I’m sure if you asked each of us who volunteered at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation last week to distill the week into one word it would be different for each of us. Mine would be listening. You see, rather than building bunk beds, digging outhouses, putting on trailer skirting or building decks and steps, my “job” last week was to listen and learn from a Lakota elder. His name was Cornell. He grew up on the reservation, he was taught the Lakota language, traditions and spirituality in secret (because the government outlawed all those things for about 120 years, up until 1978), went to law school, trained with the FBI, was a Vietnam vet, taught all different grades of school and was currently teaching at the Lakota College. We had many, many things to learn from Cornell.
It is a struggle for me not to do, but to listen. Listening is an art that requires moving beyond the face-value, literal words to the context, the feelings, the emotions, and the background. It insists we remember that we don’t know everything. To listen means letting go of our judgments and stereotypes. It means letting go of our defensiveness in the face of new facts or information, or opinions that don’t jive with ours.
Cornell made it clear that he believed that each person has the right to tell their own story. Sometimes that means moving past our own indoctrination… what history or viewpoint have we been programmed with? Do we understand there is another perspective? As part of our class, Cornell took us to Ft. Robinson and to the Crazy Horse monument. He encouraged us to listen to the guides there and to read the information, then he’d tell us the other side of the story… the Indian’s story.
Mark Nepo, in Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, talks about listening until we see “the beauty of older things”… in other words, until we see something deeper and wiser, until we see the shadows of the spirit and feel the breath of the Divine.
I wonder what frame of mind we need to be in to truly listen? For me, I need to be open, patient, secure in myself (so as not to be judgmental or defensive). And yet I need to be humble enough to remember to stop talking, as I am liable to be forming my response or my next question in my head before someone else has finished talking. I can be so intent on making sure to get my two cents in that I’m apt to interrupt if I’m not practicing awareness.
It seems there is always something we can’t hear and so, Nepo says, we need to cultivate the humility to recognize there is more to life than we know. Can we listen to where the universe is nudging us to look and learn? Nudging us out of our comfort zones? Can we listen to what appears in our path over and over? What do we block with our judgments? What do we ignore because it is the harder path – even if it is the better, higher path?
Finally, can we allow ourselves to be touched and changed by what we hear? The stories of Pine Ridge shatter the stereotypes and the white man’s history that we’ve been taught. The stories of suicide, genocide, depression and discrimination will break your heart. But will we let them change us? Soften us? Or strengthen our resolve to stand with the Indians?
To honor life we must hold it as sacred and listen to what it teaches. What we learn must become part of our “geography,” as Mark Nepo says. What has become visible and true must not become invisible again. What we learn about ourselves and our truth we cannot allow to become invisible again. To honor God, once we become aware of something, we cannot pretend to be ignorant of those things. It is often easy to lose touch with what we’ve gained, so we must be committed to “retrieving the ever-present sense of the sacred.”
Listen to the movement of the wind between the grasses.
Listen to the spaces between the words.
Listen to the story inside the person.
Listen to your inner reactions to life around us.
Listen to your heart and intuition.
Listen to the gentle touch and guidance of the Spirit.
Love & Light!