Lakota Spirituality and Undoing the Self Concept

I am a great believer in living in the world but being not of the world.  My path in the past has been detachment toward all things of the world to allow my authentic Self shine through.  Therefore, I was somewhat nervous about the possibility of not finding anything worthwhile personally in Lakota spirituality during my trip to Pine Ridge.  I thought that because Lakota spirituality was grounded in the world, I would not be able to use their understanding of spirit to help me understand who I am and give me purpose.  My understanding of who I am has nothing to do with this world.

Of course, the trip offers other opportunities to grow even if Lakota spirituality is not congruent with what I believe the world to be.  Some in the class may have become more educated about the Lakota culture and look at the culture at CC in a new way as a result of the trip.  There may be opportunities to make friends of diverse backgrounds both between classmates and with the Lakota people.  Lakota spirituality may be interesting to learn about conceptually even if practicing the spirituality does not offer a useful experience to some.  However, the lived experience is the most important part of existence for me, because the experience of my true Self is all I really want, and I want that experience to be as consistent as possible.  Concepts such as Lakota culture or the intellectual understanding of Lakota spirituality may be useful in relating to others who are not as single-minded in purpose as myself, but these concepts cannot act as a substitute for my purpose.  I believe at this point, my only function is to be aware of my true self by letting go of all false self-concepts.  In this way, I become consistently happy, joyful, and loving, which is all I really want from life and existence.  My true self is already everything I could want.  I share this because it may help explain why I could regard understanding Lakota culture or understanding spirituality without living it as secondary to living an experience that gives true happiness and joy.  It also explains why I was anxious about the possibility that the practice of Lakota spirituality would be incongruent with the experience of this true Self not of the world.  I was only looking for tools to help me experience my Self more consistently, or tools to relate to other people.  Happily, even though Lakota spirituality is grounded in the world, there are tools that allow me to experience a self not of the world.  This is a big stepping stone for me, because I had previously regarded thought systems grounded in the world as useful for relating to others, but valueless in themselves.


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For a more complete discussion of Self vs. self concept and what I aspire to, this video represents what I believe.  He uses Christian language but the content of the discussion should be relateable whatever your chosen path!

I think what struck me most about my trip to Pine Ridge was the way in which a cultural and spirituality so grounded in the earth and nature could have threads of detachment and flow as part of the experience.  Serves me right for thinking that there was a binary split between the two ways of being!  These two ideas, detachment from the world and living in the world were irreconcilable to me on the surface.  However, there were several instances in each of the ceremonies we did (pipe ceremony, sweat, and Yuwipi) that could in my mind be used to point to the true Self, increase trust that this Self is desirable, or otherwise foster consistency in experiencing this Self.

The first consistent feature throughout all of these ceremonies is that there is a shift away from thinking about solely personal needs.  In each of these ceremonies, it was emphasized that what we ask for, we ask for everyone’s benefit.  This is not to say that we cannot pray about personal issues, but that ultimately, the prayer must benefit everyone.  This emphasis on a bigger Self separate from the small self with body needs and wants in form, helps move the mind from a state where it identifies with the small self and believes it needs certain outcomes in form to be happy to a state where it is at least aware that it should ask for things that would make all of the seeming separate selves happy.  This awareness of relationships between separate objects was useful to remind myself that all separate selves are worthy of love and gratitude because they are also part of my same authentic self.  The awareness of relationships between objects also fosters the awareness that it is impossible to know what will benefit everyone in truth because of the complexity of the web of relations between separate selves.  When embraced fully, this not knowing fosters a kind of detachment because the state of mind forces one to stop trying to “figure out” the world and accept it for what it is.  Therefore, awareness of true Self will return once the conscious mind that created the small self concept gives up.


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Secondly, the physical discomfort experienced in sweat is useful in decreasing investment in the small self concept and increasing the desirability of being aware of Self beyond all concepts.   Who would choose a self that can get hot or hungry or sick when he knew that there was another Self that is perfect and whole constantly?  So often, the experience of authentic Self is masked by believing our created self concept is more desirable.  This self concept can play beautiful music, it can help people in Bali improve their water quality.  I have a generous self concept.  All of these seem like good things, but all of it is conditional joy.  If we identify with body, the sickness and preferences must surface because sickness is part of being a body.  The sweat was a way to remind me that sickness and bodies are inseparable.  The only way to be truly happy is to identify with the authentic Self.  Practicing sweat helped me keep the association between sickness and bodies in my awareness, because so often, the self concepts that I think are “good self concepts” interfere with my desire for authentic Self.


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Lastly, the experiences I had during Yuwipi were useful in increasing trust that authentic Self exists for me.  While I want to respect Mike Littleboy Jr.’s request that the Yuwipi should not be “show and tell” it is not the particulars that increased that trust.  The manifestation of spirits or really any out of pattern experience is useful in increasing trust in an authentic self that is not of this world.  The out of pattern experience shows us that the world is not what we thought it was.  In some cases, these experiences can contradict physical laws that we hold near and dear to our heart.  We loosen our hold on concepts such as gravity.  We thought it was a law, but now we see it was merely a belief.  And each concept about the world that we let go increases our trust that there is something outside this world.  Here I might add that I understand that there are many different ways to interpret what happened during Yuwipi, but that I am simply sharing what I believe to be true based on my experience of authentic Self.  Yuwipi is a testament to the ultimate unreality of the world and by contrast, the reality of authentic Self.  In this way, practicing Yuwipi helped me recognize some concepts about physical laws I still held about the world, and helped me let them go so that I may more consistently experience authentic Self.

I was pleasantly surprised to find all these tools to help me reach a transcendent experience when the framework for the tools is so rooted in reality.  I’m beginning to understand why I’m an Environmental Science major… It’s about time!

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