The Sacred Pipe

I have had Chanunpa in my life for a quarter of a century. The first time I ever saw one, it was sitting on the altar of my first teacher Eagle Bear’s Inipi lodge. It was her Chanunpa, given to her by her adopted Lakota Brule” father, Norbert Running.
I knew in the cells of my body that this thing would save my life.

I asked her, “How do I get one of those?”

She asked, “What would you want one for?”

I didn’t have any idea.

When I finally was given a Chanunpa, my teacher said, “Now your life will be hard.”

It had already been. How could it be harder?

It could.

Now, 25 years down the road, and many Chanunpas later, I see that I made my life harder with that Chanunpa. I have had many Chanunpas in my possession. I had a vision in a sweat lodge of Chanunpas pouring out of my brain. I made my first one in 1991. I made Chanunpas, bowls and stems, for many years. I have sat behind a Chanunpa in about 1000 Chanunpa ceremonies. My life has been whatever the Chanunpa said it would be.

I no longer pray very often with my Chanunpa. It prays me. When my mind or my body or my heart begin to wander off the path it has shown me, I fill my Chanunpa and smoke it. It always offers me the peace and the correction I need to walk that path.

I don’t know how it works. I have an altar of the Chanunpa, the Tobacco Sacrament, the Sacred Inipi, the Grandfather Medicine and the Wachumita Medicine. It is all run by Chanunpa. If I start thinking about any of it, worrying, fretting, pondering, considering…whatever the form of distraction I throw in my path to make my life harder and more difficult and more lonely and more isolated…it shows me my empty mind and returns me to the path it has offered me.

I have learned from it that reassurance is not Medicine. The Medicine shines a light on the truth and the only thing to do is follow it. If we stumble, lurch, cry, scream, laugh, curse, smile, frown or walk it with enormous self-possession and dignity, it is ours to walk. The Medicine has no comment on or interest in our ideas, opinions and preferences, our thoughts or our feelings.

“Walk this way. This is your way. And more importantly, it is MY Way.” That’s what I hear.

I no longer need to be courageous or cowardly or anything in between. I am just going to walk this way, and accept the corrections offered to me. I am the opposite of a hard head or a martyr. I am the Sacred Pipe’s little man. I am a creature of that Chanunpa.

The Chanunpa offered me a choice a long time ago. Me or IT. I picked it up and chose it. There is no un-choosing. People put them away or put them up or give them away or walk away from them. There is no get-away. Chanunpa is interested in itself. It is not a servant, it is a Master Medicine. It subsumes everything it needs from whomever it wants it from, and it is doing it all the time. It is creating Universes and New Worlds, and anyone who carries one knows this and it is all a man or woman can do to treat it lightly and reverently enough and attend to it.

Anything I need to know about proper relationship with every other being on this planet is contained in the way I am bid be with Chanunpa. The way I do that, and the way it teaches me that, is my path. It is uniquely mine, and my “personality” and my “knowledge” and whatever charm or influence I may have is given me by Chanunpa to be used for its purpose.

Someone asked me what was the most difficult thing about being a Pipe Carrier. I said I personally think it is filling it in a good way. Each encounter with that Pipe is so blessed an opportunity to do some small things really well and we just cannot get it right. And I have to forgive myself each time and try again when next I am given the opportunity. I will never do it perfectly and I can never stop wishing to. The life of a Pipe Carrier.

Each encounter we have with the Sacred in Everything and Everyone is just such an opportunity. And we just cannot get it right. And we have to forgive ourselves completely each time and try again when next we are offered the opportunity. The life of a conscious Human Being.

Mitakuye Oasin!


Books by George Bertelstein

A Clear And Simple Prayer: Self-Healing and the Path of Unlimited Love, Peace, and Happiness book by George Bertelstein
Medicine Path: In A Good Way book written by George Bertelstein with Artwork by Kristen Holmberg