Shlomi Nissim

As I was reading the many myths and tales recounted in the Handbook of Native American Mythology, I wondered if I was going to find my favorite story, one I could own, and finally I did. It was listed under “Transformers.” Here it is, in its entirety, the story of a White Wolf Woman:

Sometimes the change takes place in a person’s spirit long before it is made evident by a physical transformation.

Once, long ago, a young Zuni woman was captured by a Navajo raiding party. She was tied to the back of a horse and the group galloped back to the Navajo village. The young woman was taken to the home of a Navajo man to become his younger wife. However, by the second night, she chose to sleep alone outside. Very early the next morning, when the young woman awoke, she found the older wife standing beside her. The Navajo woman offered the Zuni girl a blanket, food, and container of water, and then pointed to the east where the sky was just beginning to turn light. The Zuni girl gratefully took the items and ran from the Navajo village toward the rising sun.

She ran quickly through the underbrush and covered her tracks when she walked on sandy riverbanks. Finally she reached the top of a high mesa and looked back in the direction she had traveled. No one was following her, so she unwrapped the package of food and ate it all and drank most of the water. After the refreshing meal and rest, the Zuni girl began to run again until evening. She dug into the ground under a large tree and slept in the depression. Later, when she awoke, she was hungry again, but found that she’d consumed all of her food on the mesa. Then she tried the water container, but it, too, was empty. The girl was frightened, cold, and tired, but she got up and began running toward home again.

Another night came and she fell asleep huddled under the Navajo blanket. Snow fell and covered the ground. When she awoke, the girl pushed the cold, wet blanket away and started running again. However, exhaustion soon caught up with her and she collapsed on the snowy ground. A large, white, furry animal came to examine her nearly lifeless body. The animal looked toward the heavens and let out a spine-tingling howl and trotted off. The girl tried to sit up, but collapsed again. The white wolf returned quickly, pulling a freshly killed animal. He pulled it up over the girl to give her warmth. Then the wolf tore off a piece of the prey’s flesh and pushed it into the girl’s mouth. She ate the raw meat and was grateful for the warmth of the dead animal covering her.

When she had recovered the young girl began running toward home once more. She ran all day and again collapsed in the snow when her strength was gone. Soon the white wolf found her and lay in the snow beside her to keep her warm. For four more days the two traveled together toward the east. On the morning of the fifth day, the girl could see her village and ran down the slope toward it with the white wolf running beside her. The girl called out to the people who only stared at the strange sight. She told them her name and how happy she was to have returned home. Some men grabbed their bows and arrows and pointed them toward her and the wolf. The girl stopped suddenly, confused by what she saw. The men ordered her to move away from the wolf so they could kill it. Just then the girl realized that the men thought the wolf was chasing her. “No! Stop! This wolf saved me and brought me home.”

The men lowered their bows. As they approached her, the wolf disappeared and the girl sank to the ground. She was carried to her father’s home. When the girl awoke she was lying on the floor next to her father’s corpse. As she looked around, she realized the house had been stripped bare. Her father had died while she was gone and no one was there to prepare his body for burial. Tenderly she washed her father’s hair, dressed him, and covered him with a blanket. No one spoke to her as she made her preparations, nor while she pulled his body to the Cliff of Death. The young girl continued to live in her house alone. Occasionally food was left at her door overnight, but no one dared speak to her.

Zuni woman by John Karl Hillers

Zuni woman by John Karl Hillers

Over time the young girl became an old woman. She knew there would be no one to take her to the Cliff of Death when the time came, so she decided to prepare her body and dress in her burial clothes. Unable to stand any longer, the woman dragged herself through the village—the village that had been her home. The people watched as she made her way up the hill. They saw her turn to look back at the village and suddenly a chilling howl pierced the air. The howl came from the old woman as her body changed into a white wolf. The White Wolf Woman howled again and then with strong legs loped away over the hills. She still roams the area today and White Wolf Woman Canyon is named for her. People tell of being lost in that canyon, but White Wolf Woman shows them the way home.


