Author’s Note: What follows is, what is believed to be, the last “public” teaching of Chi-Ma’iingan. While Larry Stillday left us on May 20, 2014, Gichi-Ma’iingan—”Gaa-izhinikaanid”—lives on in the hearts and minds of not only the Red Lake people, but also all of the four colors of the Medicine Wheel who heard or read his words.
He often said of his teachings, “It’s not about Indians, it’s about people! The other colors will come to us and we must share, all the life forces must come into alignment! The Prophesies tell us that we are now in the time of great healing. It says the four Colors of the human family are once again given an opportunity to bring each Color’s gifts together and create a mighty nation.”
To those of us benefited by his teachings, he left many a message. This is one I like. At the end of one of Larry’s several Wellness Lodges held at “Obaashiing University,” he said, “Gigaagiigidotamaagoom, maada’ooyok gaa-miinigooyeg.” (You are speakers for us now, share what you have learned.)
With a heavy heart, I submit.
“Taking care of Mother Earth comes from the fact that we were given the responsibility as caretaker of the earth. Since we are of the earth—to take care of Mother Earth—we do that by taking care of ourselves. It’s an interconnected, interdependent and interrelated system. Since we have become separated from the Earth, we are separated within ourselves too.” ~Chi-Ma’iingan, Obaashiing (Notes from a Healing Lodge)
The Teaching was held, appropriately, in the Culture Room of the Red Lake Middle School. The teacher, Midewinini Gichi-Ma’iingan, would speak of symbols in a room full of symbols. It was Thursday, April 10, 2014. The air outside was cool, due to a tardy spring, on the Red Lake Indian Reservation.
But a certain warmth and calmness claims all those who enter the circular, colorful, and rustic room. A variety of seating is available…log and half-log furniture, tables, benches and chairs. Pipes, hand drums, paintings, birch bark, and other Ojibwe crafts dot the circular wall. Eagle staffs, along with U.S. and Red Lake Nation flags, are bordered by Minnesota and MIA banners. They all stand to the left of Migizi.
High on the walls seated on platforms are sculptures depicting Red Lake’s seven major clans. Below each symbol was the name of the clan written in Ojibwemowin; Makwa (Bear) Mikinaak (Turtle), Awazisii (Bullhead), Waabizheshi (Marten), Migizi (Eagle), Ojiig (Fisher), and Ogiishkimanisii (Kingfisher).
As people trickle into the room after enjoying a light supper in the high school cafeteria, they are greeted by a cheerful middle school principle (Susan Ninham) before taking a seat facing a screen.
The image on the screen is familiar to some as a photo taken in the woods near Obaashiing, the site of “Obaashiing University” and the many Wellness Camps hosted by Larry and Violet Stillday. A sweat lodge and large Medicine Wheel are prominent. (The next Wellness Camp had been slated for June 10.) The PowerPoint presentation, “Taking Care of Mother Earth,” is operated by Violet, the wife of the evening’s tutor. To the right of the screen stood her husband, spiritual advisor and teacher, Chi-Ma’iingan (Larry Stillday), who commented on how appropriate it was to have this teaching in a circular room surrounded by clan symbols.
“My how we have become detached from ourselves! We are spirits having a human experience, not humans trying to be spiritual. We are here to complete that human experience,” ~Gichi-Ma’iingan.
“Our culture and are language are still here because our land is still here. This is where the Creator put it, on the land. Our ancestors are waiting for us,” ~Gichi-Ma’iingan.
“Taking Care of Mother Earth”
“Many of us have been brought up to believe that our health depends solely on the quality of healthcare we receive,” began Chi-Ma’iingan. “The truth is, we are responsible for our health, we are the ones who make lifestyle decisions that contribute to our well-being.”
Stillday emphasized that we as individuals are the ones who must take the steps to take care of our health and promote our wellness.
“The power is within us to create the wellness in our lives,” he said.
“We have been taught—and continue to be influenced to think—in terms of pieces of ideas and concepts, rather than in integrated terms of ideas and concepts, which is more in line with our way of learning,” Stillday carefully explained.
“Thinking this way has led us to look at our spiritual, emotional, physical and mental aspects of our being…as if each aspect, is completely separated…rather than being interconnected with each other,” he said.
Stillday explained that thinking this way has led us to look at our health in a compartmentalized way, rather than in a management way of the whole being.
State of Imbalance
“Thinking in this way has led us to think as if our bodies, organs and systems are separated from our thoughts, emotions and spirit,” he said.
