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The Spirit Lake

The Plains Indian tribes did not have a written language and their stories were passed down orally from one generation to the next. Native legends and stories have always fascinated me. I would sit and listen for hours as the native elders told me historical accounts and legends that had been passed down over the centuries. Some of these stories have had a profound impact upon me and have even helped to direct the course of my life.

One of the stories that had the greatest influence upon me was told to me by an elder that I spent a great deal of time with. Different variations of this story have been told over the years. I'll retell the story as best as I can remember it.

The Kiowa and Kiowa-Apache tribes migrated eastward through Montana into the Dakotas and from there they made their way south to Oklahoma. Both tribes were camping within a short distance of Spirit Lake which is located in present day North Dakota. Christian missionaries later named this sacred place Devil's Lake. Underwater gods that possess all kinds of mysterious powers are said to reside in the bottom of Spirit Lake.

People who wanted to attain these powers have gone to Spirit Lake to pray and fast without food or water. These individuals would cry out to the water gods asking that they show mercy and bestow their special gifts and healing powers upon them. Many had tried before to receive these powers, but they would encounter all kinds of adversity or envision horrible scenes that would scare them away.

A young man from the village felt very strongly that he wanted to attain these powers. Not knowing if he would come out alive or be devoured by some water reptile or wild animal, he decided to go to Spirit Lake and place himself at the mercy of the forces and seek their blessing.

This young man asked some of his friends to go with him. He then asked them to tie him up with rawhide and stake him to the ground close to the shore of the sacred lake so he could not leave. He then told them to come back for him after four days to see if he was still alive.

The young man spent much of the first night singing and praying. An underwater creature from the depth of the lake surfaced after some time and told him, "We have no gifts or powers to offer you. There's nothing we can do to help you, so you better go home." But the young man was staked to the ground so he couldn't leave.

A huge storm came up over the horizon during the second night and the waters of the lake began to rise as the rain began to pour. Again the young man was told, "We cannot help you and have no medicine power to offer you. You will surely drown if you stay here, so you better go back to your own people if you want to live."

The waters continued to rise until they came up to the young man's body and he became fearful thinking he would drown. But the storm began to break around sunrise and then the waters began to recede.

The underwater creature surfaced again during the third night. This time he told the young man "We know what you came here for and there are no powers or gifts here for you. Wild animals and creatures from the depths of the lake will tear you to pieces and devour you if you stay. Get up and leave if you want to live."

The young man replied by saying, "You can take my life if you want to, but I'm not leaving. I came here to receive the medicine power from the underwater gods. I want to receive their gifts and powers and I'm not going anywhere until I do."

Daylight came early on the fourth day. The young man had endured so much and he continued to lay helpless beside the shore of the Spirit Lake. The underwater creature then said to the young man, "Some warriors from another tribe are coming and they will surely kill you. Therefore you better be gone by the time I return."

After some time the young man noticed a war party approaching from off in the distance. He could hear the warriors singing their war songs and saw that they were painting their faces. The warriors then charged on horseback with their lances drawn. The young man was sure that he would be killed. He closed his eyes just as the warriors were about to reach him. The next thing he knew, the warriors had transformed into geese and flew over the top of him and then landed on the lake.

Another water creature surfaced after some time and told the young man. Your father is down at the bottom of the lake waiting for you in the medicine tipi. He asked me to bring you to meet him.

The young man was cut loose and brought to the medicine tipi at the bottom of the lake. By that time the spirits were telling him not to be afraid. He sat down among all the water creatures and they began to talk with him. The water creatures all wanted to know why he didn't run away. The young man told them that he wanted to possess their powers and gifts of healing.

The water creatures agreed and one by one they transmitted a portion of their power to the young man. They kept him in the medicine lodge for quite some time teaching him how to use the medicine powers. When they finished they sent the young man back to his own people.

The young man's friends had come back to where they had staked him down after four days had passed. They didn't see him anywhere and assumed he drowned or had been eaten by the water creatures.

Months had gone by and the people living in the village had forgotten about the young man. But one day when everyone was outside they heard the whooping sound of cranes off in the distance. They watched as the cranes flew toward them and noticed that one of them was carrying something on it's back that resembled a person. As the cranes flew closer they could see that the young man who had gone to fast at the Spirit Lake was riding on the back of a crane. The cranes landed off in the distance and left the young man in a field of tall grass. As the cranes were leaving they told the young man that he could always come back to visit his father in the sacred lake whenever he needed their help.

People from the village were happy to see the young man had returned and they rushed to his side. He told his people he was happy to see them, but he needed to go into the medicine lodge and seek the blessing of the keeper of the sacred medicine bundles before he was free to interact with them.

Within the medicine lodge, the young man began to share his experiences from the bottom of the sacred lake. He revealed that he had received all kinds of medicine powers from the turtles, salamanders and every other water creature of the lake. People from the tribe began to seek his assistance from then on for all kinds of health concerns whenever they were in need.

The young man lived among his own people for quite some time. But one day the people looked up and noticed that the cranes were circling overhead again. The young man looked up and realized the cranes were talking to him. They were telling him that his father had sent for him and it was time to come back to the spirit lake.

The Kiowa and Kiowa-Apache people didnít want to see the young man go and did everything they could to persuade him to stay. The young man told his people that he would stay as long as they kept their eyes upon him, but they would lose him if they ever failed to do so. People within the village began to set up a watch around the young man's tipi. After some time they became careless and began to assume that he wouldn't leave.

