Elders from all tribes have told us that a “vision” is essential for our
well-being. The past forms you or deforms you. But the future – a vision –
We are defined not only by where we have been. We are defined, also, by
where we are going.
That is why visions are so important for human growth, since it is through
visions that we enter the path of transformation.
One of the practices among traditional communities is encouraging its young
people to go into the wilderness, to some sacred places, and seek a vision.
At times that vision is clear to them, and they know the meaning of their
vision without need of further interpretations. But sometimes the meaning
of the vision is not clear, and then they have to seek advice by those who
have had visions before them: their teachers or elders.
I remember an elder Lakota friend telling me how he could not figure out
the meaning of a vision when he was a young man. He went to an elder and,
falling prey of self-importance, said that he had experienced a sacred
vision – although he did not know what it meant – that the elder, being so
wise and good, would have no trouble interpreting.
The elder asked him to describe what he had seen.
My friend stated that after several days of fasting he saw several lights
while he concluded a traditional dance.
The elder smiled and said “I have had that happen to me.”
“What does it mean?” asked my friend impatiently.
“Exhaustion,” said the elder without any further explanation.
My friend had to return several times to the wilderness in search of a
vision. And a vision came to him once he got through his self-importance.
It could not have happened any other way.
The vision is for the “self,” not the “ego” of the person. The vision is
meant to reveal to us our true face, not the mask with which we wish to
impress the world. A vision humbles us and shows us how we can be of
service instead of making an idol of ourselves. In a way, a vision is the
opposite of the dominant message of our modern world that worships fame,
fortune, power and physical attributes. A vision leads us to build
community rather than pursue individual goals.
A good number of people are becoming disenchanted with the success dream of
our society. Some of them, having reached great success by mainstream
society’s standard, are now changing radically their path in life.
Voluntary simplicity, involvement with social change, “protection of the
environment and compassion in action are some of the directions they are
now taking. This change has also been brought upon by the awareness of the
destructive consequences of their previous way of existence.
For some it has come as a result of the development of a global
consciousness, where they have seen the devastating consequences of their
success on the earth and other people. In short, they could no longer live
with themselves and keep doing what they were doing. They had grown a
And consciousness is a “vision,” too. Consciousness gives us our sense of
our relation to each other, to the fact that we are connected to each other
and to all life on Earth. Then our challenge is to walk this earth as a
human being, to take a moment in nature and find our humanity, that dormant
part of us that appreciates the sunrise, the flight of birds, the sound of
a waterfall. It is there where our true self dwells.
And our self responds to this natural life around us. When self and life
meet we find our path in life.
“I am 40 years old,” Willard Rhodes, an elder Pit River Indian, told me a
few years ago.
I shook my head, for I knew him to be at least 80 years old.
“Why do you say that?” I finally asked.
“Because it was 40 years ago that I found my tinihowi (a Pit River word for
healing or direction in life).”
Willard Rhodes told me that life comes down to two simple things: We are
either finding our life, or running from our life.
A vision helps us find our life; it also makes us aware of our
responsibility for the life around us which is, actually, the same life.
And that is the essence of Indian education: to help our children find
their lives, to follow a path with a heart, to find what is known
throughout Indian country as the red road.
Roberto Dansie is a clinical psychologist. In 1997 he received the golden
medallion from the National Indian Health Board for his contributions to
health in Indian country. He lives in northern California and his Web site