This is a state of imbalance!
State of Balance
“For us, health is more than the absence of disease, it is a state of optimal well-being,” he continued.
This is a state of balance.
“The way we were given to think and learn, gives us that power, within ourselves, to create the wellness we need in our lives,” Stillday said. “That power is the power of choice.”
“For us [tribal peoples], optimal well-being is a concept of health that goes beyond the curing of illness to one of achieving ‘Mino-Aayaawin,’…Wellness,” said Chi-Ma’iinga. “We are given everything we need. These instructions have not changed.”
It’s a matter of balance, he said. “Achieving wellness requires balancing the four aspects of our whole being, this holistic approach involves integrating all four aspects as an ongoing process.”
Stillday’s PowerPoint then flashed several statements on the screen, first in Ojibwemowin then translated to English.
Mino-aayaawin gigiminigoomin gakina gegoom ji-gwayako bimodiziyaang
“We were given everything to live right!”
Gayganawendamoog gigiminigoomin miinawaa gayizhiganawenidizoyaag
“We were given what to take care of, and how to take care of ourselves!”
And, as is often the case with Chi-Ma’iingan, he added some whimsy.
Boozhoo Endinawemaganidoog awegonnen ishpiming
“Whad up?” he said, then added, “How to say camel or kangaroo, what difference does that make?”
Gigi oshisidamagoomin gakayaa gayishiganawendadizooyaan
“Everything was put in place about how we are to take care of ourselves!”
Giwinjigadawan o’wnowen gayganawendamoog…
“The four aspects of our being (starting in the east then clockwise; spirit, emotion, body, and mind)—that we are to take care of—were given a name…nitaawigi’iwewin maajiigi.” [Translated as “the growth/development of being.”]
“We use the Circle to explain life, and we use the ancient symbol of the Medicine Wheel to illustrate the Cycle of Life,” Stillday went on. “To understand the Cycle of Life, we must first understand the teachings of the Medicine Wheel.”
Then added, “Some think this is a religion, but it’s a symbol, a teaching tool.”
“We Use the Medicine Wheel Symbol to Represent A Non-Linear Model of Human Development.”
“Each direction on the wheel offers lessons and gifts that support the human developmental stages,” Stillday explained. “The lesson is to remain balanced at the center of the wheel—while developing equally—the spiritual, emotional, physical and mental aspects of one’s being.”
He added, “To make circles you have to be in the center.”
“Our Life Consists of Four Aspects of Existence,” said Stillday. “We have to seek balance, wholeness and fulfillment in our lives. We need to heal, develop, and integrate the four aspects (of life) within our lives.”
Using the four interdependent directions of the Medicine Wheel is a holistic approach for living in a good way and provides a model for a cultural and traditional lifestyle,” Stillday said.
“If Anything is Sacred, it is the Human Body. Hold Yourself Sacred!”
“The four aspects of our being also have boundaries,” said Chi-Ma’iingan. “Our [personal] boundaries protect us and give us a sense of who we are; they are not fixed, we change them with what we feel and who we are with.”
“When our boundaries are intact we know we have feelings, thoughts and realities that are separate from others! Our boundaries tell us where we end, and where the other person begins.”
Stillday noted that developing personal boundaries is one of the core issues for achieving a healthy, balanced life. The four aspects (spirit, emotion, body and mind), and the personal boundaries that each separate aspect contains, are what gives us identity and connects us to our innermost self.
Stillday provided some detail.
“Spiritual Boundaries: relate to our beliefs, experiences and our relationship with our Creator.”
“Emotional Boundaries: distinguishes our emotion and responsibilities in relation to others. It draws an imaginary line or a force field that separates us from others.”
“Physical Boundaries: our physical space, and privacy.”
“Mental Boundaries: applies to our values, opinions, attitudes, and thoughts.”
Chi-Ma’iingan went on to say that healthy boundaries give us self-respect, self-esteem, self-image, and self-worth. They give us confidence and a solid self-concept. “This empowers us to make good choices and take responsibility for ourselves, always keeping the ‘self’ is at the center of the Wheel.”
“In The Four States of Being; We bring balance to our lives by honoring our spirit, heart, body and mind. We develop a solid self-concept.” (By knowing our—and respecting others’—boundaries.)
“In The Four Aspects of Health; we are reminded that Well-being is an ongoing endeavor, not a destination. The four aspects of health (for spirit, heart, body and mind) must be kept in harmony and balance to obtain optimum health,” Stillday said.
