There are some experiences words cannot adequately capture.
As a creative writing major, avid journaler, book addict, and general word-devotee, I write the following with great lament: words too often fail me.
Take this afternoon for instance. Under the guidance of Lakota Mother Celinda Kaelin, our class observed and participated in our first Pipe Ceremony in Shove’s nook. Gathered within the stone walls–our bare feet on the cool floor, sage smoke cleansing the circle, listening to the wrenching yet inspiring story of Celinda’s journey to the Red Road–there was so much to take in, so much to feel, how can one ever begin to explain? Time’s passing was only evident by the movement of rosy setting sunlight on the chapel floor and, later, by the numbness of my feet and legs as they fell asleep.
We shared our truths. We listened. We acknowledged. We completed the ceremony, sweet smoke swirling–purifying, healing? And then we hugged. Hands grasped in thanks, we each had the opportunity to embrace one another individually in gratitude and, for me at least, a degree of love. And there is so much I’m feeling, so much I’m thinking, I wish I had the gift to properly share–to give justice to what I observed through the construction of simple language. So overwhelmed by the experience, by its complexity, I’m at a loss for words.
But such loss is not new to me. This past summer in London, overwhelmed by the seemingly endless incredible sights and pulsing urban culture, I expressed a similar frustration:
“In a city, in London, the brain clicks clicks clicks, twitching like a manic to get every new sight in the head. Imprinted. You don’t want to lose it. Those sights, those words—the gaze is as precious as a mother’s hand. You long to stick every face onto the walls of your head so that you never forget. This is not Colorado Springs. That is not Pikes Peak. This is London and the Eye and Big Ben and a fresh new corner to take in with every bend.
But I’m only human. Yesterday is hours away and I’ve let too many images and words slip from my brain. Those words. I need my words. If I could find the words to create the scene I’d be able to recreate the memory—this is true, right?”
I feel silly quoting myself–not to mention quoting a blog not even five months old–but the connection is worth making, as I now so desperately long to cling to every emotion and thought, ever sight witnessed, I experienced in today’s ceremony. Sitting in our cleansed circle, the unity and compassion I felt for my new classmates–my new friends–was so strong, so absurd, it felt as though the smoke was a thread weaving us together, bounding us as family in an indescribable, near incomprehensible way. And I have so many words, so many details I want to save–treasure–for another day, memories I would loathe to see fade, and yet, I’m not sure if words–language–in this situation can paint the day in the color and detail it deserves.
I think the complexity of what I’m feeling is evident in the nature of my rocky, rambling sentences. Apologies if my thought stream is difficult to follow. I suppose, we can make sense of this together.
Religion (or whatever label you choose for it) is tricky. Personal. Complex. Often controversial. To add to such difficulty, I’m in a 100-level course focusing on a group of indigenous people whose beliefs I can’t even begin to claim to understand, while attempting to balance the role of academic observation with my own personal experiences. It should go without saying that is a rather difficult topic to be musing about on my college’s very public website. So let me preface my “conclusion” with the insentience that I’m not claiming any right or wrong or whatever way. I’m purely sharing my experience and thoughts as an active observer of the indigenous ritual.
So again, as I wrote in Tuesday’s entry, I don’t know the hows or the whys, don’t understand the full nature of the Lakota Pipe Ceremony, but I do know that there was great spirit, great love, and great community in that room today. I’m confident that I was not the only one of the group who felt great warmth and connection as we broke the circle with our hugs: that a number of us felt an overwhelming sense of calm and trust. I guess I don’t need expressive words right now, for maybe the details aren’t essential, for what I gained from today is actually rather simple.
I believe spirituality (another tricky word) can be manifested in an innumerable amount ways, but perhaps what matters most (especially in the context of an academic course) is that I listen and devote myself into the role of an active observer. We all have our own beliefs, our own religions and rituals, but nonetheless, there is still so much that can be gained, so much that can be learned, if we (ie. my class and myself) open ourselves and allow our hearts to experience the stories of other traditions. And so, as I journey north with Bruce and the rest of the group to Pine Ridge and participate in even deeper ceremonies and rituals of the Lakota people, I hope to continue my intention of listening: being aware not only of what I’m feeling (for I have no doubts my heavy emotions will only progress), but also of what I’m witnessing and how it connects with the overwhelming picture of religious studies, how it tells the story of the Lakota.
And hey, what do you know. I found some words to explain my day. Somehow I always do.