In part one of FtC’s enlightening discussion with Dr. Anita Sanchez, Dr. Sanchez revealed ancient wisdom from her book, “The Four Sacred Gifts: Indigenous Wisdom for Modern Times,” explaining the importance of remembering and understanding our Oneness. She shared with us The Four Sacred Gifts of the elders, reminding us all that we are bound together in the great sacred hoop of life.
Now, Dr. Sanchez further illuminates the importance of listening with an open heart and a calm presence. This type of spiritual alchemy is interwoven in each of “The Four Sacred Gifts”, and through the power of stillness, many layers of healing can begin. When we realize that we have the capability to quiet our busy, thinking minds, we can drop the illusion of time, breathe in the reality of the present, and share the gift of Oneness with those in our lives that may need it the most—including ourselves.
This Face the Current Culture Feature is published in Issue 23 / May-June 2019 Edition. Order PRINT here, SUBSCRIBE to digital membership for unlimited access, or continue reading this article below.
Sasha Frate: I’d like to circle back to the act of forgiveness. You mention in your book that the act of forgiveness can be considered spiritual alchemy. I’d love to see people allow themselves to keep their mind open a little bit longer and not be so quick to judge, as there appears to be a need to look deeper at the root of things and be more expansive instead of so concentric. Let’s look at oneness instead of the disparity for example. I see this really applying to the concept of forgiveness being as powerful as spiritual alchemy. For instance, with a traumatic situation, our quick judgment takes it personally and points a finger at whomever or whatever inflicted the experience on us. When you step back and look more expansively at the situation, perhaps it’s not that one person or group. It’s not personal against you, it’s coming from something much deeper for that person or group. We need to consider the broader and deeper picture of things; I think it also helps us to be more forgiving when we do that.
Anita Sanchez: Yes, when you’re talking, what I’m hearing is that you’re listening. Listening is part of all of the gifts, and it’s really important in forgiveness and for healing. How does one listen? You have to shut your mouth, stop the mind from racing, and be still. There’s something in that. It’s the pause that you’re talking about that is part of your practice. It allows you to see the fuller picture of what is here. When we don’t do that, we’re operating from that hurt or whatever it is that’s being called unforgivable.
A week after my father was murdered, the wife and son of the man who killed my father came to our home. I was with my mom at the screen door and the woman said, “I had to come and talk to you to let you know my husband was a good man. He never would have killed your husband, except he thought he was black, and you know how black people are.” I had never heard my mom scream at a stranger until then, but she said, “Stop! You don’t even know what you’re saying. You don’t even know the hatred you’re teaching your son. I want you to know that I’m going to try really hard to pray for your soul but get off my porch.” She gathered us kids that night and so clearly told us that a white man had murdered our father, not the white race. My father’s murder was in the Kansas City Star and there was a picture of him on the bloodied floor of the bar. My mom said, “This is racism. We have to end this.”
Years later, during my work with corporations, I began forming talking circles with people in business, so they could share how they had been taught in life. Many of the white people in the circles were taught by their parents that they were better than other specific groups. They still said they loved their parents, but they were choosing to be different. I could see that change because I watched policies change. It didn’t ever seem fast enough to me, but nonetheless, different paths were taken.
After working in the corporate world for a few years, I kept having a dream where I’d see the woman and her son on the front porch. The dream was in living color but at first, I couldn’t see the boy’s face. Over weeks of this dream, his face became clearer and clearer, to the point that I’m confident I would recognize this boy as a man now. When I was a little girl, I was caught in all the pain of my father’s murder and I wasn’t able to process beyond that. We need to honor and respect people’s healing processes, because here I was teaching diversity inclusion, and a part of me believed that little boy was going to be the same as his father. After supporting people through my work and creating cross-culture teams, I learned that we have to free ourselves, heal, practice unity, and use the gifts. In my ignorance, I had taken away that white boy’s face; I took away his humanity. I was caught in the assumption inside of me that hadn’t come to the light.
In one deep breath, I realized that I lost my father that July in 1967, but that little white boy lost his father, too. He had to grow up knowing his father was a murderer. I suddenly hoped he had a good life. I wish I had the awareness then that I do now because I would have invited that boy and his mom into our house. We as humanity have got to stop this, and we can. We have the abilities to stop all the real and imagined killing and hatred. We can’t sit back; we have to have positive action. The four gifts of the elders are part of it so that we can stop floundering. We need to use them! Pick any one and start anywhere because they are all eventually interconnected, just like the hoop of life.
