Updated: Sep 21, 2021
THE POST, “SWEAT LODGE HEALING,” PROVED TO BE OF INTEREST TO MORE THAN 2,700 INQUIRERS. Nahmaka, who generously shared his healing experience, is moved to share the Spiritual journey that followed. The challenge he faced was the maintenance of his healing and the re-creation of his Life purpose, in cultural surroundings and a future that were often averse to his spiritual way of Life. Responding to extensive interest in the vital foundation of Lakota Life, Nahmaka has shared his journals with me and advised me on the text for this Post. His story speaks to the challenges that we all face. A bonus: his twin sister will enter the story as well.
Back to Nahmaka’s saga – A feast of thanksgiving highlighted Nahmaka’s night after the Sweat. Sitting in a circle in Eagleman’s basement, pipes that had been loaded before the Sweat Lodge ceremony were passed around one by one and smoked. (See description of pipe loading ceremony in previous Post.) The carrier of each pipe smoked the residual tobacco after their pipe had been passed around the circle, his or her head disappearing into a cloud of smoke. Then, participants gathered upstairs for a feast. A Spirit-plate, filled with the variety of foods, which characterized the potluck, was placed outside by one of the children. A tone of gratitude and laughter carried everyone into the night. One of the women developed a headache, perhaps from smoking in the circle of pipe carriers? Eagleman’s partner, an expert in traditional remedies, had the answer. Soon, she and the woman had their heads under a large towel wherein they were lighting matches under dried beaver balls (testicles) that created a curative smoke. Soon, the headache was gone and giggles were coming out from under the towel :-) When early morning arrived, participants headed for home. The Rez Road wound its way around small ponds and Wetlands, with its nocturnal shoulders frequented by deer and an occasional bear.
A New Beginning
The next morning, Nahmaka readied himself to refresh his body, psyche and soul. He packed for a hike hike in which he would meet his twin sister at a sacred site. As he headed into backcountry, Nahmaka experienced a sense of belonging to familiar Land and a community of diverse beings. Soon after leaving the trailhead, however, dark feelings came over him and he wondered what he was about to see. Soon enough, he was in the middle of a clear-cut and he could feel the grief of the Land and the trees that remained. The cuts extended illegally right up to the waters of the ponds, with no growth to protect the aquatic Life. Nahmaka sat down with tears pressing behind his eyes, he pulled out his phone camera to document the violation of logging laws. Then, Nahmaka took out tobacco that he scattered upon the Land, “Mother, I feel your grief. Waters, I feel your Life go dormant as you are covered with algae. Birds, I hear the silence of your absence. Wakan Tanka, I pray for the comforting of this Land and all its beings. I pray that government and business wills learn to regard trees as living beings, rather than commodities, so that mindless slaughtering will halt. May this awakening come soon! Awaken us Creator, awaken us!”
Daylight is receding, the sky is clear, so Nahmaka leaves his tent in the pack and sleeps under the starlight and the second quarter of a waxing moon. Still grieving with the Land, Nahmaka asks, “Moon Mother, what can we do?” She responds with silence. But there are footsteps to be heard, then heavy breathing. A bear stands in the starlight-moonlight and stares at Nahmaka, who with curiosity returned the look. “Bear Spirit, you join me in grief; I feel your comfort. But I am asking for your power. In the words of my ancestors, who have called upon and relied upon you for ages,” Nahmaka intoned a traditional Lakota chant, “Send word Bear Spirit, send word. We are having a hard time, send word. Across this grieving Land, spirits are calling your name. It really is time that you came.” As a cloud passes in front of the moon, Nahmaka sees the shape of Mother Bear, She weeps. But the Moon is waxing and rising; She speaks “I am not dead, wake up, wake up; did the Rock People not speak to you in the Sweat; did they not bring passionate heat from the heart of Mother Earth? She is not dead! Feel her energy. Get some rest. There is work, warrior work to do when you return home! The destruction of Mother’s Land and water must stop!”
Nahmaka stretches out on a ground-cloth, wiggling his body around into a comfortable position. But his soul is uncomfortable. Feeling Mother Earth’s pain, feeling the destruction of habitat, the extinction of animal relatives, Nahmaka mumbles to himself, “I am afraid; I am afraid.”. He thinks he hears a voice, saying, “Do not be afraid; do not be afraid; you are not alone.” Then he hears footsteps walking away. The bear is leaving.
