[see “The Holy Spirit” blog - archive, May 19]
I have no wish to offend anyone with this blog but am aware that some will consider the mere telling of this shared “spiritual” experience with Native Americans to be blasphemous. If you are easily offended I urge you to read no further.
I am not qualified, authorized, nor do I desire to teach anyone the “Navajo Way“ described here---most definitely not to convert anyone to anything. I have, however, been specifically asked---by both my Navajo “family” and by the medicine men---to “tell your people” how it is in this particular Navajo Way. This was done merely to seek understanding. These people do not proselytize.
In the peyote ceremony, even children are allowed to speak. During one of the "meetings" I attended, a young girl, the niece of my Navajo mentor, Billy, spoke to me in front of everyone:
"We can see that you understand our way. We would like you to tell your people how it is with us. What we Navajo do."
This was discussed and agreed upon by the medicine men.
This is a long piece. The casual reader may certainly peruse this blog in parts. To the serious reader I would suggest setting aside some time to read the piece in its entirety. The reason I say that is because I was initially urged by my Navajo mentor to stay with the ceremony once it started---from beginning to end. The reason is obvious---this ceremony is a “cycle.” These ceremonies last all night long and into the next day. The ceremony takes participants through a complete sequence of the psychology of the mind-spirit. It is a psychological journey through all the states of mind, culminating in a chance for renewal, and hopefully, a favorable “rebirth” of the ego. The ceremonies begin when everything is ready and ends when everything has been said.
This type of “rebirth” ceremony may appear superficially “primitive”---but that is true only in the sense that it has been around for a long time. Psychologically-speaking, these “ego-death-rebirth” ceremonies---and the medicine men who direct them---are highly-sophisticated.
In the late 60s I had the best job of my life. I worked for the State of Arizona as the social worker to almost the entire Hopi Indian Nation. I also met the White Mountain Band of Apaches. Because the Hopilands are completely surrounded by the largest wilderness area in the Lower-48---the Navajo Reservation or Navajolands---I became very close to members and families of Navajo as well. They are still my “family.“
TIME AND PLACE -
I was most fortunate to participate in various ceremonies with my Navajo and Hopi friends. But things are different now than they were forty years ago. It is true that, according to the tenets of the Native American Church (Navajo) everyone is welcome. But my advice today is to leave the Indian people alone---unless you are invited.
Back then, some of these Indian cultures were in generational disarray and elders were happy to find white people willing to learn their ways since many young Indians were not interested.
In the past few decades there has been a burgeoning pride of culture among American Indians. Part of this involves a rejection of the white man’s way and, unfortunately, a suspicion of white people willing to learn about Indian spiritual culture.
It was among the Hopi and the Navajo that I found my “family” and discovered the meaning of family. In every way I have ties to these people whose way I respect above all others. The Indian people did not come to convert me. They did not seek to garner my soul or bend my body to their lifestyle. I had long ago left the beliefs that were presented to me as a child growing up in white society. I was already spiritually alienated from my culture---a stranger to my own people---instinctively more at home with the Indians of Northern Arizona.
THE “MEDICINE” -
The harvest, transportation and use of the hallucinogenic cactus known as peyote is entirely legal for the Indian people of the Native American Church and, by extension, for myself when in their presence. This was achieved by white lawyers in the last century and approved by an act of the US Congress. In any case, I have not attended a peyote ceremony or ingested this substance in over 35 years.
The peyote “mushroom” is a cactus. It is an extremely mild psychoactive substance when compared to such things as chemically-created LSD. The effects of this drug are, however, highly enhanced by the ritual that goes along with it. To be blunt, I doubt very much that anyone who simply eats a bunch of peyote can replicate the experience described here---the “set” and “setting,“ the ritual, the ceremony are the determining factors. The Navajo refer to peyote as a “sacrament.”
The irony is that the peyote ceremonies are particularly effective against alcoholism---as the social workers of the Bureau of Indian Affairs told me. One “purpose” in these ceremonies is to achieve sobriety. Another is to prepare young Indian children to go out into the white Man’s world. There is nothing connected with the use of this mild hallucinogenic that is even vaguely akin to the drug problems we have in our greater culture.
It has been many years since I sat in fellowship with my Navajo "family." Now, the only thing I can do is to "tell my people how it is" with these Navajo people. Although the Native American Church is the largest inter-tribal religion, not all Navajo people worship in this manner.
Billy was a young Navajo social worker in my office in Holbrook, Arizona. He and his wife had a place in town but their extended families lived out in the Navajolands.
"There's gonna be a ceremony two weeks from now up on Black Mesa," said Billy one day. He paused. "That means you are invited," he smiled. I began to ask him questions about the ceremony but he put me off.
"You just come and see how it is," he said. "Many people have sat with us and used the 'medicine'. But when they leave, they tell lies about it. You must come and see for yourself. It is the only way."
He told me that there were two 'meetings' being held on the coming weekend, and maybe I could get in.
"It would be best if you waited and went with me," said Billy, "because the people at these other meetings don't know you."
I was excited now and wanted to go to a 'meeting' soon.
"Why can't you go with me this weekend?" I asked.
"We will be busy with our sheep. It's lambing time---too busy for meetings."
"What are you going to do with the lambs?"
"Cut their tails off."
"So they don't get them dirty," he laughed, "They s… all over themselves."
He told me about the two 'meetings' that were to take place this weekend.
"Some of these Navajo will let you get into the meeting but then when you have eaten the medicine they will laugh at you and make fun of you.
"Also, some of these meetings are not run in the proper manner. It is best that you wait until I can take you---so you can see how it is done in the right way."
Nevertheless, the following Saturday I was headed up to Seba Dalkai and Tees Toh. The Navajo there looked at me strangely. I told them---as I had been instructed---that Billy Tzinnijinnie had sent me. I asked if someone could accompany me to a meeting."
"My husband is tired," said one lady. "He has been to a meeting last night."
Finally I found a medicine man---an official in the Native American Church.
"Do you have a membership card?" he asked. I knew that he did not want me in the ceremony.
"You go see the secretary," said the medicine man, "and tell him you want to join."
As I drove away in the darkness I felt a wry irony and could only laugh at myself. Here was an Indian using 'paperwork' requirements against a white man. Now I had some small idea how those people felt about the white man's endless bureaucratic requirements.
It was a lesson for me. I was not yet ready for the medicine and I knew it. And that medicine man knew it too.
When I told Billy about my experience, he laughed.
"I never had a membership card," he said. "I will take you this weekend. You meet me in Tuba City, by the lake. I will be going there to pick up a bull for my family. They need a good stud bull so that they will have many cattle. I will take you to a meeting."
