This was the way I learned how to pray ~ because I wanted to know. I liked this feeling: the opening of the heart, so simple & universal but that is the truth.
I started to learn how to pray when I was a little girl & I learned a little bit here & there, but I really learned how to pray in ceremony. I remember my first ceremony with the Grandmother in a very simple mild form. I was sitting, struggling with a relationship, he was sitting next to me, in my heart I was asking for guidance. I had a moment in the bathroom, where I got on my knees and asked for help: from god, the plant, the circle, whoever would listen ~ to help me, to quiet my heart & show me the truth, to release me from my fears. I re-entered the circle & suddenly my heart softened, just like that. I moved forward into a place that did not feel right (in my mind) or comfortable or the easy way, but of course it was the right movement & the deeper result was that it brought me into more & more ceremony, it opened my path.
I remember another situation, a year & a half later, sitting with a Grandfather road man who was about to hold a ceremony for me & my family. At this point, I did not realize what it meant to hold a ceremony for myself, I thought I was merely "bringing the ceremony" to this land I loved, these people I cared for, because I had some intuition about this, that they needed this help, this light, not because I had a specific intention for myself.
The idea for the ceremony had come to me while participating in a Sundance the summer before. I had eaten some medicine that morning & while I was dancing, I had the vision that I would like to bring the medicine to this land in the desert outside of San Diego, close to the Mexican border, a place where there are many, many "illegal" crossings, where it is common to find shoes, water bottles, discarded clothing all throughout the high desert & where the border patrol comes through daily, sometimes many times a day. I was frustrated with the same relationship that I had prayed about in the ceremony I described above. I sat with the roadman & with one of my daughters, after we had cleared the land for the ceremony (the ceremony was to be held beneath the sky with no tipi). I attempted to get him to give me some advice about my relationship but he was not offering any. He turned to my daughter & I & said: "This is how it works: People come in with all of their stuff. They feel bad. The beginning of the ceremony is hard & many people are suffering. In the middle of the night there is movement & then everyone feels a lot better in the morning." Like that.
When I first started to sit up, I didn't know what I was doing or why I was there, but I knew I had to keep coming back. At that ceremony in the desert, I sang for the first time, just one song & I lost it several times while singing. The refinement of my understanding of what was going on in the ceremony came from an internal discipline that I could not have sought for nor could I have had a plan of what I wanted. In the beginning, I often lost hours in tipis where I missed everything that was happening. This still happens now, sometimes, when I am find myself in a meeting where things are working on a deeper level, due to (what I think) is a combination of the intent of the ceremony, the people present &, of course, the roadman. With time, I became so involved in the transformation of energy within each person & the structures/protocol that I became more and more awake. I think this also had to do with finally allowing myself to sing, which is of course, learning how to pray.
One thing that helps me to pay attention in ceremonies is to take time throughout the night to look at everyone in the circle, to really see them & to meditate that they are each a mirror or extension of myself. I have learned a lot from this, particularly when I witness people having a hard time: getting well, trying not to get well, hanging back from the circle. When I leave the tipi in the morning, I make sure to find these people & hold them & let them know I saw their hard work. Many are surprised to be seen. Some are still uncomfortable to be seen. I know this is important.
Before my first grandfather ceremony, I picked up a friend in a cafe. We sat in my car and listened to a talk by one of the 13 grandmothers on intention in prayer. It was my companion's first time at any sort of ceremony. We sat silently in the car and prayed. For that ceremony & for many following, my big prayer was for no separation & this was when I started my practice of looking at everyone in the circle. I have long felt so much pain in my heart over feeling left out or excluded from life experiences. I have learned in ceremony that this resides in an attachment to ego & this is what the medicine works on so beautifully, dissolving this separation.
My prayer shifted in another ceremony. It was the first ceremony that I arrived without a big personal prayer. This was not because I forgot or because I was not paying attention, it just happened that way. It was a shift into being more in the present moment in ceremony. In this ceremony, nothing existed outside that moment, as if nothing had ever existed before & nothing would come after. The whole world was in that tipi. It was at this time that I began praying for my path to be revealed. There have been times when this seemed like it might be selfish, but I have heard from the medicine that if I am on my path and doing what needs to be done, then the whole world benefits & that then this prayer is a prayer for the world.
Actually this particular way of praying shifted recently, I just remembered. I was sitting up next to a Dine man that I did not know. Every time the drum came to him, after he prayed, he would ask me if I wanted him to drum for me. I always said yes. He took me much deeper than ever before, with my singing & my focus. I remembered another road woman telling one of my daughters to keep the rattle close to her heart when she sang and I did this for the first time. This was the first time (one of the only times thus far) that I felt the total magnetism between my heart, the fire, the song, the drum, the rattle & I felt myself tell the fire that I would take my prayer as far as it needed to go, that I meant this with all of my heart, total commitment.
A few weeks later I went to another ceremony & had probably the hardest time ever with Grandfather medicine. I was with a new roadman, someone I knew but had never been to one of his ceremonies. I felt the fire so hot, I finally had to ask to leave for a moment and fell to my knees outside the tipi, feeling like an animal on all fours and getting well til I saw red. It was dark and I do not know if this was blood or a vision. I prayed that night for everyone and for myself in very specific ways, for specific, necessary things and I have been praying that way every since.