Ed McGaa, an Oglala Sioux, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota. The son of strong parents, he grew up gifted and secure:
"That is probably why I can take flack and it doesn't bother me. I have a strong background in my mother and my father."
Ed's (Eagle Man) development was nurtured by mentors such as Ben Black Elk, son of Black Elk, and an involved extended family:
"He (Ben Black Elk) set the seeds because he always talked about his father's book when I was little. My mother had a couple of sisters who played a strong role in my life. All my brothers saw combat in World War II so when I was a little boy I had these heroes, real live heroes, who would write letters back to me."
"I have always been blessed with mentors. The spirit world put mentors in my life. I attended St. John's University and a couple of Benedictine priests took me under their wing. Later Fools Crow and Bill Eagle Feather were honorable men to look up to. Ben Rifle was a congressman who talked me into leaving the Marines to attend law school. Now I am older and my mentors are dead, but they are still here with me. I feel their presence."
As a Marine pilot Ed flew over one-hundred combat missions in Viet Nam. He earned a law degree from the University of South Dakota and is the author of many books including: Mother Earth Spirituality, Native Wisdom: Perceptions of the Natural Way, and Eagle Vision: Return of the Hoop.
Upon returning from Viet Nam he was a leader in restoring Native American spiritual practices to his reservation. He shifted from being a physical warrior to a mystic warrior:
"A mystic warrior is concerned about the preservation of the natural way. We had our way taken from us and we were forbidden to do it. Now it is coming back. But in my time, when I was young, there were very few young men who stood up for the Indian way. Most of them were in the bars, and they were captured by the white man's drugs and the white man's alcohol. They were brainwashed in the white man's way by the boarding schools. They showed little attention towards the return of the natural way. The mystic warrior doesn't fight physically but speaks up against the crowd for a way of life and for our spirituality. The mystic warrior leads a life the great spirit would want you to live."
Ed McGaa turned down careers in the military and in the law to follow his purpose. A mystical warrior lives a life of integrity:
"It was easier to be ethical and honorable in the old Sioux life style because materialism did not permeate it and the values allowed you to be honorable and ethical."
"In the Sioux tradition there is a high degree of honor. Our ancestors were so truthful that they never broke a treaty. They have a track record of family, environmentalism, and patriotism to the tribe. They were true to all the great ethical descriptions."
"Some say I romanticize them. I do not romanticize them. I saw these people who were pure, full blood Indians who would stay at my parents' place and they were all these things, and they had humor on top of it. They were always open as to how they could improve their spirituality. They were always open to what others were doing. They were able to adapt. The Sioux were great adapters."
"Warriors were observed by the people and the leadership emerged. Leaders were those who demonstrated bravery, good judgment, and provided for the people. They were those who made good decisions. A real leader had few possessions; they gave their possessions to the people. Leaders had to demonstrate loyalty, ethical ability, and honor."
"We recognize what is honorable, and we recognize what is unhonorable. It is just put inside of us. We recognize what is honorable and what is ethical. You have to put truthfulness away for the spirit world as you put food away for the winter. People get in trouble by bending truths. Being truthful is seeing the natural ways of life."
In helping to bring Indian spirituality back to his reservation, Ed McGaa stepped away from the crowd:
"Sometimes you are at the cutting edge and you are out in front and the people are not ready for it. Later on in 20 or 30 years they will come and be part of it but you will have been forgotten. So I don't recommend leading for anybody if you are thin skinned."
"Now, many years later, I am on the cutting edge again in sharing our spirituality with non-Indians. Others want to keep it secret. Being on the cutting edge is not an easy road. I feel cursed by it in a way. You have to be extremely thick-skinned. I think in my next life I am going to be a simple farmer. Or I am going to be a poet or a musician. And not ever take this cutting edge role."
Why does he help non-Indians learn about Native American spirituality? "I don't feel bad educating the white man. It is one world we live in."
The warrior is an unpopular archetype today. But the warrior is part of who we are--it cannot be wished away. If we try to banish the warrior from our psychic system, we drive our aggression underground into the unconscious where anger will find expression in destructive ways. The archetype is not the problem. The problem is our incompetence in facing the warrior within ourselves and others.
