Written in honor of Native American Heritage Month
I first glimpsed the Native American worldview during an undergraduate course on alternative medicine. We visited an Ayurvedic center, learned Transcendental Meditation, and spent time at a Native reservation.
Of all these experiences, my time on the reservation impacted me most deeply. Meeting tribal leaders, lawyers and community members, participating in rituals – it was incredibly powerful. I gained immense respect for Native culture, tradition and way of life.
The Native American philosophy honors the profound interconnection of all living things – people, nature, spirit. Their worldview values harmony and balance of mind, body and spirit with the natural environment (Deloria, 1994; Hirschfelder & Kreipe de Montano, 1993; Oswalt & Neely, 1999). Phrases like “all my relations” reflect the core belief that all is connected.
The essence of Native spirituality is relationship. Their Circle of Life depicts four directions, representing mind, body, environment and spirit (Black Elk & Lyon, 1990). All are seen as connected parts of the whole, worthy of equal reverence.
This ancient wisdom provides guidance for thriving physically, emotionally and spiritually. The Native view holds that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Mind, body and spirit flow together as interconnected dimensions, not separate entities.
Native child-rearing emphasizes self-sufficiency in harmony with nature. Elders receive absolute respect. Individual behaviors align with natural cycles, not against them (Axelson, 1999). As just one example, women on their moon cycle take on a sacred role of retreat and renewal.
When I learned that menstruating women do not work, eat from public dishes or sit with men during their cycle, I was struck. Their power at this time is seen as so great, it can only be experienced privately, through ceremony with other women.
Native philosophy asserts that all of nature has power and purpose. People can communicate with trees, animals, wind and more. The ability to speak this common language was lost over time, but the innate connections remain (Black Elk & Lyon, 1990).
This worldview has profound relevance for mental health approaches today. Some therapists have respectfully incorporated Native wisdom into their practices. For example, Garrett and Grutchfield (1997) synthesized contemporary counseling with Native teachings to help youth who felt isolated and disconnected.
Their unity model focuses on fostering a sense of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity. It employs the Medicine Wheel to accentuate relationships between self, others, nature and spirit (Garrett & Garroll, 2000). Group ceremonies aim to “keep good relations” with all aspects of life (Garrett, Garrett, & Brotherton, 2001).
The Native American heritage offers a profoundly holistic paradigm where all life forms intersect. As we seek new models for care, their reverence for human dignity and the natural world provides timeless guidance.
Above all, Native philosophy honors the ecology of the planet along with the humanity of its people. It is a rich heritage that calls us to awaken to the sacred interconnection of all things. May we answer this call, learning from the original stewards of this land.