The Certainty of Becoming

The Certainty of Becoming

Photograph by Iacopo Pasqui / Connected Archives


words by Ruth Robertson

With the gradual return of the sun, Atmos columnist Ruth Robertson reflects on reemerging from darkness and experiencing the rebirth of spring once more.

This morning on the way to work, I witnessed a semitruck hauling a large load slide off the Interstate, jack knife, and skid into a ditch. We were driving on ice. As he passed me, I whispered to myself, “You’re going too fast.” Luckily, he didn’t take me with him.


In January, travel can be perilous in my ancestral homelands. We just celebrated the winter solstice last month. While one might think the purpose of the solstice is to mark the beginning of winter, what it has always been about for my People is celebrating the return of the Sun. From that night henceforth, each day gets progressively longer until we finally emerge from the darkness and experience the rebirth of spring.


Emergence is described as the process of coming into being, or the revelation of that which was previously hidden. It seems to me that most folks think that emergence is a choice. While that may be so, I believe it is inevitable. After all, the truth always comes to light—and what is emergence if not a sacred innermost truth? Emergence must occur when it is time.


Let me explain.


Once upon a time, long ago, the nascent beings that would become the Lakota Nation lived deep within Ina Maka (Mother Earth) in the Tunkan Tipi (Spirit Lodge). They communed with the Great Mystery, who directed them to remain underground behind the door that served as a portal from the spirit world to our current physical reality until the surface of Ina Maka could support them. At the time, there were great beasts that roamed above. There were plants, but no human lived there.


There were other spiritual powers that talked to them besides the Great Mystery. One was Iktomi, the Trickster. Another was Anog-Ite, Double Woman. For seducing Wi, the Sun, the Great Mystery cursed Anog-Ite by granting her wish. She wanted to be a spirit, so he gave her two faces. She kept her beautiful human face, but her other face was that of a monstrous, twisted spirit. Her duality became apparent for all to see. She was forced to wear her truth.


Iktomi and Anog-Ite lived on the surface of Mother Earth, and in their boredom, they decided to trick the Lakota who lived underfoot. Even though the surface was a dangerous place, there were enticements that they could show the Lakota to tempt them to leave the spirit world and live upon the surface with them. Iktomi devised a plan: Anog-Ite called the great dire wolf, Sungmanitu Tanka, and loaded a pack of goods upon him to show to the Lakota. Sungmanitu Tanka entered Maka Oniye, the Breathing Earth. Deep within, he found the passageway that crossed from the surface to the spirit world, where the early Lakota resided. Once there, he showed them berries, dried meat, and buckskin clothing finely decorated with beads and porcupine quills.


The Lakota had never tasted food before. The spirit plates and offerings the great wolf brought them were unlike anything they had ever experienced. They also thought the clothing was exquisite and wanted to see more. Sungmanitu Tanka spoke of the splendor of the surface, but never the adversities. He offered to take them to Anog-Ite, who would show them how to obtain more berries and dried meat, and teach them how to create the finely decorated clothing for themselves.

“From the story of our creation, we may glean that not only is emergence certain, but that it comes in its own good time.”

Ruth Robertson

Some of these Lakota decided to travel to the surface to see this wonderful world that the great wolf spoke of, but others stayed, remembering the words of The Great Mystery, who cautioned them to wait until the surface was ready to support them.


The journey to the surface was long and difficult. The Lakota who chose to leave the spirit world and join this reality were changed by their emergence. When they arrived, they were overcome with the beauty of the bright blue sky, and the lush green surface. It was summer, and the food they had tasted below was plentiful. The wolf did indeed take them to meet Double Woman, who did what she promised. She showed them where to forage berries, how to hunt for game and tan hides, and how to decorate buckskin. Even today, it is said that beadworkers and quillers will often dream of Double Woman, who inspires creativity in these arts.


But summer would not last forever. As the seasons changed, they realized that the surface could be a harsh place. To survive, they had to work very hard, harder than they ever worked beneath the surface. They suffered greatly, and many died. In their most desperate hour, Anog-Ite revealed her other face, so they ran in terror back to the gateway within the cave from which they had emerged. They discovered that they could not return. It was then that they remembered the Great Mystery and cried out to him. The Great Mystery, Takuskanskan, was disgusted by them. They were impatient and had not listened to his warning. He put them inside buffalo, creating the first herd of bison.


The Lakota who had stayed in the Spirit Lodge could not die, so they were still alive when the Great Mystery told them the surface of Mother Earth was ready for their arrival. Led by Tokahe, The First One, these Lakota made the journey to the surface, careful to stop and pray four times as they traveled.


They exited onto the surface as whole human beings with their eternal spirits inside their flesh. The Great Mystery told them to follow the buffalo, who had been on the surface for a long time and could show them where to live, hunt, and find water. The buffalo would provide the Lakota with food, tools, shelter, and clothing for the rest of their days. Today, Maka Oniye, the Breathing Earth, is called Wind Cave. This is where the Lakota emerged from the spirit world to become human beings.


From the story of our creation, we may glean that not only is emergence certain, but that it comes in its own good time. That’s why it’s so important to embrace the process, and as one emerges and becomes, to allow oneself to flow like a river in whichever direction it manifests—even if it’s unexpected. Do not limit yourself with preconceived notions of who you’ve been told you should be, or who you previously thought you’d be. If you trust the process and your highest self, while listening to that quiet voice that guides you from within, you may just wake up one day an entirely different being and realize that’s who you were meant to become all along. Therein lies true happiness and satisfaction. It’s in the becoming.

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