In Memory of Bear Heart. Part 7.

504June 26, 2013 by Jerry Alatalo

Bear Heart shares a story about conscience.

A Navajo man went to the grocery, bought his supplies, paid the grocer and went home. When he was unpacking his bags he found the money that he gave the grocer.

Early the next morning the grocer was ready to open his store and the Navaho man was standing there. The Navajo gave the grocer the money and the grocer asked, “Where was it?” The Navajo man answered, “In my sacks.” The grocer asked him why he returned the money.

The Navajo replied, pointing at his chest, “In here. I got two little men in here. One’s good, but the other one’s sure bad. He’s a bad little man. The bad one said ‘Keep it.’ The good one said, ‘It’s not right.’ The bad one said, ‘He won’t miss it.” The good one said, ‘It doesn’t belong to you.’ They argued all night last night. Tonight I want to get some sleep.”

Bear Heart understood that humor can be a good and powerful way of teaching. He recounted an experience with a woman he knew who was going through a rough patch. She called him one winter day and said, “I’m contemplating suicide.” He told her, “As long as you’re contemplating suicide, go ahead and contemplate, but don’t commit it because look outside. There’s a blizzard going on. The ground’s frozen! Talk about digging a grave! You wouldn’t want us to go out there and dig a grave for you in this cold weather, would you?” He kept up the talk of the ridiculousness of her dying at this time.

She started laughing and said, “Oh, heck, what’s the use..” and slammed down the phone. She didn’t commit suicide and is living a good life today.

He tells of a short talk with a missionary who was five minutes from driving to do missionary work with the Navajos. The missionary asked Bear Heart, “What can you tell me about the Navajos? I know you go out there a lot. What can you tell me about them that will be useful to me?”

“You want me to tell you what will be helpful to you in your missionary work in five minutes?”

“Yeah, can you?”

“Yes, I can tell you. First of all, capitalize on that which you have in common with the Navajo people.”

“I have something in common with the Navajos?”



Bear Heart told him, “Well, you are a human being, and the last time I checked, they’re human beings too. You have that in common. You’re going to be preaching to them thirty or forty minutes, maybe an hour-I don’t know how long-winded you are-and in that length of time the old people in the Navajo tribe are going to be watching you and they’re going to know all about you. They’re going to take you apart and put you back together again. They’ll know more about you than you will know about them. So if you promise them something, you be sure to fulfill that promise. Treat them as fellow human beings, not as a great preacher looking down on these poor souls, but on the same level as a human being. That’s all I can tell you.”

Bear Heart took graduate classes in psychology for three and a half years. He needed another half year to get a degree but he only took the courses he wanted to take and left.He did it mostly to compare Western psychology with his teachers’ approach. If he needed to speak to non-Indians in his practice he could use language they could understand.

As an adjunct consultant at a psychiatric hospital in New Mexico he worked with a nun who had left her convent. She wanted to get married and have a family. The priest told her when she left the convent that, “You will never be forgiven. You will go straight to hell.” Bear Heart describes the priest’s words as the planting of a seed which then germinated to the point where the woman thought she was possessed by the devil.

He described how he had to work intensely with the woman so she would believe in the greatness of God’s power, not only of love, but also of forgiveness. He told her, “That power has never lessened. It’s still in force if you’re willing to believe. Love and forgiveness are synonymous. There’s hardly any division at all. God likes to forgive. When we say ‘God is love’, we can also say that ‘God is forgiveness.’ It means the same thing. You can’t truly love unless you can truly forgive. That’s how the matter stands.”

He went on to tell her, “The priest is only a human being. He’s meant to interpret God’s love, but as human beings we can all make mistakes. It’s not my place to say he made a mistake, but he misinterpreted something to cause you to think this way. The devil is very, very powerful. He seems too powerful when we’re too weak to stand up to him, but we have something at our command that can stand up to him, and that is God himself, the Creator. He can stand up to darkness if you will allow him to. Out of your love for life and the love of your life you wish to make a home with, you want to be all right, so ask God’s help to take care of this situation for you.”

Bear Heart noted that after a while she got her thinking turned around, is happily married and has two children.

