I Don’t Do That Podcast (With Ocho)
What’s more powerful than prayer or ritual? For Shiloh, it has always been faith in their abilities, coupled with self-love. Exposed to both Lakota and Christian spirituality in their childhood, Shiloh found it more effective and honest to develop their own contemplative process. In this episode, we learn more about Shiloh’s process of creating meaning–how they discovered it, and how it keeps them moving forward.
Ocho: Welcome to the “I Don’t Do That Podcast,” where we get into all the things that we’re not into.
[theme music plays]
“na na na na na yeah nah I don’t do that, no I don’t do that. You know it’s alright; you can ask, but I don’t do that, no I don’t do that. I don’t do that. I don’t do that.
Ocho: Episode SIx
Shiloh: The things that I have in my life that are really enriching, are things that are tangible, because for me tangibility is what works.
Ocho: Episode 6 is “I Don’t Pray.” We’re joined by telephone with Shiloh who does not pray. Shiloh is an art professor in the Southwestern United States, they are in their late 30s, and identify themselves as Native American and non-binary. Shiloh, welcome. Thanks for coming to the show!
Shiloh: Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Ocho: Yeah, me too. You’re my 10th guest.
Shiloh: Yay. Number 10.
Ocho: So, we’re talking about prayer, and the theme for today is “I don’t pray.” Will you tell me about your history with it? Did you ever pray? Do you remember what? That was like?
Shiloh: Yes, I did pray when I was younger. I was exposed the Lakota spirituality and sweat lodges, and praying during ceremony. And I was also exposed to Christianity, non-catholic, but I don’t know what that’s called…
Shiloh: Protestant yeah. It obviously didn’t stick. Because I don’t know anything about it. But those were the two main ways to pray that I learned, through church, to through ceremony. And my mom—this was my dad telling me, that my mom was the one who wanted us to go to church. He was really not that into it. And so, I remember being young, and the idea of prayer was being sold to me as this thing that would make you feel better, but it just felt like horrible. It felt very judgmental, and it was very confusing to be that you had to give all your private information away. Like your private thoughts and things like that, your fears or whatever, are supposed to go into prayers.
Ocho: Now, just to be clear, you weren’t giving them to another person?
Shiloh: No, not like confessing or anything like that. Just the act of praying to a God, that was really terrifying to me and probably is to a lot of people. And it really made me think about…quality of life I suppose. At a really young age, like, wow, there’s a lot of stress and that comes with the act of praying. At least there was that I found in Christianity, in the way that I was introduced. And there was there’s like a lot of servitude to it. And I didn’t really feel like as a child I should be expected to carry that much of a burden about like my choices in life that made me a sinner.
Ocho: Yeah, so you were a kid…If I can just like reflect this a little bit, so you’re a kid and you thought maybe that God is scary? Is that kind of it? OK and then also that there’s some heavy stuff they’re putting on you for being a kid. And you were aware enough as a kid to realize that like “I shouldn’t have this responsibility” kind of?
Shiloh: Yeah. Or fault. Just being born like, by default, bad.
Like that’s the default setting to all humans is “we’re all born bad” and then you got to live the rest of your life making it up to some deity.
Ocho: And that’s what prayer was to you. Did you ever see another side of it? Like that it was comforting, or that you could get something out of it? That you could pray for something you wanted to happen or something like that? When you were a kid?
Shiloh: I remember being young, and there being hope in it. Like this is probably early elementary school, I think, so I remember there being this idea of hope. And there was kind of a purity that went with that, and that aligned more with what I was getting in doing sweat ceremonies. Doing the Inipi ceremonies, where there was a very different approach to the idea of God, or the creator or the great mystery, and how you prayed and what that whole transformative process was like in the sweat lodge.
Ocho: And so Inipi, is that the Lakota sweat ceremony or? And you found that to be more hopeful..
Shiloh: Yeah, well, it just seemed more like grounded in reality.
