Hiking the Peak
For years, as an English teacher, I taught the book of Black Elk Speaks by Nebraska author John G. Neihardt. Neihardt interviewed the Lakota holy man, Black Elk, and then wrote the story of his life as told to him. A large part of that story was the re-telling of Black Elk’s ‘Great Vision’, a vision that happened when he was nine years old, and part of the vision took him to a peak in South Dakota: Harney Peak, the highest place between the Rockies and the Pyrenees. It had long been my desire to hike the Peak and I had my first hike several years ago with my niece the day after Thanksgiving. I was terribly out of shape, not having hiked for a couple years, but enjoyed it immensely and wanted to return. This summer I had that opportunity.
I haven’t really hiked for quite a while, but when I mentioned the hike to a few friends, we immediately planned a trip. And I began to work harder to get back into shape, as this time I wanted to enjoy the trek more! I walk several times a week (my friends are accomplished hikers) so set out to prepare for the hike. Doing so reminded me of the benefits of walking. In addition to the obvious physical workout, walking and hiking also helps our mental and emotional state. While studies are still going on to establish definitive evidence, most people see reduction in anxiety and depressive symptoms after exercising. And personally I would have to agree, which is one reason why I love the hiking.
I also like the physical exertion and the feeling I have when my muscles have been pushed to the limit, I have shed some sweat, and I have accomplished a goal. Hiking to the top of Harney Peak, while meeting those physical requirements, also was an emotional trip for me, as I had time to again re-connect with nature, to actually be immersed in the lands that the great Holy man had trudged along.
“Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world.” (Black Elk said the mountain he stood upon in his vision was Harney Peak in the Black Hills. “But anywhere is the center of the world, he added.”) Black Elk’s vision was about the “things of the Other World” and before he began the telling of his life, he told Neihardt “There is so much to teach you. What I know was given to me for men and it is true and it is beautiful. Soon I shall be under the grass and it will be lost. You were sent to save it, and you must come back so that I can teach you.” The book then became the story, not only of Black Elk’s life, but of his vision and his disappointment that he was unable to help his people by uniting them and leading them to keep the nation’s hoop together. At the end of retelling the story, Black Elk and Neihardt returned to Harney Peak so the old man could pray again. And at the end of his prayer, he asked that the Great Spirit “make my people live”. Neihardt’s book was the tool that Black Elk could again spread his word about his vision and his people’s journey.
So as we trekked up to the Peak, I had time to reflect on many things, including our part in the world and what each of us has to do to help others. I also had time to reflect on how we let the busy lives of our day-to-day living drown out the call of nature to us. We all, man and animal, all cultures of human-kind, need to work harder to live together, to respect others, to accept that we are all part of the vision and we all have a part in the world. And we all need to work hard to protect what was given to us, to protect and preserve all of nature. As we walked along, I saw very little trash in this sacred place, but I see people littering all over, in other places that are scared because these other places, too, are a part of our nature, a part of our world. People were quiet and open in allowing spiritual essences to flow into them, but I notice that we often close ourselves to that experience in other places.
Hiking is a good way to allow our hearts, minds, and souls to be more open to the world, to be more accepting and respectful, and hopefully allow us to recommit to a greater, deeper reconnection with our world and the people in our world.
Neihardt, John G. (1932), Black Elk speaks. Lincoln, NE. University of Nebraska Press.Tags: climbing the peak
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
Licensed Professional Counselor
Advanced Clinical HypnoTherapist
- Deb England began working part-time for Wholeness Healing Center in September 2004 and began full-time in May 2005. Deb practices primarily in the Broken Bow office and one day a week in the Grand Island office. Previously she had completed her practicum and internship at Morning Star Alliance, working in the Broken Bow and Grand Island offices.
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