An interview with Torrey Lystra: On Spirituality


If there is such a thing as a starting place, given that all of life is a circle, Torrey Lystra considers the roots of his journey on the red road (spiritual lifestyle) to have developed in his life as a naturalist. After graduation from college, his career included work as park ranger, wilderness preserve manager, and park manager. In this process he developed over 500 programs in ecology and wilderness appreciation, lectured extensively to school and special interest groups, consulted for Audubon, Sierra Club, and other conservation organizations, and consulted for wildlife and raptor rehabilitation programs. Along the way, he received many awards, including the Sierra Club Environmental Educator Award, San Diego County Parks Environmental Educator of the Year, and San Diego Parks Ranger of the Year.

In addition, he has worked with the Orca project in Puget Sound, and is currently Director of Dolphin International, in Cancun, Mexico. This project, designed to create and support an interface with the dolphins, is for our learning and healing, and to honor the dolphin. Also, some of the work here will be with autistic and handicapped children.

A very private man, Torrey has been deeply steeped in the sacred ways of the Lakota nation, and from this position on the red road, travels the world doing ceremony, including at the Pyramids in Egypt and, most recently, with the Aborigines in Australia. At his home in Washington state, we sat near his sweat lodge and sacred circle, as sunlight filtered through the dense foliage surround, birds chattered and trilled, ravens cruised above the tree line, and curious ants and spiders crawled about our feet and bodies. We talked long about what the red road means for him, and about how this philosophy and teaching is manifest for him on the medicine trail.

Dr. Jan Adams: How has your life as a naturalist moved you in the direction of Lakota spirituality?
Torrey Lystra: I was immersed in, spoken to, and taught by trees, plants, birds, the land 11 that exists. I lived in the woods, and could experience being in the great silence-made many connections in that way. Also, one of the sites I worked at turned out to be an ancient healing ground, where in the old times people came from hundreds of miles around for ceremony and healing. Because of these things, I began to feel the need for a teacher, and, in response, teachers appeared. So, I have been taught many traditions of the Lakota people, by many elders, who have worked with me, taught me, and shared with me their wisdom and traditions.

What sorts of things did you learn from the trees, plants, birds, land?
Lystra: That the tree people, bird people, plant people, and fish people are all here to help the two-leggeds. We used to commune freely with all creation — this is the way it was meant to be. All were represented at the council fires.

It has been said you carry the Sacred Pipe. Can you talk about the meaning and significance of that?
Lystra: The Chanunpa (Sacred Pipe) came to us from the star nations, to help us focus energy. The star people meant for us to have Chanunpa because thoughts are magical, and need to be focused. When the Chanunpa is carried, it represents the very heart of who we are, so we are actually symbols for the Chanunpa. Until we make those connections, it isn’t utilized correctly.

Originally, all nations — the red, black, yellow, and white — carried the Chanunpa. But it is the red people who remembered it, brought it forward, and honored it. The significance of the Chanunpa was made clear for me by Spirit, so now I carry the Chanunpa for all people who walk the planet.

In the old days the Chanunpa was carried from one side of Turtle Island (the western hemisphere) to the other, to focus spiritual energy for all the people. The carrier was honored, and didn’t need other skills in order to feed himself. As he traveled, homes were opened to him because of the spiritual knowledge he brought, and because the people understood he was there to help them.

Now, there are many pitfalls on the red road. The real people (those who carry the Chanunpa, not just have one in their possession) are not provided for, so can easily get caught up in commercial shamanism. They are often forced to walk that way by economic pressures. Poison, or lack of walking in balance, can creep in. If ego gets inflated and out of balance, they can resort to hogie-pogie (the illusionary tricks of magicians). Even those with the strongest true ways can do great harm if they walk out of balance.

In what ways do you transmit your teaching and healing on this planet?
Lystra: Right now I am working in four ways-through providing interface with dolphins, through my art, through teaching, and in one-on-one work. With the dolphins, and with orca, I learned many personal lessons. These fish people have much to teach us, because they are more ancient than humans, and know human existence comes and goes. They possess special knowledge, and underline ocean awareness. For instance, the fish people are getting sick from contamination of the ocean, and that is affecting all of us directly. So, I am interested in making it possible for others to interface with the dolphin, and learn from these incredibly intelligent beings.

In my art, I try to bring back the image and texture and quality of the other worlds I travel to, to enhance others’ understanding and experience of these worlds.

In teaching as a naturalist, I am interested in helping people understand the importance of the circle of life, where every piece of the circle is integral to the welfare of the whole. I contrast that with the Western idea of the chain of life, in which the human is at the top of a chain that exists for the service of the human.

What sorts of problems might bring people to you for one-on-one work?
Lystra: People are looking for something. The church with four walls and rigid ideologies is not working anymore. Love has become disconnected from the earth. People ask for help in their lives and help with health. And so, for example, people come with alcohol problems, difficulties with their home life, or illnesses where their robe (body) has taken on contamination. People don’t take time anymore to listen and purify their essence, so they come to connect and to purify.

This work needs to be private, and to cause no harm. It works through the natural flow of events, and would be an experiential connection, one that would help them see and experience the solution. The earth is the real healer, and the real healing happens within the person.

Is your work done through the Native American Church?
Lystra: Native American spirituality is not a religion and not a church. Those who say it is haven’t made the real connection-the masters who walk the earth are not in any church or religion. All the sacred traditions on this planet are connected. The real church is all the great mountains of the earth. To worship, we need to get up there and out and about.

In what direction do you see Native American spirituality moving?
Lystra: This is a difficult time for the red race, and the inipi (sweat lodge) ceremony would be a purifying help for the plague of alcohol and drug problems. But the human resources are unlimited, so there is every reason to hope. This is the time of the quickening, so we need to continue to work to raise the light level and put the spiral of energy out. It will allow people to grow if they choose to. A lot of positive changes can be made now among all creatures, not just the two-legged.

Do you have any advice for those who wish to embark on their own spiritual path?
Lystra: I would stay away from any one who comes to you and says “I will change your life.” The real is what’s natural. For healing and help, we need to make a deep connection with the natural, with the great silence, within and without.

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