A vision quest is not about trying to see some kind of “supernatural” event such as a spirit or ghost. The man or woman is spending time communicating with the One Source, the Creator. Bear Heart thought that “The survival of our society depends on people who have a good connection with the spiritual. That’s our salvation, and without it our society deteriorates into politics and greed. We see it almost daily.”
He pointed out that there is a difference between being truly spiritual and being a member of a church.
“Finding yourself, looking within, is the most important thing in life. ‘This is where I stand. This is who I am.’ When you know that, you can tackle any circumstance that comes along.”
Bear Heart recalled someone saying to him, “I wish I had the same amount of spirit that you have.” He replied , “We were all given the same amount of spirit. None more, none less. The difference between individuals is allowing the Spirit to have more of you.” Many of us think we have yielded to the spirit, but are still holding back in certain ways.
“There is a path for each of us to follow-that is what life is all about. Many people say to me, ‘I’d like to learn your ways.’ That’s okay with me, but I would rather have people learn their own way, and equally important is how they use what they learn.”
He talked about achieving whatever we wanted in life. He said it is possible, even though it may not be easy. If the goal is one which is worthwhile it keeps us moving forward. He gives the example of Abraham Lincoln, who suffered many political defeats before he was elected president. He was told that he was ugly, that he looked like an ape. Lincoln overlooked the unkind comments, persevered and reached a high office. Other examples are those blind poets and deaf composers who found they had something inside which told them they could do it.
Many times the achievement will not come immediately, but persistence wins out.
We too often look at others’ success and wonder what it would be like to be this or that person. We wish we were someone else. So what if someone else does something a little better? Be happy for them, but don’t let that stop you from being the best that you can be. Maybe you are better at some things than that person, so it all balances out.
Bear Heart noted that “You have it within you to become good at anything that you strive for. The thing is, never give up, accept what you are and be proud of it, be grateful for it. But never let it go to your head, always strive to keep your feet on the ground.”
“Each one of us has something to offer in this life, every one of us. We are here to reflect the beauty of all of life-the beauty of the trees, the grass, the animals, the birds, the rivers as they flow by. All these may be lost in time. While we are still here, can we not appreciate and love the land, the environment, so that when we pass on, we will have left something solid and beautiful for those who are going to follow after us?”
“The word memorial does not indicate that someone has died. It symbolizes that someone has lived. What is going to be that living memorial that you’re going to leave behind? That I’m going to leave behind? Why are we here now? We’re here to add something, to construct, to preserve. To leave something good for those little ones who are going to come into our world. Let that motivation be so firmly established in your heart and mind that you can say, I will stand for this. I will live for this.”
“In order to be upright, solid individuals, we need to send our roots deep into the source from which life comes. If your life is built on something solid, the winds and the storms of life may blow, you may sway back and forth, but you will stand strong as long as you firmly hold on to that life-giving force.”
Bear Heart told us that there is always a point where it is good to look back and think about all the experiences we have had till now. He said that we need to ask ourselves some questions. “What have I learned? How can I use these experiences to enable me to keep going forward?”
All of one’s experiences have played a part in shaping us and showing us what we are made of. This includes the hurts, disappointments and scary moments. We all have the moments in our lives where we think we can’t go on because of situations which are so bad. We feel like giving up as it seems as if there is nowhere to go and nobody we can talk to.
“It doesn’t matter how physically frail we might be, there is a power inside that gives us the strength we need to keep going forward.”
Bear Heart thought that in order for us to know ourselves, we at some point have to surrender to a Higher Wisdom who knows everything about us. This includes our weaknesses, our mistakes, and our potentials. Native Americans set aside a time alone in nature, without food or water for two days, to communicate with the Great Spirit, for exploring our inner selves. It is called a vision quest. During that silent time answers come; an opportunity to gain self-knowledge.
One can use silent time every day to achieve the same results without going out into nature. This is the time for quiet contemplation, meditation and prayer. Either form of meditation results in beginning to have insight.
“It’s one thing to have sight, but it’s a greater gift to have insight into the things that count. That’s what our people explored within themselves on a vision quest. They didn’t do it through school, they did it with communication. And through that communication they began to understand a little bit more about themselves and their lives.”
Bear Heart told how he earned the name “Bear Heart”. He was in his mid-twenties and was on his fourth vision quest in South Dakota. He was “…holding my Pipe in my hand when a bear came walking up to me. This was not a dream or a vision or a hallucination-it was a real, live bear. I laid my Pipe down and the bear stood up. When a bear stands up, he’s going to attack. Not wanting a big, heavy bear pouncing on me, I stood up, too, and as I did, he tapped me on my right shoulder. He really didn’t strike hard at all, but he was so strong that he knocked me down. I got back up and he struck me with the other paw and knocked me down again.”
“Then I got up and spoke to him in my own language. ‘My dad was of the Bear Clan, so the bear is my father. I’ve been told to talk to my father, so I stand here talking to you now. If you want to put your mark on me, go ahead, do whatever satisfies you. I respect you as my father, so I’m not afraid of you. I’m not going to fight you-and I’m not going to run.’ The bear seemed to listen all that time, then he turned and walked away.”