On Friday night I drove from work in the Hopilands to the Tuba City area. For a long time I searched for a camp site. I parked and waited for the sun to go down. But I was not satisfied with the place. I decided to drive down to a lower site that was further away from the dirt road.
Within five seconds I was stuck. The apparently hard packed sand was really a fine silt. There seemed to be no way back because I had driven down into a depression. On foot I sought to find a way out. Then I drove back and forth over humps and hillocks of grass. I dug with a shovel. That didn't work so I walked back to the road and waved to the pickup trucks of the Navajo that were passing by. The people only laughed at me. Of course they knew full well I was stuck. They also knew I'd be there in the morning.
I was very sad now. I had not even taken the “medicine” yet but the peyote was already testing me---and twice I had failed. Alone in the quiet desert at night, I felt that I would never make it to a meeting. I was stuck in more ways than one.
Finally, I decided to let some air out of my tires.
"This is it," I said. "If I don't get out, then peyote doesn't want me."
I gunned the engine. The car leaped forward. It bounced over huge mounds of sand and grass where no car should have been. I kept the engine racing. I could not stop. At full speed in low gear I threaded my way through the rugged terrain. An opening---and then I found myself back on the dirt road once more.
"Peyote wants me," I shouted, "Peyote wants me." I laughed and hollered, driving on nearly empty tires back to my original choice of camp site.
A beautiful sunset flashed in the sky from the direction of the Grand Canyon. Joyfully I walked through the yellow, red and purple sands of the desert. The setting sun constantly shifted the colors of the earth. Rocks and pebbles caught my eye as they glistened. The strange shapes of cliffs and canyons spoke to me in an ancient language. Now I was certain that I would at last meet 'peyote'. The atmosphere was extremely clear and still. The stars were sharp and sparkling and seemingly right up close. Showers of shooting stars cut lines across the sky.
A few months earlier I had a dream that I was taking peyote. For two full seasons---even before I had come to Navajoland---I had heard the 'song of the mushroom'. It had come up out of the earth itself. The 'night songs' found their way to me as I wandered in the wilderness. Through canyons and ravines came the song of the peyote.
Between grains of sand and along the roots of juniper and pine, I followed the vibrations as they traveled up my spine. The water drum droned in my dreams...and I heard the joyous 'morning songs' leading me to my initiation.
As I contemplated the growing night I also figured out where all those pickup trucks full of Navajo were going. I suddenly heard the rapid, distinctive beat of the water drum used in the peyote ceremony. Nearby, someone was holding a Friday night 'meeting'. Throughout the night until the sun rose---whenever I woke from my dreams---I could hear the singing...and the wondrous heartbeat of the water drum. As I lay on my back, stars above me whirled before my eyes. As the sounds of a Navajo peyote ceremony came up the dry wash, I realized that my own initiation was beginning...the ‘ceremony‘ had started for me.
The next morning, Saturday, I drove to Tuba City and got my tires filled with air. Just outside town was a picnic area where Billy had told me to wait for him. It was cool in the shade of the tall cottonwood trees. I spent the hottest part of the day resting for the ceremony and trying to purify my mind. A caressing wind rippled the green leaves above. I let my mind wander with the breeze…allowed it to relax.
At noon I saw some Indian boys wearing bathing suits. I followed them to a small lake---the only one for miles around. When there was no one around, I rolled naked like an embryo in the warm shallow waters and listened to the breeze in the cottonwood trees. Peyote had already taught me to merge. Hardly moving, I was learning not to force my way to him. The waters soothed and refreshed my body. Tonight I knew I would be ready to meet him at least---face to face. My mind was empty and my body was rested.
Early in the afternoon, Billy drove up with his sister---and a young but very large bull in the back of his pickup truck. I followed them up the highway for a while. Then we drove up into the high Black Mesa country over narrow, winding, and rolling mountain roads of packed dirt. These, as it turned out, were the best roads I would see for a long time.
All around us were low, scrubby cedar trees---the only firewood available for miles. For two hours I followed Billy's pickup through washes and strangely shaped canyons. We pounded across dry washes---great gullies left in the sand by seasonal floods---and bounced along endless tracks barely suitable for wheeled vehicles. We crossed the crests of great mesa-like ridges and could see wave after wave of them as they crinkled the surface of the earth off into the distance.
The last section of 'road' was right down one of the deepest dry washes I had ever seen. It was a canyon really, cut into the sand by flood waters that raged seasonally. I contemplated what could happen with a sudden rainstorm in the distant hills. The place was frightening enough in dry weather as we bumped and pounded over sand bars and the debris from the collapsing canyon walls.
At last we entered a little valley where half a dozen eight-sided hogans (Navajo dwellings) nestled. Dogs and children came to meet us. This was the home of Billy's extended family. It was called 'house-next-to-mountain', or 'mountain house'.
It was early so I went off and made a little camp where I could rest until the ceremony actually began that evening. I cooked some corn and potatoes in the coals of a small fire. Billy asked me about it later---what I had eaten and how I had rested and meditated during the past two days. I told him about swimming in the lake in Tuba City.
I had brought gifts of food---various fruits and a watermelon. I also brought cigarettes and silver dollars for the ceremony. My food offerings were whisked into a hogan by the ladies.
Many pickups began to arrive. I met Billy's older brother. He swung his arm and pointed out across the green valley.
"Billy's father first settled here a long time ago. He had many fine horses and used to ride to Pinon in two days. People from all over the Navajolands respected him. He was a great medicine man.
"The government made him cut back his herds of sheep and cattle. [After a terrible drought.] He was allowed only two horses. Once he was a very rich and proud man. But when he died two years ago, things were very hard on the family. And they are still hard for us today. That's why Billy brought us that bull which you saw. To increase our herds and help his mother---who still lives here.
"That's why we are going to pray tonight. But the main reason for the meeting tonight is to pray for Billy's cousin, Paul. So that he will be able to get a job and make enough money for a pickup and to come back and help his mother.
"He has already been to the city---but he got into trouble and went to jail. He recently had an accident with his pickup and we don’t know why. Now we will all pray to the Holy Spirit to give him strength and keep him on the right path."
Then Billy took me around and introduced me to every single one of the one-hundred or so members of his extended family. I had seen the old Navajo couples before in their homes. Unlike any other people I had ever known, they seemed almost telepathic. They would look into each other's eyes---a mere glance---and an understanding seemed to be passed on...or was confirmed.
