4 Native American Quotes To Turn To When You're Feeling Lost In Life

by Adam Gilad

Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth.” And when you receive that punch, sometimes you just stay down for the count. Sometimes, it just feels like too much.

You know that kind of day. Your car won't start. Your kids won't listen. Your computer won't open. Someone slanders you online. There's too much work and too little time.

And then, there are really those days. Your brother is diagnosed with cancer. Your partner tells you he or she wants a divorce. Your home is hit by a tornado. You know someone caught in yet another shooting.

In these moments, you feel your energy drain. Your hope vanishes. Your spirits fall. Your positive thinking disappears, and your motivation to create the life you are committed to living falters.

Fighting through adversity is noble. You can also open into love through adversity. But, wisdom is universal. Every culture brings its own unique flavor and luminaries. Native American cultures have long been rich in wisdom and guidance.

Here are four quotes and four lessons I have found to be wells of solace and inspiration:

A Quote To Help You Appreciate Life

The evolution of technology has sped up our pace, our speech, our travel and our minds. In this fast-paced world, there's always something to do, whether it's scanning Facebook, ordering face cream with one click, texting your crush or planning an evening or event.

In the rush, we can forget the power of appreciating the seemingly small things in life. Yet, there is power in noticing what is arising around you in the moment. It's enlivening. As Chief Luther Standing Bear says,

Observation was certain to have its rewards. Interest, wonder and admiration grew, and the fact was appreciated that life was more than mere human manifestations. It was expressed in a multitude of forms. This appreciation enriched Lakota existence. Life was vivid and pulsing; nothing was casual and commonplace. The Indian lived – lived in every sense of the word – from his first to his last breath.

How can you practice this in your life?

Take mini-moments of pure observation. The sound of the wind, laughter, engines. The rustling of paper, the play of light on water, the crinkles around the eyes of person you're talking to. The weight of your clothing on your body. Where you're hot and where you're cold. Aromas, both delightful and offensive. Pleasure on your skin. Pleasure in what you see or taste. The hum of the universe.

The world is brimming with delight and provocation. “Nothing is commonplace.” Everything, when paid enough attention, reveals wonder.

A Quote To Keep You Moving Forward

Goals: We set them, and we resent them. We rush to achieve them because we have so many more waiting in the wings. And so, we allow impatience to poison our minds with anxiety. That leads to disappointment and ultimately, shame.

Sometimes, though, when you're in the beginning stages the devilish emotion, impatience may sneak up on you and discourage you from continuing. However, as Teedyuscung, King of the Lenape people once said,

When you begin a great work, you can't expect to finish it all at once. Therefore, do you and your brothers press on, and let nothing discourage you 'til you have entirely finished what you have begun.

It was with this steady pace that he worked toward a peaceful arrangement for his people in Pennsylvania, despite being cheated, lied to and outmaneuvered.

Progress, as with anything, isn't guaranteed to come when we expect it. But with a steady step, the help of your “brothers” and consistent action, great achievements may emerge.

A Quote To Wake You To The “Happiness of Giving”

At times, you may behave like an investor expecting a return on your investment. You expect it will give you joy. But, there is compelling experiential proof that to give brings more joy than to receive.

In the potlatch tradition of the first coastal peoples of British Columbia, they would periodically give everything away to each other in a giant cleansing. This is because you tend to lose your attachment to things. Even contemporary studies show what seems obvious, which is that experiences are more satisfying than things.

Selfless giving (despite the Ayn Randians among us) actually makes us happier. Ohiyesa, also known as Charles Alexander Eastman, was a doctor and leading interpreter of the beliefs and ethnology of his Santee Dakota people. He said,

It was our belief that the love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome ... Children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving. The Indians, in their simplicity, literally give away all that they have to relatives, to guests of other tribes or clans. But above all, to the poor and the aged, from whom they can hope for no return.

How often do we forget to “taste the happiness of giving?” It's actually something you can do without having to empty your living room of its furniture. For a small taste, you can give a compliment, a smile, a physical gift, a hug or a book.

It can get addictive (in a good way). As we advance in life, we have a natural desire to “give back.” But why wait? Taste that joy now.

A Quote To Remind You Of Your Deepest Source Of Power

Let's face it: Life — and the people in it — can be really tough. At times, you may feel angry, aggravated or like bricking yourself into your own walled castle.

Chief Dan George, writer and actor best known for his work in “Little Big Man” communicated this:

Love is something you and I must have. We must have it because our spirit feeds upon it … Without love, our self-esteem weakens. Without it, our courage fails. Without love, we can no longer look out confidently at the world. We turn inward and begin to feed upon our personalities, and little by little we destroy ourselves. With it, we are creative ... With it, and with it alone, we are able to sacrifice for others.

George hails from the Coast Salish people. And we see that — whether from the East Coast, the Dakota Sioux or the West Coast — the theme of communality and service remains at the core. In this case, love allows us to serve. An inward focus on “personality” gives meager nutrition by contrast.

With these quotes, I find I am reminded by the reality of the “perennial wisdom," that love and brotherhood, humility, service and focus are at the core of a life well lived. Truly, there is one mountain. And from it, many rivers flow.