Bear Heart went down the mountain and told his sponsor what happened. His sponsor explained that instead of fighting the bear, he had told him what he was going to do. He explained his situation to the bear, they came to an understanding, and no force was needed by either the bear or Bear Heart. His sponsor told him that he had stood up to the bear, didn’t run or fight, and displayed the spirit and courageous heart of the bear. His sponsor then gave him the name Bear Heart.
He said that men and women go on vision quests to receive direction in their lives. It is not done to be great leaders but so there is wholeness of mind, body and spirit. The vision quest ideally occurs on a high mountain because we can have a better view of the world around us. Both the quester’s altitude and attitude are raised, not just visually but inwardly as well. It allows a higher form of communication with the Creator.
“When a mountain isn’t available, a vision quest can take place on any piece of land because, according to our elders, wherever we stand-anywhere on this planet-is the center of the universe. And in the center of the universe we have the Great Spirit, who can surround us.”
When Bear Heart would send someone on a vision quest, they would go without food or water from one to four days. He said it is not easy but that the person will feel like they have earned something through enduring it.
“If we have too many attachments, too much activity going on in our lives, very little blessing can come in. By fasting, not only do we empty ourselves physically, but we empty our minds and attitudes to receive new thoughts and concepts. That’s what we’re doing out there, emptying ourselves to receive communication-to know ourselves better.”
Bear Heart said that, in his tribe, the process of self-knowledge involves asking yourself three questions. The first is, “Who am I?” To find the answer one must look within. You have to meet that internal longing on its own ground. He said that we may think we know who we are, but it is not necessarily who we really are inside.
“You have an identity from the One who gave you life. You are known. Search for that path and stay on it.”
He said that we do not have wisdom until we know ourselves. We need to answer questions like: “What is your character? What do you believe in? What do you stand for? Are you one who is courageous and can bring about change? Or are you more of a gentle nature, a nurturer, one who encourages others? He said that this is the reason the vision-quester goes out alone; nobody else can do this for us. We are the only one who can determine who we really are.
The second question is “What have I become with the who that I am?” Our lives are a gift from the Creator. What we do with our lives is our gift to the Creator. Are you a role model for a young person? Would a young person want to follow in your footsteps? Have you asked the Creator if you were in the right place and right job? Are you happy in what you’re doing? What are your plans for a greater future?
The third question is “Why am I here?” How do people answer the question “What is the purpose of your life?” Some people look at the achieving of goals as their purpose. One may achieve the goal of becoming a doctor or lawyer but is it about making money or making a good difference? There are many ways that we can be of service to others. How can you achieve that?
The silent time of the vision quest allows a person to think about these questions, settle some issues, and gain confidence in him or herself. It can lead to not always an easy path, but one that is worthwhile.
“Power doesn’t always come through great big things. You were looking for a great big thing, but there can be big power through a small thing. We complicate life by thinking that ‘my whole life is a big drama’ when we were just meant to live a simple life and enjoy it. Let the small things help to fulfill some of your dreams and your aspirations.”
“The beauty of silence, the lack of frenzied activity for a period of time helps us collect our thoughts and center our lives so we can maintain a sense of calm when we return to the hectic society and resume our work. That stillness is actually the presence of the Higher Being, who is with us at all times, even in the busy city. Get away, get in touch once again with what life was supposed to be about, balancing the physical with the spiritual. We have many religions but we have only one spirituality, and that’s what we need everywhere. Not only in this country but in the entire world.”
“Those who conduct the Native American Church meetings are called ‘road men’ and, much like the leader of the sweat lodge, a road man is responsible for all the people who come to the meeting and sit in that circle. He must be strong enough in character, knowledge, and wisdom to not only keep in mind the purpose of the meeting itself but also be able to handle the diverse problems of the people in that circle.”
Bear Heart recounts a story about a healing that took place in one of the meetings of the Native American Church. A Ponca Indian had worked with a woman who was very ill, hadn’t eaten for some time, could not keep food down and was wasting away. After he worked with her she said she was hungry. The Ponca Indian told his helper to go to an orchard some short distance away, break off a limb from the first tree he came to, and bring it back to him.
His helper did so, brought back the bare limb (wintertime) and the Ponca Indian stuck the limb in the center of the fire. He said, “I am going to sing four songs.” As he started to sing the bare limb began to grow leaves and buds. When he sang the second song little fruit began to grow on it. He sang the third song and there were leaves and buds all over the limb. He sang the fourth song and pears were on the limb. He told his helper to give the woman four pears, and one pear to each of the people in the meeting. There were just enough pears for everyone at the meeting and Bear Heart knew the people who saw it.
At another meeting people gathered to pray for Bear Heart’s brother’s granddaughter who had a collapsed lung. They prayed all night on the Saturday before the Monday that she was to go to the hospital for treatment. Early Sunday morning Bear Heart’s uncle, who was conducting the meeting, brought the granddaughter into the tipi. He placed cedar on the fire and fanned her with an eagle feather. She went around and shook hands, thanked, with everyone there who was praying for her. The next day, Monday, she went to the hospital and her lungs were fine.
