Circle of Life

by Marilyn Youngbird
Article #3 in our series:
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Marilyn Youngbird,
Chief Woman Among Chiefs, lectures internationally on the Native Way. She is a healthcare practitioner, teacher and workshop facilitator whose message of peace and healing is heartfelt and endearing.

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Grandma would say, "God, our Creator, has created all of life in a circle. Everything is made in a circle and all that is created is connected. The sun, moon, stars, trees and "you" are made in a circle. The strongest winds come in a circle and the strongest currents in the water come in a circle. Never forget you are one with all of life and all of life is one with you."

Her stories of God's creation were constant lessons on how to live life in the moment, and in the most sacred manner. When I was young, innocent, pure, and loved I had no doubt these words of wisdom were filled with the breath of life. Standing before her, listening in silence, her breath engulfed my soul like a soft warm kiss from the sun. My grandparents knew our ancient creation stories would continue to hold my soul in God our Creator's light, and make our ancestors, who had passed before us, proud.

In my culture, we were taught to listen, be patient, forgive, and trust our inner soul. Grandma would say, "Always remember how powerful you are. Be careful with your thoughts. Your thoughts are your prayers. Reflect on what you are thinking before you let your thoughts come out of your month. Once your words are spoken, you can never take them back. Chose your words very carefully. People will remember you by your words, and they will carry these words as if you had asked them to pray for you. Whatever you send out into the universe, you will be the first to experience it." Her words sang loud and clear. I especially remembered them because she would say, "All that you say and think will come to pass. They will not come in the limited manner you think, they will come in the manner in which all of Creation hears them."

I think of her words today as I reflect on the events that make up the circle of my life. Many years have passed since I was a young child listening with fear as the World War II planes passed over the North Dakota prairie at night. Hiding in our two-room log house, the curtains draped thick and heavy over the windows just in case the bombers were Japanese or German, we prayed for my uncles, who had been sent far away to Japan to help fight in the war. Whatever my two-year-old prayers were during this time, I believe they have come to pass.

Many years ago, I had a dream that revealed to me the incredible power of prayer and the wisdom of Grandma's words. In my dream, my sister Laverne, who had been killed in a car accident seven years earlier, came to me. The things that she revealed to me in this dream were a mystery to me at that time, but proved to be prophetic.

In my dream, there was a large complex in which the buildings were all connected and made of cedar wood. Laverne and I were situated in a room in one of these buildings. The room had a bay window on the North side where Laverne sat, smiling and laughing at me. She told me that the building belonged to one of the most beautiful men I would ever meet. As she was telling me about the man, I could see him—tall and slim with a suntanned face. His kindness gleamed from the depth of his spirit. Laverne told me, "He is a very special person." In my dream, I could see him walking down a path and directing many people alongside a very steep mountain. The people he was leading were small in size; some of them were wearing caps, but those that were not had thick, shiny black hair. Then the scene changed and I could see the snow-capped mountain tops. The sharp jagged formations appeared to come from the center of the earth, reaching dramatically into the heavens. They were absolutely breathtaking. Laverne said, "This place is one of the most sacred. You will meet many wonderful people."

Laverne continued to instruct me and show me many things—it was like a movie. I looked into rooms that were very different from the rooms in our American homes. I saw rooms in which the floors were covered with a soft, woven material—small mattresses covered with fluffy blankets laid neat and smooth on the floor. So many images passed by, and when I woke up, I could remember a lot of them, but I could not remember them all.

A short time after having this dream, while I was working as a counselor for the Stanford Research Institute in California, I was invited by C&F Institute, a School of Psychology in Tokyo, to come to Japan to conduct a workshop on the Interfacing of traditional Native American and Western medicine. When the invitation came to me, my mind went back to that time when I was a child, hiding in fear of the Japanese bombers, and listening to my grandma crying and praying for her sons to return home safely from Japan and from the war. I wondered what my grandparents and parents would say if they were alive. What would they think?

