Learn To Have Nothing
A short anecdote on living on the rez, and living through hard times.
The thing about hard times is you don’t know what they’re like until you’re in them. For me, I was lucky to only experience them for a spell, but even then, one man’s hard times is another’s life. My rock bottom is someone else’s all-time high, and vice versa.
After my mom passed, I used the splinterization of my family to act selfish and self-serving. I was broken, directionless, and angry. I was 17. After dropping out, surfing couches, and doing mostly nothing, my dad, in a sort of novel-like, grand way, offered me a ticket to anywhere; anywhere in America, but here, to bum around.
After a long journey to Minneapolis, and spending two or three months in the Standing Rock camps (a story for another time), I ended up on the Fort Peck reservation in northeast Montana.
The people I was staying with were kind of insane, not well to do, and well, there is something a lot of people outside the rez don’t have - perspective. These people weren’t just poor, but pretty out of their mind and distanced from the modern world, but with all the same staples of modern day consumer culture. They are in a vacuum of culture, of a connection to the real world, but still given access to twinkies and Dr. Pepper. It’s the same vibe I’d imagine aboriginals in the Outback have, just more violent and resentful.
They were an elderly couple — boomers. Indian boomers aren’t like us gringos. They’re much more hardened from the horrors of poverty and lack of opportunity. Young Indians don’t grow up with aspirations. They spend most of their time around cynical adults, who do and say all kinds of things that make these young people angry at the world (and the white man). Much like Appalachia, the Sioux have been poor for as long as living memory can account. I met old Lakota who had a lot of knowledge and appreciation — entrepreneurial, business-owning types — for their culture, and always were eager to pass on the knowledge of their dying culture. You don’t really know what it feels like, to see the ghost of the past seep into modern day, until you meet an elderly Indian trying to pass on the love and knowledge of their own culture to a young person willing and ready to listen. I can’t put into words how tragic it feels. Their ancestors used to roam the lands, building anipis and teepees, and being so spiritually in-tune with their land. That all seems to have all faded with welfare and modern consumer delights.
Even in lowdown major cities, you still feel like you’re in modern times, with all the goods and bads. You sense the aura of happening. You know that a hospital is near, that people are generally all employed, and that you understand social media is mostly nonsense. People around you are generally sane bugpeople in their respective modernday ruts.
Not on the rez. You see, the rez is a world of detachment, mental illness, evil spirits, and hopelessness. The Indians (mostly Lakota) don’t really know what is going on outside of the rez, and when they leave, they are not welcomed back. They are in such a mindset of cope that leaving is seen as selling out to the white man; you think you’re better than everyone if you try to get your shit together. There is such an issue with incest, too. Literally everyone is related. You meet someone who is going to know literally everyone else you’ve met. It’s like life in the ghetto, but rather than having some level of attachment to the aether of instant information and a connection to the hustle and bustle of modern day, they are instead stuck in the monotonous hellscape of the North American prairie. Most people don’t really know that feeling that true monotony gives someone — it drives you insane. These people, their ancestors were nomads and hunters, and now they have been relegated to a life of no adventure and no advancement as they are stuck in the hell of the welfare cycle.
What is hard to articulate that separates living on the rez, versus living in a ghetto (which can be just as insane) is the people. Indians are brought up in ghettos that have no access to the outside world, and the entirety of their social media presence is centered around their own communities; communities that are mostly full of unemployed, overweight alcoholics who have an extraordinarily high rate of suicide. Oh, and throw in that bit about incest, and you get a perpetual source of gossip and drama.
What I witnessed across the prairie in the Dakotas and Montana was the combined feeling of the nothingness, the monotony, the dreaded abyss of the prairie mixed in with the life of a truly hopeless and vengeful people. It’s something to sympathize with. It’s something that I can’t talk about in depth without tearing up. There are so many quality people there who get their hearts hardened, get caught up in insane conspiracies (most Indians, at least in Sioux Nation, believe some pretty schizo stuff), are caught in the death spiral of welfare dependency, and the youth have such a detachment from their culture and language that there is no direction for them forward. They are a people who truly were given the raw end of the deal, and have no recourse.
It brings us back to the issue of modern times, and well, the issue ever since the beginning of the industrial revolution; there are cultures that have no way upwards, and no way forwards. Their lives were simple and free in the days of no borders, no industry, and just a free life hunting bison. Now, being put in the white man’s “way of life,” they have nowhere to go and nothing to do.
No one really understands that feeling until they’ve lived around it. If you don’t have sympathy for them, or black ghettos with the same situation, then I’d hate to be you. Go live around them and it will drive you insane. It is so jarringly unhealthy what we have done in the end-product of consumer culture.
