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Experiencing In-Lon-Schka with a clear mind and heart

Ross Mashunkashey

I grew up around my Osage ways.

I started dancing when I was four years old. I remember dancing in an arbor that barely had any dancers in it. I remember people who are no longer there, but their spirits live on because we are still doing the things we did back in those days.

I spent the better part of my adolescent and adult life living in addiction. I would dance and be a part of things that should have really meant something to me, but when my mind was a thousand miles away, all I could think of was that I wished this will all be over so I can get to the next drink or party. I would sit and wonder why these people talked the way they did and do the things they did. It all sounded foreign because my mind and spirit were not there with me. It meant nothing. Not only did it mean nothing, I meant nothing, and I didn’t belong there. I was, as they say, “emotionally, spiritually, and morally bankrupt.”

I had all of this great knowledge and tradition laid at my feet, but addiction did not allow for me to be who I needed to be. Addiction doesn’t have time for cultural ways, spiritual ways, or family traditions. All of those things (spirituality, culture, tradition) take up way too much of the time you could be spending fueling addiction. It is a monster that keeps on taking and taking from you, and it doesn’t stop until has taken everything and it spits out a corpse. Period.

Forty-one months ago I made the decision to turn my life over to a power greater than myself. I had to get help because I had been beaten almost into the ground by addiction. My physical being was all there was left to take – it already had my mind and had broken my spirit. But by some miracle, I was spared an early grave and I was able to discover a new way of life – a life of recovery.

I discovered that if I opened my heart and mind up to a power greater than myself, I could move forward again. My spiritual and emotional growth had been stopped by alcoholism and addiction since my teenage years. I got a chance to go back to the beginning and learned I could shut my mouth, open my ears and eyes, and learn about this great culture that had been given to me at birth. And not just learn and watch, but to feel that spirit move through me and guide me into that better way of life.

When I put those traditional clothes on as a sober man, it was as if I had been reborn and my life had new meaning. With a clear heart, mind and spirit, it was as if I was getting a second chance and I was doing these things for the first time again. I was able to go back and be who I was meant to be.

Today, I sat under that arbor with my nephew, my father and all of my brothers and I felt like I belonged again. I danced those songs and thought about all of those who came before me. I saw those elders who came out to sit, watch and remember when they could move as we do. And that made me want to dance harder for them.

This is who I am. I was born a Wah-Zah-Zhi for a reason. And that was not my plan, it was that higher power’s plan.

My lesson may have taken twenty-plus years to learn, but I am grateful today to have learned it and to continue to learn more. I am grateful that I went to that edge of insanity and was able to come back and share my story today. I bare my soul so that maybe someone else who is heading down that path might not have to. It is all I can hope for. I can’t cure anyone, I can’t save anyone, I can’t even get them sober. But I can share my experience, strength and hope, in the hope that maybe someone, someday will want what was so freely given to me and want to walk down that road of recovery with me.

I want to say thank you to everyone who has supported me and encouraged me with kind words in the writing of this blog. There were times when I didn’t want to move forward with it, but then someone would tell me they read it, liked it, and wanted to hear more. Those words have been the lifeblood of this thing. I heard Ann Wilson from the rock band Heart say: “I want to keep singing. It’s how I communicate. I sing because it unburdens my heart.”

I completely understand that statement.