A Shadow Facedown?

Is it okay that I experienced what I experienced during our time at Pine Ridge?

I feel both uneasy and grateful for the intense spiritual moments I underwent during ceremony. Uneasy, because I was undeniably an outsider in my participation. I was only there for five days. My understanding of their culture is meek, surely only scratching the surface. Like Courtney, I fear of the possiblity that “as more people identify with the Lakota way the actual Lakota people lose their identity.” I agree with this, but still, regardless, I experienced what I experienced. Despite being an outsider, something happened… But is it OK that I was so impacted? Was my experience authentic? Am I subconsciously attempting to steal an aspect of the Lakota culture?

We all have own paths to spirituality. I wrote something similar to this claim before leaving for Pine Ridge, and I stand by it all the more firmly now. So, perhaps, even if my involvement in the Lakota traditions wasn’t “authentic” (but what is authentic?)  because of my outsider identity, because I lack the context of true understanding of the Lakota culture, they are nonetheless true and valuable experiences: moments I consider to have been a spiritually crucial part of my journey… life… whatever we want to call my existence. Experiences that I refuse to let anyone discredit because I was an outsider where they took place.

I am human. And so, like every other human, I’ve experienced pain. Family. Loss of my raised religion (once my center and the backbone of everything I thought to be true). Abuse. Health stuff. All aspects have been tested, splintered, spiraled off in some form during my years. The usual human stuff.  But considering my life now, I recognize how–despite being in therapy on and off since the ripe age of seven and all the endless talking, my mindless ramble chatter to anyone willing to listen, my claim that “I have no shame” in sharing my stories–I’ve still done my damnest to smother everything. Too often, rather than facing and understanding and eventually letting the pain go, my reaction is to bury the emotion and run like hell’s wind into the next day.

Even in speaking about my suffering, I manage to talk my way around it to avoid true acknowledgment  I share my memories as if they were fiction. I’m a master of this,  am doing it to some degree now even. I talk. I explain. I offer some degree as to what I’m feeling: but it still doesn’t impact me. It’s just a story. I’m simply talking. It’s just my life. So? Yeah? What? I’ve been a story teller since I could talk, and so easily I am able to detach myself from the very stories that have defined who I am today, detach myself from memories of pain. I share, frequently, but don’t feel. There is no reason to feel, I thought, I’ve moved on. It’s in the past. It’s now just a story. I always told myself I’d “moved on” but, really I think that, in some form, I clung/(cling) to my suffering, hiding it in the shadows, allowing memories to fester and not allowing myself acknowledgment of my emotions, my pain, thus not giving myself the opportunity to eventually heal.

My personal ramble connects to my time at Pine Ridge, I swear, for several times my physical body was lost by a (literally) all consuming swell of emotion. When my post-climb dizziness subsided at the top of Bear Butte, when the numb spinning paused, I was left open and raw and filled with more emotion I’ve ever experienced before–an unexplainable flooding sorrow seemly risen from nothing. All I could do was cry and try to stand straight. After the pipe ceremony, as I declined, every step down offered calm. I was struck by how new the trail looked. Had I been asleep for the entire climb?

But then later that same night, during the sweat, following a manically elated first door, a similar thing occurred. In the shadow of the lodge, sitting crossed-legged in the center point, something inside me opened once more. The sadness flashed in quickly. I was freezing, shivering. I needed to cry, couldn’t cry, was trying to cry, but couldn’t breathe to make the actions, couldn’t sing, couldn’t weep, could only sit sweating through my shivers as the second round ended and the door was opened and Mike Littleboy Senior began to speak. I remember thinking I’d never before felt such pain, thinking I’d forgotten how to breathe, curious if I was the only one experiencing the spinning, realizing I should ask for help. I last remember trying to ask for help, and then I woke in limbo: my legs still in the lodge and my back and head in the dirt. Two men were trying to lift me. I wanted to tell them to stop, let me stay, let me sleep, I’m too heavy. The pain ricocheted and I was finally crying. My body was lifted fully out of the lodge and over to the bench where I continued to cry until I was lying in mud, draped over my friends’. The stars spun. The spins and tears continued off and on for the rest of the night. I woke scared and numb and have been attempting to make sense of what happened since.

I could easily contribute these experiences to my health issues, the possibility of currently being anemic, my body’s general sensitivity to acclimating too fast and excess heat, but I can’t deny the emotional side of the events. I can’t ignore how, now, though I also feel raw and rather horrified, an odd calm streams through me. Hope, maybe? I spoke of my experience to Mike Littleboy Senior in between the first and third doors of the final sweat on Thursday night. His eyes flickered between mine and the fire, and he nodded and said, in many words, that it seemed all of the pain and evil I’d repressed through my life had been released, that the “shadow” aspects of myself that I’ve refused to admit exist were forced into light via the sacredness of Bear Butte and the sweat.

Individuation as explained by psychologist Carl Jung, is the process of a person becoming herself. Literary critic Shirley F. Stanton once wrote, “To be an independent, whole person, [to individuate], one must recognize the negative ([their] shadow) as well as the positive parts of oneself.” I’m not claiming I individuated, but I do think some clarity may be found when I connect my experiences–the all consuming uprising of my  “shadows”–to the process of individuation. Perhaps it was the beginning. The start. The opening. I don’t know much of anything, but I do recognize that something shifted within me, and since Wednesday, memories previously forgotten, memories I’d have rather stayed forgotten, have surfaced. Maybe it’s time I face them. Maybe it’s time I really let go.

I don’t believe that my participation in the Lakota traditions healed me, that my past repressions have been set free and I’ll never repress again. It’s clear I have a long road ahead. But I do think its clear that the ceremonies opened me, led me to the first step: acknowledging the need to let go, as well as brought me closer to a sensation of spirituality that, for so long, I’ve been cut off from. And so, while perhaps my involvement in the Lakota traditions wasn’t authentic in the native sense, it nonetheless offered deeply impacting spiritual moment–a fact that no one but myself can discredit, for we all have our ways to spirituality. So, yes, not only do I think it’s OK I experienced what I did where I did, I’m grateful for all that I was forced to feel. Maybe I can finally stop running.

So much gratitude for Pine Ridge and everyone who offered support and love during my odd dizzy moments.

About Heather Ezell

I’m Heather. I claim both northern and southern California as home, though I’m happiest when surrounded by sequoias and a foggy beach. After jumping around several different community colleges in CA and CO, I transferred to CC in Winter 2012 and majoring in English on the Creative Writing Fiction Track with plans to graduate with the class of 2014. During my time at CC, I've acted as the student curator, the copy editor of The Leviathan, a peer tutor in the Writing Center, and an Admission Fellow. However, I most adore to pretend I'm a ballerina in the afternoons.
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