Suggested Reading on Native American Spirituality

One of my subscribers asked for a suggested reading list to help gain more insight into Native American spirituality and I am happy to oblige.

I have one caveat, however: Indigenous spirituality cannot truly be understood intellectually. It is based in the heart and the body and communicating with the natural world. I strongly recommend following the practices I share in my posts, particularly those that involve communication with nature. The reading will be a nice supplement to that.

This is a list of some of my favorites:

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More Blessings from the Cedar Tree

Last week, I shared Bear Heart’s story of how the cedar tree is a gift from the Creator. Today’s post shares more teachings about cedar.

The history of cedar

The cedar tree has been revered for it’s spiritual qualities by many cultures, and is frequently referenced in the Bible: it was chosen to build the temple of God in Jerusalem [1 Kings 6:9-20].

The wood is not attacked by insects, has no knots and has remarkable longevity: the cedar forests of Lebanon often had a lifespan of over 2,000 years.

Cedar wood was used to build the doors of sacred temples in ancient cultures and burned for purification.

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The Story of How the Cedar Tree Became a Gift from the Creator

This story about the Cedar Tree was told to me by Bear Heart:

“A long time ago, there lived a human being who always went out of his way to help the people of his village.

“When the elders could no longer hunt for themselves, he would bring them food.

“A young couple getting married could count on him to help make their tipi poles and gather the hides needed to cover their lodge.

“If a child’s family was killed, he would take that child in and raise it as his own.

“And there were many more good deeds he performed that no one knew of, because he never sought praise or attention for his actions. Every day he remained alert to what he could do to help his tribe, and he did so with good humor and enthusiasm.

“Many years went by in this way and all the while the Creator watched this man and took note of his virtues.

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Social activism: the good, the bad and the ugly

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Gandhi

I’m a big fan of peaceful social activism. Having marched in the 1970s in opposition to the Vietnam War, I’m proud that my generation helped end it.

We have even more opportunity today, with the advent of online petitions that are getting lots of results, fast.

UGLY SOCIAL ACTIVISM

But there is also un-social activism that causes me concern. I’m thinking specifically of Spike Lee’s ill-advised re-tweet of the supposed address of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin.

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How to meditate: 12 sure-fire techniques

It’s not hard to learn how to meditate. The secret is to find the technique that works for you.

Psychologists estimate the average person has at least 50,000 thoughts a day and 90% are the same as yesterday. Meditation is simply stilling the chatter of our mind to come to a place of relaxation and peace.

Here are a dozen methods for you to try. Start with five minutes once or twice a day and work up to 15-20 minutes.

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Expand your mind with meditation

Meditation is perhaps the easiest way to expand your mind, other than using drugs.

I played around with LSD and marijuana on my college weekends and it always gave me a good high. But I reached a point where I didn’t want to rely on something artificial to make me feel good. I wanted to feel good on my own. So I discovered meditation.

My meditation path was brought with ups and downs, which I’ve discussed elsewhere. But now that I’ve settled into a meaningful practice that’s the right one for me, it works like a charm.

Here are the ways it can benefit your mind, body and spirit.

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Meditation: even swans need to do it!

Last spring as I was walking around the lake near my home, I came upon a family of swans by the shore: two beautiful, huge adults and 10 little baby swans. Ten!

[Yes, I know they’re called cygnets but that word isn’t cute enough to do them justice].

The two parents were putting up a very loud squawk and, as I got closer, I saw that one of the babies had become stranded on the shore side of a big log and the parents were encouraging it to climb over.

The baby kept trying to get over the log but the log was too big and the baby too small. So the parents took turns stepping up on the log, turning around and squatting in the hopes the baby would grab on to them and be pulled out. After about a dozen attempts, they succeeded.

The irony was that if any of them had looked to the baby’s left, they would have seen it could easily have swum around the log to freedom! But they were all too focused on the problem right in front of them to look for other solutions.

It struck me that this was a perfect example of the benefits of meditation. Stop, take a break, relax, regroup and look around for a fresh perspective. That usually allows inspiration and new ideas to flow in.

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A New Take on April Fool’s Day

Traditionally, April 1 is “April Fool’s Day,” an opportunity to play harmless and fun jokes and tricks on others. Frankly, I’ve never been a fan.

Not much is known about the origin of this holiday. One popular origin tale is that when the Gregorian Calendar moved the first day of the year from April 1 to January 1, not everyone got the message, or simply chose to ignore it.

After all, there was no internet then to spread the word. Those who continued to view April 1 as the first day of the year were called “Fools”.

But this story doesn’t hold water because the history of pranking on April 1 started long before the Gregorian Calendar came along in 1582, and it also has traditions around the world.

Another theory is that the timing of a day of pranks is tied to the arrival of spring, when nature “fools” humankind with fickle weather. That explanation makes sense to me, particularly this year.

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Tobacco: Do you know how sacred it is?

Tobacco is an herb that has become a pariah in our society, yet is sacred to many native peoples. It wasn’t meant to be used and smoked the way we use it in our society.

My first teacher, Sun Bear, had a wonderful saying: “White people misused tobacco, the sacred medicine of the native people, and it made them sick. When native people misused white peoples’ medicine, the sacred wine of the mass, it became their undoing.”

