Oh, Great Spirit

Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind, whose breath gives life to all the world. Hear me; I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.

Help me to remain calm and strong in the face of all that comes towards me.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.
Help me seek pure thoughts and act with the intention of helping others.
Help me find compassion without empathy overwhelming me.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy – Myself.
Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame
“.

Great Spirit Prayer
By Yellow Hawk, Sioux Chief

I’ve been a bit all over the place this week and, ultimately, have felt a big need to anchor and centre myself somehow. To put my energy and focus where they really belong.

I was reminded of the beautiful prayer above. It’s a personal favourite.

I don’t think a person has to be religious to pray, or even to necessarily believe in God or a “Great Spirit”, though I sort of do myself.

Saying a prayer can sometimes be just a way of accessing our own spirit, and focusing our own intentions. A way of asking the highest part of ourselves – the least purely self-interested and most honourable person within us – to be the driver in our lives and call the shots.

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Drinking from the poisoned well

There was once a wise king who ruled over a vast city. He was feared for his might and loved for his wisdom. Now in the heart of the city, there was a well whose waters were pure and crystalline from which the king and all the inhabitants drank. When all were asleep, an enemy entered the city and poured seven drops of a strange liquid into the well. And he said that henceforth all who drink this water shall become mad.

All the people drank of the water, but not the king. And the people began to say, “The king is mad and has lost his reason. Look how strangely he behaves. We cannot be ruled by a madman, so he must be dethroned.”

The king grew very fearful, for his subjects were preparing to rise against him. So one evening, he ordered a golden goblet to be filled from the well, and he drank deeply. The next day, there was great rejoicing among the people, for their beloved king had finally regained his reason“.

–Author Unknown

This story is told in a scene from the film Serpico (directed by Sidney Lumet and released in 1973) between the title character (played by Al Pacino) and his girlfriend Laurie (Barbara Eda-Young).

Serpico covers twelve years (from 1960 until June 15th 1972) in the life of NYPD officer Frank Serpico. It is based on the non-fiction book of the same title by Peter Maas and is about an extremely diligent police officer who discovers a hidden world of illicit activities among his own colleagues – witnessing cops doing drugs, committing violence, taking paybacks and other forms of police corruption. He decides to blow the whistle on the rot within, but doing do so leads to him being harassed and threatened, suffering great personal hardship and even enduring life-threatening situations. After being shot in the face during a drug bust on February 3, 1971, Frank Serpico eventually testified before the Knapp Commission, a government inquiry into police corruption between 1970 and 1972.

The fact is that going against the grain is never the easiest choice.

And voicing the unpopular can often make us terribly unpopular as well.

But sometimes the very things people are least willing to see and hear are the very things they most need to be told and have their attention drawn to.

Remember that Galileo was thrown in prison about 500 years ago for trying to tell everyone that the world wasn’t flat.

And until relatively recent times some people had the legal right to keep other human beings as slaves.

And doctors once used to advertise cigarettes.


“More Doctors Smoke Camels than any other Cigarette”

So even if you can’t beat ’em, don’t ever be tempted to join ’em.

Be strong and be brave, and refuse your drink from the poison well.

The lonely voices of reason and sanity can take a while to make themselves heard, but without them the world would stay unhealthy, unfair and incorrect.

To Be Heard

I can think of a few situations, when I was younger, where I lacked a voice. Times when I could not find the right words (or sometimes any words) to make myself heard when it felt important to do so. Times when I felt sad, pissed off or helpless because of it.

Does language have a power to transform? I believe it does. Because when we lack a command over language we are less empowered.

To label and make sense of things.

To question and challenge them.

To disagree.

To make a point.

To point out the absurd. And the unfair.

To laugh at these things if we need to, to release ourselves from the tension they cause.

To lay our souls bare.

To connect.

To be understood.

And to make ourselves heard.

Sometimes finding the right words for what happened and the feelings associated with it can even be what helps us to feel different about it, because our brain is actually processing and working through the situation in the very act of assigning language to it.

“If you don’t learn to write your own life story, someone else will write it for you”.

This is the motto of a wonderful South Bronx poetry class called “Power Writing”. It is taught by a trio of outsider teachers, though not as part of any school faculty or formal curriculum, and it is a class that is less about instruction and more about empowerment. “To Be Heard” is a very moving documentary which centres on the stories of three teens taking part in the Power Writing class. Pearl, Karina and Anthony are a trio of friends who affectionately refer to themselves as the “tripod”. Their lives begin to change when they start to write and recite poetry, using it as a vehicle for powerful self-expression and self-awareness, and ultimately, as a means to alter their circumstances.