The Spiritual Aspect
“This is our inner essence,” explained Gichi-Ma’iingan, “the part of us that exists beyond time and space and connects us to the Universal Source and to the Oneness of Life.”
He continued, “Developing our awareness of our spiritual level gives us the experience of a feeling of belonging in the universe and gives us a deeper meaning and purpose.”
And then, “Our spiritual aspect provides the foundation for the development of the other three aspects. It develops our relationship with our selves, with our creativity, our life purpose, and our relationship with our Creator.”
The Emotional Aspect
“This gives us the ability to experience life on a deeper level,” declared Stillday. “It gives us the ability to relate to one another, including the world, on a deeper level. It’s the part of us that seeks meaningful connection and contact with others.”
“Developing our emotional aspect (and knowing/applying its boundaries) allows us to feel a wide range of human experience with our five senses and find fulfillment in our relationships with ourselves and others,” he explained. “This aspect is about our feelings, our range of emotions; from fear to anger, love to happiness and joy.”
Continued Stillday, “Emotional well-being is not the absence of emotions, but our ability to understand and value our emotions, and to use them to move us forward toward positive directions.”
The Physical Aspect
“Our body is a vehicle we have been given so we can experience the world,” Stillday noted. “It also includes our ability to survive and thrive in the material world.”
He added, “Developing our physical aspect involves learning to take care of our body and enjoying it. It also means developing skills to live comfortably and effectively in the material world.”
The Mental Aspect
“This is our intellect, our ability to think and reason; it also consists of our thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and our values,” said Stillday. “It can be our greatest gift or sometimes our greatest curse. It can cause us to have terrible confusion or bring us profound understanding.”
Moreover, “Developing our mental aspect allows us to think clearly, to be open-minded and to gather knowledge and wisdom though our life experiences from the world around us,” he said.
All Four Aspects of our Being are Equally Important
“In order to feel whole and lead a satisfying life we need to spend time and attention on understanding, developing and integrating each aforementioned aspect,” the great man continued.
“All of these aspects must work together to make us a whole person. What happens to one aspect affects all the other aspects,” he said. “Since all four aspects must work in harmony to achieve wellness, each aspect needs our attention and care to perform at its best.”
That comprises various facets of the human person.
• “The Spiritual you: requires inner calmness, openness to creativity and trust with your inner knowing.”
• “The emotional you: needs to give and receive forgiveness, love and compassion, needs to laugh and experience happiness.”
• “The Physical you: requires good nutrients, exercise and adequate rest.”
• “The Mental you: needs self-supportive attitudes, positive thoughts and viewpoints, and a positive self-image.”
So then…”Health is defined as a Balance Among the Four Aspects of Being,” declared Stillday. “Reaching a balance in life is an ongoing process.”
The Role of Ceremony
Chi-Ma’iingan, near closing, left us with a teaser on ceremony and how it helps us to achieve balance of the four aspects and boundaries. He thought perhaps he would teach more of its value, perhaps at the next Wellness Camp, sadly never to be.
“There is great value to Aadizookaan [a sacred story, legend or myth]; it helps us develop the aspects and is often used in Manidookewin [ceremony],” he said. “Manidookewin is about integrity, the balance of Spirit, Heart, Body, and Mind. It is like a four-cylinder engine. Ya gotta be hittin’ on all cylinders.”
Ceremony, he said, ushers in the next chapter.
“Ceremony is to celebrate the new phases of our lives,” Stillday asserted. “It also celebrates when we can’t figure the rest.”
In addition, “Healing and ceremony push you in the direction of need. You heal yourself, not someone else,” he said.
“Sometimes we do things with Manidookewin, but we are…the ceremony,” declared Stillday. “How is it, they say? ‘We are the ones we’ve been waiting for?'”
Care for Yourself, Care for the Universe
“Our well-being encompasses all of our parts, not just the physical body; however, taking care of our physical body is an important element in caring for our whole self,” Chi-Ma’iingan said in closing. “It is important to listen to our body because it tells us when it needs our attention; pain is one indicator that it needs our attention.”
Stillday noted that with so much going on in our everyday lives it’s easy to get sidetracked; that’s why it’s important that we remember to try and lead a balanced life.
“One of easiest things we tend forget is how everything within us is connected,” Stillday said. “We must continue giving equal time to those four areas of our lives, because if one or more suffers from lack of attention, they will all suffer causing imbalance and disharmony.”
” ‘That’s your song. We are talking about rhythm,” said Gichi-Ma’iingan. “Happiness comes from the inside, not the outside.”