We need a more evolved definition of the warrior for today's world, and we need the warrior in each of us to assert itself fully, maturely, and courageously. We also need to be role-models and mentors to others, young and old, so that healthy warriors can lead us to fulfill our potential.
The warrior protects life and life's natural processes by going into the real world and standing between evil and innocence. The warrior alerts others to danger and mobilizes them to face reality and to take risks. The warrior protects the boundaries of the self and of the community from what is destructive. In spite of fear, pain, danger, difficulty, and personal cost, the warrior goes forward first.
The warrior weds power with values and strength with goodness. With self-discipline the warrior destroys the enemies of the true self, attacks those things that are cruel, abusive, damaging, and discouraging and confronts injustice and oppression. This creative destruction makes space for a more just creativity.
Warriors assert their authenticity and make the world a better place. Rosa Parks, a seamstress, was afraid when she sat at the front of the bus that day in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. But one day she said no. She wouldn't stand so a white person could sit. Her feet were tired. Her soul was tired. She had endured enough. She would no longer live a divided life. She would not collaborate any longer with those who would deny her humanity. She didn't care what they did to her. She would not give up her seat at the front of the bus. And a movement began. All movements, large or small, begin with one person's moment of authenticity. Rosa Parks is a warrior.
Like Rosa Parks the warrior has a nobility of spirit and energy that inspires others to reach for greatness. The unmistakable values of truth, justice, integrity, and responsibility provide the strength to stand alone. Authenticity and courage emerge and grow from ongoing personal tests that challenge the warrior's character.
Warriors are often angry people. Their anger is forceful disapproval of lies told, trust betrayed, innocence violated, reality denied, power abused, and incompetence rewarded. They don't turn indifferent or deny their anger and become sadistic and abusive. True warriors engage their anger and use its energy to empower themselves and free others.
A peaceable young man asks a rabbi: "Are we not to forswear anger and live peacefully with all men?" The rabbi answers, "My son, God made anger for a purpose. If he had not intended for us to use it He would not have put it in our souls. Only be careful how you spend your anger. There are many things we should not be angry about. We should save our anger for those things which demand it."
John Cowan wrote in Small Decencies: "I like people who are alive. People who are alive are hard to control. They have ideas, aspirations, and feelings, including anger. Nice people have the bad habit of letting me down. Nice people don't offer me anything I have not thought of before. Nice people don't save me from my mistakes. Nice people end up acting on feelings they have always had but never wanted to tell me about."
Warriors identify with life itself, and their honor brings forth courageous actions. The power of the warrior is of creation and destruction. Few have the audaciousness to destroy what needs to be destroyed in our lives and our organizations. Few possess the boldness to risk the creation of new forms. Despite the dangers of provoking the status-quo, true warriors accept their responsibility to make choices and to take decisive actions.
Our enterprises are filled with the walking dead: many who are indifferent, legions who comply and conform, those who claim entitlement and helplessness, countless who are small and petty and not a few villians. We desperately need warriors who will stand up, speak up, and take actions that remind us of our own best possibilities. And when they do, the rest of us need to strengthen them with our support.
Organizational warriors face their anxieties and go forward into uncertainty learning as they proceed. They confront twisted thinking. They live the values and vision of the enterprise and cross swords with those who do not. The warrior intercedes for the less powerful and helps others face the realities of the world and the organization. They lead and support others through transitions. They challenge mediocre performance at all levels. The warrior tells the truth and holds themselves and others accountable. They teach and mentor others in being a healthy warrior who serves the whole.
If marginalized by the forces for the status-quo, the organizational warrior leaves and continues the battle from another place. Rosa Parks was arrested and fired from her job in 1955. In 1999 she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress' highest civilian honor, and hailed as "a living icon for freedom in America." We should fear less putting our positions at risk and trust more in our values and our abilities to adapt.
In his next life Ed McGaa will continue to be a warrior. He can be nothing else. A warrior is who he is and he is good.
Tom Heuerman, Ph.D. is a consultant, writer, teacher, inspirer, former special agent in the United States Secret Service, former business leader, change agent, photographer and adventurer. Visit A More Natural Way for more of his work and life strategies services.
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