It has been a year now since Peace & Dignity Journey 2012 met its completion where runners from both North and South America gathered in Guatemala to complete the 6th intercontinental run. For some runners this was an 8 month journey for others their commitment was a smaller amount of time. Since my first participation in PDJ 2000, I often receive questions about my experience in PDJ and usually find myself not able to completely share the entire side of PDJ. I would get asked by friends, co-workers, parents, community members and just plain old strangers that never heard of PDJ but to this day I cannot share exactly what a runner such as myself experiences because it can only be lived. In this article I will attempt to identify what I truly believe is the Peace & Dignity Syndrome. I once wrote an amusing joke-like article about the 2004 PDJ run which seemed to poke fun at some of the odd things a runner encounters during and even after returning home from such a long ceremony (Click here to see that humor). In this article I attempt to write with a bit more seriousness about the Peace & Dignity Syndrome, something I know runners encounter when returning home. Similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I think that PDJ syndrome is something a runner is placed under without notice, a type of re-establishment stage. Recovering fully from this syndrome is based on the decision each runner chooses for themselves thus making all the difference in settling back into their life in a way that I would argue should be a healthy and productive one.
After having literally run the entire course of the continent and seeing, hearing and experiencing a more favorable life which is not the same life people are living when returning back home, I would often ask myself, what do I do? How do I get my community to understand what I went through? Why is it hard to explain what PDJ is? Will some people ever get it? Why are they not doing what is important?
When Peace and Dignity Journeys began, in short, it was a movement to encourage indigenous communities to find self-determination. To recognize that their language and very unique ceremonies and way of life is sacred and important and there is no need to have to succumb to the mass global culture that seems to be encouraging people that in order to live on this planet we must all think and act as one. Prior to this “oneness” concept, alongside with colonization and globalization, Indigenous nations were doing just fine maintaining their environment, rights to their land and developing their own practices that enabled them to interact with neighboring nations. Peace & Dignity journeys are a reminder to all runners that participate, to return to their homes and strengthen the sense of community should it not be present and if it is already there, to build those relationships with surrounding communities.
Alongside with that, I know that many first time, long distance PDJ runners might also find that even after a year has passed from completing a PDJ run, their life might seem as if something is missing, almost longing and yearning to go back to the way life was while on the Peace & Dignity Journey. I assure you that is not how you want to live your life and in a bit I will explain what I mean by that.
First I want to start by addressing those runners that are still fairly new to the concept of life after Peace & Dignity Journeys. If you are still longing for the PDJ run, the people you ran with, the communities you visited or even things like smudging yourself to the point of spiritual fumigation or collecting water at every river or pond. Know that you are in a phase that lasts maybe 1-2 years that just about anyone who has committed so much time on PDJ goes through. This is why I think this should have a clinical name like “Peace & Dignity Journeys Syndrome” or something like that.
In reality this syndrome is actually less about Peace & Dignity Journeys and more about the psychology of the human brain. You just ran across the continent, literally, and learned so many things about the world that is not true at all for some of the things you might have previously believed. You also seen so much, felt so much and learned so much that can probably conflict with some of the things you had held as a personal belief prior to taking the journey and finally, you adjusted your life a specific way to manage running every day for 7-8 months now you are having to re-adjust again to society without running, and it might feel like a life that you rather not go back to because the life you had on PDJ was just far more beautiful and made more sense. This can be traumatizing. It can also be more traumatizing re-adjusting to the character and beliefs of your own family members, friends and community because their beliefs might conflict with your own now more than ever since you have witnessed first-hand so many social injustices and beautiful things through distant lands.
When you return from PDJ it’s like you had your mind spiritually washed. Everything you thought you knew has been swept away to another dimension and you now begin this rushed attempt to try and rebuild your knowledge of the world and your spirituality and as you begin to rethink the things you experienced you seem to realize that what you just learned and participated in was larger-than-life on a massive scale. And yes it is larger-than-life but I promise you once you have enough information to be able to separate the important things from the less important things everything will get a bit easier to digest.
What I’m talking about actually has a well know term known as cognitive dissonance. This is where all of us seek consistency in our personal beliefs and perceptions. When one of those beliefs begins to conflict with another, we feel discomfort and that results in cognitive dissonance, or the conflict between two separate understandings of something where the one we held to be true may begin to be taken over by a more recently learned belief. If we as runners are not fully aware how this cognitive dissonance plays a powerful influence in our lives, it can lead to a harder time re-adjusting back from the run. It plays a major role in how we improve our ability to make decisions on whether or not the things we learned about or heard on PDJ are accurate for us to make choices on particularly if it is something that seems to sound good and possibly reshape our beliefs for the better, because it doesn’t mean that it is.
