Walking with the Spirits: A Journey through a Sun Dance Ceremony in South Dakota

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August 29, 2014

The story I am about to tell you might sound like fiction, but I lived it just a few weeks ago.  As my plane landed at National Airport on the way back home, I still couldn’t believe I had lived through such a fascinating journey.  What was left with me was a sense of awe and spirituality.  It was not necessarily a “life changing” event, but another self discovery journey that I didn’t expect.  As old as I am, I realized I still need to learn more about life and its inner wisdom.

One of the reasons I admire my son’s school is the emphasis on community service.  Every year, the students are required to participate in multiple local community activities, and they are encouraged even to go abroad if possible to help the less fortunate.  This year, we helped Sandy pick a service activity in which he would help the Lakota Native Americans in South Dakota prepare for their sun dance ceremony.  I was allowed to accompany my son on this trip, organized by the William Penn House, a Quaker organization.  There were two other students on this trip, Joelle, a tenth grader, and Lucas, who just graduated this spring. 

We arrived on a Thursday evening to Rapid City, South Dakota.  The flight was smooth, except for a hectic morning at the airport when my husband David was searched extensively for almost an hour by 3 different TSA agents and then a chemical specialist, as something on or in his small travel bag was “lighting up” the detectors.  That “something” turned out to be two packs of baby wipes I had packed to be used for our sponge baths, in case there was no shower available.  I had learned from my Myanmar trip how, in very hot weather, baby wipes become a luxury and a necessity to wash our faces or clean our bodies.  The TSA agents advised us to keep baby wipe packages in our check-in luggage from now on.  Certain chemicals in these baby wipes, according to the TSA agents, may leave traces on a backpack or travel bag and set off the alarm!  As many of you have guessed, the teenager Sandy was mortified throughout this searching process, as many passersby were staring at us.  I was sure Sandy was hoping people didn’t think he belonged to our family. 

Our destination was a private undeveloped track of land within the Pine Ridge reservation more than an hour from Rapid City, where a sun dance ceremony has taken place for several years.  A spacious green tent was already set up for me and David.  Sandy and Lucas were sharing a spacious red tent.  

Unfortunately, David didn’t feel well the day after we arrived.  The hot sun and outdoor work including building an outhouse on the property left him feeling sick by the end of the day.  He flew home on Saturday, leaving me and Sandy behind on our journey through the sun dance ceremony.

I never really understood or was aware of the details of Native American history.  I was a tenth grader the year I came to America, with little English under my belt.  I don’t even remember what I was taught in my three years of high school history.  I was concentrating on math and the sciences, knowing that I was advanced enough in these fields to pull my grades up.  I was in the survival mode of an immigrant student, not the mode of contemplating world news and events that could have shaped our present society.  

Brad, the program director of the William Penn House, took me and Sandy to the Oglala Lakota College in Kyle on Pine Ridge to see the exhibition of this troublesome part of American history where the U.S. government took lands from and broke various treaties with the Lakota Native Americans.  I was deeply moved to see photos/artworks/beautiful paintings depicting the life and struggles of Native Americans in the 1800s.  There were photos of the slaughter of thousands of buffalos (carried out to starve the Native Americans), the battle of Wounded Knee, the mass hanging of 38 Sioux Indian men in Minnesota in 1862, during the Lincoln presidency, and Native American children being forced to have their hair cut short and wear school uniforms to go to American schools to conform to a new culture.  It was a tragically sad and troubling part of American history.  

I later explained to Mike, a gentleman who has worked with this community for more than a decade, the difference to me between the Vietnam war and what was done to the Native Americans.  Mike had been surprised when I told him how I was “traumatized” by the photographs depicting the struggles and battles between the Native Americans and U.S. government at the time.

“You lived through the Vietnam war.  How could you be traumatized by what you saw happen to the Native Americans?” Mike asked. 

