Everybody wants to be somebody. Name recognition has its value; we are drawn to folks with a “rep.” Some radiate stardust; some are charismatic; others are legends in their own minds. Interestingly, in the spiritual, the opposite is true. The goal is not fame or notoriety. As Cedric Red Feather taught me, “In order to grow spiritually, you must be willing to be nobody.”

The statement has substance because it comes from Cedric’s own experience. Young on the path, he traveled to a sweatlodge at Green Grass. He wasn’t invited inside the lodge; instead, Cedric brought in the rocks. Never full of himself, for him, this was an honor. He carried molten stone after molten stone on a pitchfork, gently placing them in the doorway of the lodge and nudging them into the pit inside. The lodge was then sealed up, and Cedric parked the pitchfork and sat on a folding chair beside an older man.

Evening darkened and settled as brilliant stars twinkled in an inky sky. They heard praying and singing from inside the lodge. The two men talked quietly by the fire, a distance from the door.

The older man told stories. From the conclusion of each tale, wisdom would float and descend like a parachute. Cedric glanced at the old man and noticed his rumpled, nondescript clothing. His shoes lacked color and showed wear. Just before the participants emerged from the lodge, the old man turned to Cedric and said, “You know, I’ve been out here to this sweat many times. I have never been inside, yet I have seen many things.” Then he left.

Cedric sat there, mouth slightly agape. He realized that the old man had spiritual experiences there but never told of them. He realized, too, that the man never introduced himself. Here was this wise man of precious few words, plain clothes, and with no name. It struck Cedric that this man was very humble. He knew things, yet he was willing to be nobody.

Hearing Cedric tell this story has saved me a lot of harsh lessons.

It is easy to become inflated — to feel a sense of elevated status. Dreams, visions, channelings — all these raise our vibration and lift us into a higher dimension. It can get very heady, unless we remember our true purpose. I do not judge those who boast about sparkly lights in the sweatlodge, sundance scars on their chests, people they’ve doctored “in a good way,” or numerous animal totems in their retinue. It’s okay: we all love enthusiasm. The difficulty is that where there is self-importance, the qualities of empathy, understanding and true insight fall away.

There are other spiritual paths and religious ways that offer similar stories. People are advised to be kind to the raggedy stranger — he might be a prophet. The Dalai Lama reveres animals, birds, fish — even insects — all could have been our mothers in previous incarnations. Many traditions hold that Divine Beings can take many forms. Remember the droning ’90s anthem: “What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home?”

Cedric teaches that, as people get older, they’re in peril of succumbing to two forces: jealousy and recognition. It’s fine to excel at one’s work, to sustain a visible presence on the web. We just don’t want to become too attached to that image — or encourage others to form an attachment to some lofty image of us — to the point where that becomes the goal rather than making available a loving, energetic, healing presence.

Credentials ultimately will not matter. Illness levels us. Misfortune levels us. The dust levels us. Instead of outdoing, out-excelling or out-impressing one another, we could benefit from becoming a bit more like the Native Elder at Green Grass. There’s such a quiet, lovely humility about him. He’s like a sacred Wilfred Brimley: you just want to snuggle up to him in his cozy flannel shirt and rumbled trousers and ask for a bedtime story. With any luck, that story would begin, “Once upon a time, there was a very kind little girl who was nobody special.”

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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