This photo is a favorite of mine. I took it while on tour in Ireland. In the photo are two of my favorite people on this earth. On the left is Morten Wolf Storeide, who is from Norway. On the right is Brother Seamus Byrne, who is a monk from Ireland. They stand at the base of a tower that was built by the Irish monks in ancient times as an escape from the Norse, who would come to kill and destroy them. To see these two beautiful men – one of Norse heritage and the other of Irish monastic heritage – together as dear friends in this historically painful spot is a testament to the healing that can happen when love and peace reign supreme. It is easy – perhaps too easy – to look at the global picture and become cynical about the idea of human beings ever living together on this earth in peace. After all, for thousands of years up to the present we have demonstrated again and again how impossible we can make it to be at peace with each other. It seems almost an alien concept to us, this ‘peace’ idea. After all, I don’t think the way you do about lots of things, so how could I possibly live in total peace with you, right?
What is ‘peace’?
Is it the total absence of disagreement? Is it some kind of utopia in which no one has a differing opinion or an opposing view? I don’t think it is either of these things. Peace is a state of existence in which human beings with widely diverse views do not consider the inflicting of physical violence an option for intellectual discourse, period. Peace is not some gloomy place where people have all had a frontal lobotomy. Nor is it an idea that only makes sense to hippies and flower children. My friends and relatives, if humanity does not learn what real peace is, and find a way to it globally, well… I think we all know the answer.
So what will it take?
After countless centuries of war, it will at the very least take plenty of healing, education and enlightenment for humanity to find a worldwide peace. Or it may very well take a global cataclysmic event large enough to draw all of humanity together. Climate change would be such a thing. Regardless of the catalyst, the onus is on us. Peace will not be achieved by an angry minister shouting that he doesn’t care about offending someone he disagrees with any more than it will be achieved by an angry fundamentalist taking the life of another human being because he disagrees with them. Both are guilty of hate, and hate is not the way forward for humanity on this earth. We must learn – or relearn – the meaning of love. We must learn the power of humility, compassion, empathy and kindness. These virtues are not the traits of weakness. They require great strength and wisdom. This is the way to peace. Peace is not void of turbulence. It is the ability to navigate that turbulence with love….
Oh, by the way, Morten Wolf Storeide is the facilitator of The World Drum Project, a global vision that has sent a handmade drum to every continent on earth for people of all walks of life to touch it, play it and pray for world peace and healing.
And Brother Seamus Byrne is a healing music recording artist and spiritual teacher who has traveled the world sharing his message of grace, compassion and love. Both know the meaning of peace....
As always, I continue to pray and work for world peace, and ask you to join your unique and beautiful prayers, positive energy and love with mine....
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As a new year begins, we look ahead and consider what it may bring. What does that mean to First Nations people? What do Indigenous, Native people hope for when considering the future? Here are some things I feel most American Indian and Indigenous people would agree are the dreams of new beginnings....
The other night, Leonardo DiCaprio won a Golden Globe for Best Actor for his role in ‘The Revenant’, a film which has a fair amount of First Nations actors. At the end of his acceptance speech, he strongly asserted that it is time the world heard the voice of Indigenous people. I applaud him for making that statement. For centuries, the Native voice has been twisted and misunderstood, forcibly silenced or utterly ignored by mainstream America and the rest of the western world. Humanity needed to hear that voice. It still does. The damage of the silent Indigenous voice can be seen globally, as the world now wrestles with human-inflicted climate change and an epidemic of dangerous religious extremism. The wisdom in the old ways of First Nations peoples is needed now more than ever, and that only comes if the world will listen and hear that voice. Also, if the voice of Native people is truly heard, mainstream society will no longer be able to ignore the continued use of tired, antiquated stereotypes and racially offensive terms and imagery which are in prominent every day use still today. A new voice for Native people requires those outside of our communities to join their voices with ours to affect positive change of all kinds.
