Journeying to Standing Rock

When I named this blog SoulPaths/the journey, I had no idea of the literal journeys that would be involved in this particular soul’s path. In the past two years, Ecuador, Findhorn…and this week, a pilgrimage of support to Standing Rock, ND.

Why am I going there? I’ve written of the resistance of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation to the Dakota Access Pipeline that is slated to run across the reservation land, crossing the Oglala Aquifer and – many times over – the Missouri River. I touched on how they are being joined by a virtual United Nations of supporters from Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures from around the world. And I’ve touched on my gradual progress from timorous waffling to starting a group for subtle activism, to a drive for donations.

It didn’t end there…while I was raising awareness online and at Friends Meeting, I was also wrestling with a heart-response to a calling to come to Standing Rock. It seemed purely out of the question at first – an action for brave activist sorts, or groups to go out together – but as the awareness of approaching winter grew, I felt a growing urgency: if I did not go, NOW, and help in whatever way I could, I would always regret my inaction. The parable of the talents haunted me: how in these days am I using my talents for the greater good? Clicktivism and Facebook consciousness-raising were nowhere near enough.

It all came to a head three weeks ago, when I was out in the garden, clearing away spent morning glory vines from the fence and hedge: an inner voice was saying insistently, I am dying.

Wha-at? I asked who was talking – the morning glory vines were certainly giving up the ghost. Was that it? No – that could not explain the edge of gut-wrenching grief that accompanied the words. It viscerally recalled my husband’s last spoken words – Let me go – as he lay swaddled in burn-medicated wrappings after losing 85% of his skin to a reaction against the antibiotics he’d received following the implantation of an experimental device intended to keep his heart functioning until a transplant was found. It was Christmas Day; in an effort to bring holiday spirit and some level of sanity and family tradition to an unthinkable situation the kids and I had decorated his Intensive Care room with ornaments, lights, and a tiny tree the day before…but he was so deeply sedated that he could only rouse himself to voice those three words when we gathered around his bed.

I could not bear to think of the ultimate meaning of his request: the doctors were saying that this horrific, extreme situation was just a bump in the road to his ultimate healing!  Fighting my instinctive knowing, the shock and grief at my core, I started asking him for clarity – am I holding your hand too tightly? Are the bandages hurting you? I have no idea how I could find any other meaning than the obvious, but somehow I did – I kept asking, but there was no response; he’d spent his energy and was unconscious. Fighting tears, I turned to the nurse: this is what he said, but he couldn’t clarify…what do I do? She responded: unless you’re absolutely certain that he wanted you to pull the plug, you can’t do it. He can recover from this; if you ended it now, you’d be haunted by the doubt forever.

They called at 1:30 a.m. the next morning: he was having a respiratory crisis and they needed to do a tracheotomy: would I give permission? And so those three words were his last. The doctors told me a month later that the antibiotic cocktails were achieving no more than chemical reactions; effectively, he was already gone. They pulled the plug on January 28, 2006.

As I stood in the garden ten years later with dead leaves in my hair and spent vines in my hand and I am dying echoing in my mind, I balanced on a similar edge of denial. Am I dying? I asked – I had no knowledge of having any life-threatening medical condition! The knowledge came: you are replicating your father’s denial of life as you work in your house behind your computer screen. If you do not get out into the world and take real-time action, yes, you will die inwardly. But no, that is not what is meant here.

I knew the answer, of course: it is the biosphere that is dying of human’s unceasing assaults: deforestation, oil spills, the Tar Sands, the pumping of the aquifers and poisoning of the waters, pesticides killing the pollinators – all the litany of rape and destruction of our planet. Ecosystems are collapsing, climate change ramping up, a sixth great extinction taking place…yes,  I am dying was the voice of life on Earth.

The grief doubled me over: hanging onto a fence post in the yellowing garden, I wept, screaming soundlessly.

Once the worst of the pain had passed, there was a clear realization: the time for hiding behind a computer screen was over. I needed to show up and take personal action to support the causes I valued. And there was no doubt about the cause that took precedence: the water protectors of Standing Rock.

The connection went beyond their historic stand – the union among nations – the support across cultures and causes and spiritual traditions.

More than 20 years earlier, my husband had been a Sun Dancer, first on Rosebud Reservation, then at Santee, Nebraska. For two of the four years he’d Danced, I went along to support him, and witnessed …I can only call it a different reality. Here were men and women so heartfelt in their prayers that they were willing to dance without food or water for four days under the blazing sun, some of them following Spirit’s guidance to undertake extreme physical ordeals that lent power and urgency to their prayers. At the close of the ceremony, they channeled the Divine grace they had received as healing for the community, and received the community’s honor and gratitude in return.

This was the ethos that undergirded the water protectors, I knew: an ethos of radical self-giving for the ongoing life of the Earth and the People – i.e., all beings, all the peoples of every race, nation, creed, species, and sort – animal, vegetable and mineral. An ethos grounded in conscious connection with the Earth as a living, sentient, sacred being, an embodiment of the Divine. A way of being centered not on consumption of the planet’s resources, but on conscious interaction within the web of life.

When my husband was in his last two years of Dancing, the Intercessor was closing that particular ceremony to non-Natives: they could finish their four-year cycles, but they could not return. The American Indian Movement was a strong influence on the Dance in the two years I attended, and as a very obviously non-Native-looking woman I fielded my share of questions: who are your elders? Where are your holy places? At the same time their questions led me to question my own presence there, even as a Dancer’s wife and supporter, they also sent me on a search for the shamanic roots of my own heritage: a search that led to the Baltic pagan tradition Romuva and the Graeco-Roman ritual dance tradition of Tarantelle. After my husband’s passing, I went on a lengthy path of self-rediscovery and reinvention, staying away from any appearance of cultural appropriation.

That all changed this summer when the world began flocking to Standing Rock. I’d been feeling angry, out of step, and deeply alone in this culture – longing to do more than marketing restorative businesses, practicing animal Reiki, and raising consciousness online, but not knowing what to do. The public invitation from Standing Rock spokespeople – to come and witness and support the Earth-nurturing ways being demonstrated in the support camp of Oceti Sakowin, and for those who felt called, to take nonviolent direct action in the Sacred Stone Camp and Red Warrior Camp – hit with a direct appeal t0 my heart. And that was even before the spokeswoman with whom I was corresponding told me that she remembered my husband from his last two years of Sundancing.

So – with support and prayers from Patapsco Friends Meeting, financial donations from family and friends, and bags upon bags of donated clothing, blankets, and other items for the water protectors as they prepare the camps for the brutal North Dakota winters, I set out yesterday on yet another journey: to Oceti Sakowin, to spend three days helping in whatever way I can. I’m writing this post from an AirBnb host’s guest bedroom midway across the continent, just before geting back on the road.

The journey continues.

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