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Foundation of the Sacred Stream
A Quarterly Newsletter from the Foundation of the Sacred Stream ISSUE 19 | JULY 2010
Creating Pathways to wholeness
Excerpt from Michael's Journey

By Tamara Teichgraeber

Michael's Journey is about a middle school student who meets his spirit guide in human form during a low period in his life. He is the child of an alcoholic and feels very isolated when his spirit guide appears and begins educating him about who he really is - who his ancestors were as well as who he is spiritually. My hope is to use the book as an educational tool with middle school students who are struggling with parents who have substance abuse issues and to introduce them to journeying through the book. In this chapter, Michael has been suspended from school for beating up another student. He is on the first day of his suspension and has just left the restaurant where his mother works when he again runs into his spirit guide, 'Chief.'

Michael nodded his head and quickly left the restaurant. His stomach felt nice and full but nothing else felt very settled. It was a Friday and he was not at school. As he walked slowly back towards his apartment he realized how important school had become for him. He didn’t always feel completely safe walking through the corridors at school, due in large part to Jamal and some of Jamal’s friends, but there was a consistency there that he didn’t have in any other part of his life. He knew what to expect at school. And he truly liked most of his teachers. He felt a little lost without that routine.  

He was thinking about the next few days and what he would do with his time when he looked up and saw the old man from yesterday, leaning against the wall of the convenience store, in almost the same place that he had seen him the day before.

“Hello Michael,” Chief lifted his arm in greeting. “How is life treating you today?”  

“I’m OK,” Michael answered, feeling a little guarded around this stranger.

“Isn’t it funny how we don’t appreciate something until we don’t have it anymore?” Chief asked.

Michael was now standing next to the old man. He looked at him inquisitively. “What are you talking about?” Michael asked, even though he had an idea what the old man was referring to. It was uncanny the way this old guy knew stuff about him. Michael didn’t trust him and was certainly not going to make it easy for him.

“Well, in this case, I’m talking about school,” Chief answered. “But it could apply to many things.  We just don’t seem to really appreciate things or people until they are no longer around.”

“Whatever,” Michael responded, not wanting to encourage further conversation with this guy.

“Yeah, whatever,” Chief replied, turning to lean against the wall in imitation of Michael.

Michael turned his head to look over at Chief. He was feeling quite irritated and didn’t like this old guy mocking him. “Don’t you have anything better to do right now? Michael asked.

Chief thought for a minute and then shook his head slowly. “No, not really." Then he looked over at Michael and added, “I guess you don’t either, huh?”

This guy was really making him mad now. “Who are you?” Michael asked in exasperation.

“Oh I’m sorry,” Chief responded. “You don’t remember my name. You can call me ‘Chief,’” he said as he extended his hand.

Michael ignored his outstretched hand. “I remember your name. I want to know what you are doing here. Why do you keep asking me questions? Are you some kind of pervert?” Michael looked directly into Chief’s eyes.

The old man stared straight back into Michael’s eyes. Michael felt mesmerized. There was such a look of caring in the old man’s eyes that Michael thought he might start crying. He looked down to break the spell.

“I just want to help you, Michael. I want to be your friend. You seem like you could use a friend about now,” Chief answered.

Michael remained silent.  

“Hey, did you have a chance to ask your Mom about your Dad last night?” Chief asked, breaking the silence.

“No, my Mom wasn’t in a place to talk about much of anything last night,” Michael answered, thinking about the previous night.

“Yeah, that must be hard, not really having anyone to talk with at home,” Chief said. He continued, “You know it’s not your fault.”  Michael looked up at him. Anticipating Michael’s next question he quickly followed with, “your Mom’s drinking. It’s not your fault and you can’t do anything about it.”

“I hate that she drinks all the time!” Michael exclaimed, tears now falling uncontrollably from his eyes. He did not even bother asking this time how Chief knew this information. He had never talked to anyone about his mother’s drinking, not even Felicia. Felicia knew about it, of course. She had seen Michael’s Mom drunk many times, but they had never talked about it. It felt good to actually say it out loud.

“I know you hate it, Michael,” Chief answered tenderly. “And your mother is going to have to find her own way with this. You are not going to be able to rescue her, Michael.” Chief placed his hand gently on Michael’s shoulder.