There is a new day rising in Native communities across North America. I see it in my own Lakota community. There is a new generation of young, Indigenous people who are finding a deep strength in the traditions of their culture, and are passionate about ensuring a positive future for not only Native peoples, but for the planet and the world. First Nations communities everywhere are turning back to the traditional foods that once nourished a strong and healthy people. Native communities are looking at alternative energy sources like solar and wind to power the homes of their people. We have always known the way. We have just never had a voice. Part of the reason for that is the perpetuation of false, fantasy type imagery of our people by the mainstream society. How can you hear the voice of a people and take it seriously when all you know of them is a ridiculous stereotype? You cannot. So the new direction for Native people will require a new view of who and what we are (and were) by those outside of our communities.
A New Day
We can, and we must change. Humanity has no guarantee from the universe that we are to remain. What Indigenous people around the world have always known is that we are part of the web of life. We are not above it. We have always known that what we do to the delicate balance of that web, we do to ourselves. We must return to that balance. We must seek the wisdom of old ways for a new day. Native people have always known the way to a new beginning. Perhaps the time has finally come for the world to listen....
“What is the meaning of life?”, a question human beings have pondered for centuries. And yet, the answer is surprisingly simple. It’s only the explaining and understanding of that simple answer that can get complicated! So… is it purpose? Yes, having a reason for your life does give it meaning. In our Lakota way, we seek out that purpose through a custom called Hanbleciyapi — the crying for a vision, or vision quest, in which we go up on the mountain alone for several days and nights to ask Spirit to give us a vision for our life. So purpose is definitely a part of the meaning of life. But so is laughter! Yes, I said laughter. Finding and enjoying things that make you smile and laugh are also necessary to give meaning to our life.
What about service? Of course! There is nothing that enriches our lives more than those times when we serve. Whether it be another human being, or just the greater good, when we serve, we find meaning. We also find meaning through learning and enlightenment. Spiritual, emotional and intellectual growth help us to see the world and our lives through eyes more open, more illuminated and with more meaning. And then there is the biggie… love. Ohhhh yes, experiencing the power of love gives great meaning to our lives in both broad and intimate ways. But even love is only a part of that simple answer to the question, ‘what is the meaning of life?’.
So, what is it? What is the answer?!! My friends, the profoundly simple answer is this: the meaning of life, is to live. Yes, it is that simple, and yet how many of us do it? How many of us really live, and live fully? Having a vision, being enlightened, serving and loving, and experiencing laughter and happiness are the tenets of a life fully lived. Listen to your inner voice, it will tell you of your purpose, the gifts you have to give. Take the time to breathe in the beauty of your world, to celebrate its wonder and its mystery. So live, my friends. Live fully. Fully present in all your moments. Fully alive all of your days. For when you are fully alive, there is no need to ask, ‘what is the meaning of life?’.
~ John Two-Hawks
As I sit here tonight in Olympia, Washington, I find myself half way through the west coast leg of my ‘Horse Spirit’ U.S. Tour. Along the way, we have shared time with many wonderful, beautiful souls, and have witnessed the healing power of this new ‘Horse Spirit’ music. The concert experience takes the audience on a deeply moving journey, inviting all to ‘ride back into the wounds’ of the past, and rise up out the other side transformed and healed.
The Native flute itself is an instrument that can and does heal. It is a humble vessel, empty inside, with its ego out of the way, that allows spirit to flow freely through it. It was born of love, and of a broken and then mended heart. That power to mend became another of its uses, which continues to this day. It survived terrible cultural upheaval, and is now experiencing a worldwide renaissance. And why? Because the world is hurting and humanity has lost its connection to the earth, to simplicity, humility and wisdom. The essence of all Native music is its earth connection. Whether it is a Native flute, a hand drum or a powwow drum, the songs Native people bring forth from these instruments are about connection, honor and spirit.
