I was born and raised LDS (Mormon). Some of my ancestors were burned out of homes and chased from state to state for their spiritual beliefs before settling as a large, polygamous family in Utah and eventually eastern Idaho. I have always been proud of my ancestors and extend them profound respect as I do all people who follow their beliefs in spite of great hardship. As an LDS man, I served in positions of youth and adult leadership and instruction for decades (Bishopbric. Stake Misson Presidency, Stake YM Counselor, Seminary Teacher, Gospel Doctrine Teacher and Ward YM Presidency, to name a few). I had served a mission in Phoenix and on/around the Navajo and Hopi reservations in the Four Corners area of the US. I was also a regular temple attendee with a deep and growing "testimony" of the validity of the Church, it's doctrines and cermonies.
Then 2008 happened.
Actually, my call to transformation began a few years before, in about 2003. I began having dreams suggesting there was more. Always a writer, pieces began "coming to me" that told stories of personal evolution, a call to journey into the larger world away from the relative dogmatic safety the Church always held for me. A natural "Seeker", I had been drawn for decades to various spiritual ways and had integrated them into my teachings within the Church. However, I was a contractor by trade and the economic downfall hit my family particularly hard, further softening my idea that I knew "how things worked". I felt drawn to something and began to search for answers. I had always been interested in Native American lifeways and spirituality and had read fairly extensively the writings of Charles Eastman and Black Elk but now I also read "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert, "The Four Agreements" by Miguel Ruiz and "A Language Older Than Words" by Derrick Jensen. An article by Kira Salak on ayhuasca and the movie, "What The Bleep Do We Know" sparked a curiosity about the nature of reality, as did a chance meeting with a local and celebrated haiku poet and mystic, Jeb Barton. The last straw was a book that came to me called, "A New Earth: Awakening To Your Life's Purpose" by Eckhart Tolle. To this day I do not know how this book ended up in my hands, but it changed my life. I began meditating, expanding my consciousness and giving me perspectives that I felt - and still feel - were from Creator.
And who was this Creator?
Certainly not the jealous, judgemental and insecure god I had been preaching. Although I had - and still have - great respect for the Church for what it is, my testimony of it's veracity vaporized, as did my marriage - mostly by my own choice since I no longer felt any foundation upon which to lead a family (I have reconsidered this since, many, many times and feel now I might have acted with greater wisdom and less fear). I lost my house and in a seemingly unrelated series of events, my livelihood. I moved into a tipi alone with my dog in Central Oregon and basically started over. My children, traumatized, stayed away. Most of my siblings and my parents, to whom I had been very close, stayed away as well, feeling it more important to support my grieving ex-wife and children. I don't fault them for this, but it was a difficult time, to say the least.
Very soon after leaving the Church (they officially granted my request to remove my name from membership in August of 2008), I was invited to attend a Lakota sweat lodge (inipi) ceremony. The catharsis was significant. I felt connected in ways I had not for years and felt at home. Eventually, I was gifted a pipestone by a veteran Sun Dancer and the leader of the lodge I attended, so I became a chanupa carrier (colloquially, ,"peace pipe") in that lineage. Not long after that, I received spirit's call to Sun Dance via a remarkable synchronicity of dream and life events. I danced the Sun as an Eagle Dancer in Northern California and near St. Helens, Oregon (Eagle Mountain and Goes In The Air Sun Dances, respectively), fulfilling my four-year commitment in 2015. I continue to Sun Dance and will as long as I feel called to do so. It is my favorite event of the year.
In late 2014, another veteran Sun Dance elder and friend, Jim "Redtail" Collins, introduced me to the Munay Ki / Laika path, an Andean shamanic lifeway and healing modality taught by Alberto Villoldo. A year later I "completed" my first initiation of nine sacred rites into that path as a mesa holder. I continue to take classes to deepen my understanding and skill to assist others.
Throughout all this, my relationships with my children, siblings and parents have healed to a great extent. This has been invaluable to me. But of even greater worth - the greatest worth of all for me - are the tools for Connection to All That Is that have found their way to me. Not only the physical tools of mesa and sacred chanupa that were preserved at such high cost by my spiritual ancestors the Lakota and Laika, but those having to do with the ability to observe a spiritual connection to Life, to see and address my own "stuff" in an increasingly positive manner, and show others how they can do the same, either within their current spiritual paradigm or, if they are called to make a change, safely outside it. Since I approach spirituality in a "mystic" fashion (seeing the cord of truth that runs through all of them), I can often assist in unique ways.
No matter who you are, no matter your path through life, please know that at least one person believes that you have the right to live a joyful, fulfilling life that aligns with your soul. It is my life's mission to walk that path myself, and to help others along the way to find theirs.
Peace and blessings to you!