(Originally published December, 2010)
A teacher and healer, Tim Yearington puts his philosophy to work
Story and photo by Sarah Ryeland
One night he dreams that a feather is waiting for him in the woods. Upon awakening he has a nagging feeling that he should listen to the dream, so he sets out to find the feather. He heads out, not knowing where to look.
Listening to his spirit and signs from mother earth, he searches through the woods. Just as he is about to give up, he stumbles across the beautiful feather that sits on a log, just waiting for him to pick it up.
Tim Yearington still has that feather.
As a youngster growing up in North Bay, Yearington always wondered about his roots. Adopted at a young age, he knew that he was different from the rest of his family and was often singled out by his peers because of his dark hair, eyes and complexion. Told he was of French Canadian descent, the boy always knew that there was something else within him – a deeper connection to his surroundings.
He calls it “that native thing” –a feeling of connection to the First Nations community and also the title of a book he recently published about Native teachings.
As a child Yearington would venture into the woods to play and explore, often feeling a grandmotherly spirit guiding him – teaching him about life and nature, the earth and sky. He felt connected to the energy of an ancestor, realizing only in his adult life the importance of this spirit guide.
“I always felt that she was with me in the woods,” he says. “After I grew up I realized there were things I actually learned from being in the woods with her that I don’t know where I would have gotten anywhere else.
“Obviously in those moments I don’t remember saying ‘oh, that’s a neat thing to learn,’ but as I matured I would question how I learned to do this or that. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it came from those experiences.”
The young man eventually began to think of himself as a member First Nations community, finding their teachings and philosophies a simple and comforting way of understanding the world.
Yearington eventually moved away from North Bay and began travelling, searching for an identity and an answer to his constant questions about ancestry. Working for graphic design firms and as a freelance illustrator, he ultimately chose to break away from that path and get back to nature. He began work a nature guide in the Ottawa valley, and through personal struggles and self-examination realized that his calling was to follow – and eventually teach – Native philosophy.
Rather than a religion or spirituality, Yearington refers to Native philosophy as a way of life. He sees it as a way of living in harmony with the earth, respecting the history and sanctity of every living thing.
He learned what he knows through research and speaking with elders in the Native community, but mostly he says, from heading out into nature and experiencing it for himself.
“I’ve learned through my own earthwalk and the things I’ve experienced,” he says. “The animals I’ve encountered, the things that they’ve taught me. It’s not always people being teachers or guides or wisdom holders – it’s everywhere around us.”
At the heart of Yearington’s philosophy is the medicine wheel.
A medicine wheel is an ancient tool used to help humans on their earthwalk, or life on earth. It’s a kind of compass, with what looks like an X marking off four sections within the wheel. Each section – north, south, east and west – has a corresponding colour, rich with meaning and symbolism. In the centre of the wheel, or sacred hoop, is the intersection of the X. This is the where the self is located, symbolized by a small tree that grows taller and taller as each section of the wheel grows stronger and more balanced.
When every direction on the wheel is in balance, the tree in the middle of the medicine wheel grows strong and tall toward the sun. The symbolism of the tree is very important in Native philosophy because it connects mother earth with father sky.
A medicine wheel can be as big or small as you’d like it to be – it’s really just a guide to help you remember to stay connected to your surroundings. The “tree” in the centre can be real, or simply a drawn or found representation.
To understand and work with the medicine wheel is to have harmony and balance in your life, according to Yearington. Not only that, but it’s available to everyone – Native Canadian or otherwise.
“Yellow represents the yellow people, red represents the red people, black represents the black people and white the white people,” he says. “We’re all connected in that sacred hoop, that circle. Really, what I’m trying to show people is that it’s about everybody. So let’s get on with it and start to think and do and believe the same things because the earth is sacred to everybody.”
It’s the simplicity that appeals to Yearington and it’s through this philosophy that he has answered questions in his own life. Always wondering about his ancestors and biological family, Yearington now has peace of mind because he knows that the entire physical world is connected and that nature teaches him the lessons of his past.
The fact that he has overcome obstacles through practicing Native teachings has inspired him to help others in the same way.
“It’s only been recently that I’ve been able to own up to the reality that I have a gift to be a teacher, or medicine man,” he says. “That’s essentially the label that’s used for the teachings of the medicine, all of those things that empower us and make us feel better. Not just physically, but emotionally, mentally and spiritually too. All of those dimensions are connected.”
Yearington is now focusing on helping others by holding workshops and consultations with individuals who wish to learn more about the philosophy. On his wooded property he has medicine wheels and other iconic Native teaching tools to help people on their earthwalk. He leads people on vision quests – spiritual journeys that delve into the western realm of the wheel – and helps them connect with manitous or spirits in plants and animals. oh
“I think learning is important,” says Yearington. “I’m trying to show that there’s medicine available that you can use because I did it, too. So, why not go with it and use it and empower your life? You can become who you really are. Then you can become medicine for somebody else, and it just continues.”
Yearington also shares the Thunderbird teachings. In Native traditions, the thunderbird is a creature that soars even higher than the eagle. The thunderbird therefore sees the earth in a way that we humans cannot, and is very wise.
“It’s an all-encompassing philosophy that incorporates the medicine wheel,” says Yearington. “It’s about the teachings of mother earth and father sky and how they all connect.”
While it might sound a bit confusing at first, Yearington assures his students that the philosophy is simple at its core. He admits that he had to un-learn many of the common societal views in order to adopt the philosophy, but he thinks it’s worth it.
“Sometimes you have to learn to disconnect your thoughts from what your spirit is saying,” he says. “The more you do it the easier it gets. It’s powerful. When you start using that in your life, when you admit to yourself that all the dimensions are real and equal, it’s amazing what you can learn.”
He has learned a lot, and is looking forward to helping others do the same.
Although he still doesn’t know for sure if he has First Nations blood, Yearington’s connection to Native philosophy runs deep. He also believes that, First Nations or not, we’re all in this together.
“The word Native is just a label,” he says. “We’re all native to mother earth.”