One by one I met them all. Many spoke no English at all. There were very old men and ladies who called me 'son'. There were men and women who called me 'brother'. And children who called me 'uncle'. I even was introduced to the tiniest infants. Every one---from ancient crone to newborn child---looked me straight and full into the eyes...and smiled. Most of the Navajo my own age spoke to me briefly in English or asked questions. The very old and the very young said little---just the look and the smile.
It was apparent to me that here---deep in this beautiful and remote high desert area---I was at last with others of my own kind. That I could come out of myself without fear. That I could open myself totally and be under the protection of the entire band. I knew right away that this was my family...and still is to this day.
Billy took me into the hogan where the ceremony would be held. The ceiling was particularly striking. It was made of polished beams that formed an inter-lacing octagonal pattern. I helped Billy spread sheep skins on the bare dirt floor so that the people could sit in a circle around the outer wall of the eight-sided ceremonial hogan.
I watched some men making a moon-shaped altar out of a fine grey, sandy clay. There was a picture of Christ with an open, bleeding heart on the wall [as seen in some Catholic churches]. Once, during the ceremony, I would hear the name 'Christ' mentioned. I am not aware of the significance and never did ask about it.
On Black Mesa, deep in the heart of Navajoland, we prepared ourselves for the ceremony. As we waited for sundown, we spoke of cattle, grass, and rain. In the valley with green hills around us, I heard a wave of Indian voices. The sound swept across a dry wash to our hogan.
"The medicine man is coming!
"The medicine man is coming!"
We all ran outside to see. The old man moved swiftly---flanked by others. He was straight and tall---there was a quality about him that left no doubt as to who he was. Even without his black clothes and his tall Stetson hat with silver hat band, I would have recognized him immediately as the 'road man'.
Of course he had been told about me. As he strode up his eyes sought mine immediately and an instant connection was established through the eyes. I could feel our thoughts moving back and forth and I could see a slender yellow beam of light upon which they traveled. The beam turned clear and brilliant as my empty mind reflected back from his own empty mind.
Someone spoke and the light beam broke. But my days of preparations and the difficulties in just getting here had caused my mind to be ready. As Black Hat turned away, I seemed to read one last thought from his mind...'I see you also know...'
THE TYING OF THE WATER DRUM -
Now Billy began to tell me more about the ceremony to come. When I asked if it was permissible to remove my shoes for the all night ceremony, he said, "We wear our shoes at all times. So we will be ready in case something happens. If it is necessary for us to get up and leave the ceremony.”
Only later did I realize the full meaning of "keeping one's boots on"---to make an escape from authorities who once hounded these people for engaging in their religious beliefs.
I wore a thin pair of leather moccasins so I would be comfortable while sitting on the ground. Billy took me into the ceremonial hogan to watch the medicine man lace up the water drum. No one needed to tell me that I should observe the medicine man very carefully. In a ceremonial manner, he unwrapped a buckskin (the drum head) which contained the parts for the water drum---seven turquoise stones, a drumstick, an antler tip and a length of rope. With the strong rope, Black Hat began to tie the wetted deer hide over the mouth of a medium-sized brass kettle that had been filled one-third with water---six cups full. In the old days, an iron kettle with the handles filed off was used. Today, the shining brass kettle and the various white enamelware cups, pitchers and pails used in the ceremony are available in a catalog from a special supply house.
"For the drum head he's using the thick skin from the back of the buck's neck," said Billy. "Sometimes the thick hide over the rump is also used." Billy place his hand on his own rump to illustrate, smiling slightly.
The hide was kept in place---under quite some tension---by the seven turquoise stones which were wrapped and tied into the edges of the hide and used as “bosses.” The rope was laced about the turquoise stones and, with the help of the antler tip, was woven tightly beneath the drum. The rope was wrapped around each of the seven stones and drawn taut by pressure from the medicine man's foot---until a ritual star-shaped pattern was formed by the overlapping turns on the bottom of the kettle.
A slender but heavy oak drumstick fell once on the taut drum head. The single resonant boom told the people in the scattered hogans that the drum was tuned and the ceremony would soon begin.
Billy remarked to me that it was very difficult to tie a water drum---and that usually many attempts were needed to bring the wet hide to the proper tension. After the ceremony, the drum would be re-tied for instructional purposes.
"It's gonna be a good meeting," he said.
Then we all went into one of the larger hogans for a hearty supper of lamb stew with lots of coffee, tea, and Navajo fry bread. Everyone ate with great gusto but I was nervous and ate little.
THE FIRE AND THE MOON -
I sat with Billy and Black Hat in the hogan just prior to the ceremony. The medicine man was to my left and Billy directly to my left. Black Hat surely knew some English but spoke entirely in Navajo.
"The medicine man told me," said Billy, "that he wants me to translate everything for you that I can. He says he wants you to understand everything."
At last, well after sunset, the people filed in. The seating was on the floor and in a circle around the outer walls of the hogan. All movements were done in a clockwise fashion, so that anyone coming in the door from the east had to turn right and walk to their proper seat. Anyone leaving was also required to walk clock-wise---unless it meant interfering with the medicine man or some part of the ceremony. The women sat on one side---to the north---and the men on the other. The children sat with the women.
There were actually five medicine men---the 'road man' and one 'chief' for each of the four principle directions. The medicine man of the east was also the 'fire chief' and the guardian of the door. It was he who went outside to replenish the firewood and cared for the fire throughout the night. It was also he who watched for the sun.
Billy explained to me the meaning of the fire and the moon shaped altar. The fire always consisted of three cottonwood poles chosen for their straightness---to symbolize our thoughts. Each pole was thick as a man's wrist and, in length, the distance between the ground and the heart of a standing man. Wood enough to last the night was neatly stacked outside the doorway.
As the flame burned down, the fire chief knocked off the ashes and rebuilt the fire so that there were always three poles burning. With a small shovel and a wet straw brush, he swept the red hot coals into the receptive curve of the moon-shaped altar, where a second moon, made of fire, was formed by the coals and ashes.
The sand from which the altar was made, Billy explained, was wet and specially chosen from the river bed to be of a consistency that made for a smoothly shaped altar. It was wet so that it could be easily formed into the curved moon shape and retain that configuration.
Billy began to translate for me as the ceremony began. Most of this particular meeting was carried out in the Navajo language. One by one, Black Hat welcomed the participants of the meeting.
Referring to me he said, "You have come a long way and traveled hard in order to bring your power to the ceremony. You are welcome here, and we appreciate your difficult journey in coming to this place."
