#19 | INDIGENOUS WISDOM
“It is hard to follow one great vision in this world of darkness and of many changing shadows. Among those shadows men get lost.”
I have dedicated the essays that I write this year to Black Elk, but I have not yet told you why.
The answer is that I see deep truth in indigenous wisdom and Black Elk is one of my favorite indigenous teachers.
Born in 1863, Black Elk lived until 1950. As a small child he had never seen a white person yet his entire community’s fate would soon be transformed by them. Black Elk, a cousin to Crazy Horse, was present at the Battle of Little Big Horn as well as the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. He was born nomadic and free, following the buffalo and moving with the seasons. He would die in a small square cabin at the apex of the reservation era. . I have visited that cabin in the tall summer grass on numerous occasions with Black Elk Speaks in hand, marveling at the eternal relevance of his messages.
At the foundation of Black Elk’s stories and Lakota spirituality is the concept of MITAKUYE OYASIN, which translated means “all things are one thing” or “we are all related”. The Lakota understand, through their intimate connection to the natural world, that all that exists is connected by an invisible web of threads.
For me, Black Elk is a prophet when it comes to seeing the sacred that dwells within us all. Late in his life Black Elk sat with his friend John Neihardt and told the stories of his people which Neihardt recorded and then wrote down.
Here is a cursory look at Black Elk’s life, learnings,
and spirituality in his own words.
“I am a Lakota of the Oglala band. My father’s name was Black Elk, and his father before him bore the name, and the father of his father, so that I am the fourth to bear it.”
We all come from a tribe. The time and place of our birth pulls on us all. We must learn to honor that heritage yet also see our shared humanity.
* * *
“I had never seen a Wasichu [white person] then [as a child], and did not know what one looked like; but everyone was saying that the Wasichus were coming and that they were going to take our country and rub us all out [kill us].”
Those with the most power often overreach. Ego emboldens us to go too far and take too much.
* * *
“Now and then the voices would come back when I was out alone, like someone calling me, but what they wanted me to do I did not know.”
This is Black Elk’s authentic voice awakening and interacting with the Great Spirit. Such awakenings always come from within.
* * *
“Your Grandfathers all over the world are having a council, and they have called you here to teach you.”
Thus began Black Elk’s great vision through which he saw his path as peacemaker and healer.
* * *
“I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.”
This is the culmination of his vision, in which seeing “in a sacred manner” allowed him to pierce the veil of tribalism and recognize our shared humanity.
* * *
“Black Elk said the mountain he stood upon in his vision was Harney Peak in the Black Hills. ‘But anywhere is the center of the world,’ he added.”
Anywhere is the center of the world. This one sentence capsulizes the sacredness of the human spirit. Wherever you are at this moment is the center.
You are the center.
* * *
“Nothing can live well except in a manner that is suited to the ways the sacred Power of the World lives and moves.”
True power comes from living in alignment with the nature’s vibration and flow.
* * *
In 2014 I carried a small piece of wood siding that had fallen to the ground beside Black Elk’s cabin and placed it in a tree on the same peak he had flown to in his sacred vision. Before placing it there I tore it in half. The outside of the wood was tired, gray, and worn, but the inside was bright, fresh, and representative of new life. As I nestled one half deep in the balsam tree filled with colorful Lakota flags, I said the following prayer:
“This piece of wood from your home is now broken open and fresh again with new life. This represents a new beginning for all the people of the sacred hoop of the world.”
While seeing in a sacred manner, Black Elk saw all the people of the world as one tribe.
We all possess the same capacity to see what Black Elk saw. The Lakota call this ability the Seventh Power, and it dwells within us all…
* * *
“Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that one.”
* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.