Ocho: Okay, how’s that? Because I don’t know anything about it. So…
Shiloh: Oh, it was more like, at least for me, like the prayer part of the ceremony is really what I think prayer is maybe supposed to be. About getting things off of your chest. And I know that people do that in confession, but just the act of getting something off of your chest in a safe space. And so the prayer part of it was really where I found the most relief in it, to go back to your question: “did I ever find any relief in it” and the answer is yes. Not in the Christianity religion but in doing the Inipi ceremonies, and some other things that I had participated in as a child through Lakota were way more impactful and meaningful.
Ocho: Uh-huh. So was it kind of like you had it, more of a Christian influence from your mom and then like Lakota from…is that how it went. Or…
Shiloh: Yeah, she was like that that way more. I mean, when we were growing up in Pierre, we went to a lot of different churches.
Ocho: Maybe she was searching for something.
Shiloh: Yeah, I think she was. Definitely.
Ocho: Is there anything else and about your early experience with it?
Shiloh: I just really remember that there was some thing that felt selfish about it, I suppose, or felt like like “I’m asking for this stuff and I expect to have it back, or given to me or bestowed upon me” but then that doesn’t happen…you know what I mean because, say for example, like I had experienced domestic violence in high school in a partnership that I had then. Where was God to stop that moment? or like how does prayer protect me from moments like that? And in all reality, it doesn’t. There’s no shield. And so I have thought a lot about prayer as a shield ,and yeah, it just never really made sense to me. Because it’s an invisible shield, so it’s not gonna shield anything.
Ocho: So it didn’t feel like you got the results that you would expect to get if you were asking for something. And you said it was selfish in a way?
Shiloh: Yeah, I think it is. Just to ask God. Yeah, Yeah, it’s just like, “oh, I want this and it’s like well we all need things, and it’s like, we all want stuff. We all need things.
Ocho: So we’re talking about it…it seems like this is something you could easily hide, I suppose, because it’s a very private matter, so is this something that you generally tell people?
Ocho: Okay, so you talk about it.
Shiloh: I do because I like people to know that there’s another perspective. And to know that there’s isn’t the only perspective. I mean, so many people do pray—I know that I’m in the minority here, which is fine.
Ocho: That’s what the show’s about. I mean, I think everybody comes on is in a minority about whatever they’re talking about.
Shiloh: So I do talk about it. You know, like if someone says “I’ll pray for you” I’ll just be like, “thanks.” Like, the kind of response back that I get is similar to when people say like “oh God bless you,” or anything that’s kind of related to religious colloquialisms…I feel like there’s an expectation
to say it back: “I’ll pray for you.” “oh, I’ll pray for you too!” And it never goes that far. I’m just like “OK, thank you!” You know.
OK, so you don’t you don’t really fake it…
Shiloh: No, but there are situations where I don’t think it’s appropriate to bring it up, so I won’t. I’ve been to a lot of other religions’ parties, events and things like that, and I’m respectful and I just will take moments where there is prayer happening, just to be quiet you know and reverent for the moment. Because I do respect people’s right to pray obviously. So I understand how sacred those moments can be for people who do pray. So I don’t have that experience, but I wanna acknowledge people that do, and in being in a group like that or a scenario like that then I would just default into a standing position or sitting position, very neutral, and just kind of wait for it to be over.
Ocho: Can you tell me about a time when that’s happened?Just like an example.
Shiloh: Oh, man. Yeah I mean the biggest one that stands out for me is when my dad was in the hospital, and he was on machines, keeping him alive. He had had a stroke, and was in the hospital for several days before all the machines were turned off, and my family on that side is Catholic. So there was a priest there, and there were prayers that were being said, and things that were being done, and it actually made me really angry. It made me really angry to have to be in that room with the prayers and things like that, because that’s not how I would deal with it. But I had to let some of the anger go, or just kind of shove it down, and realize that maybe the anger wasn’t just because there was prayer there, but that I’m losing my father. And it’s a heightened emotional experience.
