The Lodge of H’tai

Several months before I left our native land, A’mae came to me in a more serious mood than usual. I knew and understood even this uncommon way, and it spoke to me of the long time we had been together. This was to be a time of change.

You must visit the Lodge of H’tai before you leave us. Tonight is the time!” he announced.

Years earlier I had learned never to question him, to make no comment at all unless he invited me to do so. A’mae valued quiet and patience above all else. I simply nodded as he shuffled away, back to his day lodge.

That evening, I walked along the river bank to the place of ceremony. A’mae was already inside and had started the fire. This was usually my job, so it was clear that he wanted to get under way without any dawdling on my part. I stood outside the lodge and waited until he motioned me inside.

A’mae handed me the herbs and leaves to burn. I walked the lodge in the usual way while he prepared the sacred pipe. We smoked together and prayed quietly, each in our own way. For much of the time, he sat with his eyes closed and said nothing. All we heard was the snapping of the wood in the fire and the muffled hum of the river outside. The quiet of the lodge was light and so pleasant that I wished it would not end.

Finally, he was ready.

You must go to the Lodge of H’tai before you leave us,” he whispered, making his point again. “You must take your crow spirit and go to the lodge to learn from the Ancient One for what lies ahead on your path. I will guide you there but you must never speak the words of H’tai to anyone.” His expression was outwardly stern yet there was the smallest wrinkle of a smile on his old face.

He handed me the bowl and I drank. My ears became full with the sound of the river yet, somewhere beyond the water, I could also hear A’mae’s voice guiding me. I had learned this way much earlier and knew that the Elder would guide me wisely on the path ahead.

I became the Crow Spirit as I had so many times in the past. I flew high above a dense forest in cool, still air. Below, I could see the four-legged ones, prancing happily, moving in and out of the underbrush. I could smell the wind, sweet and welcoming. After a time, I came upon a clearing in the heart of trees, a circular piece of ground upon which had been built a small, very old lodge of cedar. It was the lodge of an Ancient One.

Fly down,” A’mae said from far away. “You have arrived and need me no longer.”

I circled down to the lodge and stood in my spirit body, waiting for some sign from within the darkness. I soon began to hear the low rasping of a prayer that I did not know. The words were unfamiliar to me and the voice was very old yet still harmonic and peaceful.

I stepped across the threshold and into the lodge. In the darkness I could see the form of the Ancient One, H’tai. He sat to the east, with the fire between us. His face was large, wrinkled and serene. He spoke in my own language now, always in a soft whisper.

Welcome, my brother crow.” He waved a frail arm my way, motioning me to move closer to the fire. I stepped forward and waited in silence.

H’tai raised his arm again and pointed to my left. On the smooth, dirt floor was a round, black stone that rested very near the fire.

You must eat this stone,” he said. “It is the stone of fear, and once you have taken it inside you, fear will never walk with you again, no matter how far you stray from your native land.”

I picked up the stone in my beak and was surprised to find it light, nearly like air. It was tasteless and seemed to pose no harm. I swallowed the stone and felt a warmth that grew from deep inside my belly to every part of my body.

H’tai laughed, obviously pleased with my reaction.

A beautiful crow, like all the beautiful crows She has given us,” he said with unhidden pleasure. “Now you understand that there is no poison where there is no fear. We know this as the path of the Honest One.”

He motioned me even closer, to stand by his left side.

Now take these words with you, crow, and speak them never again until you sing your death song. These words will be your guide on the Path to the West.”

H’tai also became the crow and whispered his words to me, words that have carried me on my journey without fear, even though I have strayed so far from my home.

Sleeping Crow

 

The Way of the Mother (from Quiet Heart)

Seasons.

The Wise Elder has long sat with the Mother,

In silence, in learning,

In grasping the wondrous circles and spirals of Her design.

He knows that there can never be only a single,

Simple thing along his path.

All must be two, then one, then two again.

The beauty he witnesses

Is spawned from the ugliness of the path he walks.

The ugliness that slows his way

Is soon replaced by Her beauty,

And replaced again and again, without end.

The Wise Elder knows that

His work is only easy after it has first become difficult.

His sees only the high hills from the low valleys,

Knowing that the low valleys wait to succor

The high hills in their time.

He sees the endless cycles of change,

The infinite circles and the spirals.

He knows that what seems so true today

Cannot be true tomorrow.

He has learned the First Great Lesson of the Mother.

The Wise Elder accepts Her dance

And commits to change nothing

Because he, too, is the circle and the duality.

By changing nothing that the Mother has set in motion

He becomes her happy companion.

This is his great wisdom.

 

Before the Great Spirit (from Quiet Heart)

Morning.