Still on the topic of Native Americans, I took to a more somber publication: James S. Frideres’s First Nations in the Twenty-First Century . Even though I am pretty much aware of the history of exploitation on the part of the European settlers, the facts I am learning now still are chilling. Take this, for instance:

Once reserves were established [turn of the 19th century], the well-being of the First Nations was largely ignored by the Canadian government, except for the presence of local Indian agents whose principal task was to see that federal rules and regulations were followed. The promised provision of animals, agricultural equipment, and seed, in numerous instances, was not forthcoming for the prairie First Nations.  . . .  And when some communities were able to successfully circumvent those barriers, white neighbouring farmers objected to First Nations people placing their goods on the market, citing unfair advantage. Consequently, revisions to the Indian Act made it illegal for First Nations farmers to sell their produce on the open market. The deputy superintendent-general of the Department of Indian Affairs at the time concluded that Indians could not make an ‘unnatural’ leap from ‘barbarism’ to a nineteenth-century agricultural environment. First, they would have to become ‘peasant’ farmers, with Indian Affairs as their feudal lord. While Indians might want to emulate the whites, federal officials felt that this could not take place too quickly or too soon. Indian agents were instructed to discourage Indians from engaging in potentially lucrative grain farming and, instead, encouraged them to cultivate small vegetable gardens without the help (or cost) of plows and draft animals. In short, First Nations people and communities who had become successful and competitive were defined as ‘unnatural’ because they had achieved success in only a few years rather than through the slow process of evolution that the whites had experienced. (14)


Source: Archives of Manitoba

Source: Archives of Manitoba

The author also makes interesting points about the legal aspects of the entire Native American “problem” – definitions, botched treaties, the “we are the chosen people, we are progress” bias, the blatant discrimination:

 “In 1927 the federal government decided that one way to stop First Nation tribes from expressing their disagreement with the government over land issues was to make it illegal for them to hire a lawyer (or any other third party) to initiate legal claims against the government. This law was not revoked until the 1950s.” (13)

The law, the governments, the monstrously petty bureaucracy have inflicted nearly unimaginable violence with white gloves on.

At the same time, we are witnessing a true First Nations renaissance right now, and it is impressive. There is incredible activity, A Tribe Called RedMoe Clark and others rock the boat, there is Idle No More, there is Quebecoisie, in which a couple of young Quebeckers are moved to reevaluate their identity by taking an honest trip into the province’s interior. There is hope and pride visible in the recent reaction to Ellen DeGeneres’ ill-informed plea to ban seal hunt. It all makes me optimistic.


In other news, I have registered to participate in an online conference, Recovery 2.0: Beyond Addiction. It is free to participate in live, but downloading the lectures costs about $100. I am going to try to take in as much as I can live. I am looking forward to hearing Gabor Mate, Krishna Das and Ram Dass. I don’t know other people on the list but I am sure I will learn much. I have come to see addiction as the defining malaise of our time, its pattern underlying most destructive human behaviors. The more I learn about it, the more I understand, as well, that it takes a strong spiritual stance to face it in naked honesty and to lead a good life. I am still not used to writing and talking about it, but I believe that it is all good that the words don’t turn all smooth and glib in my mouth. I appreciate the stumbling, the humility.

I have recently re-watched my favorite documentary in the world: 1 Giant Leap’s What About Me? You can follow the link to watch the entire thing on YouTube. I swear you won’t regret it. You might dance. You might cry. I’ll finish with this quote from Krishna Das:

That there is going to be enough to make us happy in this world is one of the basic illusions that carries us through life. We’re born hungry in every level. We’re hungry for everything. All our senses are hungry for input and when you don’t get enough you think that there is enough somewhere. And until you get enough and realize that it isn’t enough it will keep coming back. You keep dreaming that romantic image that this will be enough. This relationship, this car, this thing that you know. Cause wanting doesn’t stop. No matter how much you get. In the west we kind of like live as if we’re supposed to be all of us, kings. All the time. And all have everything we want. And when we don’t there’s something wrong with us. And we get angry . . . We take our suffering so personally. How could this happen to me!




Wise Old Men, Wise Old Women

I don’t think I will go through everything that is available on the J. Krishnamurti website (it is so vast!), but I’ll stick with it for some time still. In the concluding talk of his 1967 series, Love and Loneliness, he offers a kind of closure, promising a way out of the crazy, self-destructive mind and world:

“To be aware of thought, of feeling, never to correct it, never to say it is right or wrong, never to justify it, but just to watch it and move with it. In that watching and moving with that thought, with that feeling, you begin to understand and to be aware of the whole nature of thought and feeling. Out of this awareness comes silence, not simulated, not controlled, not put together by thought.”

