Native American culture & teachings through a modern lens

Tag: Culture

Náádąą Rising & Other Reminders from the Cornfield

When I started my new adventure, I had no idea how much “new” I would be surrounded by. From finding a new coffee shop to hang out in to searching for a favorite new eatery to get carry-out from, life has been full of “firsts”. I’ve have also been seeking the answer to a new question – what songs do I sing to help the roots I am planting in this community be the healthiest?

 
I remember planting with my late Nalí asdzaan (paternal grandmother) when I was little. I love this memory of ours. From the feel of placing the jewel-toned corn kernels in the moist earth to the heat of the summer day, our entire time together was incredibly fun. I have been thinking of her consistently since I started to build my life in New Mexico. This memory came to be me recently as I have been reflecting about the kind of life I have planted and am cultivating. I remember her sharing songs as we planted. Offerings to the corn we hoped would grow in our field.

 
In my new home, days have been filled with exploration. I’ve been searching for my place within this community while also pushing myself to being open to people who cross my path. Being open provokes vulnerability which can be daunting. But there is treasure to be found in yourself and your surroundings when you crack open to (or from) a new experience. I recently shared a wonderful dinner with new friends and I was struck with pure giddiness as I felt the promise of a place being carved out for me here in these new lands.

 
As I have been seeking opportunities for Grownup Navajo to grow, I’ve longed for the strong sister bonds calling to me from across the desert. Answering prayers, I have connected to other motivating female Native entrepreneurs who have showed me a new kind of sisterhood. One formed and tested in the fire of trailblazing. They’ve cheered me on and reassured me of the normalcy of the journey I’ve traveled so far in launching my business.

 
In the corn field, my Nalí adszaan would move with measured intention. Creating the holes in the earth for the seeds with deliberate care. We would move row by row, being conscious of our thoughts and energy as we offered the seeds to the earth. Thinking about this day and the current point on my journey, I feel there are songs I need to learn and ones I somehow already know the melody. These “songs” I carry with me are ones of love, compassion and gentleness. I forget too easily, two lessons of the cornfield: 1) if I want corn to grow I have to get my hands dirty and work the earth and 2) corn takes time to grow. Much like children we must offer our praise and gratitude for the path that has unfolded. It is necessary to be thankful, even for the uncertain path.

 
I am grateful for the way the answers to the questions my heart asks arrive in my heart simultaneously quelling the anxiousness in my mind. Whether in the form of encouraging words from a fierce entrepreneur or an inspiring conversation with new friends, we are provided connections to the tools we need to continue to flourish. My life – each of our lives – have been prayed into existence and nurtured with intention, just like the corn that has grown in our fields. Corn which has grown for generations, blessed with songs whose power whisper reminders of our purpose. Our destiny is to grow and learn like the sacred náádąą (corn) we use for our prayers in the morning and ceremonies throughout our lives. Let’s hold this truth close, so we never doubt the direction we are going because it is innate in us to grow, rising bravely, like stalks of náádąą in a beautiful field.

Grace, Guts & Power

Growing up as the oldest grandchild and daughter in my family, I was keenly fond of praise. I relished in moments when my parents and grandparents would give me a compliment. I loved their feedback, whether it was about a speech I had written or how I did in the school play, I reveled in the feeling of their outward exclamations.

There were two things my grandparents would say however, that I wanted to hear most. If my late Nalí hastiin (paternal granddad) was ever impressed by something so much so that he said, “you have guts.” That was gold to me. I remember a couple times when I played in basketball games and he said, “That took guts, good job.” In college I ran for a pageant and came in as runner-up, I was crushed. When I told him on the phone I didn’t win, he sighed, clicked his tongue and said, “That took guts Jac, I am proud of you.”

Once my late Nalí Asdzaan (maternal grandmother), after my dad had given a great talk at the orientation for teachers shared, “Your dad really spoke with power.” She shook her fist as she closed her eyes as though it gave her strength just remembering him earlier in the day and the words he shared. I dreamed of her one day talking about me in that way.

The two of them, as I have written here many times, were my guideposts. Their compliments, teachings and stories drove me to strive. I wanted so much not solely to please them but I was so inspired by the way they lived their lives that I believed if I could follow their teachings, there would be hope for me to make similar impressions in the world.

 

I write this post still in disbelief at the remarkable night I had performing in celebration of OXDX Clothing’s Fall Release. I performed two poems, “Dear Girl-Made-of-Honey” and “Seeds of Resilience” which was written as a special collaboration with OXDX Clothing Founder, Jared Yazzie. I have given many public talks, I teach as well so public speaking is something I am comfortable with. However, if you measured my nerves on Saturday morning, I would have been noticeably anxious about the performance.

