In August, I attended a wonderful retreat in Maple Lake, MN. One of the presenters was a Lakota Sioux man, Joseph Medicine Robe, who frequently addressed us as “relatives,” and mentioned the Lakota phrase ‘mitakuye oyasin,’ which I wrote about several years back. A few days ago, I read another piece by a Mandan woman whose language also has a phrase that means the same. Joseph’s way of addressing all of us as his relatives brought back to me why I found mitakuye oyasin to be so profound when I first encountered it 4 years ago.
In Lakota, mitakuye means ‘my relatives,’ and oyasin means ‘all of them,’ so mitakuye oyasin means “all my relatives.” The Lakota concept of relatives goes way beyond what most of us think of, which is only of our blood relatives or our relatives by marriage, or our own ‘tribal groups’ such as our communities, states, or countries. In actuality, though, each one of us is connected with everything that exists. We are all interconnected, not just with other people, but with all living and non-living forms, to form a great web of spiritual interconnectedness. What each one of us does affects the whole web in a way we do not understand, but which we call the moving Spirit that is in everything.
What I found most profound about this retreat experience was the sense of interconnectedness with each other and with the natural world. Our daily walking meditations on the trails in this beautiful lakeside wooded environment, 140 people all walking mindfully together, all touching the earth with our feet mindfully, lovingly, reverently, was an experience of inter-being. Our mealtime silent meditations on the food before us, honoring it as a ‘gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard loving work,’ made me more mindful of these interconnections as well.
But probably the most profound lesson/experience of this interconnectedness for me was our closing ceremony. We formed a large circle, all 140 of us. Eight people walked in pairs around the circle, one in each pair with a pitcher of water taken from the lake, and another carrying a bowl. Each person in the circle brought to mind an intention for themselves as they poured a bit of water into the bowl. Then the four bowls were place on the ground around a large bowl in the center of the circle. We then turned to one person next to us and shared with each other what our intention was. Afterwards, each pitcher of water was poured into the large central bowl, mingling all 140 intentions into one. The monks then went to the center and picked up the large bowl of water, and we all slowly and mindfully walked down to the lake as Joseph played a beautiful song on his flute. We stood in silence on the shoreline, flute music wafting through the air behind us, as the water was returned to the lake. We then mindfully walked back to the circle. My feelings of being connected to mitakuye oyasin, to the community, the lake, the water of the lake, and the beauty of nature surrounding me at that moment were breathtaking and deep. I will never forget those moments.
There is so much division and separation in our current national and cultural environment, so many trying to rip us apart, to separate everyone and everything into individual bits that have no connection, to tell us who or what has worth and who or what does not. How would our world be different if every human on earth truly believed and practiced mitakuye oyasin? Reflect on this.
Mitakuye oyasin ~ mother, father, spouse, children, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, grandchildren, in-laws.
All my relatives ~ ALL people of ALL ethnic backgrounds, gender, religions, sexual orientation and economic status EVERYWHERE in the world.
Mitakuye oyasin ~ the poor, abused, neglected, addicted, the mentally ill, the sick, the dying, the homeless, the imprisoned, the refugee, the tortured and the torturer, the terrorized and the terrorist.
All my relatives ~ the animals, birds, insects, sea life, plants, trees, waters, earth, mountains, rocks; the air we breathe into our bodies every moment.
Mitakuye oyasin ~ the clouds, rain, wind, sun, moon, stars, planets, galaxies, black holes, and beyond into the cosmos.
All my relatives ~ how many others can you think of?
Mitakuye oyasin ~ centering and speaking this as a prayer, with great heart and reverence, is prayer enough. Begin to notice, as you go through your day, all your relations, and pray in your heart mitakuye oyasin to each of them. Pray this as you rise in the morning and before sleep at night. Pray this before meals. Pray this as you think about people in your life, or hear about the horrors going on in the world. Pray this as you witness the grandeur of the autumn changes, the birds as they leave for the winter and for those who stay, the beauty of the colorful trees, the crispness of the air. Pray this as we head into another contentious election cycle. Pray this as we make crucial decisions that may adversely affect our environment or the lives of people in this nation and the whole world for generations to come.
Mitakuye oyasin ~ the energy of Spirit that each of us puts out into the web of life each moment does matter. Begin to become aware of all our relatives.