Now Nahmaka is more comfortable. He does not feel alone, nor frightened. Powers greater than his are calling him. But still, he does not know what he can do, what can one small man do? He prays, “Give me guidance; give me help. I need direction. I’m ready, but I need help and direction.”
A Sacred Site, Bear Butte State Park, SD
The next morning, Nahmaka takes out of the clear-cut and into foothills. In the distance, he sees a sacred Butte, a place where his people have gone to pray for generations. Relationship to the spiritual dimensions of Life happens everywhere. But in certain places, the spiritual relationships of people to the Land and the relationships to all beings connected are vibrantly stronger. Generations pilgrimaging to such a place, further sensitize relationship capacities, creating a sacred site treasured by the people who go there to renew their religious relationships with the Land and all beings – Mitaqouyasin (a Lakota word meaning, “all our relatives)”. The sacred Butte that Nahmaka now approaches is one such place. Nahmaka notices how his experience of his relationships changes as he approaches and climbs the Butte. At first, as he sees the Butte in the distance, it is like an object and he is the subject seeing the Butte in the distance. Then, as he comes closer, the Butte is also a subject and he experiences their relationship as personal, spiritual center to center. The Butte is alive, not just an object. But the final transformation of his perceptions comes as he climbs to the summit. Nahmaka realizes with a suddenness that he is a child of the Butte, that the Butte is experiencing the world through him. His legs are the Butte walking. Nahmaka’s eyes are the Butte seeing. The Butte is experiencing its connections with all beings through Nahmaka’s sensory awareness. Nahmaka knows that he is living in the language that the Land gives His People and now speaks through him.
Reaching the top of the Butte, Nahmaka looks for his twin sister, Nahmala; she has hiked to the top of the Butte, coming from another direction. Nahmala, like her brother, chose a meaningful name for this Post that would give her anonymity for providing personal information. She stated that her name means, “lover of children.” Knowing of the personal turmoil that her brother has been through and of the healing that he had received in the Sweat Lodge, Nahmala planned for the two of them to meet on this sacred ground. Climbing the Butte, each of them had prayerfully prepared themselves for receiving spiritual communication that would affirm Nahmaka in his new beginning and receive guidance for re-creating their Life-purposes. Beyond individualism, they are seeking direction for how they can contribute to the future well-being of all their relatives, including future beings, Mitaqouyasin!
Nahmala chose to have an abbreviated song of Brook Medicine Eagle, “Vision Mountain,” played as part of this Post because it represents the Spirit with which she ascends the Butte and comes into ceremony.
Nahmaka is in touch with the Spirit of the Butte as he approaches Nahmala. Both twins are intuitive Seers, aspiring to become medicine people. Their hearts are expectantly ready when the Land speaks to Nahmala through her brother, saying “it is so good to see you through Nahmaka’s eyes.” The Land then speaks back to Nahmaka through his sister, saying “it is so good to see you through Nahmala’s eyes. Experiencing you both through one another’s eyes, I know your love for one another and your love for other beings, you are beautiful.” Nahmaka and Nahmala are experiencing what typifies many indigenous languages in which the Land speaks through the voices of its people, whom it embraces. A traditional Navajo chant elegantly conveys identification with the Life of the earth finding expression through personal Life,
The Earth, its Life am I,
The Earth, its feet are my feet,
The Earth, its legs are my legs,
The Earth, its body is my body,
The Earth, its thoughts are thoughts,
The Earth, its speech is my speech.i
Nahmala takes out her pipe from its buffalo hide carrying case that is decorated with beadwork designed and created by their mother. In tradition, the stem and bowl are separate until put together in ceremony, respecting the power of the pipe. Together, the twins had planned for a pipe ceremony followed by a conversation with the Grandfather of the East. Readers familiar with the Christian concept of the Trinity can recognize that the 4 Powers are one with the Creator, Wakan Tanka.. The Powers are respected but they are friendly and approachable, addressed as Kola a.k.a. “Friend” and/or Tunkasila a.k.a. “Grandfather.” Their accessibility provides intimate approaches to the Sacred. Nahmala and Nahmaka prepare themselves for this sacred conversation with a pipe ceremony.
