Spirit Leaves: True Gratitude


In a decidedly crisp and lilting British accent, a man once remarked, “You Americans trivialize everything!” For the life of me, I cannot recall the speaker or the context. Was it a film, perhaps a newscast? Either way, it has held for me a fascination and the ring of truth. As I read this month’s topic in The Edge, I thought to myself, here we go. Either I will slip haplessly into pontifical prose, or worse, start spewing palatial platitudes and appalling aphorisms — little bumper stickers of truth that only serve to validate the distinguished yet unknown British man’s assessment of our citizenry.

Let’s face it: references to gratitude have proliferated everywhere. From wall clings to coffee mugs, we have reduced this very Holy state of being to the status of a sparkly pink greeting card — cheery, yet ultimately unsatisfying. What would happen were we to abandon pop cultural acquisitions and take time to look deeply into the heart of the state we call gratitude?

Cedric Red Feather long ago shared the story of Lone Man, a Mandan prophet. Cedric told of how the Mandan people were happy and safe within their earth-bermed homes they referred to as “earth lodges.” They thrived and lived happily along the riverbanks, secure in the awareness that no one had ever been killed within a Mandan village. The people had everything they needed, and they traded for what they lacked. They rarely ventured forth out into the world; until, one day, Lone Man came into the village and beckoned the people to follow him onto the open prairie. They were frightened, but sensing the immanence of the Holy Man’s request, many followed.

He paused when they came to an open grassland, an ocean-like expanse of strong, verdant blades of fresh prairie grass, waving in a gentle spring breeze. Lone Man looked into the alert faces of the villagers and said to them, “Behold the blades of grass upon the prairie — so many of them, and all are equal. They are like the days of your lives. One blade of grass is not more special than another; likewise, one day is not more special than another. For every day is a Holy day.”

I have carried these beautiful and sacred words in my heart a long time. I have spent many years since meeting Cedric listening to his stories and learning the songs of the Lakota and Mandan Nations, including Lone Man’s song. So it came to be that, in reflecting upon the simple yet profound parable of the Mandan prophet, I began to feel a profound sense of true gratitude in my heart. Every day since, when I first awaken, I sit on the edge of my bed for a few moments as my feet touch the floor of a new day. I cannot help but acknowledge aloud before rising, “Thank you, Grandfather, for another Holy Day of life.”

I am not pushing this as a practice or ritual that everyone must do; this is just what I feel in my heart to say to the loving, benevolent presence that has allowed me to awaken and breathe for one more day. Thereafter, anytime during the day that I feel negative thoughts or states creeping in, I immediately take a breath, close my eyes, and think of as many things to be grateful for as I can. That connects me back to Source and produces nothing but abundance and sparkling synchronicities.

Again, it’s not a technique or prescription. It is just my way of cultivating the capacity for heartfelt appreciation for all that is already here. It is great to be able to feel gratitude for something, without having to wait for its diminution or disappearance.

If I have only one wish, it is that I may never be half-hearted or trivial in my approach to the big “G.” Instead, I endeavor to embrace the beauty — the largesse of spirit — that is gratitude. Gratitude is not merely a word: it is a sacred place we inhabit once we realize that there but for the grace of a larger beneficence goes the soul on its continuing journey.

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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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