He shared the teaching of others by saying things to them indirectly. He gave the example of his nephew who he knew to have an alcohol abuse problem. While his nephew was within earshot of Bear Heart’s voice, Bear Heart said this to a different nephew. “Should there ever come a time when you are down and you look to alcohol for comfort, I want you to think twice about it. I knew a man who started drinking every night because he had a boss who was really hard on him. He then started to drink in the morning before he went to work. Then he would drink at lunch. His company fired his boss and, though he was next in line to take his place, because of his drinking, he was fired too. He couldn’t support his family and his wife took the children and moved in with her parents. Now he’s all alone and in a really sorry state. Think about these things I’ve told you, about what can come from trying to drink away your troubles.”

He was teaching indirectly to the nephew within earshot. If he had directly confronted this nephew there would have been anger created and taken away the power of the seed he wanted to plant. It is one of the ways that Bear Heart used to counsel others.

He described child abandonment. A little one is left alone in his room with toys, the parent checks on the child now and then, but is too busy to really be with the child. The only interaction the child remembers is the scolding he or she gets when they break something. The parents never give the child encouragement and love. The child grows up thinking that he is really bad. That is what he or she has been taught.

This is the beginning of low self-esteem that many do not understand the origin of. Bear Heart said, “There are all forms of abuse of children-sexual, physical, psychological-but the most basic, the most common, is abandonment.”

He talks about the human action of blaming others for our problems. This shifts the responsibility from ourselves to others, when we should instead take the path of looking honestly at ourselves, even though it is not very easy.

“My people say never point a finger of scorn or judgment at your fellow-man because when you point, there are three fingers pointing back at you. You might be three times worse than the one you’re pointing at, so look at yourself first.

He suggests that we be thankful for problems like anger, hate or drinking. “Boy, you’ve been with me a long time. Now I’m going to try something else. But I want to thank you for teaching me something about myself. Thank you.”

“Be grateful for all the difficult situations in life because you can learn something from each one.” He mentions self-help books which tell us to release problems and anxieties. But he points out that there is a difference between releasing and relinquishing. He used an example where he gives a friend who’s down in the dumps a cherished family heirloom to cheer him up. He has released the heirloom. Then he sees the heirloom in the window of a pawn shop and is hurt by this. He has released but not relinquished.

“When you release and relinquish, then you’re okay. But if you just release it, it will keep coming back, over and over and over to bug you. Relinquish if you really want to release.”

Bear Heart would visit veterans in the Oklahoma Veteran’s Hospital near him. Many would get no cards or visits, even from their family.

“I just came by to let you know, comrade, because I was in the service too, that we don’t forget about you. And it does not matter if you feel as if no one thinks about you. The One who carried you through all these experiences and allows you to live today, He knows about you. He cares for you.

“There was a man named Saul who was a very educated man, spoke several languages, and knew the law. He had an obsession with the Christian people. Much like Custer had an obsession with the Indians, and Geronimo had an obsession with the whites, here was this Saul. He was on his way to a place called Damascus because the people congregating there were Christians.

“While he was on his way, a great light blinded him and he fell to Earth and had an experience of conversion. Saul went on to Damascus a blind man, and God sent a man named Ananias to go attend to this man Saul, who later became Paul, the great missionary. When God spoke to Ananias, ‘Go to the street called Straight and inquire in the house of Judah for a man of Tarsus named Saul.’ Just a little verse like that tells us that our Creator knows the very street on which we live, the very house in which we live, and the various needs with which we live. He is there to supply that help He knows the very hospital, the very ward, the room, the bed that you abide in. He remembers, He knows, and that’s what counts.”

Bear Heart recalled, “This patient couldn’t speak-he had been shot in the throat-but he spoke to me loud and clear, with his eyes. When he reached out and squeezed my hand, he said a great deal to me. That communication from a heart to a heart, a soul to a soul, is worth more than a whole page, a whole volume of books that could be written.”

“In our Native American way, medicine is not just a bunch of herbs or the training a physician receives. It’s helping people attain that which is good in  life. If you can point them in a new direction, saying this is the path, this is the way to go, that’s a form of healing. When you give a lifting hand and make someone feel better for it, you’ve given that person medicine.

Continued in Part 8…