The people of the village awoke one morning to discover that their young doctor had disappeared. The men from the village decided to follow his tracks in hopes of over taking him. They followed his tracks all the way up to the edge of the Spirit Lake where they could see the marks of the tipi poles as they went down into the depths of the water. They stood around the edge of the lake listening to the young man's singing and the beat of his drum. It was then that they heard a voice saying "Come back to the lake whenever you want to visit me and I will talk to you."

Many of the native legends have been passed down for centuries. There are also lots of stories that are based upon historical events that have taken place. Some stories blur the line between fact and fiction and are often meant to serve as teaching metaphors. Native people were much more connected to the forces of nature and many of them possessed gifts and powers that people in our modern western culture could not even fathom. I feel very fortunate to have lived among the native people, because it has opened me up to whole realms of experience that I would have never known otherwise.

The story of Spirit Lake has played out in my mind during the vision quests. I'm so impressed by the determination of the young man to stay present no matter what adversity he encountered. It's this level of commitment, determination and sincerity that has allowed many individuals among the native tribes to attain the special powers and gifts of healing.

Spending four days and nights on top of the mountain without food or water can be very difficult. I'm hungry, thirsty and my entire body aches at times. There are times when the discomfort is nearly unbearable. Reflecting upon the story of the Spirit Lake reminds me to open to my experience moment by moment. Breathing into the feelings and sensations helps me to stay present in the midst of whatever is taking place.

Native elders have often talked about how the spirits test us to see if we are truly worthy of the gifts of healing. The spirits place challenges and obstructions in the way and itís important for us to face whatever comes up. The elders also say that we have to really suffer if we want something good.

The young man who went to fast at the Spirit Lake placed his life on the line because he was so determined to receive the healing gifts and powers of the gods that reside within the lake. I've been on the mountain in the midst of a snow storm and when temperature has dropped down to sixteen degrees. There have been times when lightening was striking the ground all around me. I just stayed as close to the ground as possible because I felt it was the safest thing to do. At times I didn't know if I would survive and became afraid, but felt so strongly that I just needed to go through the process.

I can feel the presence of other forces working with me throughout the vision quest. This presence always becomes much stronger during the fourth night. I began to feel an intense heat on the top of my head at some point the evening during a recent vision quest. This presence began to flow all through my body and continued for about an hour before it stopped. I initially felt disappointed and thought "I came up here, spent four days and nights going through this ordeal and this is all I get!? I kept asking for more and then I could feel this presence beginning to work within me again after fifteen minutes. I continued to say to the spirits, "Please fill me with you presence. Give me all that I can receive. I'm asking for something very special."

All of us deal with stressful issues, people and situations. We're faced with so many pressures, demands and challenges that evoke all kinds of unpleasant emotional responses. What often happens is that we become so caught up in our reaction to what's happening that we never really gain access to or process the underlying emotions and issues. Much of the fear, pain and other stressful feelings and impressions stay trapped within our bodies. Parts of our consciousness freeze up and that causes us to become very armored. We may then find ourselves getting trapped in a holding pattern as our consciousness begins to contract.

Most of us have been taught to suppress our feelings and avoid difficult issues. Feelings that we fail to digest accumulate within the body and that only compounds the issues.

The kind of forces and beings that work through me during the healing process take people to the underlying source of their issues. People who have never dealt with emotions are more likely to run as soon as their real feelings and issues make their way to the surface. Having to contend with peopleís unwillingness to face their issues and experience their true feelings can be extremely stressful, but it's something I'm forced to contend with on a daily basis. For this reason I often feel like I'm in survival mode.

Most of us know people who have serious alcohol and other substance abuse issues. We can easily see the problem, but there's very little we can say or do to get them to stop. They will only change when or if they recognize the severity of their problem and make the decision to do something about it.

People who refuse to experience their true feelings and run from their issues will undoubtedly remain at the same or sink to a deeper level of dysfunction. They end up carrying all the pain, dysfunction and other baggage within and that causes them to disconnect from the higher power, deaden their body mind consciousness, destroy their primary relationships and screw up their kids. Only those who are truly willing to face themselves will heal and receive the gifts that life has to offer. I can only be of assistance to those who have the courage to become truly present with themselves.

Layers of defensive armor dissolve while I'm on the mountain. All kinds of raw emotions begin to surface that I could not access before. I could feel a huge murky convoluted mass of confusion, pain, anger and frustration of having to deal with so many people who are unwilling to face their issues and experience their true feelings which are the underlying source of their problems. I could feel that this force was helping me to digest and then purge this negativity from my body.

Our bodies store all kinds of sensory inputs pertaining to the television shows, movies and commercials we watch, the music we listen to, the news we read, the people we interact with and everything else that we experience in our lives. This sensory clutter turns into a heavy residue that dulls our senses and deadens our consciousness.

I can feel my body discharging during and after the vision quest. It often feels like static coming out of my system. I experience a greater sense of aliveness, freedom and lucidity afterwards.

Going through the vision quest helps me to grow stronger and become more resourceful in the way I respond to the various challenges or situations that I'm facing. I can feel that I've cleared out another load of heavy baggage that I have been carrying every time I go to the mountain. I feel lighter and stronger because of it. I develop more of the power and resource that enable me to do what needs to be done. It's always nice to know that I've come another big step further along the road in my journey.


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