Ocho: That makes total sense. So something that you might find a little irritating under other circumstances, gets really blown up.
Shiloh: So that was a huge example of just like, okay, to Shiloh, just keep your mouth shut. Just put your head down. Just eat this one for your family, because nobody cares what your beliefs are. In this moment, it does n’t f * * * * * * matter.
Ocho: Yeah I mean maybe it’s not about you. Maybe that’s what you’re saying. It does sound like—although you said you want people to see that there’s another perspective—that you are able to put it aside, and that your perspective doesn’t really get in your way of appreciating others.
Shiloh: No it doesn’t. No, not at all. Because, I think that you have to put meaning into your life for you to bring any sort of happiness to it. And that come from years of being a nihilist, and just looking around in my life going like “wow, I feel like I have nothing here. I need to find out what makes life worth living” and it’s meaning. Like bringing meaningful things, or attaching value and worth to things that are in your life so that you have meeting an it creates meaning. Because that’s what, at least in my experience, has grounded me in here. Like in this life. And so I think a lot of people search for meaning and understanding and they find it a lot through prayer. And I’m happy for people that are able to find a solution for themselves like that. That just wasn’t my path.
Ocho: So, do people extend that same understanding to you, that you give to them? Or do people ever react in a less than understanding way?
Shiloh: I get subtly challenged.
Ocho: ok. You feel challenged but maybe it’s not overt?
Shiloh: Yeah and it’s in ways where it’s like, kind of questions, but people are surprised that because I am Native that I don’t pray. And so there are some stereotypes that go along with that and
I suppose people see Native Americans as a spiritual. It’s definitely portrayed that way in popular culture.
Shiloh: Yeah so there’s some expectation there for me to perform some sort of spirituality, which I am not interested in doing, for anybody.
Ocho: And you feel subtly challenged by that? Are there any examples of that?
Shiloh: Yeah I guess the last example I have, I was talking with a friend, and I said “you know, I’m an atheist and I don’t believe in anything .” and they said “oh you don’t believe in the spirit of mother earth?” And I was like, “well yeah, I guess not.” you know, in terms of thinking that the earth has a spirit? I mean maybe it does? I don’t know. It’s alive as much as we are alive, you know? I definitely believe in nature and things that happen in nature. And I think that things are unexplainable still, but as we find more out about science, that kind of fills in a lot of gaps for me.
Ocho: Me. Sure. Where are you don’t have to say it’s a spirit. Because we know about ecology and biology, and seismology and geology, and all these other things about the Earth?
Shiloh: Right, and about just atoms and the way atoms react . So there’s a lot of physical things happening, that I think are just part of the natural world and I believe in the natural world. You know, like, I think that it’s a lot more maybe magical in some ways then we recognize. But that we keep trying to find answers to like these magical questions. And science does a really good job of filtering out some of those things.
Ocho: Yeah I feel like we talked about that a little bit with the ex-Jeahovah’s witnesses that I talked to before about science and about how it answers some questions that were previously in the purview of religion, but now there are more definite answers to those things or directions. There’s certainly more information about them, and they don’t necessarily point where people thought, with their with their spiritual beliefs.
Shiloh: yeah. And I have friends that I’ve known for a long time that just assume like “oh yeah, like pray about it.” you know, like that’s their suggestion, and it’s just like “you know that I don’t pray, so why keep telling me to pray, keep asking me to pray.” You know like a lot of people have told me just flat out “oh, you’ll come back to it. And it’s just like “when?” Will like that be on my death bed, when I can find some redemption for the sinful life that I’ve lived? And like potentially get into some sort of heaven?That’s not something I’m terrified of, or have any sort of beliefs about.
Ocho: The afterlife?
