16 Nov 2015
Connecting with Indigenous Traditions
After a long corporate career, Dan Sprinkles now serves his community as a spiritual healer.by Jill RadskenTopics:
Photo by Patrick Harbron
Dan Sprinkles (MBA 1977) was 50 years old when a vision quest inspired him to leave the corporate world and embark on a role as a spiritual healer. “I’d always been hungry or starved for something that would create passion, something I couldn’t wait to get out of bed for,” he says. “This path drew me in.”
His exploration of ancient, indigenous traditions led Sprinkles to apprentice to become initiated as a healer in the way of ancient Huichol and Nahua cultures in 2000 and 2006, respectively. Today, he and his wife, Annie Eagan, serve the Blue Deer Center in New York’s Catskill Mountains as resident healers. A board member at Blue Deer for 10 years, Sprinkles offers healing sessions, hosts monthly fires, and heads up an initiation program for young men.
“I’m 67, and one of the ways I connect with the culture that raised me is giving back through elderhood,” he says. “I see it as providing the model for how to walk in the world in a way that provides meaning and sustainability. In the modern world, we look at elders as a drain on society, but here elderhood is seen as an invaluable asset. This mentoring program is part of the context for a way to give back.”
The modest life Sprinkles lives now stands in stark contrast to his early years growing up as a military brat. The son of an Army sergeant, he attended Vanderbilt University on a Naval ROTC scholarship. He graduated as a naval officer, then served on two nuclear submarines in Hawaii until 1975. He attended HBS as a transition to civilian life, and it was an experience he describes as “like nothing I’d ever encountered.”
“The emphasis on being able to stand on your feet and state your convictions and persuade others—that was a big teaching moment for me,” he recalls. “It provided a transformational opportunity in that way.”
After graduating, he spent a decade at the Hawaii-based Castle & Cooke, which was at that time a large agriculture firm that included Dole Food Company. Sprinkles began in the seafood division at Castle & Cooke’s San Francisco headquarters; later, he helped run a fleet of tuna seiners in San Diego, followed by managing king crab and salmon fishing in Washington State and Alaska.
“I was in Dutch Harbor, navigating the logistics of catching and freezing and making deals with Japanese customers,” he remembers. “I seemed to find my way in the business world in a way that dovetailed with my search for adventure. These places gave a flavor of that.”
There were more corporate transfers (to fresh vegetables, then fresh fruit) until 1983, when he landed what he saw as his dream role as Castle & Cooke’s international controller for the Far East.
“I was 12 times zones from the division. I was managing pineapples in the Philippines, and traveling to the tax office in Hong Kong and sales office in Tokyo. It was an exciting time,” he says.
Company consolidation led Sprinkles to return to the East Coast, where he worked briefly as a stockbroker, then started consulting for software providers along the Atlantic seaboard. He eventually made his home in Virginia with Eagan, who had begun studying plant spirit medicine (similar to traditional Chinese acupuncture, except that it relies on plant relationships for healing). In 1999 he made the first of many pilgrimages to Mexico, beginning his study of indigenous traditions.
“It was four days without food or water. Initially it was a prospect I couldn’t imagine, but I felt like a new being afterwards. It was very freeing,” he says.
Sprinkles eventually became initiated as a traditional medicine healer, and joined the board of the Blue Deer Center 10 years ago.
“The mission is to provide a place where ancestral tradition-holders can come and be supported and deliver their gifts of indigenous knowledge and perspective to the public,” he says. “In modern culture, life has become such a rat race. We offer the possibility of rediscovering authentic and traditional ways to interact with a divine, natural world.”
Today, he and Eagan also work as a Fire Keepers, hosting monthly fires and ceremonies near a tipi next to their house, where members of the local community connect through the sharing of stories, music, and laughter.
“Indigenous peoples’ relationship with fire was instrumental in their life,” Sprinkles explains. “It meant protection, a way to cook their food, and formed the orientation for their social organization.
“People who attend the fires come to share their experiences. They are witness to this age-old way that humans have gathered together, and are reminded of their own spiritual nature.”
Class of MBA 1977, Section H