Transcribed from Ritual: Power, Healing, and Community by Malidoma Patrice Some

One of the elders asked, “Where do these white people run to every morning?”

“To their workplaces, of course.”

“Why do they have to run to something that is not running away from them?”

“They do not have time.” I had to say this word in French because there is no equivalent in the local language. The conversation came to a halt when the elder had to ask what this “time” was.

Among the Dagara, the absence of “time” generates a mode of life whose focus is on the state of one’s spirit. This is not comparable to what machine-dominated culture is all about. While in America, the newcomer thinks at first that people move hurriedly in order to enjoy the thrill of speed. But a more traditional look at motion, at speed, quickly reveals that speed is not necessarily so much a movement toward something as it is a movement away from something.

The elder … was pointing to the idea that to move is also to keep oneself distracted. The indigenous mind cannot conceive of it otherwise. And so the elder sees those in constant motion (going places, doing things, making noise) as moving away from something that they do not want to look at or moving away from something that others do not want them to look at. When you slow down, you begin to discover that there is a silent awareness of what it is that you do not want to look at: the anger of nature within each of us, the anger of the gods, the anger of the ancestors or the spirit world.

Thus speed is a way to prevent ourselves from having to deal with something we do not want to face. So we run from these symptoms and their sources that are not nice to look at. To be able to face our fears, we must remember how to perform ritual. To remember how to perform ritual, we must slow down.

. . .

Thus the two worlds of the traditional and the industrial are diametrically opposed. The indigenous world, in trying to emulate Nature, espouses a walk with life, a slow, quiet day-to-day kind of existence. The modern world, on the other hand, steams through life like a locomotive, controlled by a certain sense of careless waste and destruction. Such life eats at the psyche and moves its victims faster and faster along, as they are progressively emptied out of their spiritual and psychic fuel. It is here, consequently, where one’s spirit is in crisis, that speed is the yardstick by which the crisis itself is expressed.

Any person in modern culture who is aware of this destruction from the machine world upon the spiritual world of the individual realizes that there is a starvation of the soul. And realizing that, he or she starts to wonder what to do about it. In places that I have been to speak to people about the beliefs and realities of the indigenous world, there has been a consistent number of people who have been so touched, even profoundly shaken by what I was telling them that I have to believe that I was not so much appealing to their minds as I was awakening something within their souls — something that has always been there. This tells me that there must be an indigenous person within each of us.