by Mitakuye Oyasin

Graduation time is upon us. Exciting, isn't it? All those smiling faces ready to move on from the years of structured learning. And now what? What happens to the big dreams, the swagger, the world-changing ideas?

Unfortunately, far too many of these graduates will do what so many have done before them. They will hang up their caps and gowns, put their dreams on hold, and begin the process of wrapping themselves with chains of slavery that will be with them throughout their earthly stay. They have no idea that they've been programmed to fit into society's cubicle of expectations for them. Their parents, their peers, and their schools have all labored to mold them into conformity -- and don't overlook the media blitz that shows them how to dress, what car to salivate over, the right house to own, and how to satisfy every whim now, on credit.

Like cattle and sheep being herded through funnel-like gates to the destination ordained for them by others, most of these fresh bodies will soon be in the work force. Dreams and ideals will be exchanged for paychecks and the endless cycle of making money and spending more money. This is, after all, what the American Dream is all about.

Some will hold on to their visions a while longer by stepping into the world of higher education with more degrees, more prestige, the promise of higher earnings, and a bigger chunk of the ''Dream.''

But whose dream are they reaching for? Their parents want them to be successful (whatever that means), and anything less than achieving what their parents want for them is unthinkable. But look around and you will see a lot of people skating on the surface of life, existing more than living. They have been crammed into cubicles of their own making because someone else urged, prodded, pushed, pouted, whined or cried until they conformed to that person's plan for them.

A long-time friend of mine is a medical doctor in family practice. He hates it, although he loves the applause of a fawning public. The push came from his father who wanted him to be successful. He is. Money, position, property, all the good things. But he lacks peace and joy in his daily life. He has not found the path for his soul. And what the right path is for him is not what someone else thinks it ought to be. The path for his life is for him to find, an inside job, where he and the Great Spirit work it out together. To interfere with that -- to assume that you have the answer for him -- that is arrogance that borders on evil.

We have no right to try to control anybody's path but our own. You can pray for others to find the right path, but it is their path, not yours. The Great Spirit has desires for each of us, and while some of our fellow wayfarers seem to fall in line and obey the inner voice with no tortured detours, most of us kick and bite and struggle to try our own paths.

Some never find it. The way to peace and joy (a way that Jesus called ''abundant life'') must be found by each one of us, one at a time, one day at a time. The ''one size fits all'' offered by so many well-intentioned zealots does not apply. If you have children, you understand. Each of my three grandsons reminds me of my own youth, but not one is a carbon copy of the other, or of their mother, or of me .... and for that, I offer a prayer of thanksgiving every day.

The most vile deed one person can inflict upon another is to snuff out the spirit within. But the deed can be insidious and even well-intentioned. To one who loves music, simply say, ''Music is fine but how are you going to earn a living?'' A question like this can alter the course of a young person's life, and who is to say that is for the best?

I have seen spouses do this to one another, clamping down on some talent the other might wish to pursue. And what have you always wanted to do but didn't because you were afraid of failing? Somebody's voice has whispered in your ear, ''You better not. You won't make it.'' And if those words stick, a spirit suffocates and dies.

My ancestors had something that is sorely missing in the mishmash of this high-speed, high noise, high-pressured thing called civilization. They had time to be civil, time to dream dreams, and time to find healing peace in the world of nature.

The still, small voice of the Great Spirit is not found in the din and clamor, but in the stillness of the soul. Then the path can be found.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online June 6, 2001

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