I was recently watching a HBO documentary about the famous boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson.
For those of you who may not know Sugar Ray he was born in the 1920’s and one of few African American boxers during that time. His amateur record was 85 wins – with no loses! Sixty-nine of those wins came by knock outs and 40 of those knock outs were in the first round! At the age of 19 he became a professional fighter (e.g., he was paid for fighting) and when he finally retired some 25 years later he had about 200 fights. Sugar Ray Robinson was an amazing fighter and overall good person.
In 1947 he was preparing to fight a guy named Jimmy Doyle. At this time in his professional career, Sugar Ray had won 75 fights with only one loss. As he was training to fight Jimmy, Sugar Ray had a dream about his and Jimmy Doyle’s upcoming fight. Sugar Ray dreamed that he accidently killed Jimmy in the boxing ring. After some thought, Sugar Ray decided he was not going to fight Jimmy. After word got out that the fight was going to be cancelled, two ministers met with Sugar Ray to discuss his dream. It was not reported what was said during the meeting, but these two holy men convinced Sugar Ray to fight Jimmy Doyle.
These two boxers entered the ring on June 26th 1947 in Cleveland Ohio. Up until the eighth round, Sugar Ray won every round except in the sixth when Jimmy landed several punches and staggered Sugar Ray. During the eighth round Sugar Ray hit Jimmy with a hard left hook.
Jimmy crashed onto the canvas. As Jimmy remained motionless, the referee counted 10. Sugar Ray added one more win to his record. Jimmy lost consciousness while still in the ring. He was quickly rushed to the local hospital in Cleveland. Jimmy never regained consciousness and within a couple hours of being knocked out by that hard left hook, he died. Sugar Ray’s dream came to life. It was said that Sugar Ray was never the same person after that night in Cleveland.
It turned out that Jimmy was fighting against doctor’s orders. There were concerns that after suffering a recent beating, Jimmy was in no physical condition to fight. However, Jimmy was fighting for the money so he could buy his mother a decent house to live. When Sugar Ray was informed of Jimmy’s plan, he used the money from his next few fights to buy Jimmy’s mom a home. It seems Sugar Ray ignored his own dream – but acted on Jimmy’s.
Sitting Bull Sees Crickets Falling
Tatanka-Iyotanka was a leader and warrior. His first fight was at the age of 14 and he was involved in many more during his life. When he was about 40 years old, Tatanka-Iyotanka participated in a Sundance ceremony. During the ceremony he sliced his arms about 100 times as a sign of sacrifice.
During that ceremony he had a vision. He saw American soldiers falling on the ground like “grasshoppers falling from the sky.” When others became aware of Tatanka-Iyotanka’s vision, they followed him to the land of Little Big Horn. Soon after, General George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Calvary showed up to fight, which fulfilled Tatanka-Iyotanka’s vision. Hopefully everyone knows the story of Little Big Horn. If not, you can read some information about it HERE.
Sugar Ray Robinson and Tatanka-Iyotanka (Sitting Bull) had many things in common. They were both young warriors who were very skilled and successful. They were both focused and had special gifts. The one major difference between the two, Sugar Ray had a dream -- Sitting Bull had a vision. There is a huge difference between these two perspectives.
“Indians Don’t Dream – We Have Visions!”
At some level, I have always dealt with dreams and visions. When I kid and finally got up the courage to say something to an adult about feeling like I had experienced a current event in the past, I was told it was Déjà vu.
That title is a French term meaning “already seen.” Now…I won’t or can’t explain all of the mysteries behind having already seen something. As a matter of fact, I don’t think solving this mystery is so important. As an example, would it have mattered “why” Sugar Ray had his dream? No! What mattered is what he did about it. The same was true for Sitting Bull.
As a kid, the message about dreams and visions was to brush them aside. When I became an adult, got clean & sober and came back to my People’s ways, I brought this subject back up. I asked an elder to help explain a dream I had. Before I could tell of my experience, he stopped me and stated, “Indians don’t dream, we have visions.” That was stunning and profound. Since that day, I have taken these already seen events much more seriously.
When I lived in Kentucky we had weekly Inipis (sweat lodges), regardless if we needed them or not! At that time I was very close to completing my PhD and was on the job market. I interviewed at three different universities in three different cities. This was back in 2006 when universities had multiple job openings. So, all three made an offer within a few days of each other. My wife and I were excited as well as stressed about picking the best place to work and live. We had a few weeks to decide.
