Joseph M. Marshall III is a teacher, historian, Lakota craftsman, and writer. He served as narrator and played the onscreen character Loved by the Buffalo in the TNT miniseries Into the West. We were impressed with the insights into Native American spirituality on his 6 CD audio course Quiet Thunder: The Wisdom of Crazy Horse.
Walking with Grandfather is a combination hardcover book and audio CD. It presents the Lakota wisdom Marshall received from his grandfather. Raised on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota, he learned the power of stories to shape the heart, mind, and soul. Up until the reservation era, wisdom was an inherent part of the leadership structure in Lakota society. It was the elders' gift to the community. The worth of a leader was measured by the amount of respect given to him or to her by the people. That certainly is a far cry from the ways in which a leader in present-day American society is assessed.
Marshall relates a lesson about the trail itself that helped him through difficult times:
"Grandpa Albert had a habit of stopping now and then and looking back down the trail. Frequently, he would take me by the shoulders and ask me to look back at the way we had come. 'Remember the trail,' he said, 'because one of these times I will send you back alone. If you don't remember the way you have come, you will be lost."
Calling that his "first lesson about identity," Marshall continues:
"Who and what we are is a work in progress. Life shapes us constantly, day in and day out. Life is obviously the trail we walk. No one is exempt; therefore, no one is unaffected by what happens along the way. But we don't start off on the trail with nothing."
Marshall shares other lessons about the parenting skills of wolves, the symbolic meanings of the bow and arrow combination, the shadow side of warriors, and the dangers of arrogance. One of the best pieces is on the spiritual importance of circles within the Lakota tradition:
"In the circle, there is no first or last, no higher or lower. Many native cultures, the Lakota included, accepted the reality that all forms of life have a place on that circle. Therefore, no one or thing is first or last. No one or no thing is higher or lower than any other form of life." This is somewhat similar to the understanding of equanimity within Buddhism: what both traditions teach us is not to dissipate our energies by trying to label one thing or person as better than another. We are all one in the circle.
The 67-minute CD that accompanies the book contains Marshall's observations on the journey to manhood, leading by example, the wisdom of elders, and much more.