It is the conflict in personal beliefs that I hope to share with you as a runner, to be very careful when finally deciding what you accept to be your final belief to accept as true. Ultimately the final choice is yours. At this point in your life you are still in the rebuilding process and you can give as much weight to the idea that oil pipelines and mining the land is bad, something that I believe is on the truth side, as to the idea that water has memory therefore telling water “I hate you” can make its atomic structure ugly shaped rather than a beautiful one for not telling it “I love you."
You must understand that after participating in PDJ and going through this syndrome to rebuild your knowledge of the world, you are a sitting duck in an open field, waiting to be targeted by all sorts of wrong stuff at this early stage because you have been somewhat traumatized, and you’re staying up nights trying to determine what is true in your life and what is the next step to living life after PDJ. This is normal and you will get through it, and you should continue to figure out what is going to happen next in your life and rebuilding your world view, however try to do this from good sources.
I know this might seem a challenge because you’re not sure what to expect or what a good source is but if you’re Native and you understand your people’s history, rely on God and ceremonial teachings of discernment. Look to see the things around you and the people you become involved with. Are they providing good outcomes to your community or bad ones? Is that person’s life in a wrecked mess to cause you to think twice before taking advice from them or even becoming involved with them? Or does that person have their life in order with goals and a plan in mind? When returning from PDJ you should be continuing to rebuild your life and you want to try to do this rather quickly and getting to a place where you are stable and productive in your community rather than pushing away people that love you if they don’t seem to understand the detrimental effects they are bringing upon themselves for not being more nice to mother earth or if they don't seem to understand you telling them repeatedly that their belief is not the correct one, or that all their problems will go away if they learn to have much love and light.
Here is the thing about PDJ syndrome is that you can sound crazy to some people. You can become super intense about things and that might be all you want to talk about which might be true like topics about corporations taking over entire forests or nuclear fallout from Fukushima but it is even more convincing that you are crazy if you are interested in all the additional stuff you hear about while on PDJ. Imagine if an overwhelming person tried to tell you that every morning you must get up and greet the 4 sacred directions and that women who stand near certain objects while on their moon will cause everyone to go crazy, meanwhile buffalo on the plains are being killed at an alarming rate and you must act now before they go extinct causing a chain effect to other animals and the beams of a full moon have healing properties that can cure cancer.
Now let us assume for the sake of this argument that everything you learned or heard about on PDJ is true and you want to share those things with others feeling it is important for them to know. You must realize that it is too much information for some people to absorb and that there are all kinds of reasons why it’s too much, I will talk about that in a bit but don’t take this personal, there is just too much for some people to take in. Like a game of poker, you must know when to hold and know when to fold.
If a person you are sharing some of your PDJ knowledge with is being resistant despite your efforts, it is ok to let it be. Pressuring someone will just lead to burning the bridge of the relationship. If your hopes is for them to find out about what you want them to know, they need to do so on their own.
Many people will not learn from your knowledge and will have to find out for themselves. Just plant a seed with your few words of thought, trust me I’m sure they took it into consideration somewhere in their thoughts and later if they experience something that confirms it they might begin to believe you down the road. Many times I have people say to me how I sounded crazy about things I spoke to them back long ago, but since then have experienced things on their own and started to believe I was right about it all along.
But continuing to hammer people on the head with PDJ spiritual teachings that you might think are important or even issues of some communities you encountered while on PDJ is only going to be bad for your relationship with people. It is often like the relative or friend who sells those pyramid scheme products and all they ever want to talk about is to get you to buy into it. Eventually you don’t want to hang out with them anymore.
In those cases I suggest, let your family, friends and others breathe a little bit. I assure you that persons relationship means more than having them believe that carbon gasses released into the air are melting snow at alarming rates in Alaska and Canada or that too many visits to the gas pump is hurting Indian tribes of the Amazon. When the people you interact with see that you are returning to a normal person after PDJ and your interaction with them is not an intense one, they are more inclined to believe you. Having normal conversations with them and find out about what’s happening in their life is the best way to do this.
This is especially true for anyone who is in a relationship. Most likely your partner doesn’t want to hear over and over the same thing especially since most people in relationships are concerned with family, security and planning a life. The PDJ syndrome can and does lead to all kinds of extreme relationship problems if not taken seriously.
Let your family and friends be who they are. If they expressed that they are not into learning or hearing about the stuff you are into, please find another topic or commonality to share with them. Go to a movie or dinner, talk about normal things.