I explained to Mike how the Vietnam war was a conflict between peoples of the same race but of different political philosophies.  The photos and stories of the Native American conflicts, from the Lakota perspective, show more of a society trying to change the culture and heritage of the other, almost as if one was trying to abolish the other’s identity.

Sun dance ceremonies, the most sacred ceremony in the Lakota culture, were outlawed until 1972.  After the recent (1973) incident at Wounded Knee, there was a revival of sun dance ceremonies all over the country. 

In a sun dance ceremony, the participants dance multiple rounds a day, gazing at the sun, stepping in rhythm with the beats of a large drum and whistles made out of the ulnar bones of eagles.  The purpose of their dance is to pray for the world, their families, and their community.    

To be a sun dancer is to commit or to “sacrifice” oneself for the good of others.  The sun dancer, for example, has to fast for four days during the dance.  He or she also has to follow many traditional processes of purification before the actual sun dance activity.  This involves being in a sweat lodge or “inipi” for four nights before the dance.  In the first three nights, the sun dancers, together with people in the community, pray for their loved ones, their friends and themselves to be healthy and happy.  They also acknowledge their creator and show their gratitude to the “Great Mystery.”  The people in the community also pray for the sun dancers to have strength and endurance for this difficult process where the sun dancers will, through their sacred dance, have a conversation with God on behalf of their communities.

In the following days, Sandy and I were put to work with Lucas and Joelle.  We cleared the thick weeds growing over the field where the altar, sweat lodges and Teepees were to be built for the sun dancers.  I spent one morning cutting grass in the area around the arbor where the dance was to take place.  I had never had to mow a lawn before, and it was a challenge to start the machine until Brad gently told me how I needed to fill this little engine with gasoline, as it was almost empty.  I was happy to learn this “trick,” as I had thought I was not strong enough to pull the cord to start the lawn mower!   

I was grateful that Brad assigned Sandy and Lucas to scoop up the cow patties while I was cutting grass.  Looking at the field full of cow patties, I was wishing how the cows, like dogs, could be trained to limit their bowel functions to certain areas in the field.  I could tell from Sandy’s face how he would rather have been assigned to other tasks, but all tasks had to be done, and our group was the only one there in the first few days to start the process. 

Beside working on the field around the sacred arbor, Sandy and his two schoolmates had to help build a kitchen on the property to be used by the community during the sun dance.  We were not allowed to take photos of the sacred areas; but I was allowed to take photos of Sandy, Joelle and Lucas working on the roof of the kitchen or painting the outside walls. I was impressed that Sandy didn’t have a fear of heights like me, as he stood with Mike and Brad on the roof, banging the nails with hammers.  I initially wondered if Mike would have given him the same tasks if he knew how little Sandy does around our house.  Was he banging those nails hard enough?

By the third day, some Native American families started showing up.  Many of them came from far away, such as Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico and California.  The sacred field looked busy as we were ready to build the sweat lodges for men and women.  Many of the men and women were sun dancers.

After removing the old lodges from last year’s ceremony, we built two sweat lodges using willow branches, cut and brought in by the men.  The women including me and Joelle built the one for women.  Twelve deep holes were dug in a circle by the gentlemen and willow branches were placed in each hole.  With me and one other woman each leaning our back on opposite willow branches, bending the top with our arms and marching forward, bringing the tops of the two branches together, two other women could tie the tops with sturdy strings, creating a lodge in a shape of a dome or an igloo.  After a few rounds, the skeleton of the woman’s sweat lodge was built.  Later in the evening, blankets were put on top to cover the lodge, with one of us sitting inside for a few minutes to make sure there was total darkness once the entire lodge was covered.  We then picked sage from the surrounding fields and gathered them into bundles to place around the hole in the center of the lodge.  That evening, we would be sitting around that hole, on a bed of willow leaves removed from the branches, sweating and praying in the darkness of the tent.  My new Native American friends explained how the shape of the lodge is that of a turtle or a “womb” of Mother Earth, where her children would be safely kept inside.  The shape of this sweat lodge could also be thought as half of the globe, with the other half underground, and we would be inside of this globe.  The sweat lodge, or inipi, was to be our spiritual place for prayers.

