Adapted from Freeman Owle, “Going to Water.” “[The Cherokee] would go down to the water early in the morning, wade out waist deep, take the water of the river and throw it up over his head, and say, ‘Wash away any thoughts or feelings that may hinder me from being closer to my God. Take away any thoughts or feelings that may hinder me from being closer to all my brothers and sisters on the earth, and the animals of the earth.’ And they would wash themselves and cleanse themselves every morning, and they would walk out of the water.”
Some mornings I rise with sticky ashes in my mouth, regretting or hurting about something that has happened.
So, what is the holy practice that moves me through such murky circumstances and back into the light living in beauty?
Sometimes it is prayer, or removing myself to a contrasting environment, or recalling good times or giving thanks or… But what happens when I cannot get beyond the terribleness of what has happened; when I am so off balance that I cannot think through anything.
I ask the Native youth.
“Let’s go to the Grand Canyon and get connected with the dirt,” says one of the young adults laughing.
So three youth and I take the drive one Saturday and stop at a viewing site that doesn’t have many people.
“What exactly are we going to do?” I ask.
“This is something we do when we don’t feel connected to anything important,” says one of the youth. “You can’t take your camera. This is about us sitting on Mother Earth and looking at Father Sky. Trust us.”
One of the youth sprinkles the corn pollen in four directions and gives us each a pinch to taste and pat on ourselves. Another lights the white sage in a sea shell and smudges us. Then we sit down under the tree. There are no instructions and we don’t talk. We just sit.
At first my mind would not let go of all the negative vibes inside me. Finally I breathe in the scents from the trees, feel every bump from the ground and something loosens in me. The dirt takes hold. The sky beacons as the ravens fly overhead. I don’t know how long we sit there. Eventually my center returns. We look at each other and get up to leave.
As we get into the van, we decide to get something to drink. I feel like I am floating in a neutral cloud.
At the café we talk about being reconnected this way.
“Usually I just go outside and sit on the roof,” says one of the teens. “Sometimes I just need some silence and some outside time.”
Another youth comments, “That’s why I like to go back to the Rez to visit my grandparents sometimes. I can be outside whenever I like. Sometimes I just have to sit on the ground under a tree.”
I’ve been on many retreats of silence but it has always been indoors on a chair or in a chapel. Of all the blessings I have received from the Native youth, this goes to the top of the list. As the years pass since we first began this exercise, it has become harder for me to get up from the ground but it is worth it to go outside and sit on the dirt in silence.
Being able to center yourself is a holy practice.