“She wasn’t at the meeting and ingested no peyote, but those at the meeting did and they prayed for her.” She got well and Bear Heart mentioned that things happen like that without any logical explanation.
“Those are just some of the things we think about when we appeal to this Great Being, when we make an effort and someone feels good from it. They thank us, but we were just an instrument, the healing went through us, but actually it came from Him. That’s why we are reluctant many times to take credit because we really did very little and wish we could do more.”
“There’s only one road that leads to the heart of God and that’s the spirit road-that’s what we strive to be on.”
In 1990 the Supreme Court let stand a Oregon law which prohibited the using of peyote as a sacrament.
“Faced with losing protection of our way of worship, people wondered what to do. We can write all kinds of letters, but we still believe in the omnipotent Great Being to intervene in such situations if we say, ‘Let a way be made so that there will be a continuance of the freedom of our Native American Church.’ We can call upon the Great Being, not only for ourselves but for all people, for all races. Especially for those who are coming after us, so that we can leave something everlasting that is good for all of mankind.”
Bill Richardson, at the time in 1995 a congressman from New Mexico, introduced a bill for the acceptance of the Native American Church and its use of peyote, to be protected by all the states. The bill passed and Bear Heart noted that, “…so it demonstrates that our beliefs and prayers can be answered when we put our hearts and minds together.”
The Sacred Pipe.
The white man has come to call it the peace pipe but the Native American calls it the Sacred Pipe, an instrument used to communicate with the Creator.
Bear Heart owned five Pipes including a medicine Pipe he used for doctoring, an altar Pipe for running sweat lodges, a long-distance Pipe for healing at a great distance, a working Pipe for general prayer, and his personal Pipe.
He recalled meeting a boy born without arms where he used his personal Pipe for guidance. The boy asked him, “Can God give me the rest of my arms?” Bear Heart told the boy, “I’d like to talk to you about it, but I’m quite busy now, so we’ll sit down and talk about it a little later.” He used his personal Pipe to get strength and wisdom from the Creator to talk to the boy.
He said to the boy, “When we come into the world, there are many things God intends for us and He must have something very special in store for you in order to bring you into this life without arms. As you continue with your schooling, you’ll find something that appeals to you, something that you’ll really enjoy. Seek out all there is to know about it, specialize in it. Perhaps that’s the area you’re going to excel in. Any number of opportunities will become available to you. There’s a certain amount of disadvantage at the moment, but you’re not disabled by any means. Today there are organizations that help little boys like you. They may have to give you mechanical arms so you can do things like drive a car and write, but even now you can still think, talk, see, and hear. And with those gifts, you can make something of your life. So don’t think about changing the way you are. Accept it by saying, ‘This is what God intended for me. I’m going to make something of myself because He gave me other gifts-I can become anything I want to be.’ ”
Bear Heart’s personal Pipe helped him talk to the boy.
He said the Pipe neither adds to or subtracts from the power of prayer. If it’s used for ego and ego alone it will not allow the power from the Creator to come through. “We must yield to the Greater Power, and by so yielding we may appropriate the power that comes from on high, and in that way we can ask for anything that we desire.”
He noted that the Pipe has to be handled very carefully as using it involves talking and praying to the Creator about our own lives and the lives of others. Smoking the Pipe is an appeal for healthy attitudes in healthy bodies. He advised that the Pipe was not smoked to impress others but because we want to express our feelings from our hearts and minds to Him. He said the Pipe has a power of its own to wipe away tears and that it will carry our pain to the One who can handle it for us.
The first quality a Pipe carrier must have is humility.
“To be truly humble is not an indication of weakness.”
Bear Heart said that if someone says lies about you or tries to take advantage of you, that it takes great strength to remain quiet. He would use his Pipe to convey to the Creator, “This is my situation. Only you can understand, so I offer this smoke to you and place this problem in your hands with gratitude that You are here for me. I sit on Mother Earth so she may absorb my tears and bring me a sense of joy instead of hurt. I want to feel good, not only about myself, but about the person who said these things. Please take care of it.”
“Our people say that if you get angry you’ve lost the battle.”
He noted that the Pipe has to be used in a positive way at all times. A Pipe carrier must own the quality of compassion. Other qualities are courage and loyalty. There are other qualities as well. A leader must stay focused on what is best for the people, not just best for himself. He is aware of the spirit of the questions in the Bible: “When they were hungry did you feed them? When they were naked did you clothe them?”
“This is a good day to continue with our ceremonies and share our spiritual values so that one day the white and the red who fought one another can truly live in a spirit of oneness. Let it be our battle cry everywhere, so that not only Indians but everyone can truly say, ‘This is a good day to live.’ ”
Palestinians are at the heart of the conflict in the M.E Palestinians uprooted by force of arms.. Yet faced immense difficulties have survived, kept alive their history and culture, passed keys of family homes in occupied Palestine from one generation to the next.
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