Learn from the Past, Walk into the Future

Ruins of a stone foundation at Ft Union NHP, New Mexico

Ft. Union National Historic Park, New Mexico

Sept 1, 2014

I have the ruins of a Civil War era fort to myself this morning. No other living person is out here right now - it's just me, the bluebirds, the rustle of the prairie grasses in the wind, and a lone rattlesnake. Oh, and 150+ years of ghosts from sometimes-brutal clashes of culture along ancient trade and migration routes.

I sit on a bench that literally straddles the Santa Fe Trail - the same trail that, in the 1800s, brought European settlers from the eastern parts of North America to the "wild" Southwest. So many settlers came through here that our very young government decided to build an army fort in this spot, to help handle the clashes between cultures that they knew were coming.

These skirmishes and wars between Indians and settlers were only the last round in the culture clashes that started with the arrival of the Spanish in 1492. By the time the white settlers arrived, the tribes in the Southwest US were already decimated by centuries of epidemics and battles with the Spanish.

As the settlers from the east poured in during the mid to late 1800s, they took over land that was already occupied by dozens of tribes: the Apache, Kiowa, Navajo, Tewa, Zuni, Hopi, and many more. The ensuing conflict wasn't pretty. Many tens of thousands died in the years that followed, and the result? The Indians placed on reservations, their land divided among the white settlers. Resentment, hatred, and mistrust continues on all sides.

The same thing occurred earlier on other parts of the continent - what was happening in the Southwest was just the latest in the saga of migrations. Some of my distant ancestors were among those displaced in the northeastern US by early European settlements. The Sauk/Sac and Fox tribes moved from what is now Upstate New York to what is now Illinois, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and  Nebraska.

We can't change what happened. It was terrible. It wasn't right or fair or compassionate. But it happened.

Now the descendants of the survivors are making choices - to stay hostage to the past, mired in what was, or to accept where things stand right now and move on to make a brighter future for themselves and their families. People like my friend Valencia, a full-blood Navajo, are choosing the latter and I admire her (and those like her) greatly. It's not easy to let go and move on, but it's happening.

Many of us without this Native heritage can learn something too. All of us have negative "stuff" in our past that could hold us back from an amazing future if we let it. And many times, we allow it. It's comfortable in a way, familiar, and for a few, a guaranteed attention-getter. Millions in the US alone were victims of abuse or violence as kids, millions more as adults. Some of us dealt with poverty, gang violence, drugs, alcohol, or dysfunctional families and it all can affect our lives if we don't work to let it go. It's easy to stay stuck in a poisonous past.

But where does that get us? Mired in depression, anger, and very likely an unfulfilling life. We can't live our best life in the here and now if our minds can't let go of what was done to us back then. The potential given to us by Spirit, wasted.

It's not easy to let go of the hold we have on the past, or of the hold it has on us, but I believe it's our sacred duty to try. Spirit gives us trials as an opportunity to learn how to soar past barriers to be the amazing person we were meant to be. We can live our lives as a slave to the negativity of the past, or we can face "what is" and take action to make our futures brighter.

Choose to look at the past with a discerning eye, to learn the lessons there. Then turn ahead to the future to make better lives for ourselves and our families, keeping those lessons from the past in mind to help us on our way.

But it takes work to learn how to let go. Sometimes that work involves psychotherapy, sometimes talking to an elder in your religious circle, sometimes it involves relying on help from friends, or perhaps spending time in nature will do the trick. Sometimes it's sheer determination, just making the decision to turn away from victimhood and walk into a life of strength.

It's hard to let go of the apparent familiar comfort of a poisonous past, but the beauty of the human spirit is that it IS strong. It is courageous. It has love at its center. And our spiritual nature is there buoying us up. Our souls can make intents and take action to bring a brighter future into existence for ourselves and our families.

My wish is that we all choose to walk forward into a brighter future, with love and gratitude.

All content copyright Nancy Rynes, 2014. Please read disclaimer and Legal Notes here.