I'm not sure if he was trying to convert us, or whether he was simply trying to help us understand Native American beliefs, but part of the course involved a ritual.
Each of us took a friend (he allowed the three of us to remain together) and a large sheath knife. We went into the forest in silence until we came to the proper spot.
In that spot, we would take the knives and begin to dig. We would dig a hole, at least a foot wide and a foot deep, and we would place our hands inside it and re-cover anything that was under the ground level.
We were to remove our hands when we felt it was right.
Josh, Kris and I walked into the woods. Carrying our knives, we selected the spot. There was a clearing, not very large, that was within earshot of the lake and far enough back that the ground was high and moist, but not damp.
Silently, we began to dig. The broad blades of the knives bit into the earth, and we loosened up the dirt enough to begin digging with our hands. Very quickly, we were ready, and we all thrust our hands into the ground at once. For a moment, we sat there, and then I began to push the dirt back in, atop our hands. Josh and Kris followed suit. We packed the dirt around our hands, pushing and tamping and smoothing until everything was the same as before, except that our hands were in the ground.
We knelt there for a time. I closed my eyes for some of it, occasionally opening them to grin at one of my friends (even then, humour and play were a vital part of my religious experiences).
I felt the earth around me, felt nature everywhere. My hand reached down into the bosom of the earth, and there was a sudden and strong connection that I felt. Somewhere, deep within the core of the earth, there was a heartbeat.
The heartbeat grew and grew, eventually becoming a part of me, my own heart beating in time with the Earth Mother. I could feel my pulse in my hand, the veins pushing against the earth that was so tightly packed around it.
Josh was the first to withdraw his hand. He sat back, watching Kris and me as we continued to hold our place.
I watched a spider tentatively, inquisitively stroke my arm with his leg, and then decide to scuttle quickly across. I was aware of every movement, every step. As he landed safely on the other side, I realised that he meant me no harm, and I had not even considered harming him. Both of us were simply curious on one level, oblivious on the next.
I watched a few ants wander up my arm in search of food, and I smiled at them.
Kris removed his hand next.
Still I knelt, my hand thrust into Mother Earth. It was as if she held me there, but not as if either one of us sought to do anything against the other's will. I still felt her pulse, I still knew her warm embrace. It was vastly different than anything else I had ever experienced, and I reveled in the feeling.
Slowly, the heartbeat died away. The warmth of the earth gave way to the chill of the dirt and the impatience of friends. I withdrew my hand.
Upon returning to the workshop area, Dillard informed us that we had become brothers. We were ritually bound to one another through the earth.
Should we ever need to feel reconnected, we could always do the same ritual, wherever we might be.
Over the next few years, we renewed that bond often.