Wankan Tanka in the Snow

Wankan Tanka

Have you ever heard these two words?

Any idea what they mean?

I had not. I followed a thread of discovery which reverberated within me until I felt it ask me to give it voice.

How did this gift of Wankan Tanka arrive? Through a mysterious piece of art and the laborious struggle to heal from trauma. I hope the following story will inspire compassion and love, honor and hope, love and dignity to all.

Before my husband passed we were working through recovering from spiritual abuse together, at a pace that allowed for breaks, discussion and grief over how manipulated and deceived we had been in our earnest desire to know God and experience a happy and holy life, marriage and family. Church culture would term this serving God, having a godly marriage and raising a godly family. We were taught "how to" do everything. Our backgrounds and our people pleasing coping mechanisms made us ripe for the picking. (To be clear “church” and God have never been synonymous in my own beliefs, but for centuries those in authority have been determined to make them so.)

With my husband to lean on, the unraveling of abusive theology felt grievous, yet doable. We had each other to converse with, grieve with, learn together, continue growing spiritually and move forward. I felt protected and safe.

When he passed, this part of my existence was terrifying. Only then did I realize how deeply this had gotten into my psyche.

I've learned and experienced how high control groups, slowly remove your self trust, invade every space of your life, and tell you how everything is to be done.

With all these “how to’s”, there was no “how to” honestly grieve the loss of your soul mate or “how to” continue to be in a relationship with their eternal soul, other than “don’t”. Don’t cry, don’t talk to the dead, don’t doubt, don't miss the lesson, dont be ungrateful, don't miss the blessing, don't worry, everything happens for a reason, don’t get stuck- rejoice.

Imagine feeling faint with exhaustion, then being blindfolded and left on an eight lane highway in a snow storm, knowing safety is just yards away. Cars whiz by, and you know your kids could be in the very same situation, just out of your reach. All the mental fear, physical tension, anxiety and nausea you might be tapping into is how I was living.

I understand not being “forced” to deal with this then simply opting out. Just change churches, and move on. It is grueling, exhausting, intellectually intense, soul aching work to look at the truth beyond what you’ve heard on repeat.

It’s holy and it’s sacred, this journey to brilliant truth and eternal love encompasses so much more than I imagined.

My mental sanity, my soul's peace and my ability to trust myself left me no option but to deal with this, no longer at a reasonable pace, but nonstop. It was survival. I had to understand how manipulation works, how narcissists operate, how systemic abuse is perpetrated, in order to be able to breathe again.

This isn’t just a metaphor, I was literally struggling to get air in my lungs because of the terror of not knowing if I could trust myself. How many people are living with this? Like a low grade fever, ever present and just debilitating enough to keep one from living fully. Self doubt is a manipulator's favorite tool. Being physically separated from my most trusted Beloved, I was suffering from a paralyzing fever of fear and doubt.

The anxiety level surrounding this spiritual trauma was intensely magnified mentally, physically and spiritually as a vulnerable, heart shattered widow. My concern for my kids ability to see the red flags and the guilt surrounding my parenting with this was unbearably weighty. I was living blindfolded on the highway, slowly realizing I could remove the blindfold.

Trying to find words or ideas to explain what I needed help with while I was experiencing heart shattering, life altering greif proved impossible. I know I’m not alone in this experience , and this is why I share.

To say I’m grateful for the professionals who are dedicating themselves to help survivors of high control groups, is an understatement. The survivors willing to participate in the conversations and share their journeys online is the only way of finding support in this COVID world.

I happened upon an amazing artist in one of these conversations and as I looked at her work I discovered she had created meaningful pieces that coincided with our life.

A lightbulb on the last anniversary my husband and I would share together. He was the best electrical contractor in his realm, professional, trustworthy and he loved bringing people light and power.

On the last day he and I spent together I shared my art, snowflakes that symbolized miracles we’re all waiting for. The symbolism was deeply meaningful to us.

Three days later this artist I’ve only just discovered, shared a snowflake, while I was hoping and praying with all of my being for the miracle of the recovery that was not to be.

A year and a half later,( which feels like a week and a half later), as I work through my trauma, I discover her snowflake which smiles at my soul and melts that part of me that feels so isolated and alone in this world.

Another drawing , Wankan Tanka, posted the day my voice sang over you as you passed from this life to the next. So of course I ask, “Is this significant?”

The image appears to be a beautiful mouth that holds mysterious reflections, I follow the lines and swirls, similar to patterns I decorated our sons’ guitar with years ago.

Wankan Tanka, what does it mean? Is it a place? A state of being? A way of moving? An offering? A blessing? A song? I have no idea But this mouth is speaking to me.

As I search and read the light of eternity brightens and warms me and I melt like snow exposed to fire.

In the ancient Lakota language it means, the Sacred or the Divine, and describes every creature and object as having aspects of holiness. I look out the window, this storm has covered our forest with more snow than we have experienced in a very long time.

Wankan Tanka, is translated Great Spirit and Great Mystery.

There is a specific prayer offered to God, asking for self trust in order to live in holiness.

Lakota Prayer

Wakan Tanka,

Great Mystery,

teach me how to trust

my heart,

my mind,

my intuition,

my inner knowing,

the senses of my body,

the blessings of my spirit.

Teach me to trust these things

so that I may enter my Sacred Space

and love beyond my fear,

and thus Walk in Balance

with the passing of each glorious Sun.

According to the Native People,

the Sacred Space

is the space between exhalation and inhalation.

To Walk in Balance is

to have Heaven (spirituality)

and Earth (physicality)

in Harmony.

Miraculously, I found myself comforted. How?

By seeking healing in unfamiliar places, because the familiar offered none.

By giving myself space to consider what happened and how.

By seeking truth, not just that someone tells me, but that I know is mine.

By honoring the creativity in another and being curious about the story.

By seeing there is priceless wisdom in other cultures to be honored as such.

By learning to meditate and breathe.

By following my Beloved’s guidance to trust my heart and soul.

I think of the fact that there are more miracles, past and future, than anyone could ever count. Which means, there are more ways of seeing God than I could ever fathom. There’s no way to know everything or have answers to everything. But, I can plainly see how beautiful and frightening this storm is. I can trust myself to see the truth about what I see and know. I can trust myself to participate and be in awe of honest beauty and to see chilling danger and keep myself safe. I can learn to love beyond my fear, as I hold onto my sacred continuing bonds of love with my Beloved in Heaven.