beginning but the Creation Stories I’ve heard all have the concept of Conscious Intent woven into them in the form of the Conscious Intent of the Creative Powers. As these Teachings evolve and expand the concept of Conscious Discipline emerges.
The Creative Powers are expressed as dualities or “twins”. None is more important than the others and each has a vital and important contribution to make. These dualities consist of Male/Female, Positive/Negative, Seen/Unseen, Known/Unknown, Mind/Heart, Physical/Spirit, and Light/Dark. They are often described as an Energy Entity — an Entity whose existence is manifested through all of them.
At some point this Entity comes to understand Loneliness, that it is the only thing in the whole of the Universe. In arriving at that understanding it also begins to understand the twin is Relations and having relations forms its Conscious Intent to bring about a fundamental change in the Universe. In one version the Teaching describes how its Male element joins with its Mind element to begin to initiate change. But before it can begin its Female element joins with the Heart element to say that Male/Thought cannot travel alone but must be accompanied by Female/Heart or no change will occur.
From this initial spark of consciousness all of the other elements also become involved in the process of initiating this great change. And so it is that as we look about we can see how all of them are continuously present in our lives.
In the 1977 Haudenosaunee position paper Spiritualism, the Highest Form of Political Consciousness: The Haudenosaunee Message to the Western World this understanding and belief is stated as follows: “Ours is a Way-of-Life. We believe that all living things are spiritual beings. Spirits can be expressed as energy forms manifested in matter. A blade of grass is an energy form manifested in matter — grass matter. The spirit of the grass is that unseen force which produces the species of grass, and it is manifested to us in the form of real grass.”
Everything that exists in the Physical Realm is a direct expression of the Conscious Intent of the Creative Forces that there exists a place in the Universe where Humans can come into existence and have a good life. This also gives rise to another set of Twins — Uniformity/Diversity.
Trees have a certain Uniformity of existence — they have trunks, limbs and roots. And at the very same moment they express incredible Diversity. Again, one does not exist without the other.
In the realm of Humans there is one major difference from all of the other Beings. And that is the kind of Mind we were given. Within it there exists what has come to be called “free will”. Of all of the Beings existing in the Physical Realm, humans are the only ones who can see and exercise options. And our history shows us this is why Conscious Discipline had to come into existence to counter act Unconscious Discipline.
Our growth and evolution has shown that we are very capable of getting ourselves into a lot of trouble by not exercising Conscious Discipline. We live within realms of what can be called “laws” – the Laws of Creation, and the Laws of the Land. The Laws of Creation could also be seen as the Laws of Physics. They’re very similar but they also have differences.
The Laws of the Land are specific to the bio-region one is born into. While there are similarities differences arise because of the makeup of the bio-region – desert versus forest, arctic versus jungle, etc.
Unconscious human behaviour triggered the need for the development of two additional sets of “laws” or “protocols”. These are expressed in the various bodies of laws humans have developed and they’re reinforced through ceremony and spiritual processes.
Our Teachings tell us that at the moment of conception our Ancestors gather around and give us gifts to bring to the Physical Realm – we do not come here empty handed. We arrive here possessing potential and promise and it’s the responsibility of those who are here before us to provide the resources and access needed to empower and animate this potential.
Another important principle in our Teachings is the idea that Choice is Sacred. This principle is fundamental self-determination. Exercising Choice is always contextual, such as: is this an individual choice, or is it a choice within a larger context such as family or community or nation? Developing our ability to make and exercise responsible, balanced choices are part and parcel of our development and growth.
When our societies were complete each person had the opportunity to grow up immersed in all of this. From the time one could comprehend language they began receiving the Teachings. As one grew their life experiences and opportunities built on these lessons. The goal was the development of a competent and principled adult who could fulfill their promise and potential.
The 21st Century presents us with a lot of challenges. One of my chiefs once told me, “Being an Indian is hard in this day and age. We face things our ancestors never had to.” I don’t believe there is a day that doesn’t go by where we have to look deep into our Teachings, values, beliefs and principles for inspiration on how to address an issue.
This is made difficult because there aren’t any of us who haven’t been impacted by the colonialism and oppression. All of us have experienced to some degree the disruption of our Indigenous Spirit and Being.
One of the cornerstones of Haudenosaunee philosophy and belief is the concept of Kah:nii-guhn-liiyo – the state of the Good Mind. This concept does not apply only to the mind but the overall state of the seven elements we identify as crucial to holistic healing and wellness – the Mind, Body, Heart, Spirit, Environment, Society and Fundamental Relations.
Central to this concept are the Conscious Intentions and Conscious Disciplines we function within as we go about our life. While it is true that we face and deal with situations and conditions that our ancestors never conceived of, it is equally true that by exercising Conscious Intention and Conscious Discipline we can move away from the overly negative factors and empower the positive factors in our lives.
There are situation such as what is occurring in the Standing Rock territory. Indigenous peoples who understand and believe in the Fundamental Relations between ourselves as our relatives in the Natural World are expressing their Conscious Intention to defend those relatives. They are facing forces who seem to be devoid of any form on Consciousness which means we have to exercise a high degree of Conscious Discipline as choices are explored and made on how to go forward.
Mike Myers is a Wolf Clan citizen of the Seneca Nation originally from the Cattaraugus Territory. He has been active in Indigenous issues for more 40 years and was the Coordinator for Indigenous delegations at the 1977 UN Conference on the Issues of Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. He is the founder and CEO of Network for Native Futures.