With ‘Horse Spirit’, the music is weaved into a braid with the stories of the Chief Bigfoot Memorial Ride, the history of the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, and reflections about how we all must address our wounds in order to truly heal them, and that when we do, we restore our health, our purpose and our happiness. The response to this musical journey has been deeply moving for me. People are resonating with it, finding inspiration and meaning for their lives. What an incredible, humbling honor!
Wopila (Great Thanks) to all who have come out to attend my ‘Horse Spirit’ concerts, bought the album, and connected with it’s message. Together, we ride into the shadows, that we may claim the light....
Etiquette with Native People
And so we broach what can be a sensitive topic with this blog – etiquette – as it pertains to interacting with American Indian people. Right out of the gate we will address one. You notice I said ‘American Indian’, instead of ‘Native American’? Well my friends, that is on purpose. The term ‘Native American’ is a term that was invented by the U.S. Government, and a majority of First Nations people prefer other identifying terms. Having said that, no First Nations person is going to be upset by the term ‘Native American’! To keep things simple, I will use the term ‘Native people’ for this blog.
So, what does it mean to exercise etiquette toward Native people? Why is it even necessary?
The reason it is necessary is both historical and cultural. Historically, Native people were grossly misunderstood, misrepresented and often characterized in unflattering, inaccurate and even demeaning, insulting ways by the American government, mainstream media and society. A quick peruse through newspaper articles of the past about American Indian issues will plainly illustrate the warped historical view most Americans had of Native people in those times. Those warped views continue today in many ways, some subtle and some more obvious (obvious at least to Native people). The problem with these misconceptions is that they cause injury to Native peoples, injury in the form of racism, teenage suicide (3 times the national average), violence against Native people, alcoholism, epidemic poverty and many other socio-economic issues. This is why it is very necessary to understand and exercise etiquette with Native people.
So, to keep things light and positive, I will focus more on the ‘dos’ than the ‘don’ts’! Here are a few for you:
There are, of course, a lot more ‘dos’ and many ‘don’ts’, but the basic message here boils down to respect. To give someone, anyone, respect, you must see them as an equal. You must see them as human, and not a caricature, a villain, a hero, a mascot or a romanticized fantasy character. To respect a Native person, one must treat them as just that – a person - and not anything more or anything less. We are people. We are human beings; human beings with incredibly diverse human traits, complex cultural traditions and ancient complicated histories. We are not the two dimensional buffalo head nickel, Edward Curtis portrait, sports team mascot cartoon characters much of the mainstream western world has painted us to be. It is necessary to discuss etiquette toward Native people, frankly because it is so often not practiced. So, in summation, etiquette just means to be decent, polite, respectful and gracious. Apply those simple graces to your interactions with Native people as you would any other person, and we may just get to know each other for who we really are!
My friends, as I write this the time is 1:00am. I have been outside tonight, looking up at the sky and breathing in the silence of the forest that surrounds my Ozark Mountain home. It is in these quiet moments alone that I have always found my solace. The forest has always been my teacher. Even as a boy, I never did well learning inside of a square box. I still have an elementary school teacher’s report card informing my mother that I did ‘too much daydreaming’ in class. Indeed, it was true. My daydreams were my escape from the coldness of that square box. I did not fit there in that place with the desks all in their neat little rows and life’s questions in tidy numbered lines on paper. No, the lessons that have guided me throughout my life have always come from the wonderfully untidy, vastly complex, nonlinear order of nature.