Then Black Hat began to speak to the 'purpose' of the ceremony. Billy had been explicit in stating that every ceremony had to have a clear and definite 'purpose' in mind. As with most Indian ceremonies, there was always a general purpose, and this was addressed by Black Hat right from the beginning.
"This ceremony is to help the people. It is for all people everywhere. This ceremony is for all of the universe---for the sky and the stars and the sun and the moon and the earth---that all may stay in their place and that all may continue to turn.
"I am only a man. I am just like you. I will try my best to help you through this ceremony. If you have any trouble you may look to me for guidance..."
THE “MEDICINE” -
Plain, unglued cigarette papers were passed clockwise. The next ritual item was a surprise to me---a familiar little cloth pouch of commercial "Bull Durham" tobacco. Each of us was to roll some of the Bull Durham tobacco into cigarettes. This was not inhaled, but was puffed on and meant to sweeten the air and purify the atmosphere. Usually, a type of 'mountain tobacco' was used for this purpose, but Bull Durham is a very sweet tobacco.
Although I had rolled cigarettes myself for many years, I struggled with the non-glued papers and the powdery Bull Durham in it's little cloth sack. A young man sitting to my right tried to help me get the cigarette rolled. I felt inept and nervous. The young man began to give me advice on how to roll the fine tobacco into a cigarette.
Then the fire chief came around to each of us and lit our cigarettes with a special smoldering stick of wood from the 'grandfather fire'.
"Don't smoke so fast," said the young man, but my cigarette was poorly rolled and I had to puff on it vigorously just to keep it lit. It wasn't long before my cigarette was short and out. When all our cigarettes were smoked short, we each rose in turn and leaned the butts at the base of the half moon altar so that our prayers would continue to be carried upward.
All implements and articles used during the ceremony were now ritually passed from one person to another in a clockwise fashion. This way, everyone was able to touch all the implements---including the water drum---even if they were not going to use them. The water drum seemed alive as I handled it. When I placed it to my left, I heard it resonate slightly as it hit the dirt floor. In this same clockwise manner, the 'medicine'---a button of ‘grandfather peyote‘---was passed from one person to another.
The water drum, gourd rattle, eagle feather fan, and the 'staff of life' were now passed around until they reached the medicine man. While the 'cedar man'---sitting to his left---played the water drum, Black Hat sang the opening song. He sang with one knee on the ground and the other foot on the bare floor. In his right hand he played the gourd rattle, while with his left hand he supported himself with the 'staff of life.'
At last, the jar of dry powdered peyote came around to me.
Billy had explained to me that each person used as much or as little as desired. He said that even babies---especially if they were being healed---were given the medicine by sucking on a cloth wet with peyote tea. The peyote came in several forms which varied from ceremony to ceremony, according to availability or custom.
Most common was the ground up powder from the dried peyote button. Always, the fuzzy part of the button was first removed. Although this dry powder was extremely bitter and tended to get stuck in the mouth, there was a method of ingestion which avoided the usual problems of nausea and a dry mouth.
A pile of dried powder was placed in the palm of the hand. Saliva was mixed with this powder until a ball was formed with the fingers of the other hand. Then, this moist ball was simply swallowed at once.
Dried peyote buttons could be chewed, but went down a lot easier if they were first moistened. They could also be held in the mouth.
Another common form of peyote was tea---boiled, dried cactus buttons. Usually, specimens of lower quality could be used for this extract. For many, tea was the easiest form of ingestion---especially for the sick, those with weak stomachs or the very young.
Peyote was also used in the form of moist, freshly ground buttons. This was swallowed directly. Peyote also came in the form of fresh buttons---passed on in containers filled with damp earth. This was chewed and swallowed, or it could be kept in the mouth and sucked on during the ceremony. The strongest I ever had though, was in the form of a dry powder.
I put a large spoonful of the peyote into the palm of my hand. I spit on it as I had seen the others do, rolled it into a ball and swallowed it. The bitter taste nearly gagged me, but soon my throat became numb. I felt a sudden flash in my brain---but that was all for a while. I relaxed and waited for the medicine to take effect.
THE PEOPLE -
In the yellow firelight I saw a circle of Navajo faces. There were ladies and children. Old men and young. All were intent upon one thing. A central point above the fire.
The 'medicine' was working on me, and when I realized that I was the only White man there, the Indian faces seemed menacing to me. But then I recalled the opening words of the ceremony. 'We are glad to have your energy here with us tonight. You came from far away to help us with your thoughts. The purpose of this meeting is to help the human race. Also for the sun, moon, and stars, that they may keep their place.'
One by one, in clockwise turn, each woman, man and child was given time to speak of their own individual purpose for the ceremony. Directly opposite me sat Billy's grandmother. Although he had introduced several old ladies as his 'grandmother', I knew this was his real one. She and I were the only ones in the ceremony sitting in the 'old way'---between the heels.
Billy explained that only a few of the old Navajo still sat in the 'old way'---seated between their heels with the legs completely folded off to the sides. He said that while it was preferable to sit this way throughout the entire night, most of the younger ones could not sit that way at all. He indicated that one could express a special reverence by sitting in 'the old way' whenever a ceremonial implement---and especially the 'medicine'---was passed around the circle and came before you. It was also particularly reverent to sit in 'the old way' during the more sacred moments---such as the 'holy moment'.
Since I was able to sit in 'the old way' [I did Yoga at the time], I made sure that I assumed this posture whenever the drum, the rattle, or the eagle feather fan was passed in front of me. The older Navajos later expressed a particular satisfaction at my efforts. Most of the time I sat like everyone else---with the legs folded in front of me. The ceremony would last the entire night…with only one short break.
Another series of peyote songs had begun. Each singer accompanied himself with the gourd rattle which had the black hair from a horse's tail sticking out at either end of the handle. The handle passed through the top of the gourd. The gourd rattle was suspended at one point only at its top-center for a fine resonance. It was shaped like a bell and could be tuned with an adjustable sliding plug which fit into it's open mouth at the bottom. The small pebbles inside were specially and ritually chosen. The singer set the rhythm with the rattle---held in his right hand---and the drummer followed his lead. An ornamented 'staff of life' was held by the singer in his left hand. By placing one end on the ground, the singer was able to 'steady' himself---both physically and spiritually---during the song.
From time to time the eagle feather fan was passed around. By fanning ourselves in it's breeze we were refreshed and our awareness was raised to the heights where the eagle flew. I am not sure if it was the smell of the feathers, the breeze made by the fan, or the sound the huge eagle feathers made rubbing against each other, but the effect was an uncanny clarity and a sense of being high up in the atmosphere. At times I felt I was flying far above the ground.
