John Lennon once said that life is something that happens while we are busy making plans. Wise words! I have to truthfully declare, hand on heart, that every plan, dream and fantasy I made for my life has never worked out -- thank heavens, the angels and every little fairy!
Like so many of us, my ideal “dream” life included a successful journalism career with several Pulizer prizes, along with perfect children, endless romantic dinners, walks on the beach with Mr Hunky and of course lots of travel to romantic destinations. Now I just laugh at those little daydreams because what actually did happen was so much better than anything I could dream up.
Some people believe in fate. They believe lives have been pre-planned by a higher force. Others believe we have an inner power that can be harnessed through meditation, journaling and making a “vision board” of your life-dream. With enough work, perfect life dreams can be awakened into actuality. That may well be true, but I had never heard of such processes. Instead I settled on using my intuition and it served me well.
I truly believe everyone has a strong inner teacher, or in-tuition. This inner teacher is aligned with Great Spirit or Mother-Father God to gently guide you through life. My life is living testament to this because there have been many occasions where it was only my intuition that guided me away from all kinds of potential disasters.
Intuition speaks differently and very personally with everyone. For me it is an inner urge or feeling. If I ignore these feelings, or try to suppress them in anyway, I feel restless, unsettled and agitated. When I follow this urge, I may still feel nervous but I have a settled, “all is well” feeling in my heart. I am alert and certainly use my common sense but most of the time I remain alert for my next message or guidance. It was this guidance that inspired me to go to live in Canada, many years ago. I felt restless living in Africa and had several experiences that revealed that my two boys were becoming influenced by the racist culture we lived in. At the same time I ached to know more, to gain a better education because I hadn’t even graduated High School. I ached to get more out of life and the inspiration came, and then the opportunities presented themselves quite effortlessly.
I followed signs and ignored the warnings from my concerned relatives, and I travelled to western Canada. Within a short period of time I had gone to college, graduated and serendipitously found a job working as a roving reporter on a Native American Indian newspaper based on the reservation. I was paid to interview elders, take photographs and attend ceremonies. I never “planned” any of this; it simply manifested because I listened to my heart and I followed my instincts and guidance.
I went onto the reservation knowing absolutely nothing. Luckily I remembered my Scottish Grandmother’s advice; “when in doubt keep quiet, listen and learn.” I did not want to accidentally insult the Elders or the traditional people and so I would wait quietly as other newspaper reporters aggressively fired questions and pushed for position. That approach felt” wrong to me and so I would wait until everyone had finished, and then asked my questions. Over time the Elders began to notice me doing this and invited me to attend more private gatherings and ceremonies. Again, over time and without me quite realizing it, and certainly not planning it, my shamanic training had begun.
(If this interests you, please read my Shaman’s Door series, particularly the first book: Wolf Trail.)
Years later I asked the Elders why they had spent time with me, explaining things and gently urging me to go into the deeper teachings. It will not surprise you to learn that their guidance, their intuition had told them to wait for the humble, quiet one to arrive. I thought my quietness was due to my insecurity, yet they saw something else. Because I had followed my instincts, kept quiet and watched, the doors opened for me. I later learned that trusting instincts or intuition, before the laws and rules of the world is the first step of the shaman, although I had no idea at the time.
All this occurred during the late 1970s and 1980s. During this time some of the Elders were beginning to share the teachings, known as opening the bundles, with non-Tribal people. It was controversial and there was a split between some of the elders. Many believed that the teachings should not be shared just in case the non-traditional people accidentally or deliberately distorted the wisdom, or worse, use the wisdom to “show off.” Without exception, all traditional people that I have met uniformly speak against bragging about abilities or medicine powers. They would call such people “show ponies” and laugh when I showed them business cards or fliers from phoney shamans stating their qualifications as a “medicine man.” I learned that if you wanted to find the most powerful and genuine medicine man or woman, you just look for the humble, quiet person, dressed in very ordinary clothes. They were usually sitting in the corner, watching everyone else.
Yet I was invited to learn, along with many others. I have written about this journey extensively in my Shaman’s Door Series. I and others took vows on the Sacred Pipe, that we would uphold the traditions and not change anything, even if we did not understand why. It is a vow I do my utmost to uphold, to this day.
A few months ago, at the end of 2016 I returned and was able to re-connect to Elders, old friends, new friends and old teachers. I wandered the canyons of Arizona, hiked the beautiful mesas and sat in the quiet wilderness medicine wheels cradled by purple mountains, prickly cactus and red rocks. I was guided to sit with the Elders who had nurtured my soul so many years ago; I wanted to see them again; To be quiet in their company and drink in the peace that only the pure hearted can offer. Of course many had passed over onto the Blue Road, but there were new elders, now my contemporaries, who had wisdom to share, jokes to crackle the heart and the warmth of incredible and eternal love.
I could write about the land right struggles, the assault on clean water; the dire poverty of life on the reservation, where a shaker of pepper cost $18 in the local store or the fact that for some strange reason, wifi drops out the minute you near any reservation. I wrote about these issues and Indian poverty back in the 1980s when I was a newspaper reporter. In those days charismatic protesters would invariably “disappear” to be found shot dead in a mysterious “hunting accident.” Nothing has changed. The assault continues and if anything it is worse than ever. (Please read my book: Ghost Mountain for more on that.)