 

Performing my poetry was never my intention but standing on the stage and getting to share two poems which were foundational in my healing this year was such a privilege. I am honored to write this blog, thankful for the way it is received. I thought about my grandparents as I stood on the stage. I thought about how I never got to hear my Nalí asdzaan tell me I spoke with power. However, there were so many other compliments she shared with me while she was alive and I will carry those forward instead. I look at my life now, I think about how much I shook on the stage and realized, even in light of my fear, I had the guts to perform and I didn’t need any more compliments to reassure me…I could feel the power of the words reverberate in the room. Words given to me by the grace of Diyin Diné’é (Holy People) to share. I am so grateful for what this blog and these teachings…the same ones given to me by my late Nalís, have come to mean to people. It truly is beautiful to see that Grownup Navajo is not solely a blog. It now has a community of people surrounding it who work to “speak sacredness fluently” in their lives. That is power and it takes guts to commit to that value especially in a society that does not like difference. There are always threats to cultural learning, many created by a history of oppression in this country towards our people but also ones that we choose to let block us. It is those hurdles we must dismantle, they are the true challenge to furthering our knowledge base. When we choose to stop keeping ourselves from seeking more knowledge then we can truly harness our full power, utilize all our medicine to heal each other and show ourselves just what our guts are made of.

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This vlog shares the teaching of “ahééh jinízin”. Ahééh jinízin is the instructive ideology of being appreciative, living in thankfulness. Gratitude has been proven to help build resiliency in people. When we are thankful, it allows us to adapt to situations more fluidly, it strengthens our medicine.

In the spirit of this teaching I would like to say ahé’hee (thank you) to my family for their love and support and to my partner Warren, for his help with the GN booth, tech support in recording the performances and for offering a reserve of strength.

Tsiiyéeł Powered Compliments

 

In an effort to live my teachings out, to speak sacredness fluently this Tsiiyéeł Tuesday I have learned a new phrase in Diné Bizaad (Navajo language). It is a phrase I hope people can use the compliment the beautiful image of a Diné person who has made their tsiiyéeł, a traditional Navajo bun.

“Nítsiiyéeł nizhónígo iinla!”

 

This phrase means “You made a beautiful tsiiyéeł.” I hope you enjoy giving this compliment to men and women who are wearing their hair in such a way. I think this helps foster positivity and support through connection to each other.

 

 

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Speak Sacredness Fluently

There are days when I hit snooze before the sun changes from the white dawn to blue sky, long before my feet even hit the floor in my home. There are evenings when I am just so grateful the pain, frustration of the day is gone, that I am happy to not look back.

But then there are mornings when I run to the east, pray to the sun before it shines over the summit. There are points on my travels home after having made an offering to our sacred mountain that I feel I am living out the sacredness I was taught. These moments of synchronicity in sacredness are the ones I chase and strive to hold and achieve.

In a recent conversation with a close friend preparing for ceremony, I was inspired, challenged, to think about my life as a language – a conversation of sacredness. Watching my friend prepare for ceremony reminded me of ways I was taught to prepare for practices of sacredness. Preparation begins with a choice. A choice to speak sacredness fluently. Sacredness is finding gratitude in every moment, greeting our brothers and sister with terms of kinship, sacredness is putting others – our community before ourselves. Sacredness is choosing to heal, choosing the light when it seems easier to cower in the darkness.

I have been meditating on this challenge of speaking sacredness fluently. Wondering how can I lead in sacredness? How can I love in sacredness? How can I live a life full of sacredness like my ancestors and elders have? Some of this will mean me practicing more of my language, striving to seek more knowledge of plant medicines. But what this means most is to live in gentle humility. Understanding I am connected. Connected to other bilá ashląądii (five-fingered people). Living in sacredness is not living in perfection, it is actually the opposite of perfection. Speaking sacredness fluently in life means I am always becoming. I am always able to do more for my family and community. Speaking sacredness fluently will be a new model I begin to use to challenge myself to rise with active hope aimed at serving those around me.

As I write this, I am grateful for all the moments leading me to this understanding of self and grateful I get to share it with beautiful brilliant souls all seeking the same truth – to speak sacredness into existence by living it out day after day on the corn pollen path.