THE WATER DRUM -
The water drum was the heartbeat of the ceremony. No other implement in the ceremony had such an effect on me. The sound is always with me now and, as instructed, I draw upon it's beat of life in times of difficulty---listening for the sound of my own heart. Through the sound of the drum I am always able to visualize my Navajo 'family'---though I am thousands of miles away. Of course it symbolizes the Human heartbeat.
The drum was held by the left hand, with the left thumb directly on the head at times to vary the pitch. Pressure and movement of the thumb was one manner of playing different notes with this incredible instrument. Another means of changing tone and pitch was to tilt the drum so that the water inside changed the shape of the resonating chamber. Then too, the drumstick made different tones when it struck different portions of the hide.
The most dramatic effect was to tip the drum so that the water inside sloshed onto the taut deer hide. This immediately dropped the pitch of the drum several octaves. But the pitch began to rise again---very quickly---as the water was drawn off the hide and back into the kettle. In the eight-sided hogan---big enough for thirty people to sit around it's walls---the water drum sound completely filled and resonated within the area. Naturally, its sound could be heard for miles out into the desert.
Billy explained to me that the manner in which the drum was played could reveal the heart of the man doing the drumming. Most important of all was to keep a steady beat. This was not easy with a drum that constantly changed pitch due to the drying out of the hide or the angle of the water level inside.
As a newcomer I was encouraged to look at the others as an example. Most participants remained focused on the central area just above the fire. The road man, Black Hat, never once wavered from focusing his gaze just above the fire. Many of the younger children fell asleep at some point---while the really young were gathered up later in the evening and taken to bed. During the night, quite a few adults also nodded off. Billy told me that one should attempt to stay awake throughout the entire ceremony, but that even being present in ones’ sleep would bring benefits.
"One man passed away during a ceremony," he said. "The man was sick and the ceremony was for him. This is considered a very good way to die..."
As the evening progressed, I became more and more aware of Billy's grandmother---and her position directly across from me. She did not move and her eyes never appeared to notice me. Still I felt that she was not only watching me, but that she was helping me to behave in the 'right way'.
With her eyes turned toward the ceiling, she seemed to give off a great deal of psychic energy. I could not help but absorb these feelings into myself. Throughout the ceremony I drew upon her strength and example as to how I should behave. From her upturned face I took my cue, and tried to give up my power to the group.
As the ceremony began to build, I noticed that some people were not as strong as others. The young man for whom the ceremony was being held, Paul Nez, appeared strained and worried. And the young man who had earlier tried to help me roll my cigarette, was now himself sleeping soundly right next to me..
'Hah,' I thought to myself, 'You tried to show me how to behave---and now you are falling asleep in your own ceremony...'
It came to me immediately that this was not the proper way of thinking. I sensed a 'gap' in the circle where the young man slept beside me. With my thoughts, I tried to 'fill in' this apparent 'dip' in the ring formed by the people. 'This meeting is for Paul,' I reminded myself.
In startling sequence, the following events occurred:
I felt my energy or life force actually bridge or fill the gap where the young man was sleeping. My own body became a transparent, misty yellow light. There was a profound increase of energy perceived by my awareness---as if I had turned on an electrical circuit. I saw the entire circle of the seated participants as a great ring of yellow light around the outer walls of the eight-sided hogan. In a second surge of electrical energy, I felt my own body enter and became a part of that ring of Navajo people. I was absorbed into the circle. I lost awareness of my physical body and became aware of a larger 'body.' I had not only become a part of the circle but my awareness of 'self' took on the size, shape, and brightness of the 'ring' of people itself. From that moment on, I was no longer unsure of myself. I allowed the ceremony to guide me completely.
A strange thing began to occur during the ceremony. From time to time, Billy would whisper to me about the meaning of each phase of the ritual. But since most of the words used by the participants were spoken in Navajo, he could not translate everything. Many of the prayers and songs in particular required his attention. As these words were spoken, there came floating across my consciousness---entire phrases that were in English---although I was clearly aware that no English was being spoken at the time.
[In a subsequent ceremony, English translations were used throughout because members of tribes that did not speak Navajo were present. At that time I found that none of the spoken ritual was a surprise to me. I had heard it all in English during this first initiation, and had accepted the anomaly without thought or question.]
GRANDFATHER PEYOTE -
The ceremony continued to build. Each segment was punctuated by spoken words, prayers, songs, and various ritual sequences. At the beginning of the ceremony, the medicine man had drawn from his pouch, a large and well formed button of peyote. This 'grandfather peyote' was placed upon one end the moon shaped altar of fine, wet sand.
As the ceremony progressed, the 'grandfather peyote' moved along the curve of the moon. This was to symbolize the stages of our psychic journey and to keep us on track as we traveled through the underworld with the sun.
THE CEDAR MAN -
The 'cedar man' took cedar incense from his buckskin pouch. With prayers he called for all of us to raise our thoughts high. Then he sprinkled the cedar flowers into the moon shaped bed of coals...
There was a hiss...and tiny sparks. Then a billow of smoke. With a wave of their arms, everyone drew the sweet smell unto themselves. It was an act of purification...and a way to find the connection between spirit and matter.
THE HOLY MOMENT -
Everyone had, by now, spoken at length to their ’purpose’ for this meeting. All their hopes and fears had been articulated until there was nothing left to say in that regard. There came a time when everyone had said all that they wished. As Billy explained to me, it was time for the 'Holy Spirit' to come and 'read directly what is in our hearts'.
Outside the hogan, one of the medicine men blew a high shrill tone on an eagle bone whistle---once to each of the four directions---to call the 'holy spirit' to the ceremony.
Billy whispered in my ear, "The ‘road man’ says to pay special attention now. It is getting near to the 'holy moment'.”
The swell of drumming picked up momentum. An old man began to 'pray' along with the words of the singer. His words seemed to rise up on the 'steps' of the drumbeats. Everything was directed upwards now. My 'grandmother' had her eyes closed and her face raised in a most devout posture. All the people's faces were turned toward the chimney hole in the center of the roof of the hogan. The sound of the music and praying began to lift me up.
As the 'spirit song' began, there came a movement by the smoke hole in the center of the ceiling. The song grew louder, more intense---until the light inside the hogan began to glow brightly and the hypnotic heartbeat of the water drum literally seemed to spin faster and faster inside the circle formed by the eight walls. The drumming came from all around me now---from behind me---as if there was no walls.
