While participating in ceremony in Pine Ridge I was continually struck by the realization that my personal spiritual journey was dependent upon the people around me, including my classmates, new Lakota friends, and even visiting Utes whose names I can’t remember or never learned. I don’t mean to say that if something did or did not happen in ceremony it was the fault of everyone else, rather one’s ceremonial peers are significant in that they allow you, and every single other person, to impose a part of yourself unto them. That is to say, when you express a burden in ceremony, it becomes everyone else’s burden as well.
The inevitable vulnerability that results from both sharing the weight and carrying it is terrifying for a person like me who tends to keep a vigilant guard on any personal qualities or issues that might suggest weakness. Sharing intimate feelings and problems with another person or a group means opening yourself up to that other party’s judgments. I tend to be wary of opening myself up to people I don’t know very well, especially in large groups where it’s easy to let everyone else do the talking. The risk of embarrassment and ridicule decreases significantly if you never show your material to the judges. I usually opt for the Great Wall defense in life, meaning that I tend to build a wall around myself (that I think is stronger and more effective than it actually is) in order to protect my psyche from possible attack. Guarding my personal feelings, predicaments, and ambitions is a natural defense tactic that I have come to perfect over the years. My experiences in this class, however, have showed me the potential benefits of letting myself be vulnerable.
At the beginning of the class I assumed my usual modus operandi and put an impenetrable shell around my delicate inner thoughts. My go-to defense tactic was working fine for most of the first week, until Thursday when we participated in a pipe ceremony with Celinda. It was during this ceremony when I realized both the mutuality and reciprocity that are necessary between the participants of a ceremony. When passing around the pipe each person is effectively adopting the intentions of every other person, whether that intention is one of love, healing, guidance, or another. I think it all goes back to ubiquitous concept of sacrifice, in that in ceremony you have to sacrifice a bit of your armor by sharing your problems, while simultaneously sacrificing by helping to carry the burdens of other people. The mutuality and reciprocity come in to play in that you are helping the other people by letting them help you. I found during that ceremony that being open is a necessary part of ceremony, and that I was only able to benefit from the experience because I made myself vulnerable to the people and situation. I decided then that I would have to make a conscious effort in Pine Ridge to keep myself in a vulnerable state so that I would be completely open to the experience.
My openness at Pine Ridge would be tested on the first full day that I have already posted about. Being stranded at the motel alone brought up a lot of heavy feelings and even produced a very powerful moment, but for me the true test came when the rest of the class returned that night. How would I be able to communicate this powerful and personal experience to a group of people I barely knew? Sharing my day with most of my friends would have even been uncharted territory for me. Classic Elaine would have journaled about the experience and then kept it private, but I had made a promise to myself to make a change for Pine Ridge. So when I read my thoughts to the rest of the class detailing the day I had it was a very big deal for me. While accounting this part of the week for my roommate she absolutely shocked that I had been able to do it. But for some reason sharing my experience with the class made it all the more real and powerful. You guys could help me process what I had learned about myself, and I could use what happened to me to help other people through their own issues.
I carried that vulnerability with me for the rest of the week and I couldn’t be happier that I did. The communalism, mutuality, and reciprocity necessary for Lakota ceremony help us to be humble and to be able to help each other. Everyone is human and has their own burdens to bear, so it is pointless to pretend otherwise and keep those uncertainties hidden from our peers. Together we can help each other, but only if that wall is taken down.