Shiloh: The reward system that comes along with prayer. You ask for something, and then if you’re good enough you shall receive it. Or if it’s your time to learn some thing then you’ll receive it, or whatever the justification is that, people tell themselves about prayer and how it operates in life.
Ocho: Well, yeah, whatever it is that makes all this stuff happen to us or to others, I would say it is mysterious. No doubt. I think religious and secular people alike would probably admit at some point that there’s some mystery to it. Pretty hard to explain when you get down to brass tacks. We know things about it. But we don’t have to necessarily know it. So do you find that affects your relationship with those people, what you think about them? If they don’t really listen to you, or they don’t respect that you don’t pray, or that you’re an atheist. Does it make a boundary or something?
Shiloh: Not really; it’s just kind of like “OK they’re not listening.” And I can’t make somebody listen to me. Even if they’re a friend that I’ve loved forever, or a family member that I’ve loved forever, or somebody I just met…I can’t control that, so I don’t really have a whole lot of stake in trying to control that situation.
Ocho: That sounds like a very wise response.
Shiloh: It goes back to that “I can’t control how you think about me, so why am I going to try?” Yeah or “your opinion of me is none of my business.” I also liked that one too.
Ocho: I don’t need to know what your opinion of me is. We may have gone over this one, but I do you do you ever feel like you’re missing anything? Any inner peace, or relief, or anything that comes from praying? Maybe what you were talking about when your child that experienced that hope? Is there anything that that you feel like you’re missing?
Shiloh: No. The answer to the question is no. And I have fought very hard to sort of declutter my mind of the things that I learned as a child about church or religion or God, or my role in it in the world, or who I am as a person, or all of that stuff. It took me a long time to really figure out myself and love myself, and in that loving of myself, that’s where I find a lot of security, so I don’t doubt my decisions. Say the question again? I always get lost…
Ocho: I’m just wondering if you feel like you, like, you might be missing anything.
Shiloh: Oh yeah. I really don’t feel like I’m missing anything because I’ve fought to bring in that meeting that I was talking about earlier into my life and so the things that I have in my life that really enriching I things that are tangible. Because for me tangibility is what works that’s how I can say grounded in the world, and that’s how I am able to operate in the way that…like music for example is one thing. I have music, and I have experienced more things that you can call “spiritual” if you want, through playing a song that I’ve written than in prayer, being in any sort of church, or in that way. Or any other type of ceremony that I’ve been a part of. Music to me is just so much more profound. That was probably the most profound. So things like that, or being able to build something. Like practical things, I think, really ground me and a make a lot more sense, and bring meaning to my life, so I feel like I am very fulfilled with the things that I call into my reality.
Ocho: Okay, first of all, can you tell anyone how to declutter our minds? Do you have any tips? Because I think a lot of us use that for a number of reasons.
Shiloh: Well, it really comes down to what I said before this: placing meaning and value on the things that you already have, or the things that you want to bring into your life, to enrich it and make it better. And then the other thing is, something that people think that I don’t have because I say I don’t pray, and it’s faith. That I don’t have faith in a higher power? I have faith in myself, and I think that it’s really difficult for people to have faith in themselves because so many things in society tell us not to. Right? Like if you’re unattractive, you have like a certain value in the world because of your attractiveness. So you could be a four as opposed to a 10.
Ocho: So “don’t believe in yourself if you’re not attractive, or maybe smart or strong or funny or any number of things I suppose.