I heard the whirr of eagle wings. The air smelled sweet and clean. And then the walls of the hogan seemed to fall away completely and a presence came. Like a great yellow-white mist, the presence entered the chimney hole but appeared to manifest everywhere at once. The light became even brighter---so brilliant that all matter became suffused with it---and was absorbed by the light...or made invisible by comparison to the brilliance.
I was face to face with the 'Holy Spirit'. I was standing before the full universal expanse of the spirit and I looked upon it with complete openness. The 'Holy Spirit' spoke to me:
'Be kind!' was all it said in words.
I looked upon the brilliance of the spirit and I contemplated the spirit. All my prayers, thoughts, longings, and fears were absorbed by the light. They were no longer on my mind. Then I was absorbed into the spirit and everything was light.
The great peace came. The clear light and I and all the universe felt as one. I had reached the end of the road. I was at peace with the source of life. For a long time I remained there.
Then I came back to the meeting. The medicine man looked at me and spoke in Navajo. Billy translated.
"He says that you may speak as soon as you have had some water to drink."
THE WATER LADY -
A woman with a clean white enamel pail appeared at the door. The 'water lady' circled the fire, and as she passed in front of me I could hear the rustle of her skirts and the sound of the water that she bore.
At the entrance, she set down the pail on the bare earth floor and kneeled before the water. She spoke at great length of earth, rain, and growing things---of children and creation.
Then, with a gourd dipper, the water lady poured the 'first drink' onto the bare earth.
The water glistened in the firelight as it touched the dirt---then dulled as mother nature pulled the water to her bosom.
Then the water lady herself took a drink. The pail and the gourd were now passed around. Before each person drank, a small amount of water was poured on the ground. The pail was then set on the ground to the person's left, where the next in the circle would pick it up and place it directly before themselves.
In an act of seeming magic, the water I poured as an offering upon the bare dirt floor seemed to be absorbed by mother nature herself. For a moment it was a bright gathering pool---and then it seemed to be sucked into the earth.
Having had no liquids since the beginning of the evening---and with the mouth dry from the peyote---my first drink...first water of life...was sweet and filled with the force of creation. I could feel it enter my body---to bring a rebirth of life---just as it brought new growth and creation to the earth itself.
"I give you all my strength," I heard my own voice speaking to the circle of Navajo. "I can feel us all together. I also came here seeking help. That is all I have to say."
The people nodded their approval after Billy had translated my words. The medicine man spoke in Navajo and his eyes were upon me.
"He is welcoming you to the meeting," whispered Billy in my ear. "He says that he is happy you are here tonight. He welcomes your good thoughts and your prayers and your energy."
Much more was spoken about me it seemed, but it was not directed at me personally. The medicine man motioned to me several times as he spoke. It was not until many months later that Billy told me what had been said.
"The road man was telling the young children that they would one day have to go out into the white man's world. To white man's schools...and then to work at his jobs. That they would have to live in the white man's way. He told them that they should observe the way in which you behaved at the meeting. He said that you were a white man trying to learn about the Indian way. He told them that you were a stranger in the Indian culture---just as those children would someday be strangers in the white man's culture. He said that it was hard for a man to understand a different way of life, and that the children should behave in the white man's world the way you behaved in the meeting."
Even months later, those words caused my head to swell. Billy said as much. "I didn't tell you at the time because I didn't want your head to get too big."
Now the meeting had it's only break period. One half of us remained inside while the other half filed out clockwise into the darkness. All the time, the singer and the drummer played on so that the spirit of the meeting would be kept alive. Then, upon the return of the first group, I was also able to go outside. As I turned up to look at the stars I could hear the Beatles singing from Sgt. Pepper, "…across the universe..."
Now the long pull of the sun around the bottom of the earth began. The fire chief swept the altar clean of our cigarettes and other accumulations. Everyone stretched out and relaxed. A few quiet conversations could be heard. Some of the younger children who had fallen asleep earlier were now awake and rubbing their eyes. Others fell asleep.
IT’S NOT OVER BY A LONG SHOT -
Then once more the meeting became serious. There was much talk by the older men concerning the message of the holy spirit and it's meaning for Paul Nez, Billy‘s cousin for whom the meeting was being held. Sweet Indian tobacco neatly rolled in fine corn husks was smoked by those who chose to talk or 'pray' in this manner. While they spoke, the cigarette had to be kept burning. The Indian tobacco would not stay lit like regular cigarettes and it was quite a feat to speak and keep the Indian tobacco going at the same time. This was intended to keep the speeches from getting too long. When the cigarette went out it was passed to the next person who wished to speak. Each time, the fire chief relit the cigarette with the special, glowing stick kept for the purpose in grandfather fire.
The Indian tobacco was not inhaled. The effects of it's pungent aroma seemed to be far stronger to the mouth and the nostrils than to the lungs. When thus smoked during a ceremony, this pungent tobacco smoke seems to have the solidity and feel of liquid in the mouth. The effect upon the nose is remarkable and the overall result is extraordinarily refreshing and sweet without any trace of perfume or cloying stickiness. Of course, I only had such wonderful tobacco on this one occasion. Like any natural herb, quality seems to vary greatly from plant to plant and region to region.
Keeping one's cigarette lit was not the only means of limiting long-winded speeches. Those who took overly long in their digressions were met with some very effective throat-clearing from the people. This could be very subtle at first, but then becoming quite loud and insistent.
Some speakers 'prayed' with cedar incense thrown into the hot coals. All night the fire chief had raked the fallen coals in a carefully shaped half moon of hot ashes that gradually built up as the ceremony progressed. It lay there, hissing and seething---a moon of fire next to the grey moon of packed wet sand. And of course, all the time, the grandfather peyote moved along the top of the grey curve of the moon---although I never did actually see anyone move it I'm sure someone did.
MORNING SONG -
Hey Ya Na! Now begins the great rush to morning. We are set upon the path of being born once more. The time of our rebirth has come.
Ya Na Hey! We feel the sun returning from it's journey through the world of unconsciousness below.
Wi Na Yo! We contemplate our past. We recall the light of the 'Holy Moment', and we choose the form of our rebirth.
At this time in the ceremony, each individual has the opportunity to bring about a change in one's life. In a way, this is the most important part of the ceremony, because the manner of one's rebirth may be consciously determined. This is done through the sustained focus of awareness, keeping the proper thoughts in mind, and by utilizing the help and example of the medicine man and the other 'guides' present.
Throughout the entire night, the gaze of the medicine man never wavered from a point above the fire. All one needed to do was follow his example. Although each stage of the ceremony was rich with symbolism, spirituality, and intellectual meaning---the basic ceremony was supposed to be capable of being understood by a child. The controlled focus of awareness and energy by the medicine man was available at all times to all participants. His unwavering attention to the purpose and progression of the ceremony was all that was needed for anyone to successfully complete the entire ritual.