Every step leading to the sun dance ceremony carries spiritual meaning.  Sweating in the inipi, for example, is one of the most important sacred ceremonies for the sun dancers before the ceremony.  They consider it a major purification process before the sun dance ceremony begins.  Red hot rocks are burned in a horseshoe-shaped fire pit surrounded by a dirt wall, in front of the sweat lodges.  I learned from a book about sun dances that the shape of this fire pit is reminiscent of Crazy Horse, the famous Oglala Lakota leader.  Before a sweating session, the burning rocks are carefully placed into the pit or hole in the middle of the lodge.  The rocks, called inyan wakans or tunkasilas, are considered pieces of God or the Great Mystery; and as an elder in the sweat lodge pours water onto the rocks, the steam releases the life in the rocks into the lodge.  The participants including me in the first three nights crawl into the sweat lodge in a clockwise direction, before sitting on a bed of willow leaves.  As the door flap was closed, the elder started pouring water from a bucket into the rocks, and we were in total darkness.

Each sweating session has four rounds of prayer, with each round having a different purpose, one to acknowledge and show gratitude to the great creator, and others for general prayers.  When a round ends, the blanket serving as the door opens, and those who want to leave can crawl out from the sweat lodge, always moving in a clockwise direction.  After the fourth round, the door is opened and all participants crawl out, again in clockwise direction, emerging into the fresh air, like newborns from the womb of Mother Earth. Some of the sun dancers were in the lodge sweating with supporters like us.  They sing ancient songs or olowans to the supporters.  A sacred pipe or chanupa is offered at the end and passed around to the participants.  You, as a participant in the sweat lodge, are not required to use the pipe.  During the prayer rounds, you can pray silently when it comes to your turn, or publicly like most participants did in my lodge.  Once you finish praying, you say“Aho” to signal to the next person that your prayer is over. “Aho Mitakuye Oyasin” is a Lakota term for “All Relations.”  In the Lakota culture and belief, we are all related and created by the Great Mystery or God.

It was amazing to witness the building of the teepees, starting from scratch with high wooden poles.  Every three poles were tied together at the top with ropes, and I don’t know how these ingenious engineers did it, but several intricate teepees, draped in beautiful materials with symbols of Native American life, were put up quite quickly.  Once the teepees were built that evening, we supporters no longer were allowed to roam the area where the sun dancers stayed during the four days of the dance.  Then, only the sun dancers can “sweat” in the lodges at night before the morning dance.  We had become the observers or supporters by that time.

One evening, several of us went to a field full of sage within the boundaries of the farm.  Sage is one of the four sacred medicines used for ritual cleaning in Native American cultures in North America.  It symbolizes strength, wisdom and clarification of negative energy.  The other three sacred medicines are tobacco, cedar, and sweetgrass.  The sun was not quite setting yet, and we could see the silvery sage bushes against the blue sky.  We had to pick a lot of sage, as the sacred plants were used to line around the arbor, separating the sun dancers from their supporters.  The sun dancers also held fans made of sage, braided with red strings, and the crowns on their heads also were made of sage.  As we were about to lean down to clip the sage plants, being careful not to pull them by their roots, a prayer was said gently in each direction of the land:

Wakan Tanka, Tunkasilas (Great Mystery, Grandfather)

Wopila Wopila Wopila Wopila (Thank you) 

Thank you for this wonderful day;

Thank you for this wonderful life;

Thank you for this wonderful land;

Thank you for this wonderful ceremony;

Wakan, Tanka,

Thank for these plant people who offer themselves for all our relations in our ceremony.

We pray that someday when we no longer need our bodies,

They may return to this earth to nourish the ancestors of the plant people who have gifted themselves this day.