What I experienced there was the closest, other than living in a homeless shelter for half a year, to what hard times feels like. Even then, at least at the shelter I had food and a bed to sleep on. What most of us really take for granted is how quickly that can be taken from us, and as we seem to be getting closer and closer to hard times, I want y’all to understand the importance of knowing how good it is to be you. I remember the feeling of being hungry, not having a warm place to sleep, and thanking God how good it felt sleeping in an alleyway in that warm sleeping bag. People take it all for granted. They are so caught up in their pride and vanity that the very idea of being an eyesore is the worst thing possible.
I saw what cultural abandonment looks like in Sioux Nation. I saw what it looks like when clueless people are put into a rut of begging and woe-is-me-ing. In those towns on the rez, there’s nothing but people wandering around aimlessly, day and night, looking for someone to bum alcohol or money off of. And I don’t mean like a couple; I mean half the town. It’s always busy in Indian towns. Nothing but jobless people looking for something to do (normally fighting or getting drunk).
When you compare a modern American who has enjoyed the fruits of consumerism, the very idea of not being able to shower for a week, having to go days without eating, and not being given any level of pity or mercy, would probably lead them to suicide. That’s why, in the lead-up to what will be an era of divisiveness, civil unrest, shortages, and no opportunity, it is extremely pertinent to get used to not having anything, taking joy in the little things, and living frugally.
God gave me some level of preparation in my late teen years, and early adulthood, to understand what it is like to be genuinely human, and to not put any real stock in the rat race or these goings-on in government and our fallen society. I know what it is like to hit rock bottom, and that’s why every time I see someone in my life falling down, or I hear of someone near to me in a bad spot, I know that it is important for them. I wouldn’t be appreciative, and ultimately, pretty damn happy and at-peace, if it wasn’t for being homeless, living in a shelter, working as a busser and waiter, having to take public transportation, etc. If it wasn’t for those experiences, I would probably still be vain, still care about what people have to say about me, and probably be pretty unhappy. When hard times come, you toughen up, or you die. Simple as that. You either embrace the shit, and just do a figure eight into it, or you drown. You have to learn how to embrace disaster, or you will be stuck.
Someone I know who didn’t really go through the experiences I did, and decided to use the woe-is-me attitude through their rough spots and lived off of other people, is literally right where they have been emotionally, mentally, and financially their entire adulthood. They literally never grew up. We all know someone who just seems to be perpetually stuck in unsuccess and lowdown issues. Don’t be like those people. They don’t get better because they don’t know what rock bottom is until they’re six feet under.
When you start seeing the signs, and I mean, we’ve been seeing them for a little while now, I want you to understand that what you have is temporary, and your good image, easy life, and vain aspiration can all come crashing down in a day.
So please, stop thinking your meaning is made in “improving the world” or “becoming successful” or “making an impact.” These are all vain endeavors. I’d go so far as to say they are pagan. Simply put, it is vanity to try and do “good things” for the simple sake of it. You do it in the Lord’s name, and likewise, you need to lead your life in the Lord’s name. The logical conclusion to that is embracing hardship, and knowing it might never bring you any glory or recognition. Instead, do it for the Lord.
I simply dipped my toe in the pool of honest-to-God rock bottom hopelessness, and I attribute my easy run back up to an easier, nicer life, all to God’s impact on my life through His Word. When hard times come, it’ll be a familiar smell to me. It’ll be nostalgic. For me, I just enjoy the cathartic feeling, and so being laid off and living through some economic crash doesn’t scare me, really, but that’s the point — I am ready for that, and I am ready for the opposite. God has prepared for me something greater, as he has for you. Nothing scares me anymore. The mystery of life is just too endearing.
It doesn’t mean I wish for people to go through hardships, purposefully, but rather, to embrace stress and responsibility, to learn what it is like to be afraid and lonely, to take on a project or an endeavor where you have to motivate yourself. Not doing that is like leaving a bandage on for years then finally having to rip it off. Stress management, which is something I’ll elaborate on in another article, is key to not only being a leader, but embracing challenges. If you don’t know how to be mild-mannered, unafraid, meek, and undemanding, you will surely perish.
Even those on the rez or in ghettos, they at least know what stress and dread feels like. Maybe they aren’t great at building a campfire, or are particularly hardworking, but they know what a fight is like. They know what corruption looks like. One must get fresh air, sunlight, eat healthy, and take their vitamins if they wish to never be sick. Likewise, one must embrace the unsanitized world, learn how it works, and develop skills of discernment and judgement, if they are to understand challenges. Moreover, they will be prepared for unexpected disasters and hard times.
“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man's abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.”
From Walden, by Henry David Thoreau