Native American culture & teachings through a modern lens

Month: April, 2015

Seeds of Gratitude

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Yesterday, my niece and I spent the afternoon planting a batch of flowers in my yard. It was our first gardening endeavor together and it was filled with profound ponderings only a three-year-old can conjure. As we planted the blooms I told her about how I planted flowers with my late Nalí asdzaan. She asked if my Nalí asdzaan was as silly as her Nalí (my mom). I told her she definitely was. We laughed in the cool spring breeze certain of the exact kind of silliness we meant and continued to arranged the flowers in the planters.

It is fitting we chose yesterday to plant as today marks three years since her passing. I wrote on one of my social media accounts how my longing for her has changed. I still miss her deeply but somehow, I am able to understand she is with me, perhaps even closer than before and for the moment that seems satisfying. I know this feeling will flow and shift back to the unbearable feeling of loss from time to time but today, for now, I feel grounded in my grief and grateful I am able to appreciate knowing such a beautiful being.

As we planted the last few flowers, I started talking to the flowers – telling them thanks for coming home with us and how beautiful and strong they are. Angela asked me why I was speaking to them. I told her this way they know we want them to be here, this way they know we appreciate them. She smiled and then started to talk to the flowers too, giving them thanks. It reminded me of the songs I’d heard my Poogie sing as we planted in the corn field. I don’t remember the words today but I remember her spirit so grateful and hopeful for what was to come forth from the field.

Planting with Angela, I looked ahead to her starting school and one day her Kinaaldás. I wondered about my life and if I will ever get to be a mom or what new career adventures I will have. Then I turned to how much life I will experience without my Nalí asdzaan and it is startling. But as I touched and turned the soil in the planters I realized when my Poogie was here she planted so much in me. Different seeds I am not even aware of – that I don’t even know. I believe she wouldn’t have left us if she didn’t think we could thrive. So I am going to bed tonight, with a grateful heart for all the adventures I have had with both my beautiful niece and my late Nalí asdzaan. Two lively, fierce and strong Diné women whose presence in my life feeds my work and nurtures my spirit. Tonight I pray for the words of those planting songs to come to me in hopes they continue to nourish the seeds of resilience planted in me. I also pray tonight for the unknown seeds in me – may they continue to grow within, rooting me in a culture so beautiful and complex it will always deliver me what I need as long as my heart is open and willing to cultivate it’s essence.

Moonlight Respite

My house is quiet in this hour. Nothing moves but my heart, ceiling fan, and the occasional sighs of my dog. The stillness is my soul’s reminder to be reverent. There is a lunar eclipse occurring on this spring morning, one of the shortest of the year. We are taught as Diné (Navajo) people to respect this period in the moon cycle. This respect is shown in several ways but the most stark is our dedication to letting the moon be.

Growing up, during an eclipse we were told to be sure we stayed inside and not playing around – we were to be still. We were also not supposed to look at the eclipse and in general not eat, drink or sleep during it. Traditionally, families or healers would share different stores during this time or say certain prayers. This is still carried on today by a lot of families.

In a discussion with my partner recently, we were talking about the idea of taboos. I shared with him how it is important for Navajos, as we carry on teachings, to remember to not overly simplify our ideas to the point where things are either good or bad. For instance, some elders when explaining why we don’t do something would say only – “yiiyáh (oh no/yikes/that’s not good) we don’t do that because it’s bad.” It’s the modern “just because reasoning”. In this model effort’s not made to explain what I think is a more complex reason.

For instance, many of the things we consider taboo – a coyote who crosses your path going north, looking at the moon during an eclipse and other teachings – aren’t meant to simply scare us NOT to do something. What I believe to be the purpose of the teachings is to learn to recognize the power in the world around us. Yes, as Diné people we live in a world with a cause and effect. Meaning we believe when something ails you it is because you are or at some point on you path have lost balance – you are out of Hozhó (harmony/balance).

Being able to take ownership of our responsibility in respecting the world around us is critical. It allows us to live in greater Hozhó. We simply can’t be afraid of the “bad signs” but understand we live in a culture which shares with us many opportunities to connect to all living things. We often don’t do certain things not because we were supposed to be scared of them. But because there is so much power occurring or it is a sacred time – as in the case of an eclipse, that we need to be ready or prepared to understand that power. We need to understand our own strength so we can be certain of our ability to carry the new knowledge.

I find great comfort in my culture because it all encompassing. It teaches us to be soulful in our practices and challenges us to remember many different ways to engage with the world. We don’t make enough time to connect with the world around us. I think many of these practices including observing an eclipse are more important to do today because it gives us an opportunity to reflect. As I sit here in the darkness of dawn I think of conversations I’ve had with relatives during this sacred moonlight. Thinking of the stories I’ve heard or words shared. It is beautiful and powerful to have these memories and then to look ahead with hope to see the new ones I’ll create.