Shiloh: So I think it’s important…I’ve had faith in myself to know that I have been able to rely on myself through hard times through hard times, through the worst parts of my difficulties. With the help of friends obviously, and family, but I have just shown up for myself consistently throughout my whole life, that I can put faith in myself to know that I will be taken care of. That I will find whatever solution to the problems I face in my life. And that like I have to trust myself to know that beat whatever it is that’s going to come into my path. And not think about it as some sort of punishment that’s coming at me because I don’t pray. That’s the opposite of like creating good things in one’s life to create a good mind, like a healthy mind. And so creating touchstones to go like “oh, there’s evidence here that I did this, and so if I could do this then I can do anything.” Like I’m a person who…I have PTSD and I have depression and anxiety, so there’s a lot of my daily life where I have to overcome those things. And sometimes those things are insurmountable, or they feel like that, but I still have to get dressed to go to work, and be on for my job, and my ability to do that every day puts more faith in myself. Because I was able to get out of the situation, and I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in my life. And that’s just kind of the tidbits that I’ve gleaned from this experience, is that I can do it. And I’ve done it without the support of lots of people, and I’ve done it with the support of lots of people. So in any situation, I feel like I have to react the same way whether I have people there or not. So that’s how I’ve decluttered my mind: really getting clear on believing in myself and having faith in myself, which is hard. I struggle with that and so I feel like if I’m going to struggle with that, then why should there be a middleman or this need to pray to sort it out for me when I can sort it out for myself, if I just think about it?
Ocho: So you have like a contemplative process where you sort it out in your mind like you’re thinking intentionally, maybe? And so you have believe in yourself and you and you create meaning or you find meaning? How does that part work? Because that was the first thing you mention about decluttering your mind.
Shiloh: So, the finding meeting is a choice. It’s a choice to have relationships mean something to you or not. Relationships are a big one, or like I’ve has this musical idea that I’ve been throwing around for like over a decade now. And if I if I don’t finish it nobody is going to know about it; nobody’s gonna care about it. But for me to be motivated to finish it, I have to put some sort of meeting to it to make it valuable. So I create a need for an outcome.
Ocho: Sure. You need to have some incentive and no one’s going to give it to you, so you got to create it.
Shiloh: Yeah, exactly. So I have to attach value to that idea, or meaning to that idea, so I can give it some weight and then to give it the inertia of an in and to creat an incentive. So I think it’s all a choice: the things that we add choose to add to our lives, to make some substantial. Things like that, and that includes relationships, that could be pets,it could be plants, those are hobbies also…and I’ve been lucky enough to have grown up, and have been around a lot of creative people and artists, like when I was younger as a teenager. And then I got lucky even still to be able to study the arts and study fine arts and to be also still in this really amazing group of creative people. So being able to see those people make make things…so it’s a lot of practical people making things that where I find like a lot of evidence and going like “OK ,that’s meaningful that they’ve created this, so you can actually see the meaningfulness in the artwork.
Ocho: You were talking about tangibility, I think was the word. And art is very tangible. It’s about as tangible as it gets, it exists, it’s there. Whereas something spiritual is more ethereal, or you certainly can’t necessarily pin it down and not everyone agrees that “oh there it is.” Same way with meaning, it’s like a subjective thing.
Shiloh: Yeah, so here’s another comment I wanted to make before I lose my mind: it’s that in my understanding of prayer, is that…so we’re talking I think a little bit about intention, and I have these “if-then” statements, so if let’s say a prayer is you wanna watch out for your family, so people pray every day for their families. And I’m just like “well, shouldn’t that be a given? Why should have to pray for that, because that should be something that’s like a given in your life? Like, yes, I want my friends and family to be happy and healthy and live fulfilling lives.
I mean I could see that, for for a person—I like to argue. Devil’s advocate, that’s my thing—I could see how somebody could do that because they want to keep their family in mind; it’s it’s a reverential thing to something that’s important to them that gives them meaning, or it could be because they’re working on loving their family. either one of those things I think would be a reason to. One thing I think about is being thankful like what you’re saying, having meaning, it just kind of reminds me of like, things that are good about life and focusing on those. And focusing on…I talked to the people about their ex-Jehovah’s Witness podcast “Finding Paradise.” I was a guest on there, and so they asked me about my spirituality. And I did talk a lot about finding silver linings, and that might be along the same lines of having faith, like that you were talking about. It’s not the same thing but it’s like a construct that definitely gets me through. It’s part of my mentality that I realize always gets me through.
