Becoming Whole – #6: What is our True Nature?

On March 4th, 2023, a small group gathered at the base of a former blackberry slope to learn about plans for watershed restoration.  As we disbanded, an old friend joined me on the trail. Talk of salmon surfaced – how almost none return to our streams. (I’ve been a volunteer monitor for the last 12 years, and I know how their numbers have declined.) As we strolled toward her farm, her eyes filled with tears as she remembered a one-man performance called SalmonPeople. Experienced nearly 15 years ago, Peter Donaldson’s truthtelling story still moved her. Over all these years since, she’s searched for a video of that sacred theatrical experience, but all she could find was a 7-minute collection of highlights. She sent the link to me the next day. I watched: I cried.

Said sardonically, his repeated refrain sticks with me:
Everyone knows how the real world works!
The audience laughs uproariously as the enormity of the lie hits home.*

In the real world of today’s marketplace, we humans think we are in charge. Inflated like balloons, our egos are “gonna” collapse when the truth finally pierces our skins.

We are actually kind of pitiful.

Now before you get in a huff, think about why I, and many of our ancestors, used that word, pitiful, as one descriptor of being human.

First we need to remember recent human history. Only 400 years ago or so, when Copernicus discovered that our Earth home is not the center of the universe, European culture trembled. Insecurity rained on the human parade and also reigned supreme. Something had to bring back stability, bring us humans back to being the center of everything. With a seismic shift, a new story arose. Descartes thought about doubt, and thought some more and eventually suggested that humans must be special in some fashion. We think!  The idea took hold that humans are exceptional, separate from all other life forms, and superior too. The people concluded that we are the ONLY animals who can think. If we think hard enough, we can create an immaculate, perfect world, no longer vulnerable to outside influences and once again, the center of everything.

But many cultures refused to buy into this new “truth.” It didn’t fit their experience. So to preserve the new found “security,” the dominant culture tried to mute those voices. Europeans snuffed out Europeans. White people snuffed out white people, men snuffed out women, children were taken from parents, people were forbidden to hold ceremony, to make prayers in their stone circles, to honor the wells and the medicine trees, to talk the old languages. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Eventually, Empire-hungry Europeans began wiping out all the other colorful cultures who refused to believe in a new human story of separation and superiority.

Everyone knows how the real world works!
But do we?

This is where that word pitiful rises to the forefront of my thinking.. I lived in Montana for thirty years and was graced in the early 1980’s by meeting local members of various tribes living nearby. Attending talking-circles and participating in sweat lodges, I heard tribal elders refer to us humans as “pitiful.” I’m sure my mouth hung open with horror. At the time I thought I was pretty special!

I eventually came to recognize that their use of the word, “pitiful,” had a different meaning. At some deep level I must have always resonated with that descriptor, because long after I had given up playing with dolls, I asked for a Poor Pitiful Pearl doll to take to college. Do any of you remember her?

My Mom knit her a sweater to match my college colors. She embroidered a college logo on the front. I pinned my pledge pin on her after my sorority initiation. Poor Pitiful Pearl sat on my bed, maybe sometimes on my lap when I was despairing, until I graduated. Now she lives in a box in the storage shed.

As I write about Pearl now, I think an unconscious part of me resonated with the truth of our human “pitifulness.” But it took 25 more years for me to understand that truth consciously. And it was Beaver who ripped me open to deeper understanding!
Thank you, thank you, brothersister.

I’ll tell you that story next time.

*(Peter Donaldson’s current work can be found at this link,
 though I haven’t yet found a reference on that website to SalmonPeople. )  


About Deborah

Deborah Jane Milton, Ph.D. is an artist, mentor, writer, mother of four, grandmother of eight. who inspires humanity's Great Turning: our evolution to living as a "whole" human, with headbrain and bodymind collaborating, with science and spirit dancing, with rationality, intuition and the ephemeral co-creating.
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