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Why can't the sundance feeling last all year long?

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Reflections Post-Sundance

This is the time of year for my tradition's equivalent of high holy days. Our four-day fasting and prayer cermony is always a profound spiritual and physical experience for me. We dance four days without eating, deepening our connection to creator.

This year one of the dancers at the ceremony was a Roman Catholic nun from India, who told me a Buddhist teaching, that the suffering we do voluntarily makes us grow and change, while the suffering we do involuntarily breaks us down. This ceremony provides a context for the voluntary suffering that uplifts and enobles us. We suffer together and help each other. We discover our personal limits and find that the power of mind and the power of spirit can help us go further. This transendence of personal limits inspires those who are sick among the people present to overcome their illnesses also. Coupled with the healing energy that builds through the dance arbour and the prayers that are offered, powerful healing occurs. I have met people whose cancer has disappeared, whose arthritis has gone away, and more. I have met people who have walked away from addictions through being at the sundance. I have met people who have begun and continued recovery from mental illness schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, deep depressions, and anxiety. This dance is a form of supplication to creator, where we ask for mercy for people who are ill, for family, friends, and clients who are suffering, and so many are assisted, though not all so dramatically as those who heal from cancer.

I was reminded this year about how the journey laid out in indigenous traditional practices, the so-called red road, is about love, compassion, acceptance. The biggest teaching for me was to love those who annoy and irritate me. Whoever annoys us has a story and that story needs to be heard. In ceremony, we challenge ourselves and each other to reach our limits and to transcend them. I certainly did that this time, going further than I thought I could go, because of love, because of spirits, because of the people for whom I prayed, because of the comraderie of the helpers and my fellow dancers . I brought prayers to the dance for my friends and patients who suffered from cancer and from mental illness. I took those prayers to the tree as best as I could. (The tree of life is the focal point of the ceremony).

This year, at the end of the dance, I felt an incredible sense of peace and gratitude.

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Lewis Mehl-Madrona graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine and completed residencies in family medicine and in psychiatry at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Coyote Medicine, Coyote Healing, Coyote Wisdom, and (more...)

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