Teachings from the Tree of Life, part 4

"The Bends and the Rocks in the River"

Gashkadino-giizis (Freezing Over Moon; November 6), 2017

A blog story told by Zhaawano Giizhik about how to deal with loneliness and despair. Illustrated by Norval Morrisseau.

About loneliness and despair and the bends and rocks in the river

 ~A letter to a friend~

Let’s face it: most of us are lonely and hurt and disappointed in life. And most of us have a self-esteem that’s not always very high and some of us even hate ourselves. We must try not to be too hard on ourselves though, and too desperate and too bitter about the circumstances. Be gentle and understanding about yourself and the circumstances you’re finding yourself in. Have faith and patience. Our circumstances may differ and we all think and feel and pray in different ways but in principle, most of us are in the same canoe. We all feel like we're stuck, in a place we don't want to be, and we're disappointed in the cards that have been dealt to us. So in a way we’re not alone since we're in the same canoe, on the same river. I realize that to most of us it doesn’t feel like we’re not alone so all I can hope is that one day you will sense me sitting right there next to you, sitting in that same canoe, smiling at you as I paddle hard. When that happens, when I sense you paddling hard in the same direction and smile back at me, I will be happy.
This river we are on? It seems to me that in our mind it is frozen. We love canoeing but we feel like we can’t move and breathe as the ice is holding us back. But some rivers while they're frozen at their mouths, thaw upstream. So what we should try to do is steer the canoe upstream. Yet as life has already taught us, this river we find ourselves on, it has many curves and it has many rocks. The curves and bends keep us from seeing what’s ahead of us and the many rocks keep blocking our path. But if we let those river bends discourage us and if we focus too much on those rocks and how much they’re going to hurt us when we hit them, we allow ourselves to become depressed and we limit our ability to steer around the rocks. If we focus too much on the rocks and the bends they will only get bigger and sharper. Perhaps these rocks and bends are blessings in disguise that force us to search deeper inside of ourselves for strength and medicine and to find ways to heal ourselves and to heal negative and uncomfortable thoughts and emotions and beliefs that obstruct and blacken our outlook and pollute our well-being, our will to live.

Rivers freeze over but come spring, they thaw. But the bends and the rocks in the river, they will always be there. Maybe we should try see them as blessings and grandfather gifts instead of things that hold us back and down. And maybe we should not tell ourselves over and over again that life sucks and never gets better. Our lives aren’t that bad if we realize that we are loved. From where you stand now, your life may seem bleak. But how many people you know can say that there’s someone out there who truly, strongly loves you and cares for you? There is always someone out there who loves you. Your children maybe. Or someone far away who secretly keeps you in his heart and mind. Right above you a bird might sit in a tree singing a song especially for you! Be gentle and understanding about yourself and the circumstances you’re finding yourself in. Have faith and be patient with your situation and be gentle and patient with others. Things will be alright. Smile once in a while thinking of silly and funny things that happened in your life and be cheerful. I need you.

-Illustration: Title Unknown, 1970s acrylic on canvas by Miskwaabik Animikii (Norval Morrisseau).

Profile of Native Woodland artist and author Zhaawano Giizhik

About the author/artist and his inspiration

Zhaawano Giizhik, an American currently living in the Netherlands, was born in 1959 in North Carolina, USA. Zhaawano has Anishinaabe blood running through his veins; the doodem of his ancestors from Baawitigong (Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Michigan) is Waabizheshi, Marten.

As an artist and a writer and a jewelry designer, Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of his ancestors. For this he calls on his manidoo-minjimandamowin, or 'Spirit Memory'; which means he tries to remember the knowledge and the lessons of his ancestors. In doing so he sometimes works together with kindred artists.

To Zhaawano's ancestors the MAZINAAJIMOWIN or ‘pictorial spirit writings’ - which are rich with symbolism and have been painted throughout history on rocks and etched on other sacred items such as copper and slate, birch bark and animal hide - were a form of spiritual as well as educational communication that gave structure and meaning to the cosmos that they felt they were an integral part of. 

Many of these sacred pictographs or petroforms – some of which are many, many  generations old - hide in sacred locations where the manidoog (spirits) reside, particularly in those mystic places near the lake's coastlines where the sky, the earth, the water, the underground and the underwater meet.

The way Zhaawano understands it, it is in these sacred places invisible to the ordinary, waking eye that his design and storyteller's inspiration originate from.


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