September 22, 2009 § 3 Comments
In my last post, I wrote of my visit to a faux New Amsterdam which was briefly set up in downtown Manhattan. Since then, a few friends have asked me why I care about connecting with distant ancestors. Why not just be the contemporary American that I am? I think this periodic yearning to know what it was like to farm just hand tools and otherwise brave the unknown is rooted in this primal yearning to know a greater kind of awareness, an intelligence that isn’t confined to words and concepts but extends to the hands, the eyes and ears, the human being as a whole confronting the essential forces of life. When I was a child, the ancestors I most wondered about and wanted to connect with were the Vikings. Although both my mother’s parents are from Denmark, she knew very little about her earliest forebears except that they were “big and blond and wild.” It was the wildness, the reputation for ferocity in battle that fascinated me. Not surprisingly, I didn’t think of the Viking reputation for marauding and raping and pillaging as others do but of the brave warriors in Beowulf, men (and I added women) so hearty they went around in skimpy fur outfits in the dead of winter, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean in open boats, who faced down evil monsters like Grendal and lived to unlock their “word hoards” and tell long, lyrical stories about it in the mead hall. To be a Viking in my child’s mind was like being an Indian. It meant being mindful and quick and resourceful in the way people learn to be when they live in a natural world full of powerful and dangerous forces. It meant having a mind that included the body, that included great nature. I made no distinction aside from geography between American Indians and ancient Indians from India. When I grew up and went to college and learned of an Aryan migration that swept down into India from the north, I pictured Vikings on horseback, riding like brave Sioux warriors into Mother India where they dismounted and perfected yoga and meditation. But wisdom and insight that came pouring out in those beautiful forms and in the Rig Veda had to do with their wild openness to life, with that fact that their wild brave warrior minds never split off from Nature, from the awareness that the whole of life is connected in a great interconnected Whole. And from time to time, even though I’m a long way from youg, up wells the powerful desire to know that mind in my life time.