Native American Spirituality
Interview with Fran Schutta
- Morning tobacco prayer is an offering at sunrise. You are there to greet the sun, to greet the new day and make your offering to the Four Directions, Mother Earth and Father Sky. That was pivotal in my spiritual life, because prior to that I had never felt connected to my environment. That was a big piece of what was missing for me. The tradition I grew up in had you striving for perfection somewhere out there.
- I am honored to be able to facilitate a Native American Women's Ceremony, parts of which have been handed down since before Christ's time. I really don't have any desire to be part of the Catholic priesthood, and the priesthood couldn't do what I do. It's a different gift. The sad thing is that there is no ceremony within the Catholic Church that a woman is empowered to perform.
- I really look forward to the day when we can take these diverse liturgies and find a way to weave them together. That is happening in many churches; in many progressive denominations they're really trying very hard to bring the different liturgies together-masculine, feminine, Protestant, Buddhist-they're honoring diversity.
- …it's part of our job here to break down walls and appreciate our differences while celebrating what we have in common.
- In the traditions that I've learned, ceremony and ritual are two different things. We hear a lot about ceremony, and the word is used interchangeably with the term ritual. In my tradition, ceremony is a structure that has energy in and of itself. The Catholic mass is ceremony. There is an innate structure for energy to move through, which is why you train people to facilitate that ceremony. Ritual is the thing that we, as a group, bring to ceremony to make it personal. The energy of ritual is created by the people who are present; the energy of ceremony is inherent in its structure, which does not change.
- I think there are a lot of people who walk through this life unconsciously, but that's a choice as well. This is a planet of free choice, and maybe that's why bad things happen to good people, because it's a free choice planet. But that's a human thing, that's not God. That's about how we use our choices. People have the right to be unconscious if that's what they want; but their unconsciousness doesn't give them the right to destroy my place.
- I love that saying, Before I was enlightened, I chopped wood and carried water; after I was enlightened, I chopped wood and carried water." What you do may not change; what shifts is your awareness and your consciousness. If you don't feel like you're connected to God or a higher creative goodness, then I think you have a tough road to follow
Ann: In what spiritual tradition were you raised?
Fran: I was raised as a Catholic. Out of respect for my birth tradition and the Native Elders who have held the ideas of spirituality I try to practice, it's important for the reader to know that I'm not Native American. These are not the traditions of my blood, but they are the traditions of my heart, and I would not presume to speak for Native American culture. I'm very grateful for the spirituality the Elders from many traditions have held and for what many are now generously sharing. What I have learned and what I have been practicing is by permission of my teachers' Elders. These teachings and ceremonies very often have been revised to accommodate understanding by non-native cultures. Due to the limitations of our language, it is important for the reader to understand that when I refer to "native traditions" I am sharing my experience and my interpretation of the spirit of the teaching.
Ann: I'm going to interview some people who are Native American, but I want people to see how Native American teachings have been incorporated into our culture and how much they have changed our culture, the basic Americana. This tradition couldn't be more different than Catholicism, right?
Fran: Well, yes and no. Catholicism is a very mystical tradition, but I grew up in a time when they didn't explain that part to you. In my time, there was a lot of learning by rote. I always felt that something was missing for me in Catholicism, although early on I certainly couldn't articulate that. But I bless that structure, that Catholic tradition that I grew up in; it gave me a very strong foundation from which to explore and expand my spirituality. I still get chills at mass and when I hear Catholic hymns. There are still vibrations of that ceremony that go through me. But I needed something else.
Many years ago, a friend of mine said, "Hey Fran, there's this woman who's giving a talk down at a café, do you want to go hear her?"
I said, "Sure, I've got nothing better to do." I've since learned that when my mind says, "I've got nothing better to do," it's a hook for me-I'd better watch it! It was really a turning point. I went to hear Oh Shinnah FastWolf speak, and what she was saying really resonated with me, and I just had to find out more. I continue to work with her, and I'm honored to call her a friend and a sister.
Ann: How long ago was that?
Fran: In 1986.
Ann: And what tribe is she from?
Fran: She comes from an eclectic background. Her primary family traditions come from the Apache, but her family background is also Mohawk and Scottish. In many traditions there is no distinction between birth family and adopted family. When you're family, you're family. So you may hear her refer to "dad" or "grandfather," but that could be one of several different people.
