“A Leap of Faith”; Impressions on Spirituality and Self Harm

When threat is present in ones life chronically, you have a couple options: catalyst change, self harm/suicide… or have faith. One of my favorite videos on YouTube by The School of Life is a video on this philosopher named Soren Kierkegaard. The British narrator explains Soren’s life in a very elegant way, explaining someone who reminds me much of myself, someone who struggles with life and its many contradictions. Ultimately the video ends with Soren suggesting faith as an answer to dealing with the anxieties that comes with being human.

I really enjoyed that message because it let me understand something significant about myself and perhaps about human nature as well. There’s growing research on human threat and its relationship to human happiness and wellbeing. It suggests that there are three types of threats that humans can experience; interpersonal (like relationship problems), economic (like recessions or job loss) and existential (literal threat for your life). Maslow refined his research on his Hierarchy of Needs from the Blackfoot People, and his theory suggests (in a nutshell) that by fulfilling your most basic needs, such as water and shelter, you then go to another set of needs like safety… then relationships, then esteem, and then finally “self actualization”. Combining this with the “three human threats”, I believe that it’s the same mechanism.

1938 Taken while the Hanks and Maslow were conducting anthropological research on the Siksika reserve

This mechanism is also called “aspiration adjustment” in other literature. I believe that if you’re experiencing threats that are life threatening, then your economic or interpersonal threats will not matter. Rationally, acquiring “food and shelter” is to help avoid death. When you are not longer at threat of your life, then your next set of needs (according to Maslow) would be safety, and obviously your economic situation is a large factor in determining your safety and autonomy. If you’re not in economic threat, then I believe you are more conscious and aware of relational based needs, like relationships with family, peers and partners, which is what Maslow suggests. This need to fulfil relational needs is to avoid interpersonal threat, and I believe a lot of academics don’t really see this as an important distinction to take note in.

Religion has been very important in human history. It’s been with us during plagues, during natural disasters, genocides, loss and suffering. All of those ceremonial activities, like smudging or doing hail Mary’s, have an important role in addressing times of pain and difficulty. It helped humans think of a better afterlife, to prepare for something more meaningful and prosperous. For the Blackfoot it was the “Happy Hunting Grounds”, makes sense, lots of Game meant securing health, prosperity, and community–and all at the same time, thus preventing all three human threats from occurring.

Something else Religion gave to humans in times of trouble was making certainty uncertain. The possibility that Creator would help us in our times of need or times of threat has been priceless. What do people do when they get cancer? Pray. What do people do when they lose their job and have a family to provide for? Pray. What do people do when they have interpersonal problems? Pray–perhaps, it depends. The point is, is that we pray in times of trouble. It allows us to consider the possibility that our troubles will be handled in a way that Creator deems fit, and how can we argue with what’s in God’s will?

I used to consider myself agnostic while I tried to make sense of my life and my purpose for being here, and what I found is that, when in times of trouble, perhaps it’s best to just ask Mary and hear her say “Let it be”.

Or maybe a good smudge. Either way, faith has a purpose and can be useful when your only option might be self harm, addiction or violence.

I often wonder if our modernization has anything to do with the uptick in addiction, violence and depression happening in society. I often wonder if, as we grow father and farther away from what the Blackfoot deemed “enough” for their happiness, if we’re falling farther away from happiness all together? As societies begin to modernize, secularity begins to raise and religiosity begins to fall, and now we’re all hooked on something, whether it be our phones, an evening drink, or a shopping splurge. We obviously don’t feel fulfilled. Our needs don’t seem to be fulfilled, and perhaps that’s an indication that we feel at threat in some area of our lives. For many Indigenous people, threat can come in all forms: workforce exclusion causing economic threat, high mortality rates for Indigenous women and LGBT, not to mention water and food scarcity for many First Nation communities. With Cultural Genocide my people don’t even really have their tribe anymore. There are privileged Natives, like myself, who never had to worry about food growing up (though I seen my parents worry about it), or having to worry about my life chronically, nor did I have an absence of love growing up from my mother and grandma of whom I call mom as well. There are plenty of Indigenous people like myself, just as there are privileged and not-so privileged white folks.

In our diverse society, I see that we as a nation are slowly turning into zombies. My people have struggled with the zombie-act before, with the genocides and terror my people have experienced. Hyperinflation in Germany after WWI made Germans zombie enough to allow Hitler to come into power. Economic inequality in the United States ushered in Donald Trump. We’re naturally not evil as a species, we just become vicious when we’re threatened or are faced with possible threat and that’s what happens with being a part of nature. Nature is vicious and unrelenting when it needs to be, and calm and plentiful in other ways.

It’s understanding this nature that will help us guide the seas with understanding instead of frustration and confusion.

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