And most importantly try to stay away from making rash decisions regarding yourself or family like:
“Ok everyone gather here now, from now on we are only going to eat non GMO foods from Canada, we are switching to organic only foods, we are going to make food offering to the spirits at every meal and no more supporting corporations like Wal-Mart, we will stand with tribes in the amazon by switching our cars to hybrid. And we must all wear crystals around our neck to deflect bad energy and absorb only the positive and we must all start speaking in ways that brings us love and light for all humanity.”
If you are still recent to running with PDJ, I guarantee you that you learned a lot of stuff that you think is necessary to do but it isn’t.
I’m speaking from experience here and I’m trying to save you the trouble that I went through and the strain I put on people that I loved during those first couple years of life after PDJ. There are good things to do and teach your family about in regards to the stuff you learned on PDJ and will continue to learn for years to come. I am almost 100% positive that a large portion of stuff you participated in or you heard about or will continue to hear about after PDJ is totally wrong.
This is also not to place blame on anyone, it is just the nature of so much “truth” information spread throughout the continent particularly the internet. Many times, the people who are sharing knowledge or wisdom that you are seeking is true but they tell you other stuff that sounds just as true but it is not. And because the other stuff was true mixed with the stuff that is not true, it causes many of us to not fact check and figure out if what we are being told or taught is really true. Especially since the people we are learning from might be cool and wear eagle feathers or open up their knowledge dropping session with a prayer to the 4 sacred directions and had sage or copal burning. They might have been charismatic using words of love and light, showing you fancy charts of ancient calendars or ancient Native American symbols, and besides they knew everything about Sundance or Aztec dance, the sweat lodge and the predictions of the Mayans for 2012 so that means everything they say must be true right?
I want to share some tips for anyone that is still passing through the phase of the PDJ syndrome. Please keep in mind they are only my opinion and if you do not see this can apply to you that is ok, I only share what I feel has worked for me after participating in four separate runs and observing decisions others have made during this stage of life after PDJ.
1. Stay calm and cool. The injustices you might have learned about or seen on PDJ continue to hear on news or see on Facebook does not mean the world is going to end and it will NOT all go down tomorrow. You have time to learn and investigate with your own mind to know what is truly going on in the world and in your own worldview.
2. Be grounded in the belief of God. Continue to pray, and sometimes in your own personal space. If it’s your own people’s ceremony then continue to do so. If you believe in the bible then read that too. And try to stay away from that conspiracy Scientology/ New Age hippie type of spirituality that promotes end of the world prophetic doom or peaceful unison of all the nations if we just all can love one another. That can go bad for you. No one knows when the so called end is near or when utopia will arrive. I guarantee you that participating in just plain good preaching of god and being reminded of the purpose of life will protect you from so many false teachings and theories out there. As you begin to focus only on yourself and your relationship to god, you will begin to download bits and pieces of wisdom that you will desperately need if you are planning to navigate life after being exposed to PDJ.
3. Take each relationship you have with others with a one-to-one approach. If someone cannot understand the teachings you have and made it clear they don’t want to understand, leave them alone. If you are in a conversation and they mention something like Keystone Pipeline and the Tar Sands oil is progress and the darn people don’t realize it’s good for us and creates more jobs and you disagree, just let them know what you know about it from your perspective. If they hear it out fine, but if they are mad about it do not take it personal and just move on. All you can do is try and you can get more done in this way by letting the conversations you have with people just flow and take its course rather than trying to drop a knowledge bomb on them. Don’t act like it’s your way or the hiway. Saying something as simple as “You know it’s been said that the Keystone pipeline will actually harm progress and the environment and increase the groundwater contamination by 50% of what we have now.” And BAM! End it there. Don’t allow yourself to be in a fight over the conversation and if they want to talk more about it, they will let you know and you should also be prepared to provide them useful information about where you learned what you are talking about. It cannot just come from out of thin air. Know your facts and back it up by being able to lead that person to where you came to that understanding. If for any reason that person does not seem cool to learn from you, let it be. All you can do at the end of the day is be calm for yourself and plant a seed rather than drop a bomb on someone.
4. Provide a no pressure approach. A good idea is to share peer reviewed research articles that actually have scientific studies in regards to the things you are talking about. Also provide books or videos, documentaries of things you too have read or watched. Ensuring that the information you are sharing has also been tested and investigated by yourself too. Pass it to the person and make sure it’s appropriate for their level and understanding and tell them “If you are interested check this out” but don’t make it a pressure situation.
5. And finally, examine your own motives while having a goal in mind. Look deep inside yourself and see why it is you want people to know what you learned. If you want them to know because you are concerned and share a genuine care for that person then sorry but you need to play the game to get them to learn it (the tips I shared earlier). You do not catch more flies with vinegar but only with honey. But if your whole purpose is that you want to show off to people that you know more than them because you participated in a run across the continent and now you have a vast amount of knowledge connecting you to god and spirituality, claiming that they are the sheeple and you are not and want to teach your family friends or community members a lesson about why they are wrong about this and that, then you are always going to be rejected and probably that is something you deserve. People will sense that type of snobby thinking from you and will just think you are a jerk at minimum or totally crazy.