She has a very rich cultural tradition and worldview, and that just stuck with me from that first session. Every time she came to this area, I wanted to sit and listen a little more. And the more I practiced what she shared, the more my spiritual life started to turn around. One of the very pivotal things I did was the simple act of praying the morning tobacco prayer. Tobacco and cornmeal are very sacred in several native traditions, and so it's traditional to use them to offer prayers. The idea is to offer something of value back to the source that nourishes you unconditionally. Sometimes when I teach, especially when I teach children, who may not have a connection with tobacco or cornmeal, I use birdseed as a way of giving back to the earth. We're always taking, and this gives us an opportunity to concretize the idea of giving-back. One of my favorite things to offer back is chocolate, because it's very sacred to me! Chocolate is something I value, and it's a sacrifice to give it up.
Ann: Now you say that you're an "accomplice" of Oh Shinnah's. Can you say a little bit about what it means to be an accomplice? And when did that start, how long have you been an accomplice?
Fran: Oh Shinnah uses the term accomplice, because she feels the term apprentice separates teacher from student. Accomplice implies that you participate. So right from the beginning, you'd better be ready to walk your talk. She laughingly tells us that if she ever ends up in jail, we have to just go get her. Being an accomplice means that you've got to be out there doing the work. Whatever that is for you, whatever you're called to do in your life, you've got to be aware of it and know that it's not a glamour road. There's a lot of grunt work and you've made a commitment to be out there doing it.
Just to backtrack a little bit, morning tobacco prayer is an offering at sunrise. You are there to greet the sun, to greet the new day and make your offering to the Four Directions, Mother Earth and Father Sky. That was pivotal in my spiritual life, because prior to that I had never felt connected to my environment. That was a big piece of what was missing for me. The tradition I grew up in had you striving for perfection somewhere out there. Morning tobacco prayer is the simple act of going out every morning and greeting the sun and invoking the energies of the Directions, Mother Earth, Father Sky. You thank Great Spirit for what you have, you ask His blessings, you ask for what you need. And the prayer ends, "This is a good day to die."
Ann: What does that mean?
Fran: For me it means a couple of things. It means live this day as if it were your last. The moment I say that, my vision opens up to all the beauty that surrounds me, and the love of Great Spirit that comes to me in so many ways, in ways that I wouldn't normally even think of-not only through my family and friends, but through the person I pass on the street, the person I help at work or the one who helps me. It opens up my vision so I can see more, so I can be in the moment in my life. And it makes dying a part of living.
So morning tobacco prayer was pivotal for me because it connected me more to my physical environment, and part of my learning has been what it means to be physical. We are here in physical bodies, and the moment the Spirit incarnates into a physical body there is directionality. You're physically someplace. There is a North, there is a South, there is an East, there is a West, there is an Above, a Below and a Within. You are the center, the point of Great Spirit's love made manifest. What you do becomes very significant.
I've always struggled with this idea of a "time crunch," the idea that you have to organize and manage time, and you never have enough time. Some people say, "Time's an illusion, so it's not really real…" I can't tell my boss that! People say, "Don't wear a watch," and "You're too much a slave to time." But I've recently studied frame drumming, and you know what it's made me realize? Time is real in this incarnation. To deny time is to deny the rhythm of your life, and if you deny the rhythm of your life, then you're fighting your existence here. Drumming teaches you to divide time and that movement and measurement create rhythm. When I was doing morning tobacco prayer, I realized that I had no inner sense of the rhythm. Everybody talks about the seasons changing, and we mark certain celebrations in our calendar year. But unless you can internalize the meaning of those rhythms, how you relate to them and how they connect you with the greater circle of life, it's easy to become alienated from the context of your life. Instead of riding the rhythms like you ride the waves of the ocean, you're fighting against them or trying to ignore their presence or feeling like something's left out. And when I say, "riding the rhythms," I mean actively, co-creatively, in partnership with, not passively.
Morning tobacco prayer honors the masculine quality, and the evening prayer, which is the whole other half of that rhythm, the moon cycle, honors the feminine aspect. So there's always a balance and it forms wheels within wheels. The energy of the directions are wheels within wheels, the seasons are wheels within wheels. And as you move your awareness further out you notice other interlocking rhythms, wheels expanding into more complex dimensional forms. This awareness can be the difference between humming a tune and co-creating a symphony. Our whole existence on this planet is about cycles and rhythms.
Ann: Now how different is the feminine evening prayer from the masculine Morning Prayer?
