When the Sioux tribe of North America speak of the ‘Great Mystery’, they do not speak of a singular or personified deity, like that of Judaism or Christianity, but they are instead referring to ‘Wakan Tanka’, which is a much greater appreciation of nature, and encompasses the power and sacredness that resides in all spiritual creations. The Sun is the chief expression — alongside water, earth and thunder — of The Great Spirit, because it is the centre of our system and the star which all beings on this planet orbit around. Man is also a creation of Wakan Tanka, and as such, the All-Providing One flows through him, as it does through all things, and so he is deserving of honour and reverence, in the same way as nature is deserving. The Spirit is paid reverence as providing for the needs of everyone, and when the Sioux worship the Great Spirit, they do so in solitude, because they believe we are closer to the Spirit when we are silent, when we are present with him and through him. Speech is feeble and wasteful, and cannot communicate the Great Power that Created All, because ‘it is a Mystery,’ the Native American advises, ‘leave it alone; no one can describe such a vast mystery.’
There is a rite of passage, usually only undertaken by young boys but sometimes girls entering adulthood, which seeks to provide a channel of communication between the participant and the Great Spirit and the vast Mystery. The ritual begins once the elders decide when the maturing child is of age, and then they prepare him for his journey with a long fast and various spiritual rituals. After having sought the highest summit in the landscape, the young man then walks to the peak and takes his position at sunrise. He wears no clothes except the shoes on his feet, he brings no sacrifice or gift to the gods and he packs no food or water, because the gods cannot fill you if you already have a full stomach. Here he remains for one day and one night, or sometimes two days and two nights and, during this time, he bears the cold and waits for the spirits to come to him, to tell him of the days of old, of the oneness he shares with the landscape.
And as he remains still and listens to the sounds of the wind and the movements of the animals, he prays and enters communion with the unseen and the Great Mystery. He then calls out to the spirits to give him a vision or a dream or an omen, anything that will help him discover his purpose, his role in his community and how he may best serve his tribe. Once he returns, he does not speak of the things he has experienced, for nature spoke only to him and for him only. This is unless the boy saw a vision or a dream, perhaps involving specific symbolism — such as animals or forces of nature — that requires interpretation by an elder. And now, having been guided to his purpose, he chooses an elder who has already mastered this purpose, and is serving his community well, and offers himself as an apprentice.
This traditional ritual is an opportunity for the young man to leave the maternal world and all that he has known, and align with the presence of the gods, or the Great Spirit of Mystery. The boy suffers a great deal of austerity during this ritual: He is without food, clothes, basic comforts or shelter — there is nothing to ease his boredom or his grief. His journey forces him to stay with his suffering, to feel through it and allow it to be without judgement or resistance. He sits on the mountain with no purpose; he is not seeking to attain anything from the gods. Rather, he is dissolving into non-separation, into the chasm, into the middle way between the duality of the world. He stays with his emptiness and his uncertainty, and he does not judge himself, nor does he flounder with his thoughts. And as he surrenders to the Great Mystery, his old sense of ‘self’ — his old fears and limitations — falls away and he is reborn anew. The boy dies to himself, which means he gives himself to nature and surrenders his ego to the ‘Great Mystery’.
It might seem that the rite of passage is undertaken in order to find one’s life purpose, but this is only half true. The true purpose of the ritual is to align fully to the present moment, the living moment, and to realise how you are not separate from the Mystery, because, indeed, you are the Mystery. In the state of intense presence, the Native Americans believe that your Weyekin, which is your spiritual body and mediator, will reveal itself to you, and tell you about your ancient past and how you are to serve your people. And so, it is hoped that the ritual will show how your primary purpose in this word, or your ‘inner’ purpose as Eckhart Tolle calls it, is to be exactly where and who you are, right now, in this moment. For your purpose is not separate from you, it is already within you, and the game is to sink into the present moment and do whatever the moment asks of you.
The second you begin thinking and meandering about who you are and what your ‘mission’ is, you lose yourself in the world of abstracts, in the illusion. But if you allow yourself to feel uncertain, to live with the questions, to surrender to the ‘The Great Mystery’, then the answers will return, as they will do for all men. However, this feeling of not knowing is something which most people distract themselves from. For most prefer to fill their minds with alcohol, commercial sports, gambling, movies, pornography and television programmes, and while these distractions ease the dullness and the worry of life, they keep people addicted to the world of the feminine — the world that constantly changes — and they take away their attention from the source, from the Great Spirit.
We have spoiled ourselves with consumerism and economic growth and temporary joys of pleasure, and I cannot help think that it is only going to get worse, that one day all these entertainments will become invincible. I have no doubt I prefer a life with mobile phones and computers than a life without them, and while I am sorry for the loss of privacy and the lack of time spent in nature — I am not that sorry. But I do know how all these idle amusements are just a means of postponement from myself, from the present moment, and whilst I might be able to lose my worries when I watch the football match, the truth still waits for me — the truth of the present moment. We have a choice, as told by the Katha Upanishad, between perennial joy or passing pleasure, and if we choose to indulge in the pleasures of the senses, we will forget the true goal of life — which is, to realise and understand the universal self, the Ātman as the Hindus call it, the Great Spirit of the Native American.
Every individual is a unique manifestation of the Mystery, and to manifest individuality, each must have a sensitive connection with the whole, in the same way as our limbs must have a sensitive connection with the whole body.Therefore, it is wise, if you do feel yourself to be without purpose or meaning, to go on a rite of passage — to go out into the unknown, to remove the distractions, the comforts and the wealth in your life and allow yourself to disappear into the living moment. And when you remove the constant noise and the chatter and the headaches, you will come into the presence of something greater than yourself — call it God, The Great Spirit, the Ātman, the Tao, it does not concern me — and you will see the whole system of which you are a part of. In this moment you develop a relationship with the all-encompassing collective, you become conscious of the divine, and you get away from passion and emotion, because you realise how the ego always wants something to fill his boredom and how this wanting and yearning prevents you from seeing deeper into what is meaningful. And you fall into the living moment, the fearful moment and open to your truth, whatever that might be.