We are feeding everyone from children to elders, on many levels – Koto Washi Dallas Chief Eagle

Please welcome Christine Henson, a new sangha member, adding her skills to our team at Hollow Bones Zen. She caught up with Koto Washi Dallas Chief Eagle to discuss the upcoming four day retreat in July, Sitting Like a Stone, hosted by All Nations Gathering Center operated by Dallas and his wife Rebecca Chief Eagle.

Koto Washi Dallas Chief Eagle II, Sicangu Lakota and Hollow Bones priest, is a member of the Rosebud Lakota Nation, from the Pine Ridge Reservation, Yellow Bear Canyon, South Dakota.

An internationally renowned and recognized master of the Lakota Hoop Dance, as well as a K-12 art teacher, with a Master’s degree in guidance counseling and personal services, Koto Washi now leads the All Nations Gathering Center in Kyle, South Dakota where the upcoming Sitting Like A Stone: Four Day Retreat will be held July 28-31, 2022.

Sitting “like a stone” is familiar territory for Koto Washi, as he has worked closely with children for years fostering concentration and mindfulness practices based on the ancestral creation stories of “Grandfather Rock” to improve self-awareness and management skills. An ambassador of unity and mindfulness within his own community, Grandfather Rock and other stones are used by everyone from school aged children to community elders as a meditative tool to quiet the mind. Stones have even been placed in dedicated spaces in schools and community centers as a refuge for concentration and reflection, replacing the burdens of pain, confusion and suffering with peace, compassion and joy.

This community ministry has developed in parallel with his own practices as a Hollow Bones priest. Koto Washi describes his first days of meditative practice as being “hard to get.” He reflected on early lack of comfort in sitting still and credits his eventual mastery of zazen practice to a deeper study of his own ancestral creation stories of the “stone people.” By focusing on the respect due to these “eldest beings,” he became able to quiet his mind and take his seat with greater ease, in the company of his ancestors.

“They are Buddha’s, too, and have been around longer than the eagle, horse, and buffalo. We all practice together.” Joined by his wife, Rebecca Chief Eagle, and Hollow Bones Zen’s Fugen Tom Pitner Roshi, the retreat will include practices that pair reverence for the natural world and Native spirit with Rinzai zazen study for a truly unique Zen retreat experience.

Although Koto Washi and Rebecca have hosted many retreats throughout the years, “Sitting Like A Stone” will be their first time hosting a Hollow Bones retreat, with earlier attempts being regrettably postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. All Nations gatherings have been offered on the 147-acre site for more than six years, including retreats dedicated to couples and ‘boys to men’ programming.

Koto Washi is extremely pleased and honored to finally be realizing this vision and sharing it with others, as he sees the skill of learning to stabilize ourselves and recognize our own unique beauty as the key to healing mankind. “Some of us feel like the walking wounded, and only access bits and pieces of our culture, and ourselves. By stabilizing ourselves and realizing our own individual beauty, we can put these pieces together and build a better world.”

Many sacred spaces have been developed in preparation for the event. Memorial lodges, purification lodges, and meditation spaces are linked by both walking and ATV trails, offering the opportunity for participants to connect with the natural world directly with ease. On a more logistical level, shower houses, an industrial kitchen, and high tunnels for growing vegetables for meals have all been created to welcome participants. “We are feeding everyone from children to elders, on many levels,” said Koto Washi, “as we work through our collective suffering by caring for each other and nourishing the places within us that are hungry.”

The retreat will also feature powerful opportunities for connection with horses. Horses have been an important part of Koto Washi’s life and a cherished part of raising his own children. The practice of grooming and walking with the horses during kinhin will be used to illustrate self-care, bonding and intimacy. A shared connection to foster compassion, based on each participant’s comfort level.

By bringing the awareness of oneness into consciousness, he hopes to be part of showing that a place can be created where communion exists between all elements of nature–stones, trees, and the two and four-legged, with distractions removed, to celebrate the deep relationship we all share.

“By making ourselves beautiful, and seeing the beauty in each of us, we make the world beautiful once again.”

— Christine Henson

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