We are human beings, so we never truly arrive; there is always something. It’s about not denying parts of ourselves that we may not like. We truly need each other and unconditional love.
SF: Yes, that’s beautiful. You just spoke about something that you also outlined in your book, which is listening, having supportive relationships, unconditional love, and committing to change and positive action. These are four key elements that you also describe as the most basic elements of healing. Do you believe that everyone has this “healing” to do?
AS: Yes. We are human beings, so we never truly arrive; there is always something. It’s about not denying parts of ourselves that we may not like. We truly need each other and unconditional love. Growing up, I thought unconditional love was only possible from a mother to her children. But after the horror of what I experienced, I would be with my grandmother and she’d teach me how to be a sunflower. I learned what unconditional love is and it’s about being open to ourselves and others, so there just isn’t an arrival point. Listening is a great practice because all it takes is shutting your mouth, being present, and realizing that someone else’s needs are more important than yours right now. This takes some maturity but there is so much in the silence because we can more readily heal something if we know it exists.
I’m so glad I get to heal and call on that gift every day, but I’m not perfect; I’m going to forget. It’s not about, “Oh look, she’s arrived.” It’s about honesty, transparency, and listening. Bill Urie started The Abraham Path Initiative and has an amazing energy. He’s brokered peace and is the sweetest, kindest, best listener. I’d put him up against some of the most amazing indigenous elders when it comes to listening. He once said, “We’ve got enough peace talks. What is really important is peace listening.” Listening is the greatest gift; it’s the most important thing we can do for ourselves and for each other. When we listen, we discover hurt and pain, but we also discover creative things. Listening doesn’t have to be a long endeavor; it can be 30 seconds, or a couple minutes, multiple times a day. It really makes a difference. We have to create the space to transform; that’s spiritual alchemy and the four elements of healing.
I used to do once-a-month podcasts for Hewlett-Packard in which I did a quiet internalist portion. I didn’t want to call it meditation because I wasn’t sure how that would be received, but I did a one- minute quiet time. The reviews were amazing! My listeners said they felt like they’d gone to a spa.
We know now that science affirms that quiet listening allows glucose to come to the frontal cortex and settle in the amygdala. Indigenous wisdom keepers have known these results for a long time; there is something about stillness.
SF: There really is. Generally speaking, people really seem to have a difficult time listening these days. We’ve lost the way of the campfire stories or the talking circles, and many people also don’t feel safe to share their stories without judgment. Could you elaborate on the purpose and benefit of community-building talking circles and why we ought to practice becoming better listeners?
Indigenous people all over the world have been doing talking circles. The model of a talking circle is that you’re not responding to each other, you’re just sharing what is wanting to come through. Each person’s talk can be as long or as short as they need it to be. Everyone listens and holds that person in their sacredness. It doesn’t mean you agree with what is being said, but you hold the safe space true for that person. A level of healing happens even when you’re not the one talking. Something can go through the circle and provide you with healing. Something can be released and provide you with the clarity to see what is wanting to be created within you. Leading a meaningful life means you must take care of the hurts, create, inspire, trust, have life-giving relationships, and listen.
AS: Indigenous people talk about listening with the softest part of your ear and the softest part of your heart. I often treat people by listening that way. If we get to something really deep, I make them go outside and sit by a tree or take off their shoes and stand in the grass. People begin to drop into the place of really feeling connected to the self. We’ve been so disconnected from our own head and heart, let alone other things outside of ourselves. When we start to re-establish connection, it is immediately like an energy source. It doesn’t require instantly becoming a Buddhist monk or a reclusive elder. It can just be moments and it can be life-changing. We can do that as parents with our children, with our co-workers, or even total strangers. It creates a world that you’re glad to be in when you wake up in the morning. You can heal the things that aren’t working and be grateful for the things that are.