Fran: For the evening prayer you use cornmeal, which is a feminine plant with feminine energy, and you face the moon and invoke the feminine aspect, whatever that means to you. Our prayer is to the Great Goddess of the universe, Mother of all living things. And we pray, "Hear me; this one (not "I") stands before you, hear my prayer." There's always a prayer of gratitude first; you give thanks for your blessings, and you name them. Your personal prayer can be for something that's going on in the community or the world, or for the strength to be a better person, or to ask for help with a project or dilemma. You ask for what you need. You infuse the cornmeal or tobacco with your prayer by using your breath. Inhalation is intention, exhalation is manifestation. The cornmeal and tobacco hold your prayers, and you either leave them on the ground, on the Mother, or you give them to the Wind People to carry. So you make your prayer concrete, and you make a connection with the Earth, who is a living being. Think of the possibilities of having a personal connection with Mother Earth!
Ann: I remember going to several rituals that you did with other women. The rituals seemed to be great transition places; there was a great honoring of ritual. Of course, ritual is honored in the Catholic Church too, but this seemed more personal and earthier. Can you say anything about the difference between the rituals you've done in the Catholic Church and the Native American rituals that you've done?
Fran: The Native American ceremonies and rituals that I've participated in range from rites of passage to rituals to help you develop an awareness of your day-to-day life. I believe the Catholic Church also has those rites of passage: baptism, confirmation, marriage, and extreme unction. And they have similar traditions of daily prayer and weekly mass. So in my view, there are many parallels between the ceremonies. There are Native American ceremonies to honor or dedicate a new child to Great Spirit, and those could be considered similar to a baptism in the Catholic Church. There are rites of passage that are akin to confirmation in the Catholic Church; there are different stages of a young person's life when they take on a new name or a new vibration. There's a ceremony when a child is preparing to enter this world as well as one when they turn seven years old. There's the Ceremony of Changing Woman for a young woman who has reached menses. This is a beautiful ceremony for a young woman's transition into adulthood. In the Changing Woman Ceremony, the young girl takes on the vibration of the change, its energy. A young girl is Changing Woman during the time of the ceremony. She's honored by her people, and you can ask questions of her and get very profound answers. If you had a question about something that was going on in your family or something that needed some resolution, you could ask it of the young woman who embodies Changing Woman. And you would get a very significant answer, because it is not the young girl talking to you, it is Changing Woman.
Ann: So the young woman is spiritually anointed for a certain period of time so that a particular spirit can come through her.
Fran: I believe so. The thing that strikes me in the ceremonies that I have experienced is that you really are that vibration. You can feel that there's a palpable change.
Ann: Does that feeling stay with you, or does it just come for a period of time?
Fran: I think it depends on the ceremony itself. I imagine that at some level the time of the sacred ceremony is the time when the deity-energy is present. But then that energy is always encapsulated in the young woman as she moves on through her adult life. So in some ways you take on a vibration or a change permanently.
I recently went through a naming ceremony myself, and I was knocked off my feet when I took my name ceremonially. During part of the ceremony we were at a body of water, and like a baptism, you go under the water three times, and the third time you emerge from the water with your new name declared on your lips. Well, son of a gun if it didn't take me back under a fourth time! Those types of energy shifts or vibrations are very prevalent in the ceremonies that I've experienced with my Native American teachers, and I don't necessarily feel them in the ceremonies in the Catholic Church. That's partly because, as a woman, I can't conduct Catholic ceremonies.
Ann: That's important! So would you say that feminine energy or feminine power is honored more in Native American spirituality?
Fran: I feel that there is an honoring of the balance between the feminine and the masculine. I had some discussions with my Dad when I started this path, and he voiced his disappointment that I didn't stay within our Catholic traditions. And I had to tell him, "Dad there's not enough there for me as a woman." Which is not to say that there aren't very strong women there, very wonderful women, but I needed something else.
Ann: I have a friend who's a nun, and she just told me the Pope said that if any women even bring up the idea of ordination they'll be excommunicated.
Fran: I can appreciate that that's a problem, but I want to go on record with this, all right? I have no desire to be a priest. I just don't have any desire to conduct mass or give communion. I am honored to be able to facilitate a Native American Women's Ceremony, parts of which have been handed down since before Christ's time. I really don't have any desire to be part of the Catholic priesthood, and the priesthood couldn't do what I do. It's a different gift. The sad thing is that there is no ceremony within the Catholic Church that a woman is empowered to perform. I'm not quite sure how to articulate that, but it's just totally different for me.