Shiloh: Well be thankful, so that’s another thing: I am incredibly appreciative and grateful and thankful for the life I had. I mean, I think that, just because I don’t pray doesn’t mean like other people don’t pray, and the people who have been very helpful to me in my life have been prayerful people, who have it as a practice and things like that. And so I have been grateful and also humbled by their generosity throughout my life. I am a person who has benefited from prayer in a way that it doesn’t come from me, but it comes from a lot of people that surround me.
Ocho: That’s amazing. That’s a beautifully positive thing to say, I think. You’re thankful for other people’s prayer.
Shiloh: Yeah, because it comes from a sincere place of beauty, I think. To care for somebody, if you have that belief, and you want to send that out to them, I mean, just that gesture I think is so nice and it’s so loving, and it’s such a humane thing to do. You know, just want to connect to somebody in that way.
Ocho: I hear that. Well that’s wonderful. Yeah, sincerity and it just sounds like meaning, they mean it. It very much does bolster relationships and love. It’s very good for that. Well, is there anything else that you wanted to say? I feel like we’ve covered a lot and you’ve been very honest and very heartfelt too.
Shiloh: Yeah, I think one other thing I would say—and maybe we talked about this a little bit, but one of the things I had to give up, which is difficult to do, is control. And wanting to control the outcome of a situation, and just thinking that one way is gonna be the way the right way to do it. And I often find as a teacher, and as an artist, a creative person, that there are multiple ways to approach a problem. And there are many solutions to that one problem, and many perspectives to be taken into account. And the fact that it might not go the way that you planned, I think, is a really good lesson to know. That we can’t control everything in our lives; we maybe don’t control most of the things in our lives, and so relying on that reality, I think, may be stronger than the idea of relying on the idea of prayer.
Ocho: Yeah, allowing and watching, paying attention to what happens. Rather than trying to steer the whole world. Or any outcome like yeah I always say you can’t predict the future, but you can’t control the future either. You can do things about it, but you don’t really know what the outcome of your actions are going to be. Well that’s wonderful. That’s that’s a great piece of insight. You know that reminds me the serenity prayer actually, ironically. “You have…”
Shiloh: I may have been to a meeting.
Ocho: You might have heard that prayer? I’m not going to quote it wrong, but look it up, it’s there. All right.
Shiloh: Yeah, and I think that’s great. I mean there is a lot of things that I believe in, that are in that prayer also. And some things that are great about that are actually really great, are about like giving up some guilt and negativity that people may be carrying around because of their addiction issues or whatever it is that they’re dealing with that brings them to that prayer. And some really great insights in that of just like you don’t allow yourself to let go.
Ocho: Yeah. That is Serenity: letting go, right? Mmm. Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. I really feel as though I’ve been inspired and I’ve learned a thing or two.
Shiloh: Two. Oh, great. Yeah, this has been fun.
Ocho: So much fun. I want to let people know that Shiloh is nominated for a Native American Music Award. That ceremony will be streaming live on 11/19 From the Seneca Den Casino in Niagra Falls. You may also see them giving a presentation at this award ceremony. Additionally, Shiloh will be showing their art work in the Harry Wood Gallery at The Arizona State University School of Art throughout December.
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[Theme music plays]
My name is Ocho. I’m your host, chief engineer, and producer. I also composed and performed the theme song. Shoutout to Tyler and Ethan of the Finding Paradise podcast, where they share their ongoing experiences as ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses. You can catch them on an upcoming episode here, and you can catch them on an upcoming episode there. Shout out always to our sponsor Anders with Primetime Web. Background music was performed throughout today’s episode by Peter Klug. Thanks again to our guest, Shiloh.
Thanks to all of you, for all that you do, and DON’T do. I will talk to you again. …if I’m lucky.
“I Don’t Do That…”