'Every Step that I Take Becomes a Prayer'

Andrew Soliz, a member of the Lakota Nation, describes how fasting is used as part of a spiritual journey in his Native American traditions:

I am a sun dancer and a pipe carrier. I am Pueblo and Mayan, adopted into the Lakota Nation.

Well, in our way, we have ceremonies that bring us teachings and help us find center in our life. And to lend power to that, we believe that there are things we have to do. We have to become empty.

When we're truly empty within ourselves, then we have room to receive the teachings that the creator has for us. If we can give up food and if we can give up water, then we're earning the right. We're earning that information that we're receiving.

And the sun dance ceremony is a way for the people to give back for the good things they've received in their life. It's like New Year for us. For all the good things that we've received, we give back at a sun dance. For the things that we want to ask for, we pray for for the following year, for the people and ourselves to have a good life. We do that at a sun dance.

So we will go without food and water for four days — in the summertime, usually around July when it's the hottest, and in the middle of the prairie where there's no trees. And we'll dance from sunup to sundown. Four days out of our entire year is a small giveback to allow ourselves to suffer for the things that we're asking for.

It's very hard. It's hard physically, but what that does is it pushes you into that place of prayer. When you're in a place of prayer and in the spirit world, you don't feel that hunger. You don't feel that thirst. And it allows you to cross over to that other side in the spirit world.

It's allowing ourselves to experience that discomfort and that pain that's involved with that, so that when other people come to you for help, you have compassion for them. You know what pain they're feeling. You know what discomforts they're feeling in their lives. We can truly understand and be there from our heart to their hearts, because we've experienced that discomfort.

I think the fasting has endured throughout time in the ceremonious way and the medicine way because it involves something that we need in our daily lives. When we take something from our daily life away, then we appreciate it. A lot of the ceremonies have been lost because they're not used every day. A lot of the songs have been lost because they're not used all the time. But food and water is everyday, so maybe that's that constant reminder of one way that we can go without something that we need.

Well, I will fast around ceremony. It allows me to really focus on the reason why I'm doing the ceremony. It helps us understand what commitments are. It helps me understand what a commitment is. To even go without food and water for one day, when I do that I find that I'm more present. I find that my body is clean and I'm able to connect with spirit in a stronger way.

It helps me to go inside myself and live my life a little slower. It's as if every step that I take becomes a prayer during that time that I'm fasting.

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