Ann: A ceremony in which you're really honored as a woman, serving women and helping women at the different transitions in their own lives? I've just been reading some books about women's literature within the Catholic and Episcopal Churches, and they discuss the difference between a feminine liturgy and a traditional liturgy. And the feminine liturgy is about birth and all those female experiences.
Fran: Yes, all those earthy, messy things, you know? That's life. I really look forward to the day when we can take these diverse liturgies and find a way to weave them together. That is happening in many churches; in many progressive denominations they're really trying very hard to bring the different liturgies together-masculine, feminine, Protestant, Buddhist-they're honoring diversity.
In many native traditions I believe men have their own ceremonies as well. And that's not because one shuns the other, but because the tradition honors that essential quality of who you are and the vibration you hold in your physical incarnation. Likewise, there are ceremonies where both genders participate, and again, this is all part of the interlocking cycles and the rhythms of life.
Ann: You brought your teaching and your rituals to a Methodist church, and people were open to it and appreciative.
Fran: Oh it was so wonderful! The church leaders really tried to bring an experience of different cultures and different worldviews to the community. It was a wonderful time for me. Picture Main Street, in front of the Methodist Church, with a sacred fire! There were twenty-five or thirty people sitting around it, telling stories, singing, praying.
Ann: And it didn't take away from Christ's teachings. It was a celebration honoring all aspects of life.
Fran: Oh Shinnah was adopted by the late Hopi Grandfather David Monongye. One of his teachings was that we are all flowers in Great Spirit's garden. Mother Earth is our common root. The beauty is in the different colors of the garden, which reflect Great Spirit's beauty. I think that it's part of our job here to break down walls and appreciate our differences while celebrating what we have in common. We're moving that way in many things.
Ann: In church we can sometimes miss the idea of celebrating our connection to the Earth.
Fran: I think we can, and it's a really important thing to pay attention to. You can't live in this world and not be aware of what's happening to our environment. And let's face it, we're a one world community; what happens across the ocean happens here. Certainly we should have learned that back in the days of Chernobyl. If nothing else, our technology has brought us together. We've got to pay attention to others as reflections of ourselves.
Ann: Are there any spiritual heroes in your background, people in your life who have strongly influenced your spiritual beliefs?
Fran: My great-uncle, Father Andrew Cervini was a Jesuit Missionary in the Philippines during World War II. He was responsible for hiding three PT boats that were being pursued by Japanese destroyers. I grew up hearing the stories about him, and when he was visiting the States the family would gather for mass and the sacraments at my great-aunt's house. While I knew my great-uncle, my relationship was with my great-aunts, Sally and Theresa Cervini. They were very active members of their church and active fund-raisers for the mission in the Philippines. They brought us together as a family for spiritual celebration and to support the work that needed to be done at the time. My aunts were out there doing the work. That's also what I admire about Oh Shinnah, she's out there doing the work.
Ann: When you say she's out there doing the work, what does that mean?
Fran: For as long as I've known her, and before it became popular, she was out there trying to get people to pay attention to their habits: recycling, replacing Styrofoam at local restaurants because you can't dispose of it safely, stopping the transportation of radioactive waste through residential neighborhoods, making sure there are warning labels on irradiated food, fighting oil drilling on native lands and fighting the confiscation and pollution of those lands. For as long as I've known her, Oh Shinnah has challenged us to look at how we pollute our environment and our lives with our personal choices and our choices as a corporate society. She encourages people to pick at least one local issue and one global issue to work on, and she reminds us that we have the power to make changes as consumers.
Ann: Are there any other spiritual heroes who really helped change your life?
Fran: One of my spiritual heroes is Mary Magdalene, oddly enough. I don't think she was who they say she was. I think she was a priestess of very high esteem in her time. I don't think we have correct information about her-she was a powerful woman, way beyond what we think her status was.
Ann: Have you had any profound spiritual experiences that you associate with birth or sickness or death? You talked about energy, or vibrations, and about how a young woman actually takes on power during the Changing Woman Ceremony. Have you had a similar experience yourself?
Fran: There have been times of initiation that have been profound experiences for me, although they never really hit me in the head right away. Spirit seems to move very slowly for me. I experience the profoundness of Spirit like the hands on a clock. If you watch it, you never see it move. But if you turn around and then look back-oh my gosh, it's changed! I may not realize I've gone through a profound experience at the time, but I look back and say, "Oh yeah! That was a real change."