From here on it was a long hard pull. Some of the speakers began to weep. We had seen the purity of the source of life. We had been in contact with the holy spirit and had been shown the proper way to think. Now it was clear that we had not been living well. And that we had not been treating our fellow humans with respect.
Paul's mother spoke and began to weep for her son. She confessed her own shortcomings. She prayed that the holy spirit would stay with her and show her the way in the times to come.
As the morning drew near, the spirit of the meeting grew hopeful. The 'morning songs' reflected a new optimism. Soon the sun would announce a new day---and bring another chance for all of us to live in the 'right way'. We peered anxiously up the chimney opening and thought we could see the sky becoming just a little less dark. Was the sun going to come? The songs picked up momentum once more.
But the words of the speakers were still somber. Some of the speeches were overly long and people cleared their throats in impatience. Since I could not understand everything that was being said, I drifted in and out of my personal reveries. I tried to keep the awareness of the light of the holy spirit. That was the whole purpose behind our concentration now.
With exquisite and painstaking care, the medicine man---with more and more help from the men of the four directions---guided us slowly back to the world we had left far behind last evening. Once more, each person had an opportunity to speak, or to sing or play the drum.
The sun was coming now. Outside, a rosy-blue light was more and more apparent. Then, through an opening in the cloth-covered doorway, I saw the first yellow rays of the sun. But the meeting went on. Rays of the new sun slanted through openings in the windows where the curtains did not completely cover them.
Dried fruit was ritually passed as the sun showed itself. I wanted to go outside and meet the sun but the ceremony continued well past sunrise. It was nine or ten before the ceremony ended. The medicine men spoke at length to the children---urging them to remember what had occurred during the ceremony. Some rubbed their sleepy eyes, having just awakened.
At last, the medicine man carefully and ritually untied the buckskin hide from the shiny brass kettle. The seven symbolic turquoise stones reemerged from the folds of the wet deer hide. The rope was carefully coiled. All the components were laid out in front of the medicine man. Then the kettle was passed and we all drank from the water of the water drum.
Thoroughly exhausted but still amazingly high, I went to a quiet place where I could lay down on the ground. My head was still spinning from the fantastic power of the ceremony. But I could still not say what it was like to eat the peyote. I knew that the incredible control exerted by the ritual---along with the minds of the medicine men and the people---had been of greater influence. When brought together, our thoughts had a tremendous energy. I had not been quite ready for the impact of my own strength when joined consciously with the minds of others.
In a while I returned to the ceremonial hogan. Billy told me to drink some water after I sat down. It had been a rich ceremony. Billy was right---it had been a 'good meeting'. The men were discussing the ceremony of the previous night. There was still much to be learned and many things to be said. The medicine man began to speak to individuals now---questioning them as to what they had experienced during the night, and if their individual 'purpose' for the meeting had been answered. They were eager to question me. Black Hat turned to me. Someone said:
"We can see that you saw 'the holy spirit'..."
At this moment---instead of replying---my mind instantly returned to the 'holy moment'. The intensity of the earlier experience was not the same, but this secondary---or 'second bardo' [Tibetan Book Of The Dead]---awareness of the light was obvious to all present. I was in a trance, but I could also see everyone look away and continue on with their conversations.
In a while, my consciousness returned fully to the group. The medicine man looked straight at me and spoke. Billy turned to me and began to translate:
"The medicine man would like you to tell us about yourself---who you are and where you come from."
"I work in the same office as my friend Billy. I came here from the big city---from Los Angeles. I was born in New York City..." I motioned to the east..."and I have lived in many places across the country..."
I was asked about my education. Yes, I had graduated from college. They asked me if I had ever done anything like this before.
"I have never seen so many people in one place and at one time...and for so long...to come together as I have seen in this ceremony. Here and there, I have met one or two people with whom I could sit in this way and think together---but nothing like this."
Billy translated for the medicine man:
"He says that he could see you were in the presence of the holy spirit. He wants to know what the spirit said to you."
"When I drove out here this week, I picked up a hitch-hiker and brought him to the Hopilands. He was a Hopi man---the brother of a friend of mine. He was drunk, and although he spoke very nicely to me, I ignored his words. I was mean to him---even though I learned a lot from what he was saying because he was telling me about the land as we drove through it.
"The only thing that the holy spirit said to me in words was: 'Be kind.'"
As I spoke these words, I looked up to the chimney hole and felt the spirit appear once more. The medicine man sensed this and stopped his questioning.
Later, he spoke to me again. Billy translated.
"The medicine man says that you are a person who has been to college and works in an office. That you wear a white shirt and work with paper in the welfare office. He says that this is a place where the people come for help.
"He also says that you are a person who has sat with us...in the circle...right down on mother earth herself. He says that you have shown your understanding of the people. You are close to the people. He says that with this understanding of the people and of the earth---along with your knowledge of the paper work---he says that you are in a very good position to really help the people..."
This was not flattery. This was the purpose of my rebirth into life. This was one of the lessons I was to take with me from the ceremony. Because of his words, I decided to recommit myself to my job. I could only nod my head and grunt my approval to his words. I saw now that even my bureaucratic job was a sacred trust---and that I must keep the holy spirit in mind as I performed my tasks. Since I've always hated paper work---and of course the resolve faltered---I never did forget my obligation to the people. Although my bosses were often angry with me, the people, my 'clients', trusted me as they did few other bureaucrats.
Now the other men began to question me. They all prefaced their inquiries with similar words:
"We are glad that you came. We are happy to have you sit with us."
Some of them found it hard to believe that I had never before sat in a peyote ceremony. Billy told them over and over: "No, this is his first meeting. He has never used the 'medicine' before."
They wanted to know where I had learned to 'pray'. I told them about Tibetan Buddhism and the clear light...about the Tibetan Book of the Dead. One by one, the men said to me: "Yes, this is just like our way."
I was overjoyed. I had suspected this for a long time. My Hopi friends had already expressed great interest in Mahayana Buddhism and I had long felt a kinship between Tibetan Buddhism and American Indian religious expressions. Now I found that the similarities were real. All the Navajo men in the circle nodded their agreement.
Some of us left the hogan, but I began to realize that the 'ceremony' really never ends. Some of the younger men now came back to receive instructions from the older men. The water drum was re-tied for instructional purposes, and once more I could hear its beat. The young men were learning about the songs and other aspects of the ceremony.