 

Returning…to Myself

The month of June has been full. Brimming with love, time with family, adventures in new lands but also returns. Numerous things this month have come back to me and I returned to many places too. From a gratitude journal I had lost to the power of my body being restored dealing with ailments it’s been facing. I traveled back to places that have taught me much about myself in times before. Family members returned for visits. Love returned – in many ways, as if to show me all the ways I have grown.

There is a beautiful quote I recently fell in love with by poet Yrsa Daley-Ward, “And sometimes you meet yourself back where you started, but stronger.” I love this phrase and feel it resonate as the message of my month. I feel the medicine of these returns collectively showing me how much I have grown. It is a blessing to write of these returns for all that they are, gifts. Reminders to me of how much can be gained when we choose to be authentic, risk and trust our strength in order to better ourselves.

When we think of all the ways we come back to a place, a moment, a person, we are often met with comfort. Noting some sort of familiarity with this “place”. The gift in getting to return is the opportunity to continue to explore the place with new perspective, see things you haven’t seen before, make new connections, spend more time in gratitude for the lessons learned in the space, moment or person.

I often think of the return of my people from Hweełdí (the Place of Suffering) in southern New Mexico during the Long Walk. I think about what it must have been like when they walked home after their imprisonment. How beautiful every rock formation was when the “first” glimpse was taken. I imagine the swelling of their hearts knowing there were people who were not making the journey with them. I think of how incredible it must have felt to know that everything that was trying to break you; that tried to extinguish the light of your soul did not succeed. The joy that was felt in that moment must have been what challenged them to not rest complacently in the comfort of return but gave reason to rise.

What a gift a return can be. To get another opportunity to look at something you’ve cared for and feel it with your being. What a gift it is to return to a place that shaped your perspective and feel its hold take you. What a blessing it is to hold the person you love knowing you can grow within reach of each other.

The return of my people to Diné Bikeyáh (Navajoland) is paramount. Though this happened over 140 years ago, I can still feel its power. I am grateful for the ways the carrying of the story of my people has taught me the beauty of returning to something, someone you love. How they taught me not to be lulled into contentedness by being back where you have been but instead to challenge yourself to look for ways to hold onto to this sacred feeling of being back “home” but knowing you are stronger than before and therefore must strive and reach for new practices. What a glorious way to challenge your heart. To know it is elastic and able to grow within your new shape. So tonight, I am resting in the comfort of my wholeness, returning to myself, a beautiful asdzaan Diné (Navajo lady) who is made, formed by a constant cycle of returning beginnings.

Grateful Memories and Other Expressions

Expressions of gratitude have long been part of my life. This morning I went to breakfast with my dad. He is always wonderful company as we have conversations about current events to catching up on life’s happenings. This morning as we were talking I began to reminisce about a memory I had with my late Nalí asdzaan (paternal grandmother).

Over my dresser hangs a special letter I sent her when I was in college.  In it I shared how appreciative I was for having her in my life. I was so moved at having just experienced my sister’s Kinaaldá that the need to send a letter to tell her how I saw her role in my life was necessary. I keep this letter visible as it was the beginning of cultivating gratitude in my life.

 I get to see this letter every morning when I wake up. I am reminded of my connection to her but it also is a reminder to think about what I am grateful for before I even greet the world. The ability to express gratitude is a critical part of building resiliency. When we see we are connected beings we are able to see that not only are we not alone but there is so much we can learn from one another. I made this vlog to share this story and in it I read from the letter I mention. I hope you take time to watch but more importantly, I hope you decide to create your own message of gratitude to someone you love. This is type of change we need in the world – one that values responsibility to each other.

Visit our new VIDEOS page here to see all of the videos so far. Of course, don’t forget to follow our YouTube channel as everything gets posted there first.

 

Molded in the Image of Asdzaan Diné – Part One

A little over a year ago, one of my best friends asked a question that would forever change my life. Sitting in the courtyard at work over coffee he shared with me how it was time to plan his daughter’s Kinaaldá, puberty ceremony. That news alone was exciting but as we talked about the plans, Marcus asked if I would be willing to tie the hair of his daughter during her ceremony. Asking on behalf his wife Verna and family, Marcus shared how they had respect for my family and would be honored if I could tie their daughter Maili’s hair. This role is much like a sponsor and is filled by a person the family has respect for, someone they want their daughter to emulate as she begins her journey into womanhood. Understanding this as we talked over coffee that first day my heart swelled with gratitude and humility knowing this was an incredible honor. I accepted. It has been a year to date and it has taken me that long to come to fully accept this occurred but also this amount of time was necessary for me to reflect. What I am sharing today is my journal entry I wrote after the ceremony completed. I am writing this in two parts as I want to mark, celebrate and honor this rite of passage in my life. It is with a humble heart I share this entry with little revisions of my first reflection.