However, the initiation that I went through when I was forty-four was quite profound. It took place at my home, which is in a beautiful orchard. There was a large gathering for the initiation, and the field where we had it was full of these phenomenal women. And that field came alive in such a way that a door opened in time. The Ancestors were there behind each woman in that group. The next day I went back, and of course everything was quiet and still. It was as though Brigadoon had opened up and was now closed. That was a cellular experience for me.
But the experience I like the most is a perfect example of the relationship that Spirit and I have. When I first moved into the orchard, I went out to the front yard to do my evening cornmeal prayer. It was winter, and I was standing there in the dark. The lights were dark in our house, but there were some lights on from the house across the street, so it wasn't pitch black. All of a sudden, at about arms' length I saw mist rise in front of me. And I thought, "Great! I'm going to have a vision, I'm going to have a visit! I won't be scared...now don't be scared, this is what you've been asking for all along, you want to see something!" I feel things, but I don't usually see images. And of course, everybody wants to see something.
So I'm thinking, "Okay, great, I won't be scared." Meanwhile, I don't know whether to turn and run or what. And I see the mist rise again. It was about at my fingertips, if I were to stretch out my arm. "Okay, I'm ready," and I see the mist rise again. "Okay, I'm ready," and the mist rises again. "Okay, come on! I'm ready!" And then I realized that what I was seeing was the end of my breath! The way the light hit it, I couldn't see at first where it was coming from. I was only seeing the very end of my breath in cold winter air! I went hysterical laughing. And that's the kind of relationship that Spirit and I have, that kind of Coyote. In the Native traditions Coyote is the trickster and a great teacher of lessons. That's one of my favorite stories.
Ann: I was struck by the fact that in some of the rituals there's real danger. That was a profound realization for me; you really have to take a major physical risk in order to make changes.
Fran: In any rite of passage-and I think this is true of any culture-it's not a rite of passage unless there's the possibility of danger. It's the passage from comfort, through fear, to your next level of responsibility. There is that element of danger there, but I never once felt unsafe, even in the preparation for it.
Ann: Well the spirit was very high, the community was around, and there were very specific steps that were taken to protect you. But it still took great courage to go through it, right?
Fran: Yes, but also understand that you might prepare for years ahead of time for a rite of passage, so it's absolutely not something that just happens overnight. In my spiritual practice I've found that when you declare your intention to do something, whether it's a ritual or a ceremony or learning a particular path, the moment you declare your intention is the moment your initiation starts. I declared my intention two or three years before that initiation actually happened. And at the time I thought the initiation would happen within the year.
A lot of the preparation work entails emotionally, mentally or physically cleansing yourself of those aspects that no longer serve you. You can't imagine what can happen during your preparation, because often these are the things we don't want to look at to begin with. So when you come to the point of initiation, what you have to do may be difficult, but you are incredibly focused because you've been preparing for it for so long. People don't just decide to do an initiation and then do it. That is a misunderstanding in our culture. You get resolution on TV within a minute; you know, take a headache pill, and you'll feel better. And it just doesn't work that way in many things. That doesn't negate the fact that there is a physical risk involved, but that's part of the trust, that's part of the faith; that's part of knowing that Spirit supports you. You have to decide whether or not you're going to trust.
The other thing I don't think people appreciate is that the space we create is sacred. When you have a ceremony or ritual, there is a level of energy and harmony with the land on which you're doing it and with the elements. There's a consciousness of your intent to do a ceremony. You're just not walking out into your backyard and doing a fire walk. There's sacredness built around the event that's what ceremony does.
In the traditions that I've learned, ceremony and ritual are two different things. We hear a lot about ceremony, and the word is used interchangeably with the term ritual. In my tradition, ceremony is a structure that has energy in and of itself. The Catholic mass is ceremony. There is an innate structure for energy to move through, which is why you train people to facilitate that ceremony. Ritual is the thing that we, as a group, bring to ceremony to make it personal. The energy of ritual is created by the people who are present; the energy of ceremony is inherent in its structure, which does not change. That prescribed way of doing things channels the energy, so people are trained to facilitate ceremony. It's important to understand that ceremonial structure creates a space for Spirit to move and to carry you through, or to be more available to you. You're literally in an altered state.
