Thursday, September 3, 2009

Me and the Indians

I do believe in eclectic spirituality.

So this tale goes way, way back to when I was, as they say, about knee-high to a grasshopper. It’s a particular thread through my personal spiritual journey that I would like to share. From the time I first learned to read, all I ever really wanted to read about were Indians. You could have called me an “Indian-aholic” and been absolutely right. It was an obsession.

And, since my father was a school teacher, we spent every summer and large parts of every other season in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania doing wonderful things that fewer and fewer kids these days get to do. On our 80 acre tree farm, dad taught us many skills useful in the outdoors and what he didn’t teach us we learned from books and trial and error. This was an excellent environment in which to pursue my wild Indianism and I think I spent at least one entire summer with a Mohawk haircut and nothing on but a “breechclout”. I have a picture somewhere to prove it.

To make a long story a little bit longer, I learned everything there was to know about nature and Indians by the time I was twelve. I was a hunter and a fisherman – and I had paddled the mighty Delaware River from the tip of the north fork in New York State all the way down almost to Trenton (thanks to dad). I was an expert animal stalker and a fairly good tracker with only a little training from the old man and lots of practice on my part. I could name every Indian tribe that ever lived in North America, show you their original territory on a map, describe the theories about how they got there, and give a good account of many aspects of each tribal culture. Hindsight shows me that I had also developed a strong spiritual connection with the Creator’s creation – well, as strong a connection as a kid my age could develop. Even then I felt that I could see God much better in nature than I could in the religion I was brought up in.

I was green with envy when I read Tom Brown Jr.’s account in his book The Tracker of his adventures and education with Stalking Wolf, his friend’s Apache grandfather in the Jersey Pine Barrens. Some people had all the luck! At some point not long after reading The Tracker, I left home to pursue various activities including a tour of duty in the Navy. I put the whole Indians/Nature/Outdoors thing on the shelf for quite a while thinking I better serious up about life and so forth.

Many years later, having travelled the circle that life often leads us in; I found myself back in the Poconos with a new edition of The Tracker. On the back flap this copy had an advertisement for the Wilderness Survival School that Tom had since started and was running at various locations in New Jersey. I inquired, left a deposit for the Standard Class, and ended up taking four of the schools week-long classes and engaging in several other related activities and enterprises. In the process, my tracking, nature and wilderness survival skills were greatly enhanced. So too was my knowledge of Native American spirituality. I learned numerous meditative techniques useful for connecting with the Creator in nature and supercharging my tracking and awareness skills as well.

We were taught all aspects of the use of a Sweat Lodge for both the original purpose of de-scenting before a hunt and the evolutionary practice of prayer, meditation and ceremony. We were taught ceremony as Grandfather had taught Tom but we were also encouraged to create our own Sweat Lodge tradition and practice rather than staying stuck in one way of doing it. I brought the Sweat Lodge back to my home town in Pennsylvania and have poured water in hundreds of Lodges since. I have taught others how to build and use the Lodge and a little Sweat Lodge subculture has sprung up right here in my local “white man’s land.”

Now, I no longer wish I was a wild Indian as I did in my obsessive youth and, in a friendly and knowing way, I refer to those who do as “Windians” (short for Wanna-be-Indians). The life experience I have described above was extremely important in my spiritual development and I am hugely grateful to all those who acted as my teachers.

I want to say one more thing before putting this and myself to rest – which is, there is absolutely no place as powerful as the Sweat Lodge for doing the 5th Step of the 12 Step program. You either know what I’m talking about here or it just sailed right over your head…. Ok, on to other things and thanks for letting me share.

Tracker School Link:

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