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  • Eric "Aspen" Marley

Putting A Man on the Hill: Thoughts From A Helper



We’re putting a man on the hill, today. I won’t divulge his identity out of respect, but I’ll call him “Charley” if I need to refer to him.


What I mean by “on the hill” is that he approached my mentor Redtail and I with the desire to “Vision Quest” (or “Hamblecheya” in the Lakota language). We offered this traditional ceremony, as well as an easier version for those of us who don’t want or need a full, immersive, authentic Lakota ceremony this time. We were calling this other one a “Wilderness Vigil.” We had several people who were coming for that, but fear over Covid (sigh) and other situations limited their ability to participate this time.


So, he’s it.


We have about 10 people in camp supporting him. Most are his friends. Since he and I are friends as well, several people in camp are my buddies, too. So, that’s nice. We had a great sweat lodge last night and the night before in order to purify ourselves in the Native tradition. We have a wonderful vegan chef in camp and our mess hall is full of Redtail’s furniture: a long table, dishes, grill, and pots and pans. I suspect the sofa we have in there is gravity enhancing; it’s pretty hard to get my butt out of it once I succumb, at any rate. For dinner, we ate killer tostadas and chatted into the evening.


I awoke this morning at 302 am. It’s my responsibility to start the sweat lodge fire this morning. I want the stones hot and ready to go by 7 am. I expect to see Charley, Redtail, and a couple of his main supporters up as well to sweat him up and send him off. Jessi will be there, his girlfriend. And Piper and Walter, two more friends who also do significant ceremonies with him in other modalities. I don’t know that there’ll be anyone else at the sweat this morning. At this point in the ceremony prep, it becomes really personal, so it’s appropriate that only his closest friends and colleagues are there. After all, for all intents and purposes, he’s preparing to die to himself and be reborn in the wilderness as a new being.


And he’ll pull it off.


I say this because Charley is a serious man when it comes to his connection to Spirit. I mentioned other modalities. He has several. He’s extremely well-read, can quote Hermetic texts with ease, knows the Seth / Jane Roberts writings, understands the mystic connection between the spiritual traditions of the world better than most, and can confidently sing a couple of Lakota songs in Lodge. He was gifted a pipe by another good man months ago. It was wrapped in red cloth and has remained so as he studies his call about whether or not to actually pick it up (use it). He’s really just starting on this path, but I have to say I’ve not seen a person pick these ways up with quite the dedication Charley has, other than myself.


Like I said, he's a serious man. It’s inspiring and I’m honored to be part of his walk.


It’s tricky business in some ways, working with a man like this. I know for sure he’s done his part to prepare. It’s up to Redtail and I to help prepare his altar, the physical accouterments of his path, in a way that honors centuries of Lakota tradition. Nothing is more important to me, right here and right now. I’m all in on holding that space, for him.


So, while it’s nice to chat with our common friends, I find my attention pulled elsewhere; to the Vision Questing altar that was passed to Redtail decades ago, to the fire and the sacred process that we are helping to foment. Oddly, it’s more about getting out of the way than about “trying really hard.” As Jesus said, “I of myself can do nothing.” There’s not a more concise encapsulation of the concept of “hollow bone,” which is critical in spiritual work, than this statement.


Still, there's work to be done. Hence, the early hour.


Charley has elected to do up to a full 96 hours without food or water. He’ll be at about 5200 feet, where the air is thin and the sun is intense. He’s been “practicing” his fasting, which is wise. But just like a sweat lodge can be of moderate temperature and still kick your butt, so it is with all ceremony: he’s coming to hollow out, to burn away that which isn’t spirit from within himself. That’s the essential intent. If we’ve done our job, he’ll get what he needs because he’s prepared with great attention to detail. I suspect a vision will come to this particular man before the full 4 days is up. But whatever he needs will come to him when It’s ready to present. Practiced or not, the ceremonial scraping away of the plaque of culture is never painless, and it’s never easy.


Moreover, what comes off of Charley will leave a kind of void. What happens to most of us after peak experiences is that we’re all too ready to put something we’re comfortable with into that hole. We go back and listen to music that’s below us. Eat food that isn’t really food. Engage ourselves in the unlimited distraction to which we're all exposed. Why? Because that’s what we’re used to doing. After a four-day fast, we can be excused if we eat the first Twinkie and drink the first gallon of Gatorade we see. It’s understandable, but not necessarily helpful. The wise person, however, comes off the hill, emerges from the cave so to speak, just like all of us. But instead of heading back to the nearest town for what’s familiar, this person stays back in the wilderness, wandering back to what passes for civilization at his convenience. Of course, I’m speaking metaphorically. But to the extent that he does NOT return to the “same old, same old,” he’ll retain his vision and have the chance to begin to make it real by embodying it in his everyday life.


Of course, this is the goal. It makes no sense to make a massive effort - as this particular ceremony requires - and then go back to the old ways. We are here to die to the past. Death is a friend to us in this way. Because only through the process of healing the past, are we able to be fully present and able to access our powers and spiritual gifts in the moments they’re needed. It’ll be another aspect of my work to be available to process what I can with him and support him, particularly on his first tentative steps back into the world.


It’s time for me to get going. The fire pit awaits me, along with the stony grandfathers, the wood we’ve cut, and the sacred inipi (sweat lodge) we’ve constructed. Charley has made all his preparations. Now, it’s time for me to do what I can to create a way for Charley to purify himself one more time before the humble, solitary walk up the mountain to the place of his burial, the death of his old self.


It’s an honor to be involved in the process with a man such as this.

(art by Daniel Buckle)

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