The Run for the Sun is an initiation to become a warrior. Warriors in Apache tradition can be either women or men. They have developed the strength of will to act-not react-for the good of the people, regardless of any inconvenience to themselves. The initiation takes place at Winter Solstice, and it consists of an eight to ten mile run to the ceremonial site, holding water in your mouth. You need to be there at sunrise with the water, that's your offering for the people. This signifies your commitment to serve the people. You can train by running, you can build your stamina, but to actually be in the position to perform this ritual you have to be going by Spirit, it's only Spirit that's carrying you through. Oh Shinnah was initiated at puberty, and she did it again in her forties. I have known other women who have done it in their later years. It's hard work as well as a physical and mental challenge. But I was that sure with my own initiation-it's that inner knowledge that you will be successful if you align your will with Great Spirit.
Ann: Have you had experiences where you've been at the edge of despair and your spiritual practices have been of assistance?
Fran: I think probably the lowest point of my life was very early on, before I even knew anything about a spiritual practice. It was a turning point in many ways. I was married young, I had a daughter young, and I divorced very young. It was a very difficult time, and I took things so personally. Shortly after I was divorced, I met a man with whom I was madly in love, and when that ended I didn't know what was wrong with me. I didn't know what was right. I grew up thinking certain things would happen in my life-I would be a wife and a mother and have a white picket fence. None of that was happening. All my beliefs about what my life was going to be were crumbling. I didn't know who I was, what I was doing, what would happen, and I was scared. I remember nights when I just sat on the bedroom floor sobbing and banging the floor and yelling at God, or whoever. It was awful. I had this bottomless pit in my stomach, and I was so angry I could have chewed nails.
It's almost funny now, but I felt so bad that I would get home and see that there were no messages on my answering machine. I'd be so mad that nobody called me I'd take the phone off the hook, put it in a drawer and say, "There! That'll show you, now you can't get hold of me!" But I did that one night, and I missed being called to my grandmother's bed the night she died. We were very close, and I was so consumed by my anger that I never realized she was getting ready to cross. That was a bitter pill to swallow.
Ann: And was there any spiritual help for you at that time? What was happening?
Fran: Well that was a few years before I started studying with Oh Shinnah. Although I had loving people around me, there was just no point of reference to enable me to describe what I was feeling to anyone. I was single, work was scarce, I had to put food on the table, so there were financial issues as well. Spirit knows She has to be kind of practical with me. So She sent this woman, and we became good friends. She was very grounded and she started talking to me about crystals and different types of healing, and I was thinking, "Well, okay, she's not a kook. She's not a woo-woo person, she's very grounded, she holds a job…" These ideas were all things that were foreign to me, but I could listen to her, I could hear what she said. If I had heard it from someone else, I'd probably have said, "Oh please! Give me a break." But people come into your life with these alternative ideas for you.
That was very early on, in 1984. You couldn't find books on these subjects like you can today. So she came into my life, and I started learning about thought creating form and the therapeutic use of crystals, which actually runs through my work with Oh Shinnah. This woman was the one, who actually said, "Come hear Oh Shinnah talk." So I think Spirit sent her, I really do. At the time I just thought, "Good, I have a new friend I can go visit."
Ann: Why do bad things happen to good people?
Fran: For me, that question is wrong because it implies judgment. Just leave out "bad" and "good" and then you have the question, "Why do things happen to people?" And that's life, you know?
Ann: Some things are good and some are bad.
Fran: I don't think we're asking that question at the right level. I don't know what level to be on, but I feel like I'm in the basement asking the question when maybe I should be on the ninth floor. I don't know, I can't answer that question from here.
Ann: It seems to me that if you're on a spiritual path, as you said, you're doing the best you can where you are for your immediate community and for the larger community. And that's really all we can do, because we're not that powerful. But if you have spiritual teachers and a spiritual community that's there to assist you, you can do a lot more than you can on your own.
Fran: And there's always this duality-you're fine alone, but you're not complete unless you're in community. There's always this dichotomy in the human experience.
A few years ago, we saw the emergence of polarity therapy and the awareness of the polarities as conductors of energy. The tension between opposites provides us with the creative juice of life. I always felt tossed between these polar opposites and nothing ever seemed to go as smoothly as I thought it should. Well, now I'm hearing that we're moving into a time when duality and polarity won't exist. My first reaction was "... wait a minute, if the tension of opposites is the creative juice, what happens to creativity when duality ceases to exist?"
Duality ceases to exist when we shift our focus from the extremes to the larger cycle in which these polar opposites exist. Our vision is expanding, so we're able to track the cycle rather than have our focus jump back and forth between the extremes. So we're better able to move in synchronicity with the whole cycle. We're not losing duality; we're holding the paradox. And that's a very different energy. For me, that's a very empowering position as a co-creator of this reality.
