I have had a traditional Aleut (Unungan) upbringing in the Bering Sea which guides me in writing this essay on “Mind and morality: where do they meet?” My people were in the Bering Sea for over 10,000 years, and we are still there. From an indigenous person’s perspective, I find the question to be critical in terms of the violence around the world today in all its forms and the continuing decline of life support systems of Mother Earth. The questions we ask about our plight as human beings are central to where we go from here. Alaska Native Elders say that we must look at the root causes of our challenges and not at the symptoms. The root cause of our plight is disconnection from our hearts—which inform our minds, and our minds then direct what we do.
In today’s society, we are focused on how the brain works and what it produces. The qualities of mind, according to The Free Dictionary, deal with “thought, perception, memory and decision.” Merriam-Webster defines mind as “the organized conscious and unconscious adaptive mental activity of an organism.” If this is the case, where is the heart? The “heart” I am talking about is the inexplicable aspect of us that is in connection with the divine and guides us impeccably. “Heart” is the source of correct thinking and being. Einstein is quoted saying, “we cannot solve the problem with the same consciousness that created the problem.” I would argue that the consciousness of the mind, as we define it, is the consciousness that created all the problems faced by humans today.
When veterans returned from Vietnam, thousands came back with a peculiar disorder that the doctors had to deal with. It was invisible until they put a name to it: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The vets took to addictions and other behaviors: drinking alcohol, taking drugs, watching TV for seventeen hours a day, and even isolating themselves in the wilderness or in other ways. Most of these veterans had depression. They used these coping behaviors to try to escape from their reality of remembering the horrors of war. To escape required detaching from the present moment because it was too painful. One definition of an addiction is a strategy to escape the present moment. These veterans used this strategy to detach, as much as possible, from the heart. Native Elders say that this is like creating a big stomach that is always hungry and is never filled; the result is addiction. The Elders also say that when we swallow feelings we create a stagnant pool inside ourselves and these stagnant pools create depression. The addictive behaviors were passed along from generation to generation for coping with anything that hurt one’s spirit, and these behaviors remain with us today. The addictions, one can argue, are society-wide wherever we take without thought to the consequences and do harm to others and to Mother Earth.
Prior to the “beginning of time,” all people had an internal guide for how to behave and how to think. Time began when we focused on guilt, shame, remorse, anger, rage, jealousy, and like feelings; or fear, which is a projection into the future of something that has not happened yet. Time began when we focused anywhere except the present moment where the “heart” can be found. Instead, we simply replaced the present with feelings of the past or future, and so we live there today. Someone once said, “God can be found in the silence between one’s thoughts” and, according the Depak Chopra, “the point of power is in the present moment.” Native Americans say that one who lives in the present moment is the “real human being”: one who is whole, who knows their place in the world. In the names they gave themselves as a people and culture, Alaska Native peoples call themselves the “human being” or the “real human being.” They understand that human laws and the study of morality are creations of those who live outside of the present, necessitating that these things be memorialized and made into laws and fields of study because they have forgotten how to be integrated into life as real human beings. In the time before time began, we never had prisons. Why? We never had to deal with human-caused things like warfare, felony, and climate change—the destruction of the life support systems of the planet. Why? We never invented the term “sustainability” as a concept to guide how we interact with the earth. Why? Simply put, the Indigenous Elders say these society-wide struggles stem from a memory lapse: we have forgotten how to be “real human beings” guided by divinely-inspired laws for living.
We need to listen to these Elders who know. They say that “nothing is created outside [of us] until it is created inside first.” We are in conflict outside because we are in conflict inside. We judge others because we judge ourselves first. We criticize and find fault in others because we are finding fault inside of ourselves first. And we trash the environment outside because we trash the environment inside. As long as this kind of consciousness exists, we will never create anything truly new, inside or out.
So, where do the mind and morality meet? The answer is the heart, which directs our individual thoughts, feelings, and actions if we have the “ears” to listen to what it is saying in any given circumstance. It is the only aspect of us that guides without doubt or hesitation, and it guides us perfectly. How do we get back to being heart-guided people? The Elders say that the model for our cultures should be a two-year-old child. The two-year-old cries when she feels like crying; she laughs in the moment. When she is angry, she deals with it in the moment, and then she is fine. Two-year-olds are masters of moving energy. We need to remember how to move energy to be real human beings.