They stood this way for a couple of minutes, with Michael allowing Chief to make contact with him while he silently cried. When Michael realized he was crying in public and kids from school might see him, he abruptly pulled away from Chief and brushed the tears away from his eyes with the sleeve from his shirt. Chief respected the distance Michael had created between them and stayed right where he had been standing.  

“Hey kid, you need to leave!” The store owner had come out in front and was yelling at Michael. “There’s no loitering, see?” he continued, pointing towards a posted sign a few feet from where Michael was standing.  

Michael looked over at Chief, who had not moved. “How come he is not telling you to leave, too?” Michael asked Chief.

Before Chief could answer, the owner had walked over and was standing right in front of Michael, completely ignoring Chief, who was standing to his left. “What did you say?” The owner asked angrily. “Are you going to give me a problem here? Do I need to call the police?”

“No, I was just wondering why…” Michael was cut off from finishing his sentence.

“Meet me at the park,” Chief said quickly and walked off, leaving Michael to face the owner alone.  

The owner continued staring angrily at Michael. “Just wondering what?” the owner asked.

“Just wondering….” Michael’s voice trailed off. “Never mind, I’m leaving.” Michael turned and headed off towards the park, the same direction in which Chief had walked. Michael felt baffled. It was as though the owner had not even seen Chief standing next to him.

He was going to ask Chief about this as soon as he got to the park. There were so many questions that he had for this old guy. His ability to seemingly disappear was just one of many things he wanted to ask him about.

Michael got to the park a few minutes later. It had been a little league field, with a baseball diamond and dugouts. But Michael had never known it to be anything but what it was today, a hangout for drug dealers and junkies. Weeds covered much of the field, which was littered with broken bottles and trash. Michael saw Chief sitting in the dugout, looking like one of the homeless men who would often sleep on the dilapidated bench.  

“Down here, Michael,” Chief called out. Michael headed to the steps that would take him down to where Chief was sitting. He sat down next to Chief. He had so many questions for him; he wasn’t sure where to start. “Sorry about that Michael, I didn’t think I could help you much back at the store,” Chief said, preempting Michael’s first question.

“How do you do that?” Michael finally asked. You keep disappearing. I feel like I am the only one who can see you.”

“People see what they want to see,” Chief responded.

“Well, how come I can see you?” Michael continued, frustrated with Chief’s evasive answers.

“Because you are ready,” Chief replied, looking directly at Michael.

“Ready for what?!” Michael could not contain his exasperation.

“Ready to see what I have to show you. I want to take you somewhere, Michael. On a journey.”

Michael turned his head to look at Chief, feeling more and more confused. Chief now had a big round drum in his left hand and a drum stick in his other hand. He began to hit the drum in a quick, steady beat with the stick. “Just close your eyes, Michael and listen to the sound of the drum,” Chief advised.  

Michael did not want to close his eyes. In fact, he did not want to do anything that Chief asked him to do. Michael was starting to feel a little crazy. He was beginning to think that maybe he had the same sickness that Jake had – hearing voices and seeing things that weren’t really there.  

And he had so many questions for Chief. If he was real, how come no one else could see him? But the beat of the drum was so alluring. Michael hesitated briefly, and then closed his eyes. He didn’t know what to expect.

“That’s it; just follow the beat of the drum.” Chief’s voice was starting to sound so far
away. And his eyelids felt so heavy, it was easier to keep his eyes closed than it would have been to open them.  

What did Chief mean by saying he wanted to take him on a journey? And now he was playing with a drum!  

But the rhythm of the drum was starting to lull him into a more relaxed state. All of the other sounds of the park were being blocked out by the sound of the drum. He couldn’t think about anything else, just the steady beat of the drum.

Michael started feeling as though he were going down into a hole in the ground; like he was being swallowed up by the earth. But for some reason, he didn’t feel scared. He just kept hearing the drum and kept going down and down. When it seemed as though he couldn’t go down any farther, Michael opened his eyes and found himself standing on a hilltop. He was out in the country somewhere. There were huge mountains, immersed in a bluish-grey haze all around him. And the smell. He had never smelled such fresh air before. He looked around wondering where he was. He saw Chief standing a few feet behind him.  