I was talking to my daughter recently about the nature of happiness. It's very easy to say, "Well I'll be happy when…." Plug in anything you want there. Intellectually, we know we're saying that our happiness is out there, something we're always getting to. And we get to that place, and then we say, "Okay, now I'll be happy when…" But happiness is made up of both joy and sadness. How do we know happiness if we never know sadness? So we experience times when things are very painful and times when there is great joy. And our initiation as human beings is to respond to each of these moments by being in them and feeling what needs to be felt. But we need to realize that what we're experiencing in that moment is not the whole cycle, and there is something more-especially if we can't possibly imagine what that might be.
Ann: And that's where community helps, because people can step in and help you when your own rhythm is…
Fran: …all out of whack. Yes. And isn't it true that when you're happy, the first thing you want to do is share it with people?
Ann: Absolutely. Now, do you do any meditation practices, is that at all part of Native American tradition?
Fran: Well, you could certainly consider morning tobacco prayer and evening cornmeal prayer a type of meditation, if that's the terminology you use. My understanding is that each breath is a meditation. So meditation is not necessarily something that's done separately, but rather something that's done throughout the day. My drumming is a meditation. Learning the pattern or the hand techniques is a meditation. My pottery, when I'm sitting at the wheel, is a meditation. But I also get out there and sit at the base of a tree or on this great rock on the land and just have quiet time and listen. And I don't know that they're particularly Native American, but for me there are different levels of meditation. Sometimes I use meditation for soul travel, for healing and renewal, for seeking guidance. I think meditation has a very broad definition. I honor it as a solitary practice and as a co-creative force in community practice.
Ann: Your spiritual community consists of meeting with a certain group of women locally, and you're part of a national group too…
Fran: There are men and women, not only nationally but overseas as well, who work closely with Oh Shinnah. And we try to get together when we can. We'll usually meet at an encampment once a year. We all travel to a place for a week or so, renew friendships, share experiences and new teachings, plan projects for the coming year, perform ceremony together. Depending on how many can make it-there have been years when fifty or sixty people were there.
Ann: So it's a big group. And you know those people, and they'll show up again, so that's really an ongoing community. Even though you don't see each other all the time, you are part of this larger circle.
Fran: Definitely. People do come and go depending on their schedules and where they are in their life, but there's always a connection. I really think I could pick up the phone and call on those people.
Ann: It's too hard to do it alone! And it really doesn't have to be.
Fran: Exactly, it really doesn't have to be. If you had told me years ago that at forty-eight-years old I would be living in a house with four other roommates, I'd have said, "No way, not a chance!" And when I moved from living as a single person into a roommate situation, I was very concerned about what kind of roommate I would be. I'd had my own apartment and raised my daughter for twenty years. I was moving into a community situation, and I thought, "Oh my God, am I even going to like these people?" But now I can't imagine my life any other way. People have moved in and out of my life, but my community has just broadened so much. You don't necessarily stay in touch with everyone, but there are some people you have close bonds with. I like going home and having someone with whom I can sit down and say, "Oh God, what an awful day this was!" And I also like being there for someone else. I'm very grateful not only for the financial support, but also for the emotional support.
Ann: Now what does your tradition say about our place in the world as human beings? Is there a specific teaching on that?
Fran: I can only answer that question from my experience. I think we're divine beings who are trying to be human, trying to have a human experience. And I believe there's no other planet in this universe like planet Earth. This is a showcase planet. This is a planet of free will and paradox and dichotomy, and it's a planet where we come to live our lives forgetting who we really are. I think we come here to evolve as spiritual beings, and because the lessons are physical, right in front of our faces, we learn them real quick.
Now, that's my personal viewpoint: We've been invited by this consciousness called Gaia to come here and evolve. Gaia is a planet being. She says, "Here I am, I'll give you everything you need to live here…" Everything we have is because of this earth. What a gift! And you wouldn't go into someone's home and say, "Thank you for inviting me, I think I'll tear the curtains down, or I'll spill grease all over your carpet." So there's this incredible partnership between this Gaia consciousness and the rest of God's creations, not just the two-leggeds, but the four-leggeds, the standing people, the stone people, the water beings. There's one heck of a party going on down here, and you have an invitation to evolve here as a spiritual being. How you're going to do it is the big question. Is it going to be in harmony with your hostess? Will you co-create with all your brothers and sisters here? When you go to get what you need from the land, do you take everything, because you're afraid it won't continue to be there? Or do you just take what you need, and maybe a little more to share with an elder who can't procure it for him or herself?