Wopila Wopila Wopila Wopila Tunkasila

Mitakuye’ O’yasin (For all relations)

In an hour, with five of us, we were able to bring back a few trash bags full of sage for the dance.  It was among the most peaceful activities I participated in.  Picking sage in the quiet of the field, in the open sky, with only the chirping of the birds and the buzzing of bees, I could almost hear the flapping wings of insects around me.  I was meditating with my eyes open to nature.  From afar, I could see the purple and yellow, red and white of different wild flowers, basking in the evening sun, against the tall pine trees.  Who would want to close their eyes to such wonders of the world? 

The day before the dance, we woke up early to make our wishes for the new “tree of life.”  The old tree of life was taken down the day before.  Our wishes were made of colorful fabric with a dash of tobacco inside, carefully tied into a bundle. Tobacco is believed to be our connection to the spirit world.  The smoke of tobacco is believed to be the manner of communicating, carrying the prayers to God. We were allowed to make as many wishes as we wanted.  I made three, a blue one for world peace, a green one for my family, and a yellow one for my friends and their families.  We were supposed to keep our wishes to ourselves, but many of you know how I always have a hard time keeping secrets!  Sandy made only a blue wish, and I never asked what he wished for.  Maybe he was practical and put all his wishes into one bundle.

At 11 A.M., our group gathered into Mike’s van to follow a parade of cars and pickup trucks to a woods where the new tree of life, a cottonwood tree previously picked out by a medicine man, was to be taken down.  Mike had already given us a lecture that morning on the do’s and don’ts for this activity.  The tree of life, as it is being cut down, is not allowed to touch the ground.  The men and women who want to help carry this tree have to be moving like a “centipede.”  After a prayer, the first designated gentleman to cut this tree down swung an ax wrapped in red strings, symbolizing blood or life, at the tree.  Many men followed in line, with everybody’s eyes on the sacred tree.  As the tree started leaning to one side, several men rushed toward it to make sure their hands and arms were on its body, to make sure it would not touch the ground. 

The tree finally was taken down and carried to a big pickup truck.  Any fallen branch was quickly picked up and put with respect into the truck.  The supporters like us were allowed to pick up the chips scattered around the tree to keep as a symbol of the tree of life and a reminder of the prayers we made.  As we approached the farm, the tree was carefully brought down from the truck and all of us participated in carrying the new sacred tree of life to its home, in the middle of the arbor.  We did move like a giant centipede, with me and Sandy, together with the women, at the end (the top) of the tree.  Small people like us would not have been able to carry the trunk of this big tree!  

I thought it would be easy for me and Sandy to handle our end, but was I so wrong!  The marching ceremony required a lot of coordination between the strong men in the front, and the weaker women in the back.  The branches full of leaves essentially blocked the view of those of us in the back, and I walked blindly with the top of the tree on my arms and sometimes, on my shoulders!  As the people in the front stopped and said their prayers, I took a brief break and let my arms take a turn to rest.  I suddenly understood the word “blind faith.”  I was carrying something big and important for the sun dance on my shoulders, not seeing anything in front of me but leaves and branches, yet I believed my friends from the front would lead me to the right place, the sacred ground where this tree would stand against the blue sky for a year, bearing its people’s wishes for the Great Mystery to see.  My fate depended on theirs, as they also had faith that we women would be strong enough not to let the top of the tree touch the ground during the march.  We were working together as a community to build something sacred for everybody’s good.

