Have you ever heard a story so powerful that it reverberated loudly through your interior landscape? Or it stopped you cold in your tracks and made you think – hard – about your life? I did in 1994, and it’s still with me today.

For weeks and weeks after attending a professional conference where I first heard this story, I told everyone I encountered this tale. And I mean everyone.

At the time, I was a practicing psychotherapist with back-to-back clients. I told this story day in and day out for weeks. If you graciously asked me, “Hey, how was your conference?” or I had your attention for a few minutes, I was off and running. I felt this particular tale was so meaningful that I wanted everyone I knew to hear this very moving story.

Additionally, I used this story over the years as a touchstone in several talks. It never failed to make an impression. It’s that good of a story. We’ll see if you agree with me.

Stories that are told and retold often become like the game of “Telephone.” They become individualized and take on the tone and rhythm of the speaker. This is my version based on hearing the story from author and higher consciousness teacher, Caroline Myss; Myss was told this story by her friend, our protagonist, David Chethlahe Paladin.

I was also honored to have a telephone conversation with Lynda, our protagonist’s wife. She added her perspective and insight to this tale; she also shared with me some history, and we had a great discussion about what is the nature of truth.

This story has been tumbled in my psyche over many years. Like a rock, the sharp edges have been worn smooth, and, hopefully, you will be able to hold this tale in your hand, turning the stone over and over again, feeling the heft of it and sensing the ground from which it came.

So, without further adieu, let’s go back in time and let me introduce you to our hero:

David Chethlahe Paladin is a Navaho Indian living on a reservation in Arizona. David would laughingly say that his mother was a nun, and his father was a priest. It turns out his mother became pregnant by a visiting priest. She, in turn, decides to become a nursing nun and leaves her son in the care of the extended family of the tribe.

David and his cousin spend a great deal of time leaving the reservation and going into town. They drink a lot, and they think life is better in the white man’s world. The local constabulary is forever returning the boys to the reservation. By the time David is 13 years of age, he is an alcoholic.

David and his cousin decide that this time they are going to make it off the reservation – and they do. They find their way to California, wherein they lie about their ages and sign up for work with the Merchant Marines. During this time, David befriends another young man from Germany. He also begins drawing; some of his sketches include the eventual bunkers that the Japanese are building on the atolls in the Pacific Ocean.

World War II is declared. The US Army tells David that since he lied about his age with the Merchant Marines he has a choice. He can go to jail for a year or enlist in the army. David enlists. He is a teenager.

The army tells David as he is a Navaho, they are going to drop him behind enemy lines and use him as an information gatherer in their special services. David, using his native language, is to relay his findings to another Navaho in the army. Their language becomes a code that the Germans are unable to crack, much less decipher.

David is dropped behind enemy lines. Ultimately, he is captured and interrogated for information. The German officers find him useless and direct that he be sent to a death camp and executed as a spy.

Imagine, if you will, the scenes we all have invariably seen of the railroad station and the platform filled with lines of prisoners being pushed into box cars for transport to the camps.

Here is David. He is being pushed and shoved into a boxcar. There is German soldier behind him saying “{italic}Schnell, schnell{/italic}” (quick, quick). David stops, turns around and looks at the German soldier. It is his friend from the merchant ship. The friend recognizes David and ushers him to a different box car that will send David to Dachau.

In the barracks at Dachau, David sees an older man, a fellow prisoner, drop something. David bends down to retrieve it. The guard, who has witnessed this moment, asks David, “Are you the Christ?”

The guard, then, orders that David’s feet be nailed to the floor and that David stand there with his arms outstretched for three days like Christ on the cross. Every time David would falter and crumple the guards would hoist him up again.

In the middle of the night, someone would sneak in and cram raw, maggot-covered chicken innards into David’s mouth.

When the Allies open up this camp, they find David a mere shell of a man, weighing maybe 70 pounds, and speaking Russian*. They turn David over to the Russians. David later speaks English and gives his name, rank and serial number to the Russians who transfer him back to the US military.

David is sent to a VA hospital in Battle Creek Michigan where he spends the next 2 years in a coma. At the end of two years, his legs are encased in metal braces, similar to what polio patients used. David, a young man, maybe not even 21 years of age, is to be sent to a VA home for the rest of his life.

David asks if he can visit his family on the reservation. The answer is, “Of course.” David literally drags himself onto the reservation. He meets with the elders of tribe. They ask to hear his whole story. David tells them every horrible thing that he endured. He is full of anger, rage and hate.

The elders confer and tell David to meet them tomorrow at a designated point on the Little Colorado River. David agrees and at the appointed hour he arrives. One of the elders tethers a rope around his waist; others remove the braces from his legs. They hoist David up into the air and as they throw him into the raging current of the Little Colorado River, they say, “Chethlahe, call back your spirit or die. Call back your spirit or die.”

And, that, dear readers, is what I think healing is all about for each of us. It is calling home our energy; it is calling home our disenfranchised pieces and parts. It is reclaiming ourselves.

In David’s case, it was releasing all the rage and pain that coursed through his system. It was moving into a place of release, a release catalyzed by forgiveness that allowed him to have the energy to move his withered legs and to reclaim his essential life force.

Those six words, “Call back your spirit or die,” are so powerful to me. They are a mantra for healing and transformation. They are a call to wholeness.

David would later say that those moments in the Little Colorado River were the very hardest of his life. He had to fight himself for himself.

David reported he was able to see the big picture; he understood why things unfolded as they did. For example, he realized that the raw chicken parts were meant as a source of protein to sustain him so that he might live.

David Paladin was thrown into the river as a very broken – and broken on every level -- man. And David emerged out of the Little Colorado River like the phoenix out of the ashes. He had metaphorically walked through the fire, or, in this case, swum through the currents, and had come out alive. He was born again.

To my understanding, David did not need his braces anymore, and he went on to work with priests and addicts. He became a shaman, a teacher and an artist. He died in his middle years in the mid ‘80s.

* By the way, do you remember David drawing on his tour of the Pacific and that he spoke Russian when the Allies first found half-dead at the camp? It turns out that David was channeling, i.e., energetically merging, with the Russian artist Kandinsky. In fact, Kandinsky’s best friend came from Russian to spend some time with David. The friend, the story goes, told the press that he felt as he had spent the day with his best friend, Kandinsky.

Author's Bio: 

Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D., is a psychologist and teacher who likes looking at life with the big viewfinder. She is the author of Balancing Act: Reflections, Meditations, and Coping Strategies for Today's Fast-Paced Whirl and a contributing author to the best-selling 2012:Creating Your Own Shift. You can learn more about Adele and her thinking at http://theheraldedpenguin.com and www.channeledgrace.com