Jewish Journal

Lessons from an Indian Tribe

by Chava Tombosky

February 11, 2010 | 5:29 pm

“Mommy, what does G-d look like?” My six year old asked me one day.

“G-d looks like the best most wonderful encounter you’ve ever had,” I responded. “What’s a wonderful encounter?” he continued.  “It’s like a grand moment you experience that leaves a warm feeling in your heart that you know is true, everlasting, and holy.” 
“I know, like the smell of my daddy,” he answered.

An innocent yet profound response, if only it was that easy for adults to tap into the “scent” of the Divine as with the ease that innocent children can.  How do kids know this and where, when, and how did us adults forget how to savor the aroma of Holy matter?

Do you ever feel the urge to find meaning, seek truth, or belong to a collective consciousness? These urges stem from your Divine place, the Neshama (soul), part of your being.  Ignoring a soul’s whisper could be a recipe for disaster.

A friend recently complained of having anxiety.  When I inquired where she thought her apprehension came from, she mentioned the discontent in her life due to the economy.  Her worries were keeping her up at night leading to an all night trip to the hospital prompted by terrible chest pain.
“Why am I so lost?” she asked me. “You have defined your life by your income, you are unsettled, your soul is finding a way to grab your attention. Stop and listen to it.” I responded.
The next day, after pondering my words, this friend came to me with a different kind of composure. It was like she had received a revelation that made her recognize that divine “scent”. “I am unsettled!” she said.

This friend thought her chest pain was due to the economy, but really, it was a bigger issue. She was lacking spirituality and “soul-growth”. She needed a tune up, and fast.

But what sort of tune up would help her anxiety subside and make her feel less empty and paralyzed from focusing on the economic crisis? There are many remedies to a “broken” soul.  Prayer, creativity, learning, teshuvah (returning or making amends), and of course the big Kahuna- charity.

When we become caught up with any one of those experiences, we become connected to our inner core, our soul begins to take flight and we become our true selves, images of a more divine consciousness that gives us purpose and meaning.  We get out of ourselves and stop thinking about the “I”, the ego, and begin to think about the “bigger picture”.

While on a field trip with my daughter’s class to a Chumash Indian reservation, I learned about their fascinating culture. They are a people of the earth. They once lived in large tribes. Before the European explorations they would spend their evenings chanting to ONE God and spend their days crafting jewelry, hunting, and building aps (Aps are huts made out of branches. Bulrush was added in layers starting at the bottom with each row overlapping the one below. I know, complicated, yet the Chumash managed to build these aps in an hour. Today it takes man two weeks to figure it out.)
They all needed the unique skills of one another. They were one, a collective people. They had a chief who helped to maintain everyone’s participation in the tribe, who was a voted member. Women were revered, (that was the part I liked of course) and all men were created equal. 
I was astounded by their way of life. “I don’t get it, wasn’t there ever a time someone would rebel against this way of life and leave?” I asked our tour guide, Graywolf. (of course that is the little rebel in me.) He explained, “They would be foolish to leave for they would be risking their lives. We are a people who realize, WE are the temporary ones on THIS Earth, and it is our job to make it a holy place by serving it as its guests as a productive and collective group.”
All of this I learned while huddled in a primitive cave about a quarter of a mile away from the camp where the tribe had lived. To get to this cave, one would have to hike down a dirt path, up a hill, and cross a river, (only to have to) then climb steep rocky terrain. We nestled in the cool embracing cave and Greywolf explained it was this very cave that was known as the “birthing cave”. This was the place that women traveled to in order to give birth to their young. The cave looked like an indentation of the earth, and the women felt it was the best place to be when experiencing new life, the inside of the earth’s womb.

Never mind the primitive conditions this was a spiritual experience for the Chumash. What made the Chumash people so interesting was, they never found a way to allow their ego to overtake their existence. Allowing their ego to get in the way would counteract their survival. They were equal beings with equal duties, a utopian society.
These Chumash Indian people were very much like- Chassidim. Men who understood the purpose of creating light in the world through doing kind deeds and finding ways to embrace their survival with honor and dignity, and asserting themselves using material earth to further express their spirituality. The Chumash spent every day fine tuning their thoughts and ways of life to “Smell” the scent of G-d.  I bet they never had any anxiety at all.


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My Big Fat Jewish life blog is featured in The Huffington Post and The Algemeiner Journal as well as The Jewish Journal. Chava has also written for Farbrengen Magazine, Soul...

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