Painting by Jeff Slim

“The Embodiment of Changing Woman” 2016. Acrylic & Aerosol on wood. Photo courtesy of Jeff Slim.

 

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I have been reflecting much about the experience of tying Maili’s hair. From Marcus asking me and our conversation to me actually getting to do it. It was an amazing whirlwind. I was never afraid of being a part – my heart was accepting and communicated to the rest of me. I knew from the start I wanted to be prepared, be ready. Because I have been in such an intense self-improvement mode, I knew I needed to take time to ready myself. It has been the start of my meditation practice and also a more dedicated prayer practice. I worked hard to allow myself reflection and in that naturally found ways to combat my nervousness. In the time leading up to the ceremony I had a dream that I was tying her hair. I was in a Hogan surrounded by voices of women in my life. All communicating to me. Their individual voices were hard to distinguish as were their words. But I could hear the voice of my Poogie (my late Nalí Asdzaan/paternal grandma) above else – rather not her voice really but message of “just do it”. It was exactly what I know she’d say if she was here. I continued to brush Kinaaldá’s hair in my dream with the rabbit brush until I woke up. It was beautiful assurance.

By the time it came from me to leave to go to meet the family in Ft. Defiance I was nervous and yet content. I am still amazed that even in such a challenging time for me personally the Diyin Diné’é (Holy People) found me and gave me this gift. I was/is an affirmation of where I am supposed to be – right here. Arriving at Fort by night fall and found the homestead without a map and I began helping with setup. I slept that night bundled up with blankets in a tent with rez dogs growling around. It was so much fun and ignited in me want for more outdoor fun.

The next morning went so fast. When Grandma Mae, the medicine woman, showed up with my aunt Shirley they both were surprised by my being there with the family. It was perfect to have that connection as I began to brush Maili’s hair, dress her and then mold her. I wasn’t emotional but focused sending all my positive thoughts into her so that it’d aid in giving her a long, rich life. We ran to the east and that was fun. Then we ate and waited for the noon run at which point I was so overjoyed. Maili was so poised throughout the entire ceremony. Not complaining at all. It was impressive. When I returned Friday it was time to run and then begin mixing the cake. Though I just mixed for a little bit, I focused on sewing the corn husks. Then we poured the cake that evening, ate some more and just enjoyed being in the homestead. My mom stopped by and that was so nice, even Evelyn (family friend) was there and I loved getting to see her too.

I slept a little that night but joined in the Hogan sitting next to Maili singing the prayers. That night I sung. There were moments when I could feel the presence of my Poogie sharing the words with me, for me. It was powerful and the truest, deepest form of “soulspeak”. I was proud of Maili as she was very reverent and stayed up the whole time. In the morning I brushed and washed her hair. It was a new experience filled with the beautiful exchange that unfolds when you have many Navajo women in the room. I then tied her hair in a tsiiyeeł(traditional Navajo hairstyle).

It all was done in beauty and with the best intentions and parts of me. There are parts I know more of how to do now and for all the learning I am incredibly grateful. When I talk about the ceremony it will be done with an even deeper reaching understanding of the Kinaaldá. How incredible to receive such knowledge. How beautifully intelligent our ancestors were to know how empowering the Kinaaldá is and would remain. We learn so much from each other during it. And I can feel just how tremendous it is to know that I have new teachers and even more so that I have become a teacher. I am consumed by reverence for this marker and experience because I feel a tremendous honor and great humility that my dear friend and his wife would want their daughter to be like me. How amazing and big that is I am only 31 and I’ve become old enough to take this in. I can hear the Diyin Diné’é share and sing – I can feel them say also I am not done – there is more for me to learn and more for me to be. I am thankful for the affirmation of this honor as the sign I am living my life in accordance with how I am meant to. I think of what my Poogie and Granddad would say to me and I am confident they would be proud and also encouraging of the responsibility I recognize in this. I see how amazing it is to be able to serve in this capacity. I am humbled by the power of the Kinaaldá and remember it really is what has made me who I am. I am molded in the image of my Poogie who is molded in the image of many strong women including Changing Woman. She is the genesis and all that strength and potential grace and power lives inside me. But is not mine. It is meant to be shared – so it needs to shine out from me into the world and for that…my work is not done. (Originally written July 5, 2015)

Gratitude as Translator and Other Thoughts in Pueblolands

There are moments when the gratitude for the life I lead feels heavy. Not in a way that is negative, but in a way that I am so grounded by the power of these gifts I am able to experience, that my heart transcends levity and exists on a plane that is beyond words. This week while traveling for work, in one of my favorite places, “Puebloland” in New Mexico, I experienced this state.