This is true meditation, according to Krishnamurti, who at the same time brusquely rejects all other contemplative practices (involving sound, visualization, etc.) as phony. I wonder: does this rejection not lead to further division and thus conflict? I would rather believe that any path leading to a worthy goal (such as peace) would be commendable, but Krishnamurti seems to question the very idea of “taking a path” and insists on everybody assuming absolute authority over their own existence:

“We cannot depend on anybody, there is no guide, there is no teacher, there is no authority, there is only oneself and one’s relationship with another and the world, there is nothing else. When one realizes that, faces that, either it brings great despair from which comes cynicism, bitterness and all the rest of it, or in facing it, one realizes that one is totally responsible for oneself and for the world, nobody else; when one faces that, all self-pity goes.”

What follows is that “each individual human being is responsible for all the misery, for the wars, for the hunger, for the brutalities and . . . enormous violence that exists in the world,” and so each one of us must bring about a revolution in ourselves if we ever want to end this vicious cycle.

I want to retort, shut up Krishnamurti, I did not commit atrocities in my life, but I know that essentially he is right. If we are one, then each individual is also humanity, and so contains in herself the seeds of all good and evil. Thus the need to cultivate virtue… except it sounds so puritan and cold that I am taken aback. The idea of watching oneself carefully all the time, being aware of each thought, each motive, and the consequences of each action – and hoping for grace which may or may not descend – gives me shivers. Then I turn to the belly-laughing Alan Watts, who likes to say, “Don’t worry so much; it’s only a game.” But as I was listening to “Out of Your Mind” the other day, it struck me how lightheaded Watts sometimes was. Speaking of world poverty, for instance, he affirmed that humanity is at such an advanced stage of development that, thanks to robots and machines, hunger and deprivation will soon be absolutely eliminated. And then what, he asks, what will a modern man do? When all the sick and poor are taken care of? Imagine having that dilemma for real. Sure, he was a product of his times, and that was a common belief in the sixties, but it only goes to show how detached the overspiritualized people can be.

Anyway, who isn’t. I know I am. I don’t believe in objectivity, and I know that universality tastes different to everyone. All the wise men say essentially the same thing, albeit in different words, using different examples, appealing to different facets of their listeners’ personalities. When I leech onto their words and try to follow with too much intensity, I miss the message, just as I fail to grasp it by way of criticism. My critique is partly motivated by the fear of being naive, gullible, and easily manipulated, and partly by the confidence of being smart enough to see through them. And yet I keep coming back for more, instead of effin’ taking the cue and following my own lead. How fascinating is that. How addictive.

To counterbalance the voices of wise old men, I am reading Marion Woodman’s “Addiction to Perfection.” I discovered this Canadian psychologist and writer thanks to a documentary film, “Dancing in the Flames” and loved her immediately – she makes for a great mother figure. The book was first published in 1982 and deals mainly with eating disorders from a Jungian perspective.Woodman’s insights on addiction and dysfunction, especially in women, is extraordinary. Identifying the drive for perfection (bodily as much as spiritual) as a deadly threat to sanity, she writes:

“The further I move into the white radiance on one side, the blacker the energy that is unconsciously constellating behind my back: the more I force myself to perfect my ideal image of myself, the more overflowing toilet bowls I’m going to have in my dreams. . . . As human creatures, not gods, we must go for the grey, the steady solid line that makes its serpentine way only slightly to left and right down the middle course between the opposites.” (15)

Again, the path emerges. Woodman does not promise her analysands a dissolution in the ocean of bliss – it is what they often pursued prior to admitting that they needed help – but feeling one’s own way through life, which also means heeding the needs of one’s own body, needs that find sneaky, often destructive ways of expressing themselves if they are denied.

A younger Canadian author, Matthew Remski, questions the extremities of spirituality from another angle. Inquiring into the philosophy of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (the ancient foundational text of Yoga) and its value for contemporary yogis, he asks in a recent interview:

“Do we really believe that our ultimate goal as human beings is to ascend into the splendid isolation (kaivalya) of pure consciousness? Do we really want to maintain good hygiene so that we can discover how disgusting our bodies are? Do we think that meditation can allow us to be bodysnatchers? It’s ‘no,’ I think, to all of these. So why has this text been translated and commented upon uncritically as an object of faith for the last 150 years with vanishingly little regard for the paradigm it is encountering currently? Why is an ascetic meditation manual advocating anti-social goals at the heart of the modern postural movement, as if it has anything specific to say about asana? Why is it held as a textbook to salvation, when it can’t even come close to addressing the complexities of neoliberal narcissism or radical climate change?”

So many questions! I love it even as I proclaim the end of intellect. And I can’t deny it.