As the tree was carefully put into the ground, everybody was allowed to come up with their bundles of wishes.  I carefully tied my three wishes on separate branches, making sure the knots were tied tightly, as I had heard the winter in the Badlands usually is horrendous.  I picked sturdy branches to make sure my wishes would stay up over this next 12 months no matter how strong the winds are.  I knew how strong the winds in this area could be.  At night, the sound of the wind rushing through the woods was loud enough to keep me and Sandy up.  It sounded at times like a train rushing through Central Park.  Other times, I thought I was back on River Road in Potomac, Maryland, during the heavy traffic hour.  I have to admit I was too nervous to sleep the first night on the camping grounds.  I thought we should have found a shelter from the wind that was stronger than a tent.  I thought the pine trees were about to crash on our tent at any minute.  The bright and beautiful Milky Way didn’t give me comfort from the fact that there was no electricity on the campgrounds.  The comfort of civilization seemed to be so remote from me.  From the second night on, however, I realized I was in a magical land where I was so close to nature and the earth, where the Big Dipper and the Milky Way were wonderously vivid, and the shooting stars were not a rare phenomenon.  I was in the land of the spirits.

The first morning of the dance, Joelle and I woke up early to finish our painting job.  The night before, we were painting the outside of the kitchen until about 11P.M, with a flashlight in one hand and the brush in the other.  I learned to hate my headlight, as I realized it attracted all sorts of flying insects.  They were circling around my forehead, distracting me from my painting job.  I knew it would have been only seconds before I would try to swap one of the insects and end up falling down from the ladder, so I decided it was smarter and safer to use a handheld flash light while painting the top of the kitchen panels in the dark.

The daily rounds of dancing were announced by the drum player and singers.  We marched barefoot through the clean field toward the arbor, with the grass having been freshly cut by me several days before, and most of the cow patties fortunately scooped up by Sandy and Lucas.  All women wore long skirts and had their shoulders covered (no tank tops).  I was asked to remove my watch as the metal could reflect the sun into the dancers’ eyes.  No electronic gadgets were allowed in the area of the arbor.

Then the dance began, with the dancers in traditional ceremonial dress, their wrists and ankles wrapped with sage and red ribbons or strings, holding sage fans, wearing sage crowns, gazing at the sun, blowing eagle bone whistles while stepping in rhythm with the drum beat.  The singers sang ancient songs which I did not understand but found beautiful.  The supporters like me lined up around the arbor, some stepping to the rhythm of the drum and the whistles like the sun dancers, others just watching.  You are not obligated to move with the dancers; you can be a silent observer, as Sandy and a few people chose during the first few rounds. 

Just imagine the tree of life full of colorful wishes standing against a blue sky, the scent of burned cedar, the eagle bone whistles and drum playing in rhythms, the dancers with their silent gazes to the sun, the voice of several singers surrounding the big drum singing the ancient sun dance songs, and a community of supporters around the arbor following the steps of the dancers while praying for peace, for love, for good health or for whatever their hearts were yearning, and you can easily understand the magic of the dance rounds.  We were marching with our Gods and the spirits.  We were praying, like the dancers, for the essentials of our lives and for those for whom we care.  It is those moments which help us realize what is truly “essential” in our life. 

When a dance round ended, the dancers went back to their teepees and we went back to our activities.  I was busy with a few women clipping cedar branches for the next dance.  The pieces of cedar were burned in cans and, on the first day of the dance, Sandy and Lucas, together with Brad, carried these cans around for the guests to sweep the smoke upon themselves, as an act of purification.  Cedar is used to attract positive energy, feelings, emotions and balance. 

In the evening, after the last round of sun dancing, the dancers settled back into their teepees while we and the community had a public dinner.  I had a buffalo burger and some noodle soup.  We drank lemonade or iced tea and mingled with each other.   I found how much in common I had with these new Native American friends.  We all cared about our families, the world, the environment, our health.  From different parts of the country, from different cultures and ways of life, we realized how much we were the same.  We might not worship the same God(s), but our level of spirituality was not different.  We all had the same goal in life, that of being joyful and peaceful.

The last morning in South Dakota, I woke up around 4:30 A.M. to the lightest trace of day in the sky.  I walked on a grassy path leading to the edge of the farm facing the Badlands.  I climbed on top of a rock where I could look down into the Badlands.  I didn’t even realize Lucas was already there, ahead of me, alone on one of the peaks in the distance, until Brad arrived near me and pointed Lucas out to me.