Tonight’s lesson was in the sky. The air was warm, and the clouds were thick, yet patchy. And they were rolling, moving fast. As I sat with my eyes cast upward, every so often the clouds would part, revealing the starry sky and the moon behind them. Then they would close back up and hide the stars from my sight once again. It was beautiful to watch this atmospheric motion of life. So, what’s the lesson? Allow me…
Sometimes our life can fill up with things that block out the light, things that keep us from seeing clearly. Those things are like clouds, swirling and billowing and impeding our view. In cloudy times, we can get confused; we can lose our perspective and even our faith. It is easy to want to look away and not face things. And yet, if we find the courage to fix our eyes on the swirling, billowing things we can’t make sense of, an amazing thing happens; the clouds part and the truth is revealed. The light shines through, even if only for a moment, and wisdom is given to us. Answers are given to us. Direction is given to us. And clarity is given to us. So, no matter how dim your view may be; no matter how hard it may be to see clearly, keep your eyes fixed on those cloudy things, because they will open up when the moment is right and show you the way to the stars…
A Tribute to Grandpa Bob
I am very sad right now. My hunka Grandpa Bob passed away today at 1pm CST. Hunka, meaning he is a relative by way of a making of relatives ceremony. I am so glad we got to spend this last day with him. He was a man with an amazing life story. Born to a Yankton Sioux father and an Irish immigrant mother in Chicago in 1933, he was abandoned the first year of his life. His mother left the hospital after the birth and never returned. His father came to get him after he had been there a year and took him to the Yankton rez in Wagner, SD, where he lived for the next 5 years with his Yankton Sioux family. Then, one day in 1937 or 38 his dad put him in the car and drove him to St. Joseph's Indian School and gave him up. Grandpa Bob can remember when there were only 2 wooden buildings at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Adopted by a white couple (the Austins) from Chicago a year later, Grandpa Bob never saw his biological father again. And yet he never lost his sense of Sioux Indian identity, and thankfully, his adoptive parents fully supported it. Bob kept busy throughout his youth and into adulthood crafting everything from traditional regalia to birch bark canoes to tipis. He danced at powwows and kept active in all things American Indian.
Bob was taken by his parents to visit reservations in South Dakota on several occasions throughout his childhood. He recounted to me many of his memories of those times. On one trip, he was taken to a wacipi (dance) on Pine Ridge Reservation, and he remembered seeing the grass dancers wearing the actual grass on their regalia. He also remembered vividly the uncomfortable stares he got, presumably because of his lighter skin. Bob was Indian through and through, and yet the disconnect was painfully apparent, and I think it bothered him greatly, though he never spoke of it. Being a Native person with mixed ancestry is no easy road, as I can attest, and Bob’s road was incredibly difficult.
Bob served in the Army, survived the Korean War, and worked many different kinds of jobs over the years. He was married once, and his wife died quite young. He never married again. Through it all, Bob maintained his cultural connection by continuing to create traditional regalia, and dancing at powwows, as well as making countless trips to reservations in South Dakota. It was in early adulthood that he learned the ancient art of American Indian finger-weaving, and discovered that he had a real knack for the craft. Bob went on to become arguably the most prolific American Indian finger-weaver in Indian country, achieving true Master status (Grandpa Bob would laugh and downplay that statement for sure!). 50 years of weaving produced countless hundreds of pieces that simply cannot be rivaled by any other finger-weavings you will see anywhere. And now that he is gone, some of his secrets have gone with him.
Grandpa Bob blessed me in more ways than I can express. He was a teacher, a historian, a philosopher, a spiritual man, and a traditionalist. He was so deeply Indian that even total separation from his Sioux family could not suppress his natural identity, nor could it keep him away from being totally immersed in his culture. It was an honor of great measure to sit beside him all these years and learn from him. He knew so many of the subtle details of our old culture. He was full with wisdom, and with a wry sense of humor, always poking at himself for my amusement. I can’t tell you the endless hours I sat quietly listening to his stories and his thoughts, to have him stop now and then to say, “Now there I go blabbering again! Tell me about what you have been doing!” In no time he’d be headlong into another story and I’d be happy to be listening again.
I am going to miss those stories. I am going to miss looking into those old Sioux eyes and seeing that twinkle of mischief. And I am going to miss those awkward hugs he would give Peggy and I when it was clear he never wanted us to leave. I love you Grandpa Bob. I always have. I always will. You taught me so much about what it takes to be true to yourself, even when it seems impossible. You are my hero. May you find your ancestors waiting at the fires on the other side. Until then…. Toksa ake!