When my son was 21, he met a girl, fell madly in love, they moved in together, and were happy for 2.5 years. He came home for a visit the fall of his senior year absolutely sobbing. All I did was listen; I didn’t ask him a single question. When we ask, “What happened? Are you all right?” it may be a bit about that person but really, it’s about getting answers to comfort ourselves. I heard the elders’ voices telling me to give him the gift of listening. This is obviously a person I love so I just stayed with him. His relationship turned out to be unrequited love and it was a months-long process of healing. When our two sons were little kids, they weren’t allowed in our bed, but they could sleep on our floor. Here was my 21-year-old son sleeping on the floor outside my bedroom for over a month instead of going back to his new apartment. He got better over time and saw his ex-girlfriend at a party over Thanksgiving. He told her he didn’t want to get back together, he just wanted to understand what happened because he thought they were happy. She told him her parents had decided that she could do better than him. He thought it was because he wasn’t making a lot of money yet, but when she said no, he knew. He asked if it was because he was Mexican and Native American, and she said yes. When he told me, my first instinct was the “Mama Bear” wanting to protect her son, but instead, I listened. I found that listening can actually heal a broken heart because it not only healed my son’s heart, it healed mine, too. It’s another example of interconnection.
SF: This is a really great example where it’s really easy to take the situation and point fingers at racism being the culprit; being the problem. But if we step back and look, that’s not the only scenario. The same thing happened to my dad when he was sent to Vietnam. He was engaged when he left but he never heard from his fiancée again. He was sending letters, but she would never write back. She came knocking on his door many years later, and she told him that her mom was keeping all the letters from her. Her mom intercepted them because she didn’t like the fact that my dad wasn’t Catholic. That situation was about religion, but it can be about age, ethnicity, financial stature…
AS: It’s always something, right?
SF: There’s always something. We need to step back and ask where the problem is truly lying. It’s still in this separateness and this judgment at these different forms, perhaps.
AS: I’m so glad you said that. With my son’s story, he ran into his ex-girlfriend and her father and he asked my son if they could talk. Her father said, “I want to apologize. My wife and I told lies about you. You don’t have to forgive me, but I feel horrible and things have changed for me. My wife will never change but that’s just how it is.” My son accepted. Again, it’s transmuting, it’s the spiritual alchemy to shift things. He told us the situation taught him a lot about who his friends were and weren’t. Some friends told him to just get over her, some listened to him cry at 2AM, some listened and offered him a drink. He learned the strength of his own heart and her journey is her own, but he knows who he is.
As a parent, it was really painful to listen to that, but it was definitely of service to my son. He has our love and it is living life, and we can send her love from afar. Being the best we can be means loving ourselves and understanding the loving connection we want with others.
SF: Yes, and again, it’s so easy for us to just jump to taking it personally and pointing our finger at where we think it just came from. It’s that immediate, concentric view. But we can’t take it personally because things go deeper; they’re coming from something much further. Even for your son, you could decide not to point fingers at his ex-girlfriend anymore and turn to her parents. But, it’s not even her parents! It’s so much deeper.
AS: It’s like forgiving my father. He raped me for nine years and everyone, including my therapists said, “You should be dead. How can you forgive him?” I forgive him because it’s freedom. He died at 41 and never got to reconcile his life and I used to carry great sadness about that, but I’ve released that, too.
Everything is interconnected, and it really is about the original wisdom. I’ve shared the four gifts all over the world and everywhere I’ve gone, people stop and write down what I’ve said because they don’t want to forget. Forgiveness, healing, hope, and unity are simple gifts, but people still wanted to remember. It’s all within us if we listen and pause. Spiritual alchemy is a process and sometimes it can be quick, other times it takes some time. Instead of asking “Why?” ask, “What is here for me? Is this for me to do?” Stop and pause; you don’t have to immediately move. If we could do that, maybe we’d have more peace. Maybe we’d be able to listen to the earth that is telling us so many things right now, and perhaps we’d be able to integrate the wisdom from science, the elders, and different sectors.
SF: In terms of the listening, you made a really great point in your book about how we as humans tend to be very focused on a specific type of attention that seeks answers, conclusions, and responses. So, we’ll be listening, but not really. We stop listening because we’re already trying to form our next response in our head. You mentioned wide-angle attention and how it can actually result in a different and potentially sacred type of outcome.
AS: Yes, I think it’s what we’ve just been talking about; our life examples. It’s not about belittling the narrow focus…
SF: Right, yes, because that has a purpose as well.
AS: The problem is that if that’s all you do is narrowly focus, you’re losing out on a lot. With really wide angle, we’ll be able to bring in a lot of information. Human beings were meant to do both.