The three of us, on three different rocks, waiting silently for the sunrise.  Today was my last day on this enchanted journey, and I had to witness the sunrise.

Ever since I was young, as young as maybe seven or eight years old, I have always been deeply affected by sunrises and sunsets.  There is something poignant about the beginning and the end of things.  They remind me of how life is very much in order; nothing lasts forever, whether it is the beginning or the end.  The sunrise and sunset somehow confirm and remind me of our state of mortality, of how we should cherish the present moment, before it quickly becomes a moment of the past.  The colors of each event seem very much the same, each brilliant in its own way, though heading toward different directions, with one moving into total darkness, and the other to extreme brightness.  It is the changing of each layer of color as the sun rises or sets that reminds me how magical the beginning and the end of things can be, no less beautiful regardless of the sun’s direction.

Finally, on that very last morning, I heard the howling of the coyotes.  Some of my Native American friends had been describing this to me all week.  They told me to listen at the end and the beginning of the day, when the howling of the coyotes could be heard.  My ears were tuned to the sound of nature but, somehow, only on that last morning nearly at dawn did I finally hear the calling of the wild.  I was a bit worried as I walked alone on the grassy path leading to the Badlands, that the coyotes were still somewhere nearby, although I had been told how they would vanish before we humans could spot them.

The sun finally rose, and I was able to capture a photo of Lucas, sitting alone and pensively on a rock, staring, like me and Brad, at the magnificent Badlands, trying to take in the beauty of nature at dawn.  We were three speckles in the universe at dawn, just as we had been in previous nights, among the Milky Way, the Big Dipper and millions of other stars.  Three speckles with three significant lives, however brief they might be. 

Our mission was complete, clearing the land, building the sweat lodges, bringing into the arbor the new tree of life, wrapping our wishes in bundles of prayers, building and finishing the kitchen for the community to use next year.  Maybe I will be back to paint some sunflowers on the yellow walls I helped paint this summer.  Maybe I will meditate gazing at the Badlands while picking sage.  Maybe I will take an afternoon clipping Cedar branches and listening to the sounds of insects around me.  The sky full of stars and the magical Milky Way will still be there.  Maybe I will be back sweating in darkness with my Native American friends at night to remind myself that we are all the same, with the same goals and the same yearning to live a full and happy life.  It is in darkness where humanity is found.  We will sit in the hot womb of Mother Earth and emerge later to a sky full of stars.   

Before embarking on this trip, I thought we were there to provide a big favor to our Native American friends.  In Mike’s van on the way to the airport, however, I realized the gift was to me.  The journey of only a week reconfirmed to me how important it is for us to live as a community, to see each other’s cultural aspects in a positive light, to recognize that our differences are only skin deep.  Until we immerse ourselves in the lives of others, in their thoughts and cultures, we will always remain strangers.  In our own world, we have our own sets of problems.  There is, as I often tell Sandy and my friends, no perfect life.  In the Native American community, there are high rates of poverty, depression, alcoholism and suicide.  In many communities throughout the country, however, no matter how financially secure, many of those same problems exist and even are on the rise.

Our trip, if anything, taught me how simply I could live and yet how rich my life was during such a week.  I missed my daily shower for just some brief moments.  Too many more important things took over that desire for a long shower in a fancy bathroom.  I didn’t miss wearing my beautiful dresses and fancy shoes for my office work.  I was comfortable running around in my Capri pants and running shoes cutting grass, weeding the arbor or picking sage.  By the end of the week, my fancy pink running shoes and Capri pants were full of stains from the gray and yellow paints we used to paint the kitchen.  

Sandy also survived his life of simplicity on the camping grounds fairly well.  He didn’t like going to the outhouse so much at first but eventually, he had no problem.  At one time, in the middle of the week, he came up to me and had a yearning look in his eyes.