The Warrior stands before the new sun,

Gently singing his words of thanks,

Asking the Great Spirit for courage.

The Medicine Woman stands nearby,

Whispering her prayers,

And raising her bundles in thanks to the Great Spirit.

The Wise Elder stands away from the others, all the others.

He is silent, his eyes lowered.

His prayers are nothing but a vacant, silent breath,

Thoughtless and unmoving.

His heart seeks nothing and is therefore filled.

He moves beyond the Great Spirit, wordless and simple,

Knowing that what he seeks

Is that which came before the Great Spirit.

Knowing there are no needs, no imperfections, no actions.

Knowing that his words of thanks

Are embodied in the dance of living and dying.

It is the Wise Elder who understands the True Path.

He no longer needs the strength of the Warrior

Or the wisdom of the Medicine Woman.

He is darkness and at peace.

Introduction to Quiet Heart

When I was much younger, I lived with a Native American Nation and was guided by an Elder who had given his life over to the Native spiritual path decades before we met. This commitment was, for him, lifelong and unquestioned. Because our nation was small and very isolated, every man and woman played an important part in tribal life. His was as a spiritual guide to the Elders, Chiefs, and Councils. He was not what is commonly (and wrongly) called a “medicine man.” This responsibility was taken on almost exclusively by the women in our clan, not the men. His role was as a storehouse and interpreter of what our Native spiritual path demanded of each of us. It goes without saying that his words were powerful and respected like few others in our Nation.

When I first met him, he was very old. In fact, he wasn’t sure of his own age (or so he claimed). Despite the frailties of so many years, his mind was sharp and fast, and his heart was pure and powerful. He demanded that I learn from him, and only him, the spiritual way of our Ancestors. He was not particularly interested in the daily events of our people. However, their spiritual needs were something that he never overlooked. I know he changed many lives for the better, mine included.

Life with my Elder was not easy. To call him a task-master would be a monumental understatement. There were many times I hated this wise, acerbic old man; many times that I wanted to never see him again. Yet, he drew me into his own spiritual path despite my fears, laziness, and uncertainty. His words have guided me for many decades, and now that I am near his age when we first met, my love and respect for him has only grown more profound.

Among the the most important of his teachings was that I should never exclude the wisdom of others, even though their beliefs may seem foreign and perhaps even unbelievable. He pushed me into looking at the common threads that can be found among so many indigenous spiritual paths, always assuring me that endless points in common were out there just waiting to be harvested. He considered this search to be one of the principal ways that I could be sure to be on the right spiritual path. It needn’t be Native. It needn’t be anything but true. When I found the wisdom of others that spoke to my heart, he said, I would discover that it would fit with my own beliefs like my own skin. This would be the test of its genuineness and trustworthiness.

My search for these common threads proved to be long and frustrating. There were so many false leads, so many paths that seemed to end exactly where they had started, or worse. It was only after I finally learned to “stop thinking like an Indian and think like some other kind of man” (his words) that I began to discover and collect those threads.

In time, I discovered the words of Lao-tzu, written so many centuries ago in the Tao Te Ching. Over many years, I read every translation that I could get my hands on because this was, as he had predicted, a common spiritual thread that ran though my Native heart and our most revered traditions. Lao-tzu, The Old Man, was himself a Wise Elder in a world that could easily have been my own Native home.

This book, then, is a tribute to Lao-Tzu and a remembrance of those invaluable Native lessons of so long ago that still guide my life. The truth, to my mind, is that these concepts – this way of the Spiritual Path – is singular and shared across many cultures and uncounted centuries. As a Native, I quibble with nothing Lao-Tzu has to offer. As one of the Ancient Ones, I hope he feels the same way about my interpretation of his wisdom, an interpretation drawn from a traditional but personal Native point of view.

Now, a word about pronouns. My native language is English. It is a sad but common situation that the Native tongue that should have been mine is essentially dead, although efforts have been made in recent years to revive it. Although I was taught to not think of most things in terms of gender, the English language seems to demand it at every turn. Therefore, I have elected to use the term “he” far too frequently than I would prefer. However, the term “she” applies equally and in each place that a pronoun is used and seems to fit.

Also, there are a number of characters that appear throughout this book, such as Warrior, Medicine Woman, Elder, Chief, etc. My Native brothers and sisters will immediately recognize the meaning of these characters and their sometimes very subtle nuances.  For other readers, please try to find out more about the importance of these characters. They are rich in meaning and steeped in tradition.

Perhaps a polite visit to a Native Elder would be of help.

Finally, like the circle and spiral of all we know and see, this book is not meant to be read from front-to-back.