Nahmala -- My brother, you embody the male power inherent in this pipe stem, a powerful caretaker for our relatives whose hide is wrapped around the pipe, for the brothers and sisters represented by the pipe’s feathers and for all the plant people who are kin to the tree whose flesh is the pipe stem.
My sister, you are holding the pipe bowl, you are the feminine power from Mother Earth. You carry the strength of the Rock People who have been carved into the pipe bowl, the womb holding Mother Earth’s creativity, Her readiness to hold our prayers in Her tobacco.
Together: (inserting the pipe stem into the bowl)
We join the male and the female energies of Creator, the Sun and the Moon, the Earth and the Sky, our Father and Mother. Male and Female, Man and Woman. This Pipe bringing together masculine and feminine energy fields, creates Life. Thank you for all children of Life born today; may their futures be blessed. Mitaqouyasin! We remember a prayer of our Lakota people, spoken by Black Elk,
“Great Spirit, my Grandfather, all over the earth the faces of every living thing are alike. With tenderness have these come up out of the ground. Look upon these faces of children without number and with children in their arms that they may face the winds and walk in the good road to the day of quiet.”
The Four Directions:
The traditional pipe song addresses each of the Four Powers as either Tunkasila (Grandfather) or Kola (friend), names reflecting their intimate approachability. The first verse is repeated with each Direction. Following is an abbreviated recording:
pipe loading song, first verse
Nahmala and Nahmaka follow the tradition of the pipe loading ceremony, pointing it to each of the Directions plus Earth and Sky with song and prayer and a pinch of tobacco loaded, along with a pinch offered upon Mother Earth at each point. As the pipe is rotated to the Directions, the twins originate a special practice: Nahmala holds the ball of the pipe and Nahmaka holds the stem. Nahmala and Nahmaka will smoke the pipe after a prayerful conversation with the Grandfather of the East. Until then, they cap the tobacco in the bowl with a wad of sage.
Prayerful Conversation with the Grandfather Power of the East:
Eager for guidance about their futures and how they can act for social, environmental justice that will give oportunities to the children of today and tomorrow to live fully, the twins devised this conversational ceremony. Whoever is talking, will hold the pipe. Given the pipe’s energetic relationships with diverse beings, holding the pipe is an invitation for all beings to contribute to the thoughts of whomever is speaking. Completing the pipe ceremony, they call upon Grandfather.
Nahmala – We are broken hearted, Grandfather. We feel helpless, our human family is destroying the planet, killing off many of our nonhuman sisters and brothers. Growing up, Grandfather, we welcomed every day, seeing the sunrise and the Daybreak Star when visible, they promised something new that we would help create. We entered the day filled with gratitude and giving thanks. Now, Grandfather, we have become skeptical even of the promise of Daybreak Star. We are afraid to plan for the future, Grandfather. What should we do?
Nahmaka – Yes, Grandfather, we have lost enthusiasm for the Future. We love Life. Always before, whatever happened, we would let go of the Past leap forward with enthusiasm into the Future, together with other beings, Mitaqouyasin. Now we are overwhelmed by what has happened in the Past, we can’t let it go. Climate change is upon us, the ocean is acidified, crippling its capacity for absorbing some of the Greenhouse Gas that floats around our Mother, the melting tundra puts more GHG into the air, the melting glaciers leave our rivers running dry and, and, more and more.
Nahmala – Poverty, famine, massacre, and all the rest, they are among us now, falling especially hard upon our People. But all these things are getting worse. We feel that we can do nothing about it, Grandfather – this is why we come to you in despair, needing help, guidance, direction! We weep! What should we do for our children? What shall we tell them about Life ahead?
Grandfather haltingly, sadly, speaks– My Children, in your grief you honor and love what is being lost. Be One with the energies of Spiritual Love and Grief of the Universe flowing through you. In this Way, your personal energies will not be weakened. Your revulsion at the injustice of climate change will generate energies of resilience and renewed enthusiasm for Life. You are called to mitigate damage to this assault on our Mother Earth and all her children. This calling is a collective task in which you will be among the leaders.
Nahmala – (here speaking also for Nahmaka) how can we be leaders? We are overwhelmed and don’t know what to do.
