Another Lakota Lesson
Once again, I was fortunate enough to be sitting in the ceremonial area of Bear Butte, one of the seven sacred sites of the Lakota. A small group of us had been invited to attend a welcoming ceremony and gathering for the short time we would be spending in the Black Hills at one of the workshops I schedule there. The welcoming and blessing of our time together included our Lakota guides as well as their family.
There were several other groups who were in the general area. They were there to put a loved one “On the Hill.” It was the season for the Hanbleceyapi, or Vision Quest. It is one of the Seven Sacred Rites of the Lakota. We were told that the Hanbleceyapi was done during this season (the summer solstice) because the openness and strength of the connection between this world and the other is at its peak.
From our vantage point, throughout the several hours we were there, each of the three or four separate vision questers would walk to the place they would be spending the next 1-4 days fasting and praying. They were joined on the walk, by a large group of family members.
Even from a distance I could sense the soft, slow, quiet, loving, peaceful, reverent, solemn, sacred aura of their journey. Everyone in his family walked with him to a place where he would experience a revelation of the next phase of his life or meet his death. All the while, ancient stories being shared giving their souls comfort, courage, and purpose for this day, and life itself.
I noticed the green velvet grasses below their feet as they walked to the place where lush grasses met the rocky spires that would provide the seeker refuge. They gathered there; we could hear the echoes of the sacred songs and offered some prayers. They then would return to a place at the bottom of the hill where they would wait, without fail, for their loved one’s return.
I was struck by the quiet. This quiet seemed to add to the feeling of sanctity. I imagined that if I was more often present for this silence, as I was on this day, that this sanctity is always present.
The young man on the hill was not practicing, or performing, or doing. He was being present. He had accepted an invitation to the initiation into manhood and would be gifted with the answers to his soul. A loving and supportive rite of passage from boy to man.
His family was now standing vigil. Even in all of his aloneness (his extreme aloneness) he was not alone. And he knows that. Perhaps we are never alone either. Perhaps there are always those who know us. Who love us. Standing vigil with us, for us, waiting patiently as we continue to discover who we are and what we are made of. This land is a place for me to dream such dreams. And this time is a place for me to honor them.
This afternoon will be his first on the hill. He will respect what comes to him. What he sees, hears, believes, acts, and dreams. This afternoon is also my first day of the workshop on this sacred land with the same intention. May I do as he does.
I wish that I could have been offered such an experience as a young man. Been able to offer that to my son and grandsons. What I did offer him and them was an opportunity to play games. The way that works is if you perform well, you get honored. It is about practicing and playing a game. It has little to nothing to do with helping you find out who you are or why you are here. It is about performing. It seems that this, sadly, is the best we can do. This is carried into adulthood.
They and we, as a culture and civilization, pay a price. We see it in the news. The disaffected and disconnected tend to hurt themselves and/or others.
I read once about a man who would be speaking to a group of fathers of middle school students. He asked the boys of the fathers, what they wished their fathers knew about. Their overwhelming answer was “Give us something real and meaningful to do. Something that really matters.”