RIDDLE OF LEADERSHIP
A young brave asked his Chief, “How much does a leader need to sacrifice to be a good leader?” Yamilar, which means “feet of light,” tells this riddle of the Massachusett Indians of the Algonquin Nation. Massachusett literally means “at the big hill.” (Today it is known as the Great Blue Hill, south of Boston.)
It was my great grandmother, Wajiwa (which means “singing bird”), who taught me the Riddle of Leadership. She took me for a walk, and she never spoke while we walked. This was a time to be one with nature and one with your ‘Great I am’ within. We came to a broad rock ledge somewhere below the crest of Massachusett. We sat down and meditated. Then she laid her hand on my shoulder and turned me around. She pulled back some hanging vines from the rock face behind us. She brushed away some loose soil and pointed at the rock wall. When I looked closely, I could see a series of carved figures in the stone. She pointed at the first figure, which was carrying two sticks, and began to speak.
“In ancient times a great tribe was without a chief. The council searched to find a leader who was connected with the ‘Great I am’ within him or her, and was wise, selfless, and compassionate. A leader who would love the people, so they would trust and follow. They found no one among the elders.
“Then a young brave came and stood before the council. They examined him for three days but could not agree. To decide, they chose a test to see if the brave was capable of leading them. They gave him three smoked fish and a loaf of bread. Then they sent him up into the mountains to pass a test. The ‘Great I am’ would present the test to him within thirty days and thirty nights.
“In late January the brave went up into the mountains. The coldest and foulest winter in the history of the land blew over the mountains. He ate very little, to make the food last longer. However, on the nineteenth day he ate the last bit of smoked fish. He looked to find food in nature but found nothing.
“After twenty-eight days he was starving to death. His right moccasin cracked and broke away in his wandering. His right foot began to freeze and turn blue. The toes were turning black. He huddled under a great pine tree, pulling the bows in around him. There he meditated, but he could not hear the voice of the ‘Great I am’ within him. The next morning, he trudged out into the snow to continue the search for the ‘Great I am’ and listen for His test. As the day passed, the wind tried to cut him in two. The snow tried to blind his eyes, and he thought that he would surely perish that night. He was out of time, out of strength, and almost out of hope. Then he heard a faint sound of a deer crying. He followed the sound until he came to the top of a steep cliff. There he looked down and saw a wolf dragging a crying fawn.
He hears His voice within. “This is the test.” There was finality in her voice, as she turned to look at me. Captivated by her story, I begged her to continue, for there were still three figures remaining.
She smiled and looked into my eyes, “You shall find the answer to the riddle yourself, Yamilar. You shall read the last two signs. All living things both large and small shall have something to say to you. Open your heart, feel what they have to say and listen for the voice of the ‘Great I am’ within you.” She laid her hand across my eyes. I felt a gentle breeze on my face and heard a bird flying away. I opened my eyes. Grand Wajiwa was not there. Then I saw a white dove flying over the trees. It made a wide circle around me and then turned into a ball of light and love. Slowly it fell from the sky into my heart. It was not until I returned home that I learned that Grand Wajiwa had passed away.
My loss was great, but my heart was filled with her Love-light. As a young leader, I bluffed my way along. I used power and authority with artificial confidence, but inside I felt lost and shallow. Grand Wajiwa was my guide, my strength and my inspiration. Why were the last two figures only carrying one stick? What was it? How was I going to find the answers?
One night, I could not sleep. Half-naked, I ran up into Massachusett. There was no moon and the forest was black and tight. I could not see where I was going, but it was as if my feet knew the way. Swiftly and precisely, they carried me to the summit. I stopped. There below was all of Boston, dazzling with lights. Had I stood on this spot before?
I began to have a vision. I could see someone walking barefoot in the snow, up in the mountains. I looked down and it was as if my feet were in his footprints. Then I could hear the sound of a deer crying. I hurried to the edge of the cliff to see what was happening. Below I saw a wolf dragging a fawn in the snow. As I was looking down upon myself, I could see the question on my face. What shall I do? Desperation and doubt came over me. I searched inside for the ‘Great I am’ within me.
I leaped off the cliff on top of the wolf and killed it with my knife. I then killed the fawn and started to eat it. Suddenly, the fawn turned into the ‘Great I am,’ who lay dead and bleeding across my lap. On my face, there was a look of horror. What had I done? I turned to look at the dead wolf. Her image blurred and changed. I saw the dead bodies of thousands of people covering the earth. It was like the end of all living things. Then I could see myself looking up into the face of Grand Wajiwa. She shook her head in disappointment at what I had done. Then she held out her arms as though to offer herself in place of the fawn.
Suddenly I was back on the cliff, and the wolf and fawn were still down below. I looked at the knife in my hand and began to tremble, like a frightened rabbit as I looked out across the panorama below me. Had I seen the destruction of the world? Was this my doing?
The wind, trees, and a decaying leaf revealed life to me. The birds and animals in the forest emptied me. Even a small beetle looked down on me. The ‘Great I am’ within spoke to me. I listened and felt what they were saying and experienced the brave’s resolution. I saw the brave on the cliff looking down at the wolf and fawn, foot naked and frozen. He turned and looked directly at me. I could see the peace and calm on his face. The tears rolled down my cheeks. I suddenly knew what he must do.
With a sigh, he took out his knife. He held it up to the Love-light. He looked at his own image in the blade. He sat on a snow-covered stone and with only a slight wince in his face, he cut off his frozen foot. He picked it up and jumped from the cliff, landing directly in front of the wolf. The wolf snarled at him, while holding tightly to the crying fawn. The young brave offered the wolf his severed foot. The wolf’s expression changed from fear to trust, as the brave knelt down still holding out his foot. The wolf let go of the fawn, and it ran free. The wolf sniffed the foot and licked a spot of frozen blood from it. Her hunger was obvious. She gobbled the foot down.
The scene changed, and I could see that the brave was walking with one stick. The wolf was at his side walking with him, and the fawn was following behind. As the vision faded, I looked out across the lights of the city. I felt at peace within myself. I finally knew.
Only a true leader will experience the answer. Just remember the words of my Grand Wajiwa, “All living things both large and small shall have something to say to you. Open your heart and feel what they have to say. Connect to the ‘Great I am’ within you and listen as they do. Only then will you bath in His Love-light. Only then will you be a true leader.”
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