The Helping Way: Sayings of a Lakota Elder

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“If you are living only for yourself, and you know that everyone else is living only for themselves, you know that there is no help for you if you fall. All people must fall at some time, just as there will always come rain and bad weather. You learn that you must protect what is yours, or you may lose everything.

“You put locks on your doors, locks on your hearts. You live in fear that you may lose what you have, so you spend your life getting more and more and trying to build walls around what you have. You learn to protect rather than to give.

“In the old way there were no locks on our doors. We had no fences to make lines between ‘mine’ and ‘yours.’ To be great among our people was not to gather the most for ourselves, it was to be the biggest giver and sharer and to protect the weak. We honored those who could help the most, not those who could have the most.

“Once a person starts to live in your way, everything changes, because everything has to be protected. You start making rules about what people can’t do, not what people should do.

“I’d rather have rules that say, ‘You should, you should.’ It teaches us who we should be, not who we should not be. All your way does is tell someone how not to be bad. It doesn’t tell them how to be good.

“When we teach the children fear this way, we set their feet on a bad path. We teach them to grow up thinking about themselves. Sharing is just a small stick they hold out to other people, not the strongest branch on the tree of their lives. They learn to protect, not to give, and it builds a wall around their hearts.

“We need to change this. We need to teach them a helping way, to give them a vision of what is right, not only of what is wrong. We need to teach them that the way to be strong is to help the weak; the way to have wealth is to give things away; the way to lead is to serve. We need to let them know that they are an important part of the circle of life, and if they do not play their part, no one else can.

“If we teach them these things they will have hope in their hearts. If we don’t, their hearts will become hard. They will gather things to them and watch life from a cold distance. They will see the world as something to use, not something to honor. Their ears will stay closed to voices of creation, and the words of the sacred will die on their lips.”

~”Dan”, Lakota elder, as told to Ken Nerburn in The Wolf at Twilight

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Inspiration & Bravery: Everyday Examples of Authentic Existence

Photo by Rio Roman

I watch a friend love her little girl, born at 28 weeks, instinctively, fiercely and with an abandon unknown to her in the past.  I watch via text and email as this little girl fights bravely with every pore in her body to live-TO LIVE, to connect, to be here, to be with us and make her way into the arms of those that love her so much.

I talk with a friend who has known for years, that something is wrong-IT IS WRONG-though on paper she has everything she should dream of.  She knows that she must grow, bend and change into something, but she doesn’t know what.  She is not sure of the outcome.  She does not know who she will be without this cover of the normal life she has been conditioned to want.  I observe her struggle to find her voice.  Though she knows-SHE KNOWS-she must speak, must act.  She does not know what she will say.  She does not know what she will do, but she heads forward one clumsy, uncertain step at a time with determined courage.

A friend confides that she is dieting again.  Her weight has swung back and forth for the last 10 years.  At times, she has taken on this challenge by punishing herself fiercely, disassociating her mind from her body without consideration for her soul.  She knows that all of her old obsessions and demons will be there waiting for her to let down her guard for one minute-waiting for her to become too attached to her results, tempting her to punish herself with starvation in order to achieve her goal.  And here she is again, back at the plate with a bat in her hand, determined to walk a road of unknown outcomes, but certain fear.  She is here in order to live.  To truly be alive.

So many of us want to live authentically.  When we look at the price tag, living our true self seems expensive.  Truly living means we will most likely embarass ourselves one way or another.  We may sign up for one train of thought or philosophy, but then, in order to be true, we may have to recant those ideas at an inconvenient time.  We may extend our heart to someone who is not available to love us in return.  We may make a declaration of “I will never” or “I will always”  only to have change that statement to “I will sometimes.”

We are conditioned in life to believe that if we go to Place A we will next find the trail to Place B.  Then, we see that our baby was born 12 weeks early.  The trail is dark and the only light we can see is the light of an old soul emanating from her young eyes.  And now, there is no path.

We have followed the path from college to career, but we are inexplicably unhappy.  We followed the trail map we got at the gate, but this trail is filled with sadness.  The moment comes when we want to go back and get another map, but we recognize that all trails have been mapped by another hand.  We want to lay down in despair, but instead we take out our headlight and head into the forest.

We have walked and walked and walked.  We have eaten and not eaten.  We have loved ourselves and hated ourselves.  We have run.  We have walked slowly, examining the leaves and branches of every tree, trying to get it right.  We reach the end of the trail, only to realize there is a steep chasm between ourselves and the summit.  The chasm is filled with the leaves and branches we so carefully passed by.

More than likely, our authentic self this year will not look the same as our authentic self next year.  We will end up bushwhacking our way to what we believe is the top, only to find that we are on someone else’s mountain or have reached a false summit.

But in the end, we must all remember the struggles we have overcome in order to get to this place of demanding truth and authenticity of self.  The road, our road, has been leading us here all along.  Inspiration will be our food, water and shelter.  We must find it.  We must cultivate it.  Inspiration is here, everywhere.

Inspiration is in the eyes of a child born a few weeks too soon, fighting with her utmost strength TO LIVE. She heads boldly into the unknown. She does not escape into a television, bottle of beer or obsessive exercise. She LIVES because that what she is here to do. She LIVES because she must. We must too. Namastae and blessings.