About a year and a half ago, during a time of many publicized killings, I really felt like I wasn’t doing my job well enough. I asked myself how I could get people to listen. How can I get people to not only care about each other, but to really love? It’s in that love that people can really live and bring out the best in themselves and in others. It’s about realizing the interconnectedness. Nature never turns me down, so I sat on my mountain top, I lowered my eyes, I breathed deeply, and I waited. In my relaxation, my focus went from narrowly looking for an answer to this one problem, to a wide-angle realization that made me laugh. Here I was, listening to the leaves and the trees, I’m supported by the earth and I felt this voice come forth. It said, “Okay you’re breathing. When you breathe, is 38% going to the Native American in you, 42% to the Mexican, 7% to the Greek, and 2% to the Jewish? Is some going to your female qualities and some to your male?” I couldn’t help but laugh. We can narrowly focus and look at those parts, but if you do that, you lose track of the whole. When that happens, you lose track of all of our similarities. That experience has been really helpful and impactful to me, and has been a support to other people, too.
SF: Yes, definitely; wow! In speaking to the power of unity, a quote from your book says, “To understand the power of unity and the potential for our extraordinary collaboration requires not just bringing your past experiences with you and not just your dreams and visions for the future, it requires each of us to bring our higher selves.” What does bringing our higher selves entail?
Our higher self is that sacred part of ourselves that knows we are far more than just our bodies. It doesn’t exclude the body, but it’s the whole of who we are. It includes our thoughts, guides; everything that is wishing us well. It can include people who have passed, people who are here, the earth, trees, water; everything. Bringing our higher self is bringing the fullest and best version of you. The circle of a whole human being is to live in harmony with people, earth, and spirit.
AS: I’ve been using that phrase since I was a teenager, and nobody has ever asked me about it.
Bringing our higher selves means not bringing our lesser selves. It’s about not bringing neediness that creates wants upon wants. That’s not the be all, end all. There is value in the higher self with high breath, loving relationships, and wanting peace. Even when I traveled to warring countries, I discovered that people want the same things. To get them, we must stop and do the peace listening. When we find that commonality and the power of unity, when we embrace our similarities and our differences by bringing our higher selves, all sorts of wonderful things can happen.
I love that you asked this question. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Heart Math, but there are several ways to measure the rate variability of the heart. We know from the study of emotions that the fastest, most quickly transmitted emotion is anxiety. Anxiety has an 8 to 14-foot radius and has the ability to impact everyone’s heart rate near you. The second most powerful is calm. So, when we talk about bringing higher self, it’s about bringing the grace and space to allow the other person to just be. This then allows the grace and space to be and do together.
I thank you for that question because it was a great reminder to me to bring my higher self. I can get frantic with things in life, too, so I need to bring my ever-present higher self. It’s too often denied in this world or perhaps not consciously known.
SF: Yes, just being conscious about it. It’s really fun to see that some people are starting to use this terminology more and more. Becoming more familiar with the concept helps us to connect to it. Along the same lines as bringing our higher selves, I see a lot of people starting to use the phrase, “vibrate higher.”
AS: Yes, isn’t it wonderful? It’s the vibration; people are getting energy. We’ve always talked about ourselves being energy. Now scientists are saying yes, we’re all energy in different forms. The discussion is also about where energy goes. So, if we’re energy, we know there are low and high vibrations. These have different impacts on themselves and the other energy around them. It’s so great that we get to be alive at this time. In spite of the hardships out there, it’s also so amazing that we get to live meaningful lives at the conscious level so that we can choose to belong. We can choose wisdom and good medicine, and not just go along in default mode. We can be reflective and full of choices.
SF: Yes, that’s wonderful. You also mentioned a discipline called Tai Ji, which aims to quiet the thinking mind. We have such busy minds these days, so how do you guide or advise people to know when to stop the thinking words and, as you say, “start the dancing”?
When people say, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” that’s very different than “I won’t,” or “I choose not to.” “I can’t” is so disempowered; so imprisoned. In terms of the whole human being, it’s bad on every level. So, if some of these trigger words start to come up, I advise to go within and sit in silence.
AS: There are different cues when I’m working with people. When people say, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” that’s very different than “I won’t,” or “I choose not to.” “I can’t” is so disempowered; so imprisoned. In terms of the whole human being, it’s bad on every level. So, if some of these trigger words start to come up, I advise to go within and sit in silence. Or, if that doesn’t work for some people, go for a walk. Walking meditation always exists. Just go and walk; walk and breathe. In no time, you begin to quiet the mind.
