Bear Heart, who was born in 1918 in Oklahoma and died in 2008, with the editorial help of his medicine helper and spouse, Reginah WaterSpirit, who outlived him, tells his story of learning the medicine ways of his people and then using them in the service of others. Those in need of his help are many and varied, including people facing illnesses, addiction, loneliness, and death.

He describes the unique ways that he blended Christianity with Native spiritual teachings. He was a Baptist minister, a leader in the Native American Church, and a Muscogee Creek medicine man. He says, “My faith has led me far beyond denominational boundaries into the spirituality that is the basis of all faiths.” And he occasionally laments the lack of people to whom he might pass these varied spiritual traditions along.

Bear Heart says: “I have shared … my manner of doing sweat lodges, conducting vision quests, and some of my Creek medicine. I give different aspects of my medicine to different people who I think will use if properly…. In every one of those areas, we pray to the same God. It’s all spirituality. Everything is related to God, everything that we do. That’s how I live.”

Emphasis is placed on being aware of our surroundings and being fully present in the here and now. “In the stillness of the present, we begin to sense our deeper self…. Our minds are important tools, but they are not who we are. We should learn how to use our minds when it’s appropriate and then lay them aside…. We find a sense of peace that we perhaps have not felt in a long time.”

“Spirit” is the most common name or image he uses for the Divine. Bear Heart cautions Natives who are also Christian not to “become lost in the distractions of sin, hell, and fiery brimstone” but instead to “diminish ourselves into the Spirit … the Holy Spirit.” Likewise, he explains: “Our Native traditions stress the importance of diminishing and emptying ourselves to make room for the Spirit.” Fasting, humility, prayer, and community gathering are held up as personally vital.

The world outside is essential to Bear Heart’s spirituality: “The Sky is one of our symbols for the Spirit. Wherever you go on this planet, there is always the Sky, and in the same way, the Spirit is always there. Like the Sky, you cannot surround the Spirit; it’s much too large. All you can do is experience the presence of the Spirit by opening up your heart and mind. You have to open up and allow the Spirit to come in.”

The natural world — even insects — is held up as exemplary to a well-rounded life in these bodies of ours on this planet. As one of Bear Heart’s friends and students remembers from his teachings: “When we set out on our vision quests, he reminded us that even ticks were teachers. They teach us about our attention, and indeed they did!”

Advice ranges from the personal and interpersonal to the marital. For instance, Bear Heart says about couples: “Whatever brings them together at the beginning, they need to keep their hearts open, accepting, and full of love if their relationship is to survive. Along with love, we also need to have forgiveness. Most people can’t do that. We were given not only a brain but emotions based on love that asks us to overlook the mistakes of others, never point a finger of scorn at anyone anytime, for any reason.”

Common Native spiritual practices such as the Sun Dance receive lots of attention as well. Bear Heart describes himself practicing the Dance in the tradition of his Lakota brother, Black Elk. When Bear Heart is asked, why do people do the Dance, he answers: “Maybe a dancer has a very sick relative or close friend, and they might dance with that person in mind. Maybe they want an answer to a question, like what direction they should go in their life. Perhaps they just want to express their love of Mother Earth.”

There are also portions in the book regarding faithful citizenship (Bear Heart knew U.S. presidents, starting with Harry Truman, whom he met face-to-face), advice on how to live in communities where tragedies take place (Bear Heart counseled those directly affected by the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995), how to use and not use technology, and healthy patterns of leadership.

The book includes teachings of Bear Heart as well as memories that others have of Bear Heart and his teachings, and final chapters on his passing (death), and “his 90-year earth walk” by Regina WaterSpirit.