We must respect one another’s medicines.

THE UNKNOWN SPIRITUAL LIFE OF TOBACCO

Tobacco has the quality of being able to absorb. When made into a poultice, it can absorb toxins out of a rash or bug bite. When you pray with it, it absorbs your prayers. And when smoked, the smoke carries your prayers up to the Creator.

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Desiderata

The desiderata is a much loved poem written by American writer Max Ehrmann in 1927. Largly unknown during Ehrmann’s lifetime, It became well-known after being found at Adlai Stevenson’s deathbed in 1965.

In response to losing the majority in the Canadian Federal election in 1872, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau quoted the Desiderata in reassuring the nation that “the universe is unfolding as it should.”

While the writing may seem stilted by today’s standards, the sentiments expressed are profound. And our lives will be better if we embrace them.

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What does the first day of spring mean for us?

“I’m not interested in any philosophy unless it can help me grow corn.” Sun Bear

Meaning, “it gives me practical help in my life.” This post is about how celebrating the Spring Equinox can do just that.

This year the spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere is March 20, 1:14 a.m. Eastern Time: a day of equal balance of the hours of light and dark before the sun continues its journey towards longer daylight hours and warming temperatures. The word equinox comes from the latin words meaning “equal night.”

The equinox energy is strong for four days before and after March 20th, giving you time to bask in the opportunities and lessons it brings.

Ancient cultures throughout history have celebrated this time of rebirth of Mother Earth. But what does it mean for us?

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Irish Soda Bread recipe from my Irish Grandmother

This recipe comes from my Nana Sue, born in Larah, County Caven. A warm woman with a sharp wit, she raised six children and loved to cook. This recipe has been handed down to each generation.

Best served fresh from the oven, I swear men have asked me to marry them after tasting it.

Other than the marriage proposals, the best part is that it’s not a yeast bread, so it’s very easy to make. It’s the interaction of the baking soda and buttermilk that makes it rise.

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How the Irish saved civilization and otherwise gifted us over and over again

“May the road rise to meet you; May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; The rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand.” — Irish Blessing

History is written by conquerors, and, frankly, I don’t think their accounts are to be trusted.

Being 100% Irish-American, I’ve never felt good about the bad rap the Irish have gotten over the years. Most of the stereotypes are inaccurate and undoubtedly started by the English as a way to assuage their guilt for having decimated the country.

For example: Ireland used to be covered with forests, but the English cut down all the trees to use in their own empire building. During the Great Famine, there was more than enough food in Ireland to feed the entire country, but, again, the English exported it to feed themselves.

“We have always found the Irish a bit odd. They refuse to be English.”
- Winston Churchill

But enough about the English, I’m here to celebrate the Irish.

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Brigid: Goddess, Saint and Keeper of the Flame

This is the first of four posts leading up to St. Patrick’s Day in celebration of all things Irish.

One of the ways Christianity wove its way into the hearts and minds of the original peoples was by adopting their ancient gods, goddesses and festivals in order to more easily convert them without bloodshed.

For example, the evidence is that Jesus Christ was born in the spring, but our pre-Christian ancestors were already celebrating the birth of a wondrous male child, born of a virgin, around the time of the Winter Solstice, so it made sense to decree this as the time of birth of Christ. It made for easy conversion.

Christianity also incorporated most of the significant aspects of Mithra, son of the Persian sun God, who died at the spring equinox, heralding the time of Easter.

So many Christian holidays parallel those of our ancestors that it can be hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. The same can be said of the saints.

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ADHD – is it over-diagnosed?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 5.4 million children ages 4 to 17 in the U.S. have been diagnosed at some time with ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder ], and 66 percent of those with current ADHD take medication to control the condition.

Is ADHD perhaps over-diagnosed? Might Ritalin be over-prescribed? In my humble opinion, yes. Is there something to be done about it? Yes.

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Sleep solutions: 25 tips for a good night’s sleep

“Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” Thomas Dekker

There may be no better way to improve health and energy, and reduce stress, than getting a good night’s sleep. But that seems to be more and more difficult to achieve in our 24/7 world. Prescription drugs and over the counter sleep aids are plentiful but may not be our healthiest choice.

Counting sheep has never worked for me, but here are 25 tips that will contribute to a good night’s sleep, without side effects:

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Human potential – are you living up to yours?

Are you living up to your full potential?

“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!” Anne Frank

One of my earliest childhood memories is of sitting in my second grade class at Our Lady Help of Christians School in Brooklyn, New York during a lesson on the human body.

During the class, my teacher said something that knocked my socks off! It was that human beings only use 10% of the capacity of their brains [that was wrong; it’s now understood that virtually every part of the brain is active most of the time].

But when I heard that statement, I made a decision right then and there to get to using 100% of my brain power in my life. That declaration led me on a circuitous exploration of personal growth, alternative lifestyles and spiritual paths, much to my parents’ chagrin.

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What is a leader?

[quote]“In gentleness there is great strength. Power most of the time is a very quiet thing.” Sun Bear[/quote]

It’s President’s Day, and this is an election year, so my thoughts have gone to considering what makes a good leader. And I wonder if we really know in this country what a good leader is. Or, more importantly, do our own leaders know.

Here are some Native American teachings about leadership:

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