Yet, as I sat with the Elders, and bathed in their loving presence, it was not this they spoke of; instead they asked me to share their words of warning and of hope. In many respects their words and guidance have not changed at all, but perhaps it is because I am older, and considered an Elder in my own right that now I see so clearly how utterly vital the path of humbleness is, and indeed always was.
As a young reporter I wanted to change the world, right the wrongs and uncover the corruption. And I did do that to a certain extent, but the price was very high. Many dear friends died, were incarcerated or disabled while nothing changed. This is because, ultimately, we have short memories and are easily tempted from the path of the heart, with material concerns. Every crisis is quickly followed with a new emergency. Distractions, fears and anxieties along with bread and circuses keep us spinning in circles. Just as one remedy is found, another is created and so it goes. The elders knew this. They kept their focus only on the one constant and thus the only unchangeable answer.
The one constant, the one unchanging truth is that Great Spirit is. True grounding in the eternal is the only gift that quenches the inner thirst that drives us all. Of course, the Elders always knew this and even all those years ago, would pray for us. I recall that on the Blackfoot Reserve, near Calgary in Alberta, the old women, some in their 80s would hobble through the thick snow, in minus 30 degrees C to the lodge to pray and chant for Ronald Regan, when he was the president. At that time many of us believed there would be a nuclear war between the USSR and the USA and that the missiles would fly over Canada! Of course, that never happened, but we will never know how things would have been had those Elders not gathered to pray peace on that icy Canadian prairie.
Currently there are several disputes over pipelines, land-rights and water. These issues are important and if you are guided to help, please do. However, I wish to focus on the wisdom of the Elders. Despite their dire poverty and enormous difficulties, I have never seen Elders judge, blame or complain, no matter what atrocity was occurring. Certainly they would cry and mourn the loss of young warriors. Certainly they would comfort the grieving and offer healing to all and everyone, but they remained focused and aligned with love and eternal hope.
As a young reporter, many years ago, I could not understand this. I witnessed their tears and listened to their prayers and ceremonies, but they never accused or sought revenge. They remained constantly centred in love.
Over time I began to slowly realize that true Elders measure happiness by a totally different yardstick or set of values. This may be hard for many of us to grasp because we are very attached to our values and our perspective. We often assume everyone sees the world the same way. In the west, we generally measure everything in terms of personal and collective material comfort that must be protected by our governments. If that doesn’t happen we get angry and demand new laws and interventions of various kinds. In all cases, those who own property and have businesses and corporations have the biggest influence and control legislature.
To traditional people these concerns are minor. Their priority or focus in life is to become one with Great Spirit and to live in harmony and love with the community. The ideal vision is to serve others and therefore make all lives beautiful. When they measure their lives, and consider whether they are successful or not, they use a totally different yardstick. This yardstick measures the expression of love, unity, kindness, generosity, caring for others, offering healing as well as the basic comforts of good food and warm blankets. They may not have much, but they are always happy to share. In one case, I remember a family I knew had just a little flour and fat to make fry-bread, yet they still shared it equally with everyone, including the dog. All life is sacred.
We tend to look at people living in these difficult situations through the lens of the materialist. This is how we define “abundance.” True abundance is not your bank balance, or whether you can hook someone else into your latest pyramid selling scheme. Abundance is a state of mind and the Elders I have spent time with are incredibly abundant.
Perhaps more interestingly, when they look at most western people, they see poverty, not of material wealth of course, but poverty of spirit. I remember one Elder telling me that he chose to teach me because he felt sorry for me because I was hungry. He meant hungry for spirit, of course, and he was right. It is this unknown and unacknowledged hunger that is slowly destroying the world. There is never enough material wealth for the hungry ones, and there never will be because the only food that will fill that empty belly is the food of love; the food of Great Spirit.
Once again, as I had before, so many times, I asked as humbly as I could:”Grandfathers, Grandmothers, please guide me. What shall we do?” As before, as they had done a million times before, they smiled slowly and with love. Their eyes warm brown amber and their hearts ever open with immeasurable kindness.
“Walk the path of humbleness, as we have shown you. Be in this world, but be Great Spirit in all your dealings. Place love before all things and turn your back on pride and using others. Using others tells Great Spirit that you can live without him. Humbleness says I trust Great Spirit to guide me because I do not know. Be with me in all circumstances, for I am where you would have me be.”
At this time of great challenge, those of us who hear this call are being asked to humbly and judiciously pray for the world quietly and privately. Put Great Spirit (Mother-Father-God) first in your life and at all times. Align with Great Spirit first thing upon awakening (this is called the Sunrise Ceremony) and throughout the day. Pray before every decision, large or small, and ask Great Spirit to speak to you through your intuition, for that is the voice of your soul.
This simple, humble pathway will take you to on a new journey of peace. The aches and desires morph into a peaceful loving acceptance. It is not a “settling for” or “giving up” It is the full recognition that you have no idea what would make you happy but Great Spirit does. Humbly step back, allow and invite Great Spirit to be the wind in your sails and then you will effortlessly cross the raging ocean to the harbour of eternal peace.