More memories came back to me. I was again that frightened two-year-old: sitting on the floor, staring into my grandparents faces, listening and crying along with them, not really knowing or understanding why, but feeling it was important to help. I sat there watching them as they took down our Sacred Bear Robe from the wall, carried it into the living room, and laid it down in the center of the room. They unfolded it and when they spread it out flat it looked alive. I watched Grandpa fill our Sacred Arikara Pipe with his medicine and prayers. When he finished he laid the Pipe by the Bear's head. Then my mother and father, all my sisters, brothers, and other relatives prayed. But I remember Grandma's prayers were the strongest and most demonstrative. She stood on her feet, spread her arms out like the wings of an airplane, and danced around the room. Her motions made it appear as if she was flying through the universe, bringing her sons home. Her prayers were so powerful! There was no doubt her sons would return from the war safe, healthy, and whole. The energy from the love and tears of my family was so strong and so overwhelming, I could actually see the Bear move his eyes, looking, studying and making sure we knew he heard our prayers. I watched with my innocence and had no doubt the Bear was breathing because I could see his body move with every breath.

The Bear Ceremony is one of the most powerful ceremonies among my Arikara people, and now I understand that the prayers that were said that day would never end. These prayers would, one day, not only bring my uncles home safe, but would flow to the end of the world, touching the hearts and souls of the Japanese children whose parents, grandparents and relative were killed during World War II.

I was scheduled to stay 6 weeks in Japan and would work in many cities: Hotaka, Tokyo, Yokohama, Yakashima Island, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Okinawa. My first workshop was in Hotaka, which sits directly beneath the Northern Japanese Alps, at the Hotaka Holistic Health Center.

When I arrived at the Health Center, I was overcome with its absolute beauty. The scenery was breathtaking—more beautiful than words could describe. The maple leaves had all turned their fall colors—blood red, orange-yellow, golden yellow, bright orange, minty yellow-green, anemic red—every color you can imagine. The snow-capped mountains glistened in the sun and gave me the sense that if I died right then and there, everything in the world was perfect.

The Holistic Health complex was exactly what Laverne showed me in my dream! Nestled at the foot of the majestic mountains, it was all made of cedar wood, and the floors of the bedrooms were covered with hand-woven mats made from rice stock, smooth as silk. Every nail, every piece of wood, all the fixtures, I learned, were made and put into place with love by the hands of the Center's owner, Shunsaku Fukuda.

Mr. Fukuda, who has been instrumental in introducing Holistic Health to the Japanese people, came out of the building to greet us and I recognized him as the man in my dream—tall, suntanned face, broad shoulders, bare feet—a picture of health, a true samurai. His facial and physical features were stunning. He could have been Native American, Mongolian and even a mixture of western American.

I was the first Native American Traditional Teacher to be invited to Japan. The C&F Institute published the schedule they had set for me in all the major newspapers, so many people knew I would be visiting their country. Some had no idea there were any Native American people alive in America; they thought John Wayne had killed us all.

About 40 people attended my first workshop, and to my most grateful surprise, most of the people looked like my own Native American people. Their Shinto way of life was very familiar to me and so similar to the Native American way. Almost everything in our lives compared, however, our Native American World Wars occurred many years before World War II.

We all sat in a large circle, no different from the way my people did before chairs—we always sat on the floor so we could be close to our Mother Earth. When we started sharing, I could not believe the inhumane stories I was hearing. One after the other, they spoke their childhood memories. Many were very young children when World War II occurred. They told of the devastation of their families, homes, towns, and countryside when they were bombed. Memories flowed out of their mouths as if this had all happened just yesterday. Their emotions were so overpowering, I had to wrap my arms around them, hold them close to me and wipe away their tears.

I will never forget one particularly beautiful middle-aged woman—slim, graceful, with not a blemish on her face, her skin the color of cream and as soft as velvet. With tears streaming down her face she said, "I was 3-years-old when they bombed my home. Everybody was killed. All the buildings burned to the ground. There were human bodies lying everywhere, burning. Part of my clothing melted onto my body from the radiation, and some of my flesh was just hanging. I was crying for my mother and father, grandma and grandpa, but none of them could hear me. I walked through the burning rubble, burning bodies, but I could not find them. All my people were killed."

