I read this some years ago and it came back to my mind recently. It's the story of a man named David Chetlahe Paladin, who went through some incredibly traumatic life experiences. At the lowest point of his life, he'd lost the use of his legs and resigned himself to life in a military hospital. He returned to the Native reservation where he grew up to say a final goodbye to his friends and family there and experienced a profoundly life changing ritual.
From his story:
"When he arrived at the reservation, his family and friends were horrified at what had become of him. They gathered together and held council to figure out how to help him. After the council meeting the elders approached David, yanked the braces off his legs, tied a rope around his waist and threw him into deep water. “David, call your spirit back,” they commanded. “Your spirit is no longer in your body. If you can’t call your spirit back, we will let you go. No one can live without his spirit. Your spirit is your power.”
“Calling his spirit back,” David told me, was the most difficult task he ever had to undertake. “It was more difficult than enduring having my feet nailed to the floor. I saw the faces of those Nazi soldiers. I lived through all those months in the prison camp. I knew that I had to release my anger and hatred. I could barely keep myself from drowning, but I prayed to let the anger out of my body. That’s all I prayed, and my prayers were answered.”"
This act of confronting the past in all of its horror and emotion resonates with me. I have been going through some very visceral experiences of pain, anger, grief and despair. I have seen the faces of people from my past. I have felt them roaming about my body as if I am possessed by them. I have smelled them, tasted them, felt them breathe within the recesses of my soul. It has been the most terrifying experience of my life. And yet, also liberating.
The symbol of being immersed, as if baptized, is one I can relate to as well. I love water. I love the feeling of coming up from the depths toward the sun. Feeling reborn. Feeling as if you are cleansed, purified, made new. I understand why the symbol has been adopted by so many religious paths.
I find myself making a daily practice of calling back my spirit from the past. Retrieving my power from all those who've hurt me and all those I've hurt. Blessing these people with love and freeing them from haunting my body any further. And in turn, freeing myself.