“Do you know what I am wishing for right now?”

I was terrified.  Don’t tell me he is giving up on this trip, I said to myself.

“What do you wish for?”  I asked him, just to be polite, not wanting to hear his answer.

“I wish I had a glass of ice water.”  He said nonchalantly before walking back toward the kitchen they were building, where Mike and Brad were ready for him to climb back on the roof.  The sun was hot that day. 

“Phew, a glass of ice water?  That’s not as bad as wanting to go home to sleep on his comfortable bed.”  I was relieved.

That afternoon, I went with Brad to the local grocery store and got two bags of ice.  As long as Sandy was not ready to give up on that kitchen, I could grant him his wish, a glass full of ice water.   

Just the other day back home, during dinner, I asked Sandy if he liked the work/service  trip to South Dakota.  He nodded his head and said he really liked it.  Obviously, he didn’t mind the simple life of a camper.   

I hope, like me, Sandy learned the lesson of being a part of a close knit community where everyone has to put in his or her best to build the common good.  I hope he learned how, when we immerse ourselves in the lives of those with whom we are not familiar, we will realize how similar we are, how we put on different exterior facets and layers, but how our hearts and intentions are the same.  

On my way to the hospital early one Sunday morning, I heard an interview with Paolo Coelho on NPR’s “On Being.”  As some of you know, Coelho is a famous Brazilian writer whose book “The Pilgrimage” was translated into 38 languages.  As a seventh or eighth grader, Sandy read Coelho’s international best-selling book “The Alchemist” in his English class. 

The Pilgrimage is Coelho’s tale of a five hundred mile journey across Northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, aka the Way of St. James.  It was a self discovery journey where a pilgrim (written as a first person) discovered “the extraordinary was indeed found in the simple way of ordinary people.”  Coelho’s interview was quite poignant and fascinating.  He reminded us how we don’t have to go far or look wide to find the truth of life.  He reminded us how we might follow our own path, but how the paths of others might end up at the same destination.  Coelho encouraged us not to be afraid of new situations, that the way to correct our peccadillo or “small sin” in life is to “always to walk forward, adapting oneself to new situations and receiving in return all of the thousands of blessings that life generously offers to those who seek them.”

As I returned home to my usual routines, I was distraught at all the tragic news from around the world (including here in the U.S.).  I told my friends how we are living in a world “on the move,” a dangerous move.  I watched the nightly news and saw the children crossing the U.S. border from Honduras, people fleeing from Iraq to Syria to escape the ISIS, people fleeing Syria to Turkey to escape Bashar al Assad, the situations in Israel and Gaza, Ukraine and Russia, the beheading of James Foley, the stoning to death of women in Pakistan, the story of Michael Brown, a black teenager shot dead by a white policeman…  It seems as if nobody understands anybody anymore.  Everyone seems to flee someone…

While in the midst of all this chaos, maybe all of us should pause and think of Coelho’s words in the Pilgrimage: 

“We are always trying to convert people to a belief in our own explanation of the universe.  We think that the more people there are who believe as we do, the more certain it will be that what we believe is the truth.  But it doesn’t work that way.”

Maybe, if everyone recognizes this pearl of wisdom from Coelho, certain levels of peace will be achieved.  

I wish you Peace or, in the Lakota language, WoLakota!

I would like to thank my new Native American friend P., for her wisdom and patience in explaining all the traditions and meanings behind each step leading to a sun dance.  I also want to thank Mike and Brad for giving me the opportunity to participate in this wonderful project; and, through the nightly discussions or Quaker worship meetings, for enriching my view on the issues of social inequality.  We all should hear how Brad explains the difference between “fairness” and “injustice” on the issue of poverty, giving a most concrete, yet incredibly effective example to help us understand why we should not complain that we do “too much” for the poor.  

To learn more about sun dance ceremony, you can read “Sun Dancing, a Spiritual Journey on the Red Road” by Michael Hull. 


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