My heart on numerous occasions, felt as though it was folding into itself. This sensation is incredible to experience and one which I often can only react to with tears. While traveling for work, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to facilitate a workshop with a Puebloan artist in Albuquerque.  I enjoy cultural sharing and exchange so there were many points in which I was simply thankful for the experience. However, on one particular day the energy in the room was so powerful and strong as participants spoke to each other in Keres. During this exchange, which had nothing to do with me, I found my heart was not at all lost in trying to understand what was occurring. Instead, it was as if my heart knew what was being said and was grateful – grateful to be in a world that holds such goodness.

I think we forget how powerful a tool gratitude can be. I believe it to be one of the best translators. When we tap into the feeling of appreciating a moment, we surrender to the beauty and gifts and are able to drink it in, wholeheartedly. Gratitude allows us to move through a moment without getting caught in trying to dissect its meaning. In other words, we travel to a place where we can suspend reality and simply be everything we are in connection to the world and people around us. This then becomes a propellant to action. We can then move forward continuing to strive to be better. In this latest vlog, I share more on this topic and challenge each of us to think about ways gratitude is not a passive feeling but a motivator to create more positive change in our lives.

 

The Languages of Hummingbirds & Land

This morning, I woke in the desert with the goal of hiking and basking in the new light of the day at mountain’s top. Breathless after my ascent, I relaxed with a beautiful view of the mountains of the desert around me. While I sat still enjoying the view, I noticed there were several hummingbirds dancing on this mountain top. Called a “charm of hummingbirds” – I actually had to google the word for a gathering of hummingbirds – these beautiful beings sang and danced, a show that moved my heart.

In the past year, I have reflected and meditated a lot on the various conversations we can have with the world around us. The different languages we speak. It is the ones that are not centered on the use of the English language that make my heart the happiest, that fill my soul with the medicine it needs to continue to heal, grow and thrive. From the hug from a close friend, the movement of light draw on the wall inside your home as it sets, all have a tremendous power to share a message. This morning, on top a mountain, my soul and I danced with a charm of hummingbirds, listened to the wind, had a beautiful bee and beautiful beetle land on top of me. It ALL was a reminder of the many languages that provide us guidance in life and how being open and loving can allow the goodness, love and light of the world into us. In this Glittering World, there is so much opportunity for us to challenge ourselves to be loving to each other. This is the wisdom of my conversation with the hummingbird – no matter how swift we are caused to move in this world, there is always enough time to use loving language as we communicate with each other…and to ourselves.
Keep Shining!

 

Medicine of the Dził and Our Hearts

My recent trip home was everything I needed it to be. There is a serenity my heart feels when I am in Diné Bikeyáh that is hard to match in the city. I have learned over the years since moving away from the reservation that the medicine of my homeland is critical and necessary for my wellness. 

Before I drove back to Phoenix, I sat with my brother. Though he is younger than me, he fills the role of an older brother. Getting to share time with him is always a steady comfort as his presence is strong and reassuring. Before leaving we spent the last of our time together gifting each other traditional medicine. Exchanging different medicines we talked about what we needed to collect more of and reminded each other of how to use it. It was a beautiful memory I will carry forward with me, as it was just the two of us. Our parents were not around, nor any aunties or uncles. Just us two “kids” sharing what we had so could continue carrying out the ways we were taught.

On my way trek back, I stopped to pray at our sacred mountain of the west, known as the San Francisco Peaks in English. I offered thanks for all the medicine I carry within me. Both what I am aware of but also of the medicine that has not yet been called out. Being with my brother and spending time in the mountains was such a grounding experience. It reminded me of how much I still have to learn but more importantly, that as I work on learning more to heal, I can’t lose sight of sharing what is in me to help others and myself.

K’é teaches us we are all interconnected, we all have knowledge to share and within this are the answers to what can help us as a people. We don’t heal each other by just trying to work on ourselves. This is the antithesis of being a part of a community. As a community, we heal each other, by giving more love, sharing more of our light and offering more of our medicine to the world and our relatives around us.

This lesson is what I heard in our dził (mountain) today, a reminder that through the giving and sharing of the medicine of our hearts, we will find our way not only to the remedies we need but our way back to each other.

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Here is a new video recorded on the mountain. Please watch, share and comment. Ahé’hee.