The Peace & Dignity Journeys syndrome begins to lose much of its negative affect on you once you begin to understand the power behind the shift in returning back to your community. When people first participate with PDJ many will tend to think they have woken up or been exposed to a movement with so much depth in truth and that all humans must be part of Peace & Dignity Journeys because, all of the world needs Peace & Dignity. This might be true to a small extent but the movement of bringing peace and dignity to communities is a little more complex and takes years of dedication and continuous relationship building. Also the things we learn about as runners on PDJ, the struggles and the causes we think are necessary for all people to jump in and join against the evil forces that damage our communities are not as important to some people as they might be to you. We are often striking at the branches of the problem instead of the roots where we can become so involved in thinking everyone must open their eyes to what is happening to the world when in the end of the day it’s all about our relationship to god.
That is why I encourage runners to examine their motives of why they participated in PDJ. What was the actual reason you chose to run and participate? Did you run to chase an attractive partner? Did you think the run would heal you from a sickness? Or did you run to cleanse the bad out of you or your community? Only you know your motives and great evil has always infected the minds of kings, presidents and leaders of nations trying to colonize and conquer the world. There are leaders that I would argue do not believe in god and most people that are firmly grounded in their community are not shocked such evil leadership exists. Which is why so much social injustices exist, but my point is having the knowledge of our ancestors gives us a far more greater battle to fight and that is to keep alive our relationship to god and the land, protecting the sacredness of each unique individual Indigenous nation because there will come a time of a great cleansing that only Indigenous nations will understand how to live through.
This relationship with God is one that I believe the more that you actually understand, the more you will begin to identify some of the misinformation spread through out so many ceremonies and gatherings like Peace & Dignity which in many times allows people who sometimes have no credibility in the things they theorize about, to participate and possibly influence you.
I remember the day that I had just realized that all the most popular movements were doing a far better job at converting people to join them in believing their movement than I was doing getting people to remember their connection to God. For example the zeitgeist, made more converts to the 9/11 Federal Reserve idea than anything ever before. Scientologists were convincing vast amounts of people that they were part of an ancient alien race whose origins come from the Big Dipper. Light workers were pushing for a collective consciousness to heal through love and light and Mayan experts were claiming that December 2012 would bring a global shift in consciousness for the betterment of all people.
I do not share this to tell you not to talk about what you might hear or learn on Peace & Dignity, I think it is important and some of you might even be called to continue doing PDJ work for various reasons but I think most of you are not and I am sure of this because in general terms I feel we are called to do something more important than just Peace & Dignity. The PDJ syndrome can cause you to long for the way of life you thought you had while on the run, to long for the people or the emotions and feelings you felt and possibly mislead you to think that those experiences are more important but I’m telling you it is not. Longing for such things can lead you to make a decision about your personal life that can become a letdown later in life. And I know what you are probably saying “How dare Hector say that!” and especially if you are new to experiencing PDJ syndrome and still in the phase. I tell you that they were well lived memories and can serve as a guide of the life we may envision for ourselves and communities however the PDJ syndrome begins to lose its grasp on you when you realize the most productive thing you can do is put people in contact with God and encouraging them to establish that relationship if not present or maintain that relationship if already there. Recovery from PDJ syndrome starts to kick in when you are using your god given abilities, whatever they are, to make strong followers of Indigenous heritage through God. I promise you that you are made for this.
If you start on that journey you will become a disciple of god yourself and once you actively establish that connection you will become a person so filled with the spirit that God gives to all those who keep that faith alive, that your very own giving of that spirit of God will be automatic and your greatest happiness. It is the way God made us, it will happen. I promise you that when you are really using your gifts for the glory of God, the almighty Creator, the innate desire that you have for a purpose in live will be fulfilled. You can do this and true greatness does await us because the stakes are high. The coming cleansing from God will be a far greater journey than anything any evil person can do to us. There is no need to fear doom and gloom prophetic stories for our ancestors have overcome much time and time again.
You do not have to give up learning, sharing or feeling those experiences you did on PDJ, just do not let it consume your life. Don’t let it become an idol. Make your own personal connection to your family, friends, community and to God your focus, and help others do the same. In doing so you will give them the tools they need to understand not just those things you learned on PDJ but the very purpose of life itself, that is to be disciples of god, warriors second.
Thank you for your time.
Comments and sharing are strongly suggested.