red-feather-wideIgnorance is most certainly not bliss. As a thirtysomething living in California, my spirituality was just opening. Without benefit of hothouse protection, I bloomed among gypsies, tramps and thieves. Drawn into Native spirituality like a dragonfly to a shimmering algae-encrusted pond, I often made poor and hasty choices. My quest for wisdom and knowledge led me through a succession of false teachers.

Ultimately, through a chain of unsavory people, I was led to a true Traditional Person. My trip to North Dakota in 1993 led to a defining U-turn in my life’s nimble path.

Fasting is a great equalizer. With the help of a Mandan Medicine Man, Eagle Turning Back, I found myself atop a butte overlooking Lake Sakakawea. I was not instantly graced by dreams and visions. First, mosquitos came. They bit my feet, ankles and legs. I wrapped my blanket tighter and prayed. Flyers found my arms and neck. I brushed them off with my blanket and rewrapped, this time lifting the blanket higher before encircling my shoulders with the edges.

There was yet no saving breeze. The insects were content to feast upon my cheeks, ears and scalp. Ultimately, I was covered from head to toe with bites, only my swollen eyes peeking out at the view from this isolated precipice.

Later I learned I could have lit the sage I had with me; its smoke acts as a natural deterrent. Yellow jackets buzzed around me. Fortunately, they circled briefly, became disenchanted, and left. At my feet, tiny spiders scurried past. I’m fearful of spiders, but by contrast, they seemed innocuous.

Ultimately, a gentle rain descended like manna. I prayed and cried to the Spirits: “I am praying for a way of life,” I pleaded. “Please come closer to me and guide me.” A few cows bellowed from distant farms — but no supernal reply.

Itchy, tired and disillusioned, I cried softly, like a small child alone in a room. I shivered as the blazing sun ducked behind the clouds. I found comfort, strangely, in a large, craggy stone three or four feet from my altar. It had a unique appearance, and its markings began to seem both comforting and familiar. I felt a sense of peace whenever I turned my gaze there. As I prayed and connected with the stone, a dewy, light rain descended once again.

Later, I had the good fortune to meet The Red Feather Man. He saged an eagle feather and handed it to me across his kitchen table in Minot. “This is for you; for you have stood upon the hill, suffered and prayed for the People.” He shared with me the important realization that the supposed craggy rock was actually a Holy Being who sometimes appears as a stone.

He helped me toward a different understanding of fasting. Upon reflection, I saw that, alone on the hill with only myself and the Spirits, I became a real human being. My arrogance was shorn from me by a nation of biting insects. I traveled up North decades ago with a sincere purpose in my heart: I wanted to fast and pray for a way of life. Even so, the ego part of me expected great visions and special effects. In fact, something more spectacular had taken place. I had fully surrendered any notion of control, admitting, at last, my utter inability to live without the guidance, help and compassion of the Spirits. That was the true beginning of my journey, the moment my greatest and dearest Spirit Guide appeared.

I would fast more times after that; numbers do not matter. What matters is that I set aside time to devote exclusively to connecting with the Guides. I learned there are beautiful Spirits who proffer help and guidance through this treacherous and brilliant human journey back toward Oneness. The conscious mind and false personality are not the parts of us that perceive the true essence of experience. Rather, it is our human heart. Once we reside there, the flowering of our soul accelerates, and we grow into the positive Beings of Light that, in essence, we are.

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Janet Michele Red Feather
Janet Michele Red Feather, J.D., M.A., is a ceremonial singer who has learned over 60 traditional songs in Mandan and Lakota and sings in nine different languages. Janet was a full-time defense litigator in California for nearly eight years. Her life changed significantly after she traveled to North Dakota in 1993 to fast and pray for a way of life. A regular columnist for The Edge, she has also appeared in Psychic Guidepost, FATE Magazine and Species Link. Her book, Song of the Wind (2014, Galde Press), dealt with her experiences as an empath, and her journey through Mandan spiritual culture. She is currently a full-time, tenured English faculty member at Normandale Community College, having taught Composition and Literature for a span of 20 years.

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