I arrived at our usual lodge night with all these scenarios swirling around in my head. The elder who always poured the Inipi was from North Dakota and there were typically seven or so Native & Non-Native men crowed into a small, hot lodge. I was asked to carry in the Grandfathers that night. This was a nice, additional thing to distract me from all the stressors. During the first round and after the door was closed, a stranger came into the lodge and sat next to me. I thought nothing of it. The only thing I saw was the reflection of his profile coming off the glow of the searing rocks. I thought nothing of it. During each round, after the door closed, he was sitting next to me. He didn’t say anything. He was non-threatening. He just sat next to me. For some reason, I mainly ignored this and went on about the business of participating in an Inipi.
A few months after living in Buffalo, I was talking to a new friend I met at Seven Clan. This is a place on the Tuscarora Reservation that hosts many Native health & wellness-related activities. He was showing me around the area and we had been together for a couple of hours. As the sun was going down and we were standing next to our vehicles, I glanced up to catch his profile against the darkening sky and backdrop of trees. The site of this buckled my knees. This was the same profile sitting next to me in that lodge six months or so earlier in Kentucky. These events converged in my mind and came crashing in on me. The current and past entangled themselves together.
I have never written about any of this before and have only discussed this with a few trusted people. I have struggled with finding the correct words and sentence stucture that would best define what happened. There is no way to clearly explain something like this to someone who has never experienced this. And those who have, there’s no need to clearly explain.
I have had these mind benders many times in my past and still do. Some are more significant than others. Some of these “seen before” experiences happen when I’m awake and others happen during times when I’m asleep. There are some that last 20 seconds or so and others that are more like drive-by bursts. Regardless, I have regularly taken the advice of the elder who explained the difference between dreams and visions. To ignore these visions would be unwise on my part. There are many folks who have these experiences and they direct their course of action. I only mentioned two above, but those two are very good examples of what happens when someone is faced with a vision.
If you have never experienced a vision, it may be that it did not arrive into your mind but rather presented itself in your gut. I am sure you have "felt" something was not right or something was right. I'm not talking about having a vague sense that cheating on your spouse was not right! Again, if you have had a gut feeling about something, that event is hard to expalin to someone who has never had it.
We Are All On A Path To Somewhere
It has been explained to me that we are all on a path, regardless if we believe it or not. We decide which path to take on a regular basis during our lives. When my wife and I were deciding which job offer to take, resulting in relocating to a new city with our two boys, we were at a fork in our path. We were worried, excited, nervous, and overall stressed about making the right decision for our family. After we moved to Buffalo, it took several months before we began meeting and developing relationships with people. The stress was not released once we decided on Buffalo and moved there. We still regularly questioned whether our decision was the correct one, even after we already began living there.
When I was talking with my new friend on the Tuscarora Reservation at Seven Clan and his profile and overall essence came forth, linking my vision in the lodge, I knew I was on the right path. To me, if anything connects these experiences, seen befores, visions, or whatever label one decides to use, it is that they offer a chance to evaluate the path we are on.
Sugar Ray was given a chance to see his path placement before arriving there. It was a chance to alter his and Jimmy’s future. Instead, he ignored it. I'm sure he regretted his past and questioned his future. Sitting Bull took advantage of his vision and altered the lives of many.
It’s Déjà vu All Over Again
My oldest son, who is 12 years old, came home from school a few months ago and I asked him how his day went. He said he had a math test and did great on it. When I asked how he knew he did so well, he said, “When I opened the test, the questions and answers were in my dream. For some reason, I saw the questions in my dream and already knew the answers.”Being a typical 12 year old boy, school and especially math are near bottom of his priority list. Over the school year we worked together studying math problems and developing strategies for test taking. When he told me of his dream I briefly explained some of my past and how these events help us along our path. I wanted him to know that when we do things that improve our lives, we get extra help. When we try to do the right things and care for others throughout our lives, sometimes we are helped and given a gift of being able to see things before they happen.
I believe this for myself, my son and everyone. When we are traveling a good path, we get helped along our way. We can see around corners. We can see things on our paths before arriving at that spot on our path. It is a wonderful gift and having people around that supports and encourages traveling a good path is essential to taking advantage of these gifts.
Like most parents, I want to teach my children things early in their lives so they don't have to learn them later in life, like I had. The final statement I made to my son as he was rushing outside to play was, “Native Americans don’t dream, we have visions!”