Spirit Leaves: Heart of Community


Soothing Sea
Community is invariably defined as a feeling of fellowship or connectedness with like-minded people. Where is this mythical place, though, for people who are shy, empathic, hermitic, and individualistic at heart?

Those who are shy, sensitive, and introverted usually prefer to linger in the chambers of their own self-created sanctuaries, rather than venture out into the communal unknown. The variegated energies of the group scene can wreak havoc on empathic souls. This month’s prompt invited me to rethink the idea of community and its function in the current energetic shift.

Not too long ago, I came across a reference to “community” in an older work of Annie Lamott’s. I found a hard copy of Plan B, Lamott’s painful and witty reflections on her unfolding spirituality. Lamott admits dragging her reluctant son to church weekly, in order to expose him to “the power of community.” I love Annie’s writing, but the group concept troubled me. For an empath, community does not hold the same draw.

Until recently, empaths have felt marginalized by the culture. I myself grew up constantly being judged as “too” something — by relatives as well as peers. I was deemed “too sensitive,” “too serious,” “too intense,” or “too philosophic.”

“What’s with the too?” I’d think to myself, “I’m exactly as I need to be in order to make art, theatre, music or poetry!” Where community entails merger with a collective energy, my journey has always been inward wherein all truths lie.

Of the two roads diverging in a narrow wood, I chose the one that is the antithesis of organized religion. My way is Ghost, wanagi, which means seeing the heart or spirit of a person. In this way of life, there is no guidebook or set of rules, and that can be daunting for most. The Holy men I learned from offered tools and shed some light, but after that, they left me on my own. Spiritual growth was to be an individual matter. I developed a relationship with the Spirits, and they became my teachers, not the human beings. My Guides and Spirit Helpers communicate with me through dreams, signs, symbols and visions.

I can understand how community is there to offer refuge, a safety zone for developing aspirants. Tibetan Monks recite this phrase when they have not completely unveiled the truth: “I take refuge in the three jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, until I attain enlightenment.” These terms refer to the Enlightened Being Siddhartha Gautama (who became Buddha); the Spiritual Doctrines and their attendant lessons (Dharma); and the Spiritual Community (Sangha), respectively.

The notion of refuge reminds me of Cedric’s compassionate view toward beginning seekers. Cedric taught that when a person first starts out on the spiritual path, he is like a little sapling in need of protection. After that, he is like a little bird that needs to be pushed out of the nest. In each of these illustrations, refuge, or community, is intended to provide only a temporary port during life’s raging storms. One must venture out to sea alone if he is make any gains in the spiritual.

Traditional Native people accomplish much as a nation, yet they don’t usually require conformity to a “community.” Rather than striving to be “like-minded,” each person receives a spirit name as a reminder of his uniqueness. Mandans use the word tamisik to describe the times of coming together. Tamisik is a gathering of the people in unity and celebration, often following a ceremony. The word “Tamisik” actually means “unity” or “togetherness.” The focus is more upon a state of being or intention than on sharing similar traits.

At powwows in California, I met many wise elders. Two Iroquois elders in particular would admonish me to “look within,” stating that the answers I sought were “already inside.” It sounded too simple. Later, in North Dakota, I met a Mandan Turtle Priest, Cedric Red Feather, and he lent those words the ring of truth when he said, “The journey is individual. Trust your own intuitive heart.” I’m thinking now that perhaps the longed-for community, the ultimate place of refuge and connection, actually exists within — inside the human heart.

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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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