Today’s Sunday Snippet is from the Native American Religions book The Wind Is My Mother; The Life and Teachings of A Native American Shaman by Bear Heart and Molly Larkin. It is a 272 page book published by Berkley Publishing Group; Reprint edition (1 Feb. 1998). It is currently available as a hardcover, paperback, audio book and audio CD.
With eloquent simplicity, Bear Heart, a full-blooded and traditionally trained healer of the Muskogee Creek tribe, shares a lifetime of training. In sections titled “The Cure Lies Within You” and “Learning How To Live,” Bear Heart weaves together anecdotes and philosophy to show how traditional tribal wisdom can help us maintain mental, spiritual and physical health in today’s world. We journey with him from his initiation into the Muskogee Creek’s “medicine ways” in 1938 (when he walked unharmed through a den of rattlesnakes) to his role as a respected elder and counselor whose gentle words spring from a lifetime of service. He describes the lessons learned in ceremonies conducted in the sweat lodge and the Native American Church; he explains why Native people pray with peyote and smoke the Sacred Pipe and how vision quests can bring clarity and personal revelation. Throughout, Bear Heart’s teachings stress the importance of self-knowledge, integrity, and being open to the guidance of the Great Spirit. Through inspiring stories and examples, he teaches us how to live.
Molly Larkin’s Introduction to The Wind Is My Mother; The Life and Teachings of a Native American Shaman
In 1987, I was ready to die. In a twelve month period, I lost my business to an unscrupulous partner, filed for personal bankruptcy, my lover committed suicide and, after rebounding into a relationship with an old boyfriend, I was left for a nineteen-year old receptionist. My life was at its darkest point, and I had gone so far as to make a plan to end it. Then I met Bear Heart.
His words gave me hope, and my work with him since then has dramatically changed my life. It seemed only natural that a book on his teachings could inspire countless others just as he has helped and inspired me.
Looking back, I see my life as one long spiritual quest. My journey began with my wanting to be a nun in the eighth grade and changed course as I declared myself an atheist by my senior year of high school. In college I experimented with drugs and followed that with twelve years of practicing meditation — two of them in an ashram. But neither chemicals nor Eastern religion brought me real peace of mind.
I gradually noticed, however, that when I was out in nature I felt a sense of serenity that years of struggling with meditation never gave me. Since Native American “religion” is based on a relationship with the earth and all living things, finding a Native American teacher willing to work with non-Indians — with me — seemed the clearest answer to finding peace and balance in my life.
Not long after my search for a Native teacher began, I met Cougar, a man of both white and Native American heritage, who I came to love very deeply. His suicide in March of 1987 was a devastating blow to me but, as is often the case with life’s tragedies, it proved to be a significant turning point in my life. Three weeks after Cougar’s death, I traveled to Washington state for his memorial service and it was there that I met Bear Heart. Many people were there grieving for Cougar, yet Bear Heart consoled them all with great warmth, depth, humor and compassion — his ability to lift up our spirits seemed boundless.
Within a few months after I returned home to California, Bear Heart came to Los Angeles to conduct ceremonies and workshops. I attended them all and a friend, knowing of my deep depression, suggested I meet privately with him. I had no idea of what to expect, but something inside — perhaps intuition, or simply desperation — told me it would be a good idea.
I spoke with Bear Heart about the past year and of my thoughts about wanting to end my life. During the thirty minutes I spent with him, he said one thing I’ll never forget: “There are many kinds of death. It isn’t necessary to leave the physical body in order to let a part of you die that doesn’t serve you any longer. When you allow that to happen, you can be reborn into a new and better life.”
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