As horrendous as her story was, it was no surprise to many who were in attendance. Her story only brought up their own deep hidden childhood memories of loss. Others in the group told of their Comme Kazi (Wind of God) 14-, 15-, and 16-year-old brothers who flew war planes to their deaths.

I introduced the participants to our Native American Sacred Purification Ceremony. So similar were our cultures and beliefs that knowing and loving Tunkashila, our Sacred Grandfather, God, was not difficult for them. Likewise, knowing and loving Ina, our Sacred Mother, our Grandmother Earth, was not difficult for them: They already knew who they were.

I have been back to Japan many times, and the healing continues. One day, while I was in Tokyo, a man came to the hotel and requested to see me. I remember sitting on the floor in my hotel room waiting for him when the door opened and in walked a man—thin, balding, looking like he could have been in his late 60s. He looked tall from my position on the floor. When he entered, he folded his hands as if in prayer, bowed from his waist and walked toward me. He knelt on his knees, bowed even lower and, never really looking directly at me, he started weeping. "I have waited all my life to meet an American," he said. "I wanted to live to see this day. I wanted to say 'Thank You' to an American before I died." He want on to tell me his story. "I was 12-years-old during the War. All of us boys were instructed to carry arsenic in our pockets in case any of us children were caught by the Americans. We were instructed to give the girls arsenic first and then take it ourselves so the Americans could not hurt us.

"This particular day, we were in school. My school was a one-room building situated in the center of the rice fields. During class, we could hear the loud, piercing sounds of the bombers. We were instructed to stay in the school house, but as the sounds got louder and closer, us students got so scared, we jumped out of our chairs and rushed for the door. The teacher could not contain us. We burst out into the open rice fields, running. We didn't know where we were running to, but we just kept running. I looked up into the sky, which was black with planes—all coming toward us. I was running, stumbling, and falling into the mud that surrounded the rice plants. I knew they were going to kill me."

He continued, still crying, "As I was running, thinking I was going to be killed any second, I raised my eyes up toward the sky and saw this plane coming towards to me. The plane came so close to me I could see the eyes of the pilot. The pilot looked directly into my eyes, and then a miracle happened: he turned his plane away from me and flew away."

The man, crying uncontrollably now, said, " HE DID NOT KILL ME." By this time, he was holding onto my ankles, his head on my feet. I could feel his hands trembling. I was crying almost as hard as he was. "I have waited all my life," he said, "to say 'Thank you for my Life.' I have waited all my life to send this message back to America."

I said to him, "Please, what can I do for you?" breaking through the polite, shy, kind, reserved Japanese custom and culture to ask for what he really wanted.

He said, "Hold me, hold me in your arms." He crawled into my arms and we both cried together. Finally, he found his composure and thanked me.

We sat together sharing the memories of our lives. He told me he was a successful automobile business owner, and his life has been blessed: he had a beautiful wife and children, as well as a brother who had also survived the war.

I thank my grandpa and grandma and parents for giving me the strength and courage to listen to these stories—stories that have broken my heart wide open, and pierced my soul where only prayers can heal them. After a long day of listening and wiping away tears, I'd go back to my room, wash my face, lay on my bed and cry. When I close my eyes, I can see my grandpa and grandma's faces. I can feel Grandma running her hands through my hair, comforting me like she did when I was 2-years-old. In her comforting caress, I can see the Bear lying on the floor, looking at me with his big black eyes, giving me all the medicine I need to get back up and listen some more.

Marilyn Youngbird
©2002 Marilyn Youngbird

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Editors note:

Marilyn's Pathfinder series offers an opportunity for visitors to understand the roots of the Native Way and to share in experiences gleaned from the life journey of our honored presenter. She looks forward to your questions; they are valued and welcomed.

We wish you well on your journey.

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