Grandfather – Millions of people want to help, and they have diverse talents with which they can address a piece of the action puzzle. But they are ensnared. There Is much chaos but within it are millions of people who want to help. Some are already helping, but most feel alone and don’t know how to be effective. To be leaders, you don’t have to tell everybody what to do. Rather, being among the leaders, being spokespersons, being shamans who help shape energy, you will help create an energy field in which the disorganized become part of a movement in which they will take pride in their effectiveness and comfort in their sense of belonging.
You may recall the energy field experiment that you did in your junior high science class. Opposite magnets were placed under a paper on each side of a chaos of iron filings on top of the paper. An energy field was created in which filings were organized, showing the shape of the field. We know energy fields by seeing their impact, be it gravity or team spirit. Imagine a much more miraculous energy field being created that encompasses people whose concerns are now lost in chaos and enables them to find their way to do their piece of the social, environmental justice puzzle. Quantum physics discoveries have taught us that the causality in energy fields can be non-local. What is critical is the energetic passion for social justice that mobilizes people.
Nahmala – Grandfather, I think I understand about knowing energy fields by their impact. But, what about the Trump followers. It seems like they’re in an energy field that sucks them back in no matter what? When presented with facts about Mother Earth and climate change, they buy into “alternative facts,” in order to stay in their energy field or because the energy field pulls them into creating alternative facts? How do we create an energy field for social and environmental justice? and does not keep people from thinking?
Grandfather – You are not alone, Nahmala. We are in this together.
(Then, I in the midst of Grandfather’s talking and their skeptical weeping, the twins hear the flapping of wings, they feel energetic forces standing them up. Eagle flies above them, beckoning them to follow. Eagle is carrying the Pipe. All the energies that converge into that pipe are now standing Nahmaka and Nahmala up. They feel strengthen their backbones.)
Eagle has a long history of serving as a Spiritual Compass for leaders. About 10,000 years ago, Yahweh, a.k.a. Great Spirit, Wakan Tanka, spoke through the Hebrew Bible, telling of the Exodus, “I bore you on Eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.” About 8000 years ago, the prophet Isaiah spoke,
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings on eagles, they shall run and not be weary,”
in our contemporary era, it is especially Native Americans who have embraced the Eagle, including Eagle feathers as being sacred. But even as strength is stirred within them by their vision of Eagle, the twins remain skeptical that they can be leaders.
Grandfather speaks to their strength emerging – All your relatives are standing you up, my children. There is no more time for weeping. As leaders, follow Eagle, always letting your heartbeat drum in sync with Life enthusiasm.
Nahmaka, still burdened with a lack of self-confidence, – why do you stand us up, Grandfather. We cannot be leaders. We are helpless. We do not know what to do. How can we help to create an energy field? Find someone else, Grandfather.
Grandfather – My Grandson, you are already a leader. It was only a month ago that you dared to share your Sweat Lodge Healing, you shared your spiritual conversations that infused the tobacco in your prayer ties. But remember, when you entered the Sweat Lodge, you promised that you sought healing for all your relatives, Mitaqouyasin, not just for yourself. Now my son, your prayers are being answered, not just for you but inclusively for all your relatives! Your leadership is showing people the power for love and justice that can be released through deep-heart conversation with the Sacred. Leadership is like that. It extends invisibly, beyond your sight, through energy fields that you are helping to create but have not yet seen. Eagle, however, can see over the ridge, follow her!
Nahmala – thank you Grandmother, thank you for letting me know that I can call you Grandmother as well as Grandfather. :-) Nahmaka, my brother, we are in the midst of an expanding energy field!
Nahmala -- Grandmother, I see that Leadership does not mean knowing everything. If we live what we know, especially showing others that there are Sacred energies wanting to help us build energy fields of people who will use their diverse talents to protect Mother Earth and build a more just economic system, then we are ready. We trust in the confluence of relatives that have brought their voices through our pipe into this conversation. We are ready to smoke the tobacco, prayerfully offering to all the Directions what we have learned! We will follow Eagle over the ridge to discover what is now beyond our sight.
Karl – thank you, Nahmala and Nahmaka for sharing your journals and advising the creation of text for this Post. I dedicate this closing song to affirm you in your Lives and mission. The lyrics read, “Brother Warrior.” Readers, as you listen, I ask you to translate those words into “Sister and Brother Warriors” The song was composed by Kate Wolf, sung by Sharon Burch
and abbreviated by me.
[i] Cited by Matthew Fox in The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, l988), 12.