“Where are we?” Michael asked. It was beautiful, wherever they were. Michael had never really left the city limits before. He felt overcome by the beauty and serenity of the place in which he now found himself.  

“Come, follow me.” Chief started walking in front of Michael.   

All Michael could see in every direction were huge pine trees. He could tell that they were on a path on a ridge that dropped down a hillside, but he could see nothing but green everywhere. He felt like he was in a Tarzan movie. There were huge shrubs and trees and vines in every direction. It was like nothing he had ever seen before, except maybe on TV. And the path that they were walking on was so soft. Michael looked down at his feet and saw that the path was padded with layers of pine needles, making it feel as though he was walking on foam.  

Chief finally stopped walking and when Michael caught up with him, he saw that they had come to a clearing. Chief was looking down into the clearing from the edge of the path. Below them, in a valley wedged between the mountains, was what appeared to be a village of some sort. There were a bunch of log huts covered with something that looked like mud. They seemed to be in some kind of pattern, spaced around a larger dwelling. It seemed so primitive. Michael could not see any people, but he sensed that there were people living down in the huts, in the village below him. This too was not like anything Michael had ever seen before.  

We are at Nantahala, ‘Land of the Noon Day Sun,’” Chief replied. “They called it that because there were so many trees, the sun can only get through when it is right overhead, at twelve o’clock noon.  Michael looked over at Chief questioningly.  

“We’re at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains. There is so much vegetation here, so many plants breathing all at the same time, they give off hydrocarbons which is what makes the mountains look smoky,” Chief explained.

Michael still didn’t have a clue where they were. He had heard of the Great Smoky Mountains in geography class, but he had no idea where they were or how he and Chief had gotten there.

Chief continued, “We’re at the home of your ancestors, Michael. Their original home, before the Removal. Your father’s great, great, great grandfather was born right down there, in one of those huts. This is a Cherokee settlement.”  

Chief turned his head to look over at Michael. “You know, Cherokee Indians.” He turned his head back to look down at the village and continued. “They were forced by the government to relocate to Oklahoma in the 1800’s. But this is where they first lived. Right down there,” Chief pointed to the village.  

Michael thought that he could see some smoke coming out of one of the huts, but maybe it was just the hydro-somethings from the plants that made it look like that.

Chief continued with his story. “Your ancestor was a Cherokee shaman. You know what that is?”

Michael wasn’t sure he knew anything right now. He shook his head.

Chief explained. “A medicine man. You’ve heard of a medicine man?”

Michael nodded slightly, still feeling so confused by everything that had happened.

“They were the healers of the tribe, Michael. They were consulted about every major decision that a tribe would make. They yielded great power and were looked up to by all the members of the tribe.” Chief stopped talking and again turned his head to look down at the village below them.

“Are you saying my Dad is an Indian?” Michael felt like his whole sense of reality was being distorted.

“He is a descendent of an Indian. He is a mixed blood, like you,” Chief answered.

“A mixed blood. What are you talking about!?” Michael said with irritation. He had never heard of that expression and it sounded like a put-down, like something Jamal would call him.  

“There’s nothing wrong with being a mixed-blood, Michael. Most everyone is nowadays. It just means that you are part Indian and part something else. There was so much inter-marriage among different peoples that the bloods got mixed. That’s all. It’s not a bad thing,” Chief concluded.

Michael was trying to figure out what all of this meant when he sensed something moving behind him and turned to look. He jumped back and fell into Chief when he saw a huge black cat coming toward him. Chief quickly put his arm around Michael to steady him. The big cat looked like a panther, like some huge beast that might attack him.  

“Don’t be afraid Michael,” Chief reassured him. “He won’t hurt you. He belongs with you. You two have been separated a long time and now he is being returned to you. He is here to help you on your path.”

Michael watched the big cat walk closer and closer to him. He had no idea what Chief meant about the cat being there to help him, but he felt his original feelings of fear dissolve. He had a strange sense of connection to this animal. He had never been particularly fond of cats, but this one was different. As the panther came almost within touching distance, Michael reached out his hand to make contact.

“Michael!”

At the sound of his name, Michael’s eyes flew open. He was back in the park, sitting on the hard dugout bench.