Silence is the preferred sound of the Soul. In the silence, stillness is heard – when this stillness speaks, it is love that you hear.

Serge Benhayon, Esoteric Teachings & Revelations

My life has taught me that we are all needed. That is really all I can know. And though I will continue to meet challenges and feel discouraged at times, I will continue more so to meet good souls who will honor me, love me, guide me, and be receptive to my love, and I will know them when they appear. That is really all I can hope for.

When Miya and I met, I was not comfortable in my own skin, and my mind-body-spirit connection seemed broken. I was scared, confused, and lacking ambition. I didn’t believe I had a right to have a present and a future that were not completely dominated and dictated by the past. That’s a terrible place to be stuck. My mother lovingly talked to me about my apparent “foolishness” (something she related to from her own twenties), and what she called my “touch of melancholy” (something that afflicted her mother). Other people had their own ideas about what was going on with me – and that’s okay; it was complicated.

Miya didn’t label me in any way, except to call me Hunka, a Siouan word meaning “relative by choice.” Miya was a member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Indian tribe. What she did was help me begin to wear my skin with some ease and help me discover who I was, on my own terms, in my own time. To live my life unburdened by anxiety would take experience, help, practice, and love in many forms. My mind, body, and spirit responded to Miya’s positive, nonjudgmental, loving, and kind ways.

The wonder of Miya is that she was always wholly present, grounded, connected to and of the earth. Her mind-body-spirit connection was whole. I enjoyed watching her dance the traditional Lakota dances. In one dance, her feet kissed the ground with gentle toe-heel, toe-heel steps in harmony with the earthly heartbeat of a circle drum. In another dance, one to honor the tribal Elders, her heels never touched the ground as she danced around and around in circles.

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Miya in her red ceremonial dance shawl

I was mesmerized. With a single feather in her hair and a fancy red shawl at her shoulders, she created fluid movements while keeping her footwork in time with the drum rhythm. Freely and gracefully dancing with the drumming, she dipped, swayed, and stepped with regal dignity. In her own unique style, she danced for her people and the land of Pine Ridge, the Badlands, and the Black Hills of South Dakota. She danced for healing and peace, inspired by a beautiful spirit within her.

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The Red Shawl (Lakota), David Joaquin

How did she do that? I wanted to know. How was she so fully at home in her body and her whole self? How, having lived her life on the Great Plains, often without adequate housing and food security, did she know how to ride any wave like a fully-provisioned, seaworthy vessel? I wanted to feel present and whole, but I was so practiced at drifting and mirroring the other, unable to be fully myself and unaware who that person was. I felt as though I could topple any moment. Heavy sorrow and occasional, episodic anxiety do that to me still; it is sometimes just hard to be steady and balanced.

Life in my twenties, the decade when I met Miya, was a patchwork of places, higher education classes, casual acquaintances, a dear love and loss, and odd jobs. It was a collection of books and plays, vinyl records, stories, poems, feathers, rocks and gem stones, tarot cards, medicine bundles, and a print of Vincent van Gogh’s The Olive Orchard.

I was 18 years old when I first saw that exquisite painting. My twin sister and I had recently graduated from high school, and to celebrate, our older sister and her partner took us on a road trip to Washington, DC, where we toured the National Gallery of Art.

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The Olive Orchard, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Studying Van Gogh’s The Olive Orchard, I thought, I want to be like those trees. I want to stand strong, to withstand the seasons of my life, to hold together, to hold my own, and to grow toward the light, regardless of what distresses me. I wanted the soul sense of trees, who, while not invulnerable, have risibility that supports them to laugh in the face of the wind, rain, scorching heat, wounding ice, and all forms of harshness.

With solemn tones and strong brushstrokes, Van Gogh expressed the gnarled trunks, the twisted limbs, and the scarred bark of olive trees. In contrast, the human figures of three women using a ladder to pick olives together were soft, full, and round. I liked both the passionate energy and the serenity of the painting.

During my senior year of high school, I had read Lust for Life, a biographical novel written by Irving Stone based on the life of Van Gogh. I knew the circumstances of Van Gogh’s life in 1889, when he painted his olive trees:  he was suffering. So, from the National Gallery of Art giftshop in the summer of 1976, I purchased my first ever piece of art – a mounted print of Van Gogh’s The Olive Orchard. I kept it until the late 1990s, when it was damaged beyond repair in a flood.

The living force I was in my twenties rolled unnoticed into cities and towns with my carload of things, my precious painting, and my baggage of unresolved pain and confusion, sorrow and loneliness. Like the leaf of a tree too tired to cling to the branches anymore, I unobtrusively fell into place but didn’t feel I belonged anywhere. My things multiplied and became heavier to move around, and my emotional baggage threatened to knock me over and hurt people who loved me. The whispers in my mind were sealed there, an internal dialogue in which I tried to figure things out on my own.

