When I was a much younger man, I spent several weeks on the Navaho reservation, in a little town, called Chilchinbeto in the state of Arizona. The village had no running water. When one of the two antique pickup trucks would be working, AND if they had the means to be able to fix the flat tires, AND if they could find enough money to buy fuel in Kayenta, the closest gas station, they would drive 160 miles, round-trip, to Lake Powell. They would then fill as many open top 50-gallon repurposed rusted metal oil barrels as the truck could carry with water)
Though high voltage power lines soared high overhead from the nearby Black Mesa coal power plant destined to be delivered to the power-hungry cities like Phoenix, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, etc., there was no electrical power in this little village. There was a trading post. I will never forget walking into the little store and seeing a slab of mutton in the old meat case being guarded from rats and other creatures by a curled-up rattlesnake, in lieu of refrigeration.
Despite the depth of poverty and deprivation, over the days and weeks, I began to sense that these people had something that I wanted and needed that my culture had not been able to provide. As the day approached when I was supposed to leave, I found myself saying to myself, “I don’t want to leave, I want to stay here, they have something that I have always been looking for. I don’t know what that is, but I am experiencing it.”
On the last night, I went for a long walk alone in the desert, fully intent on renouncing my life as I knew it. With each step, I became more and more resolved that no matter what, I was going to do it. I was going to return home, let go of the life I had, and come back (as many in the little village had begged me to do.) Right about then, I heard (I swear I did) a BOOMING voice, as if it were a commandment coming down from on high, say, “YOUR DON’T BELONG HERE, GO FIND WHAT YOU HAVE FOUND HERE IN YOUR OWN CULTURE.” I turned around looking for someone who had read my mind. No one was around. And that was NOT what I wanted to hear. I didn’t even know what it was looking for. The only thing I knew was what it felt like.
It took me another three decades, but I finally did. The native cultures were then, have been, and continue to be a constant resource. A way of understanding my world through their eyes, ears, and hearts.
I have since learned that I am not the only one who has this kind of experience. Many who have been fortunate enough to witness and experience people and cultures that live closer to the tribal way, as our ancestors did, commonly speak of experiencing a deep, almost unexplainable richness, in the midst of what is quite often clearly dire economic circumstances of those they visit. Some mention a stirring deep within. They speak of an energy that seems to be pulling them towards a something. Is it an unspeakable longing? It is something wordless and intangible but real.
Scientists have suggested that such visceral experiences may represent a “remembrance”, a calling from our long-lost ancient heritage, deeply embedded in our DNA that creates such experiences. Similar to that of the fixation on the flames while sharing an evening campfire with friends. Or the wordless fascination of hearing, seeing, and smelling waves crashing on a beach, or the spectacle of a brilliant sunset, a captivating moonrise, the visceral experience of a total eclipse. Research has shown that simply being outside reduces all of the physiological anxiety markers.
A recent study found that when given a chance to describe the “perfect” natural setting, people from around the world, overwhelmingly choose azure blue skies, open grasslands in the foreground, trees, and water in the distance, with soaring mountains as a backdrop.
Over the last dozen summers as a part of our Ultimate Listening® series of Workshops in the Black Hills of South Dakota, we been working alongside Tasunka Najin (Guss Yellowhair), and Pehin Zi Sahiyela Win (Tianna Yellowhair) and other Lakota peoples to supplement our retreat experience by spending a time on the Pine Ridge Reservation. That “thing’ that I experienced as a young man, is present there.
Guss has been a professor of Lakota language, history, and culture at Oglala Lakota College and is currently serving as the Wicasa Wicohan Coordinator (teacher and guide to the Lakota way of life and healing) for the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (www.thundervalley.org).
He and his daughter, Tianna are both notable artists and will be co—leading this workshop with me. Guss and Tianna are also co-owners of Tatanka Rez Tourz, the only Native owned, fully licensed, Pine Ridge reservation based tour guide service in South Dakota. Their mission is to build cross cultural bridges, promote reconciliation, and share gifts from their culture and traditions that can be of help to those of other traditions.
This collaboration has led to our creating a very special and unique opportunity. September 7-9, 2022, we will be offering a new workshop that infuses our unique Ultimate Listening® Workshop with Lakota beliefs, philosophy, rituals, spirituality, traditions, and practices.
The program will be held on the Pine Ridge Reservation, near Kyle, South Dakota, about 90 minutes Southeast of Rapid City, South Dakota.
The accommodations are basic and simple - think wilderness cabin. Participants will bring their own food for all their meals. Lodging, workshop materials, supplies and the experience are included in the cost of $2,300/person. Transportation and related costs to and from the workshop site are not included.
Space is very limited, there will be no more than five non-Native participants. The group with be no larger than ten.
If you have ever had an experience similar to what I have spoken of, (feeling a sense of richness that belies the physical circumstances of the people and places you were visiting) and you’d like a deeper understanding of your experience, if anything you have read “rings a bell” for you, moves you, entices you, I would invite you to consider joining us.
The intention of this experience is that us non-Native people will be exposed to understanding more about “the what” many of us have experienced when we have been in situations like those mentioned above.
If you would like to be a part of this unique experience, or if you have further questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.