Outside the hogan was chaos. The children that had sat so quietly last night in the ceremony now ran here and there. Women carried trays of lamb stew and fry bread...melons and cold pop and steaming coffee and tea. I was not hungry. Not yet.
Billy's grandmother stopped me and spoke in Navajo. Her face was close to mine and she was smiling broadly. Billy appeared in order to translate for her. He had been helping the medicine men in the Hogan. He obviously had a special connection with this wonderful lady.
"She calls you 'my son'. She says that you behaved yourself well. She was really impressed that you could sit in the 'old way'---and that you did so at the proper moments. She says that your thoughts and prayers were of much help to the meeting. She says she is glad that you came all this way to help her people."
Then they went back to their work and left me standing there---dazed and delighted in the sunlit new day. I saw another smiling young man standing nearby---squinting his eyes at the sunlight. It was Paul Nez. The morose young man of the previous evening---the subject of the ceremony---was standing tall and straight this morning. The stoop was gone from his shoulders. His face was relaxed and his eyes sparkled from beneath their lids with a light that did not come entirely from the sun.
He came right up to me and his eyes looked directly into mine. Only then did I realize---that of all the people I had met the day before---he had come closest to averting my gaze. We shook hands.
"I want to thank you for coming," he said.
Other young men began to gather. Paul introduced them.
"We were working in the corn fields," said a short, stocky youth with a big grin. "Then Billy's uncle came by in his pickup and told us about the meeting. We just dropped our tools and jumped right in the back.”
"How did you hear about the meeting?" someone asked.
"Billy and I work in the same place," I said, "and it was there that he invited me to the meeting."
"Good meeting, huh?"
I nodded my head and smiled.
"You like the medicine, eh?"
"Yes, I like the medicine."
"Peyote is good," said the youth. "You seen that old medicine man? He's sixty-four years old and look how straight he is."
Billy's young brother-in-law introduced himself. We shook hands.
"I been using the peyote since I was this high," he said holding his hand a few feet off the ground.
"My father took me to my first meeting. I have been going ever since. Now I take my own son to the meetings. This is the way we Navajo do things."
"Yeah," said Paul, "We're just praying for rain so that our sheep can have enough grass to eat. We don't want to live the white man's way. But today it's too hard to live off the land. So we have to go away from the reservation and take jobs. Ever since the Bureau of Land Management cut back on the number of livestock on the reservation we've all been having a hard time..."
"That's right," said another young man. "The white man wants everyone to live like him. I tried it. I'm a qualified electrician. I worked for two years in Flagstaff. But I'm back here now. It's hard to drive seventy miles to my job every day on these roads, but my family needs me here.
"We're trying to keep living in the old way…” "I understand," I told him. "That's why I came out here. I'm trying to learn about your way.”
The young men nodded, grew silent, stared at the ground or off into the distance. Then, one by one, they shook hands with me and departed for their families and their corn fields.
THE ILLUSORY NATURE OF THE CEREMONY -
Billy informed me that the road man and the medicine men of the four directions wished to meet with me privately after they left the ceremonial hogan. Beneath a brilliant sun and a blue sky we had a little meeting on top of a small hill near the hogans. Great, white, billowing clouds flowed above us as we sat on the ground under a large cottonwood tree. The wind rustled the leaves and there was life all around.
The eldest---the medicine man of the north---sought my gaze with eyes wide enough to contain death itself. Even as the tall white clouds of late morning churned above his head, he told me that the ceremony I had seen was 'illusory'.
"The ritual is for the people," he said, "and their belief in it is so strong that we speak only of it's illusion to those who are prepared to understand...and let it go."
Each of the five men spoke to me earnestly. They made sure I knew that the sacred water drum, the oak drumstick, the gourd rattle, the staff of life and the eagle feather fan were unreal---and not the meaning of the ceremony at all! The eyes of the medicine men were empty like the far spaces of the universe as they denied the permanent existence of the earth, the sky and everything in space.
They informed me over and over that the nature of the ceremony I had just attended was ‘illusory‘. They made sure I understood that none of the implements used were the point of the ceremony. They made sure I understood the transitory nature of the clouds, the sky and the stars---of all reality. Since this was part of the Tibetan ritual meditations I had no trouble understanding.
Before leaving, I shook hands with everyone. Billy's uncle, an old man called "Tzinnijinnie" told me that I was his "son" and that he was proud of me. I thanked him and said that his people had taught me a great lesson. I would try to live by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Billy gave me directions back to the highway.
"The good lord will see you home," he said.
"If you get sleepy, just remember the sound of the drum and it will give you strength. Anywhere you are, the power will come to you.
"I am so glad you came, my friend. I will see you at the office.”
On the way out of the Navajolands, I ran into a flash thunderstorm. Ahead of me, a pickup had stopped so the driver could lock hubs on the front wheels before shifting into four wheel drive. I could not stop because the road was already a sea of mud and there was a long hill ahead which I would never have been able to climb. I doubted that I would even be able to get moving if I had stopped the car.
Calling on the beat of the drum to get me through, I somehow managed to keep the car moving and get it around the pickup. But then, at the top of the hill I was faced with a long, extremely steep downhill run in the same slippery mud---with a sharp turn at the bottom of the hill.
The car was completely out of control now. The mud was inches deep already and the mountain road dropped off sharply on both sides. There was no response to the steering. I could see water and mud flowing on the road.
Now, I thought, it was really time to start thinking about the sound of the drum. As I did so, it seemed as if my thoughts were taking over the car. The steering wheel was useless. I was shifting my weight to control the vehicle. My mind was extremely focused. The car seemed so light and airy as it floated downhill on the river of mud that I was able to "think" it around the corner at the bottom.
In a moment I was out of the storm and in the bright sunshine. Behind me, the storm was heading for the little valley of Billy's family. I knew they would be happy to get the rain for the corn fields and the grass for the sheep and cattle.
I gave thanks to the source of the water---the great clouds of the air. I also gave thanks for my safe journey through the storm.
I then noticed that the road was taking me back to the valley. I had lost my way. There was nothing else to do but go back. I was driving fast because I could not stop. I passed within sight of the hogans and turned again on the road I had left half an hour before. Later on, Billy told me that I had been seen by some of the people. Not realizing I had been lost, they simply assumed that I was trying to avoid and outrun the storm. Perhaps this is what I had done without knowing it.
This time I found my way with no trouble. Beneath me rolled the black top highway. But below, everything was the earth mother. Now, with the sound of the heartbeat of the drum in my ears, I would never again forget where I had come from.
- Rudy Wittshirk