Thoughts on Run to the Rez by #motorcyclingyogiG
For the second year, I attended the 15th Annual Run to the Rez, a motorcycle ride and rally sponsored by the San Carlos Apache. Its intention is to honor veterans and provide a glimpse of Apache culture to those of us not part of its nation. They have a great deal of pride for the warrior way since their land is the homeland of Geronimo.
One of the events I participated in both years is the Apache sweat ceremony for men. I recommend it for a bunch of reasons, but one is that when we get out of our comfort zone we may learn something new. My friend Dan Meyer came over from Mesa to participate in the sweat, and here’s what he had to say: “So honored to be invited to participate in an Apache sweat lodge ceremony with the Apache tribe on the San Carlos Apache Nation. The San Carlos reservation was where Geronimo lived and hid out .“
Dan and I traveled through India together for four months and during that time we loved finding new experiences that stretched our horizons. It has been fun to get together over the last few months with Dan and do this all over again.
New experiences – as in the sweat lodge – are not something that one goes out to get, something one achieves or competes for; rather, a new cultural experience is something to receive. That means one attends them with humility and respect.
The prayers and songs of the sweat were in Apache. One of the singers that led our sweat ceremony has been learning the Apache “Holy Ground” songs for years. We sat on the ground in the small space, crouched toward the middle while another man drizzled water over the burning rocks. All of these elements have a special name and significance in an indigenous nation sweat lodge: songs, the names of rocks, the sweat ceremony, the directions, and the construction of the lodge to name a few.
I don’t understand much of this, and I didn’t understand the Apache prayers, but that doesn’t matter to me. It never has. What’s important is the prayer itself. Prayer does not depend on efficacy of the prayer, the correct words, or even its destination. Prayer is presented as a natural expression of life and an intimate part of every moment, every event, every gathering.
I believe something happens not externally with a group gathered for prayer, but internally. This is true for even bad prayers. I wrote an article about this three years ago published in elephant journal called “Why Even Bad Prayers are Good Prayers.” In that piece (link and excerpt below), I maintain that sincerity of word is what matters.
She was a brand new yoga teacher and young. When class ended, she asked us to place our hands at heart center. In that moment, I could hear reticence in her voice. Her prayer was not well-practiced. She stumbled once or twice, and didn’t have all the right words carefully lined up, as a “professional” prayer would have, yet I was moved by her simple words, the brief blessing. Her words were true, honest, and flawed certainly, but more importantly, she was sincere.
An amateur’s prayer from this shy public speaker at the end of a yoga class meant more to me than 99.9 percent of the other million words I’ve heard when so much is insincere and false, when we’re drowned in words that mean nothing and yet are pronounced as edicts, sounding more righteous than any Shakespearean sound and fury, I’m happy to listen to anyone who produces words thoroughly grounded in honesty and dressed in sincerity.
This sincerity of word comes through in all the ceremonies at Run to the Rez. Every ride begins with a prayer for safety. At a stop in the middle of the Reservation, surrounded by the four sacred mountains, an Apache Medicine Man told us the story of the area and offered a prayer.
At the Veterans ceremony in San Carlos, another Apache elder offered prayers, another Purple Heart Veteran of the Viet Nam War addressed the crowd. The prayers, mostly in Apache or Navajo, were inclusive of all people and all nations. I was grateful for that as a visitor on their land and one of the N’daa (“white man” in Apache). Any religion that separates people, based on a belief of superiority or exclusivity, is out of my life and not something I will receive.
But the run is also fun and has its share of excitement. At one point, coming back from deep in the mountains, we were riding on a three mile stretch of road that everyone knew was full of potholes and uneven asphalt. I was traveling about 70 miles an hour when I looked in the mirror and saw a couple bikes approaching.
It was only a few seconds and they flew past me as if I was standing still. I saw one rider hit a pothole and fly up in the air as his hat flew off his head. His buddy right behind him hit the same patch in a couple seconds and his hat flew off in the same damn place. That was funny.
Thirty-minutes later, I caught up with these guys at the gas station. I asked how fast they were going and one said, 110 mph. He said the name of his bike was “White Lightning.”
Run to the Rez is something fully endorsed by the Apache of the San Carlos Reservation. Maybe we’ll see you next year and maybe even in the sweat ceremony. And while I couldn’t take photos of the most incredible area within the Reservation while driving, here are a few.