There are many different methods. Another way to know when it’s time to stop the mind is when your body is contracted and not in a state of ease. When you’re knotted up, you’re not in a state of strength. I do Chi Gong, walking meditation, and walking the spirit in my every day. Whether I’m on my mountaintop, in the middle of a city, out in the community, or in the Amazon, it’s easy. It’s walking everywhere to stop those thinking words and to start to dance and laugh. It’s not all serious! I love that about true wisdom-keepers; there’s such joy. Laughter, sharing, and eating are things that bring you back to life; they’re nourishing.
SF: In your book, Elder Elarion Merculief is quoted as saying, “Humans lost track of the present when they invented time.” How do you believe that people can find balance in the modern world that thrives on time-keeping, to better keep track of the present moment?
AS: I quote Elarion on that all the time. Time is an illusion. That’s not to say deadlines don’t exist in business, though. I’m not trying to make light of that or to forget that. However, we can get caught up in time. With a racing mind, time can be a constrictive thing rather than, “I’m here and I’m doing what I need to.” With writing, sometimes deadlines can be stressful, but if you let go of that and just get in and start, you get lost in it. Before you know it, time has passed, and you’ve achieved a lot. It’s the game of the mind. If we can stay present, we can accomplish, or be, or do whatever it is that is supposed to happen.
For me, the practice comes in many different ways. When I get still, I ask, “What is calling to me? Is there a gift that is calling to me?” Being present is a very wide focus, but you can also go into the present by watching a little insect on a leaf or doing precise accounting work. The nice thing is you can toggle between narrow and wide focus. I would love if Elarion could have sat and spoken with Einstein. I think it could have been a marvelous conversation because they both understood that the past, present, and future are all happening at the same time.
Whenever I start getting wired, I think of Elarion’s quote that humans lost track of the present when they invented time. I ask myself what I’m doing right now, and what I want to be doing and being. You start to feel released right away and from there you can start the dance again and be more in harmony. It comes from the heart not the head and you move from there.
SF: Right; wonderful. Well, this brings us to our final question. What is the best way to take all this knowledge and integrate and express it in our lives?
AS: I will ground that in the current context of the time we’re living in. First of all, pause enough so that you can start to listen. To do that, you really do need to put down your computer, your smart phone, and all the other gadgets. They are not bad or separate things, but we do need to put them down so that we can begin to embrace the gifts.
We as a society have gotten out of balance, too focused on ourselves as individuals. But, the hoop of life knows that we’re “we” and the “me” is included. We need to embrace and use these gifts that the 27 elders got from spirit. It’s not a hardship; even if you just use one, call on it and use it. It will bring you closer to who you want to be in the world and allow you to understand not only abundance, but sufficiency, joy, happiness, and what it really means to love. A lot of the cynicism then goes away.
I think those are the key things: pause, listen, and put away obstructions. Put them away for little bits of time, even just five minutes. People wake up in the morning and are immediately on their phones. Science tells us that this is patterning our brains for disruption. We need to be patterning the ability to be present, so try not to touch your phone for 30 minutes in the morning.
Keep using the four gifts and the remembering will happen. It’s not like it was never there, we’ve just been patterned with messages from the outside that have become our messages on the inside. Once we remember that we’re part of the hoop of life and that we’re all connected, then all these things become integrated. The joy is that I’ve found it doesn’t stop. I don’t know of any wise person who has said they’re done. Of course, in indigenous belief, we believe that when you die, you’re not done; you still get messages and wisdom. You can always support the wisdom that is wanted, that is hungered for, and that is nourishing.
SF: Right! It’s really a practice and a maintenance, and it’s constantly evolving.
AS: Yes, and people might feel that it’s too much work, but if we think about what we have that we really value, it’s generally experiences. It’s a smile from someone or a kind word; we’re never alone. We might get lonely, but we’re never alone and we all belong. You belong.
SF: Yes, beautiful. Thank you.
AS: Yes, thank you! Really, thank you. This has felt like a both a closure and an opening for me.
SF: Oh, wonderful! It was great connecting with you.
“The Four Sacred Gifts: Indigenous Wisdom for Modern Times”