With the help of my twin sister and my first serious attempt at therapy, I tried to make a go of it, “pull [myself] together,” as I was advised, and turn things around. My sister’s love worked; the rest didn’t, not at that time anyway. I was a ship caught in the fjords:  I couldn’t make the turn, I couldn’t back out, and I couldn’t pivot, because I felt no center around which to maneuver. Even if I could have found my center, I was surging, swaying, and yawing too much for it to hold. The glaciers calved around me, and I was breaking down. Sounds dramatic, I know. It was.

“Let’s talk about what’s really going on,” Miya said to me one day. And so, we talked, cried, laughed, explored thoughts, and tried to name what was going on. Upon reflection, we did not name any particular “problem,” but rather, came to an understanding. Miya said simply, “You must learn to stand still before you can dance.” She was talking about living in a state of presence, connected to myself, my mind, body, spirit, and all that is.

Miya wrote something to me later that night and left it on the table, where I discovered it the next morning:  “We will help you untangle yourself, Hunka. We will give your thoughts to the wind and it will carry you back to the truth of who you are.” I carried that note in my wallet for years, until one day in July of 1997, with gratitude, I gave the note, all tattered and torn, back to the wind.

In my relationship with Miya, I began to grow my self-awareness in an open way, with courage and trust and humor. Or, as members of her tribe said, I began to grow into my colors, like the word Dakota, “whole, unified, protected.” They taught me that if I did not let myself be all of who I really am, regardless of how contrary that might be to what I thought was expected of me, how could I ever live a life that is true to me? How could I ever feel free?

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Lakota dancer, Pine Ridge

With love, laughter, tenderness, and caring, Miya helped show me the way. She didn’t care how I got here or how long it would take me. She just pointed me in the proper direction and let me wander my way to myself. Horseback riding, hiking, rock hunting, singing, drawing, telling stories, making fry bread together – these activities unlocked something within me, grounded me, and helped me know myself in relation to myself, to other people, and to the earth. Being present to whatever is in life, even sorrow, is better than the alternative. And, as Mary Black sings in the song Still Believing, “Peace of mind is worth any chore.”

No longer escaping into numbness, I sought and found other helpers for the harder work on my mental health. Thanks to other kind souls and skilled practitioners, I learned I was not without resource and I was not alone. I learned how to listen to the whispers in my mind – to honor my thoughts without judgment and to be present with them, just as the depth of the ocean is with its waves. I learned to listen to my intuitive wisdom and to turn the rest around. Everything has a flip side.

I learned not to make myself ill with overwhelm and that I was not responsible for mending that which was not within my reach. I was not responsible for mending that which was not mine to mend. I learned how to be present not only in my body but also in mind and spirit in a way that enables me to rest, confide, do and accomplish wonderful things, and enjoy life without the old expectations, self-admonishments, and limits. I am immeasurably grateful to Miya and other helpers for their good medicine.

Over time, as I grew more comfortable, Miya invited me to join her in couples’ circle dances at Lakota social dances. At first, I was hesitant, but she told me my refusal was considered bad luck and could cause me to turn into a rabbit – or I could just pay her a restitution fee of five dollars. I loved her amusing way. She knew I was ready before I did. And so, we danced, although it took country two-step dance lessons in Winston, Oregon, in 1991 to transform me into someone joyful and at ease on the dance floor.

Miya’s warm wit, her mischievous sense of humor, her playfulness, her gameness for an outdoor adventure, her strength and courage, her kindness and tenderness, her wisdom, and her invitation for me to share something deeper of myself – these qualities were always present without prompting. She helped me feed the stories that heal, stories I am feeding through this writing process.

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Miya

We talked a lot about our personal journeys. Our individual paths, while different, were parallel. Whereas my personal journey story is the well-traveled path of an individual leaving home to find and realize herself, find her place in the world, and create community, Miya’s personal journey story is the path of an individual returning home to re-emerge as herself, reconnect to place, self, and community, and heal community.

Each of us went through a period of unsettling everything in our path – place, family, relationships, history, ways of being, culture and identity conflicts, and definitions of home, family, and self. When we accepted that we weren’t where we wanted to be, when we stopped judging ourselves for that, then we started working to get where we wanted to be. Separation, connection, re-connection – each was necessary to our individual well-being and wholeness.

Somewhere along the way, I introduced Miya to Mary Oliver’s poetry. We liked her poem “The Journey,” and Miya asked me to recite it to her over the phone one night in February, three weeks before she died. We had together learned to recite it many years ago, along with countless other favorite poems, but my poetry recitals are incomplete these days, limited to one or two four-line stanzas of favorites. So, I grabbed my copy of New and Selected Poems: Volume One and read “The Journey” to her:

The Journey, by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Miya and I supported each other in our personal journeys, but geographic distance, life choices, and what Miya called “cultural incompatibility and complications” kept us apart. “Complicated people are conducive to complicated relationships,” I said to Miya. Although complicated, our relationship was never confusing and never clingy; on the contrary, it was clear and free. It just wasn’t linear.

Similar to how the Lakota people express time, our relationship was circular endlessness and beginnings. We never stopped loving each other. Returning to each other again and again, we always picked up where we left off or at least met each other right where we were at any given moment, wholly present in our livingness and love. In that beingness, in its stillness, love is complete. Life is not easy. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul helps immensely. That is enduring goodness.