Ann: I remember in one of Oh Shinnah's teachings she said that if you have more than you need, you're stealing from somebody who doesn't have.
Fran: If you want to look at the integrity of a society, look at how they treat their elders, their sick and their children. In the traditions of the indigenous community, all the children are your children; all the elders are your elders. If your neighbor next door doesn't have enough to eat, you share. There's no question about that. You're able to take what you need and share with someone else and not destroy your resources in doing so.
Ann: It's as Gandhi said, "There's enough for everybody's need, but not enough for everybody's greed." These spiritual truths are in every culture, but sometimes we need to be reminded of them, right? Now, do you feel that there's a life after death?
Fran: I believe so.
Ann: What does Oh Shinnah say, or your spiritual tradition?
Fran: I've never really asked that specifically of Oh Shinnah. My sense over the years has been that when you die, you go home-you return to Great Spirit and to ancestors. In fact, I think we are our own ancestors. I think we were the ancestors back when, preparing the reality of ourselves today. Doesn't this get confusing? I think I'm standing behind myself!
Ann: Then you believe in past lives-that you come back, and there's a possibility of continuing?
Fran: Yes, I do, although from what Oh Shinnah has told me, this is not necessarily a traditional view of all tribes; not all native cultures believe in reincarnation. In her particular teachings they may. Frankly, I don't see how you can argue against it. I know when I've been someplace before, and I "know" about places that I've never physically visited.
When I first went to Colorado I had the chance to go to Mesa Verde. I had seen pictures of it in travel magazines and had been intrigued. I like the western landscape anyway, but I wasn't prepared for the feeling that came over me when I set foot on Mesa Verde. We were driving up the highway toward the beginning of the Mesa, and I knew I had ridden home to that place many times before. There were many times when I approached the Mesa by horse, going home.
I believe we carry the cellular memories of our ancestors and our past lives (and why not, if we are our own ancestors?) and I think that's part of reincarnation. I think ancient medicine women and men knew a lot of the things scientists are just discovering. Things like DNA coding, the additional planets in our solar system, vibrational weather patterns. Their methods of knowing were as significant as what we call science, and now science is catching up.
I suspect most of the indigenous cultures would laugh at us, saying, "Well you know, it's the Great Mystery; there's a reason it's called the Great Mystery." There's a type of knowing that reaches beyond your physical presence. I can't explain it, because we don't have the language to explain it.
So is there an afterlife? I sure think so. I can't imagine that some consciousness created a place this beautiful, and that's all there is. But I also think Nietzsche was right. The ego portion of us is going to end. This is all there's going to be of Fran Schutta. There's not going to be another Fran Schutta here. There's not going to be another combination of the same spirit and soul knowing that I came in with or will leave with. So in one sense he was right. In a way, this is all there is. But our spiritual teachings tell us that this is only one point of the whole cycle; we're much more than what we see now. Joseph Campbell used to ask his students, "Are you the light bulb or the light?" And part of our task is to come here not knowing. If we remembered, there would be no challenge!
Ann: What would you say to people about a spiritual path? Is it an important thing for people to have? Is it a helpful thing?
Fran: I think you're on a spiritual path whether you know it or not. You can choose the path that's to your liking. My recommendation is to be open to what your chosen path has to teach you, because it will probably teach you things you didn't think you started it to learn. I think there are a lot of people who walk through this life unconsciously, but that's a choice as well. This is a planet of free choice, and maybe that's why bad things happen to good people, because it's a free choice planet. But that's a human thing, that's not God. That's about how we use our choices. People have the right to be unconscious if that's what they want; but their unconsciousness doesn't give them the right to destroy my place.
I think a spiritual path is important, and, as I said, I think people are on one whether they realize it or not. Even before I could articulate it, the core of my spiritual life was to live as consciously as I could. I still have a lot of work ahead of me. But as with the hands of the clock, I can look back and see where I was and how important that place was, even though at the time I couldn't see it in the context of my spiritual life. The only difference now is that I'm more conscious. I love that saying, "Before I was enlightened, I chopped wood and carried water; after I was enlightened, I chopped wood and carried water." What you do may not change; what shifts is your awareness and your consciousness. If you don't feel like you're connected to God or a higher creative goodness, then I think you have a tough road to follow
Fran is a spiritual teacher and an artist. Her work with creating community and higher consciousness is well known. She also works in the business world.