Spirit Leaves: Magnificent Mariners


Recently, in a conversation with Cedric Red Feather, I was reminded of the oceanic wisdom of a departed psychic mentor, David Godwin. Godwin affirms that, when we reach the other side, we will be asked three questions:

  • How well did you love?
  • Were you generous?
  • Were you willing to let go?

The first two questions help redirect our energies outward to embrace others with compassion. In answering the third in the affirmative, sufferers of depression and PTSD would find release.

The third of these questions is particularly instrumental in the spiritual growth of those labeled with depression or PTSD. “It is, in fact, possible to let go of things,” Cedric urges. Red Feather, a Mandan Turtle Priest and Purple Heart veteran, does not say this gratuitously. He suffers from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, after having been blown off the top of tank and thrown several hundred feet through the air during an ambush and resultant firefight in Vietnam.

Sufferers of either syndrome often feel moored to the same painful emotions and memories. At some point, we need to let go. We need to change the story we have about ourselves and our lives. The memories may still carry an emotional sting, but we can change how we interpret the events and the myths we weave around them.

PTSD is a very real, identifiable cluster of symptoms and reactive behaviors. Still, as Cedric has acknowledged very recently, “People who suffer from traumas can get through them. We do not have to remain attached to the negative memories; at some point, we can decide to let them go each time they arise.”

Most of the time, what we experience actually results from reacting to our own thoughts and judgments. While we can’t control our emotions directly, we can control the thoughts we make in response to them. To do so, of course, takes focus. There are things we all can do within our own spiritual cultures to ease our way over choppy seas. Meditation and deep breathing help immensely in the journey to gain control of our minds.

“Look at how traditional people lived hundreds of years ago,” Cedric points out, asserting with a wry smile, “There were no depressed Indians. Everyone had an identity, a role, a purpose in life.”

He’s right. I can’t imagine a painting by Howard Terpning depicting a circle of Indians sharing a Sacred Pipe and looking pouty. It seems our conditions are, in part, the result of a disconnect from all that would nurture and heal us.

Yes, depression is real. Oftentimes, though, we allow a physician’s pronouncement to become a death sentence. I know of a woman who stays in her pajamas until noon and rarely leaves home. She finds it impossible to focus on long-term goals, like completing the book of poems she’s been writing for over six years. Diagnosed with an array of disabling conditions, including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and chronic depression, she holds onto them tenaciously, presenting them to newcomers like bad calling cards. She is adamant that friends and family accept her conditions as intractable and eternal. They are constantly asked to excuse her from activities or otherwise accommodate her frail condition. She remains determined never to let this go.

Whatever we focus upon increases: that is the core teaching of the Law of Attraction. Do we want to perpetuate the thoughts and symptoms triggered by the replay of past hurtful events? I’m not suggesting that depression and trauma victims are imagining a condition; people deserve validation for having bravely suffered and endured harrowing events and triggers in their lives. I’m urging that we invoke our free will. We have the unique ability to monitor and control our own thoughts. When we change our thoughts, we, in turn, change the way we feel.

Over the years, I have seen the way labels become a pervasive reality. Once we embrace a label, we cease engaging any personal responsibility for our own healing and affirm, instead, a sort of inevitability. I submit that it is far more helpful to take hold of the wheel and assume complete responsibility for altering our vessel’s course.

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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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