Native American culture & teachings through a modern lens

Tag: gratitude

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.

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.

 

Adventures in Grownup Vlog-land

 

From reflecting on my time with women as a kind of worship to sharing my favorite random acts of kindness, I have been soaking up tremendous amounts of positive vibrations from friends and followers of Grownup Navajo. Each of these moments have had a lasting effect on me and I have been having fun creating vlogs (video blogs) and uploading them to YouTube as a way to share them.

 

 

In the past month, I have held space with creative women and even created a fun hair tutorial for a new series I am doing on Instagram and Facebook – Tsiiyéeł Tuesdays. I hope to inspire followers to share their pictures of themselves wearing their hair in the traditional style of our people. As I explain in the video, the tsiiyeeł is the way Navajos are meant to care for our hair, it is how we respect the power of the thoughts found in these precious strands of our lives.

 

 

In this post, I want to share these videos with you and encourage you to subscribe to the Grownup Navajo YouTube channel, if you haven’t already.

 

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!

 

In Reciprocity…

As if running in the brilliance of spring in the desert wasn’t enough to be grateful for, I returned home to find a special surprise tonight. A follower of the Grownup Navajo’s Instagram account sent me a very powerful and heartfelt message. Completely speechless and teary-eyed I read her words:

“Sister, I have to share how much your words have meant to me. I have been searching for my own light and growth but keep struggling but after watching and reading all that you have shared I cried! Not for sadness but for happiness knowing there are strong, beautiful and empowered women out there…”

These words from a beautiful kindred spirit left me incredibly overwhelmed with gratitude and joy. I decided to make a Vlog especially for this individual – Ms. Lady. Who will forever be a reminder to me to share my soulspeak with the world.

Yes, ayoígo shił Hozhó. I am overjoyed, humbled and honored to walk this path with you. We are meant for this Earth shík’é (my family), let us never forget this.

Keep shining love!

Hai Reflections in Spring

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The agaves and ocotillo have been blooming here in the desert. I love seasons changing! I have written that before here on Grownup Navajo. But its magic never fails in amazing me. I am completely taken away as I run, hike and simply be in the desert.

At the heart of the transition of seasons is a movement from an ending of one period to the start of another. While these shifts are gradual they can be in retrospect monumental. The past six months have been one of the most intense periods of my life. It has taught me so many lessons and truly dared me to rise like a mountain in the desert.

As a celebration of my favorite season, winter or Hai in Navajo, I challenged myself to not only continue my gratitude practice but incorporate a visual element. The daughter of a photographer, I love taking photos. I love capturing a moment. Through my Instagram account, and in this last season of my life, I made a conscious effort to share a photo each day of a moment that made me incredibly happy and grateful.

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Using the hashtag #HappyHaiJac, I shared a photo each day. The result is a collection of 88 photos of my winter moments. I am one photo short. It’s the day I lost my best friend Jet, my fur baby – dog. I looked but could not find anything in that day that brought me joy. One of my best friends pointed out to me that Jet remained in my life through my hard moments on purpose and now that I was stronger, she thought he realized he could leave me. Though my heart still hurts for his steady companionship, I think she was right.

I often hear from people how they hate winter. I try to understand this but it always misses me. I am at home, in my element, in the winter. In my culture, winter is focused on healing. It’s when we rebuild ourselves through our ceremonies. When I look at this past fall and winter, this truly was the focus. I learned to risk, say goodbye and hello, I reconnected with my soul’s needs, and I began to see all of my power and fell unapologetically in love with it.

FullSizeRender (5)On the Winter Solstice, I climbed Piestewa Peak, here in the desert, my favorite mountain to hike. My spirit was heavy but I was hopeful as I watched the sunrise that morning. What has happened since then has been full of so much power, I don’t have words to describe it all. All I have is gratitude.

There is a saying I often repeat, when I find myself speechless at the universe’s outpouring of love for me – “Ahé’hee…more please”. It’s my small, mindful prayer to the Holy People. My way of accepting my life as it is in this moment. I find so much, especially in the time of the seasons change, in this month with so much earthen energy to be grateful for. From the vibrant yellow of the Palo Verde trees, to the fire in the Ocotillo blooms, life is everywhere and the desert’s beauty leaves me with a full heart and today, now, all I have to say is…

Ahé’hee…more please.

 

The Power of Presence – A Lesson Discovered as I Made My Bed

During a late night drive across my homeland, I jokingly told a close friend how I often feel the “most Navajo” in the mornings when I am making my bed. Instead of laughing as I expected he would, he shared how it made sense. Noting how even this modern act of starting the day could be beautifully traditional. I had never articulated this thought until this moment. But the more I shared the more I understood how much this one teaching infused not just my day, but my life.

Growing up shímasaní (my maternal grandmother) would always instruct me how it was very important that I made my bed. She would indicate how it was a way to show respect for my belongings but also a way for me to show I wasn’t lazy. As I made my bed in the morning when I was little she’d share with me that fixing my bed allowed me to start my day with positive thoughts and intentions.

Shímasaní stayed with us a lot when we were little. She would always be caring for us as my parents traveled and worked. It was her care that showed me how cooking can be a rich love language as she always asked my brothers what they wanted for dinner. They’d respond with either potato soup or her dumpling stew. It’s her recipes for these dishes that are my measure for all others. It is her tortillas that I miss now as her hands are too old flap bread and she is not able to stand very long to cook. But it is also her I think of every morning.

I read a poem recently called “Chorus of Cells” about making a bed. Written by a 100-plus year old poet, the poem illustrated the lyrical simplicity of life found only in seemingly mundane acts. It was this poem and the conversation with my friend that reminded me of the power of being present and how my morning ritual was a conduit to this sense of being.

I always make my bed in the morning. Each day I rise, I hear her teachings urging me to carry openness to the possibilities the day may present. As I smooth the sheets, fluff the pillows and lay the duvet over my bed, I am thinking of my day ahead. Preparing my spirit as I think of the work the Holy People will have me do. It is often the first point in my day, even before I run or pray, when I articulate my gratitude for simply being awake and able to show my dedication to this practice.

I was able to visit shímasaní on my last trip home. I sat with her on her favorite corner of the couch and held her hand. She shared how she was proud of the work I am doing which always means the most to me coming from her because she is one of the strongest people I know. When I look at her life and all that she created, I am left speechless. Her ability to hold onto her traditional knowledge evening after attending boarding school, raising a family of six on her own after shícheíí (my paternal grandfather) died. I don’t always feel worthy of her praise especially when I battle the guilt of being away from her now as she’s older. But when I think about my life and how I live it. I am most proud of having realized how much her many teachings have become my center for the mindful way I aim to live my life. I am grateful now for a beautiful late night conversation which helped me to see the power of my presence – rather, the power of shímasaní’s presence and how it continues to shape me.

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.

To Shízhe’e’ With Love

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Even after thirty years, I still fall in love with shízhe’e’ (my dad). He is a person who has inspired my vision and encouraged me consistently not to be content with mediocrity. As his Dad taught us to fight – for love and our people – my dad taught me to be brave. Whether it is bravery to say what is unpopular or bravery to feed my creative soul. I have been blessed to have a man in my life that has shown me the power of my own strength.

It was my dad who tied my hair when I began each of my Kinaaldás, wrapping my hair with all his and my mom’s hopes for my life. My ceremonies are the greatest gifts my parents have given me. As the ceremony instilled in me a deep connection to my faith as a Diné woman and certifying my place in this world and allegiance to shíDiné (my people).

Existing in a world which is always changing, today I send a special note of love, light and gratitude to a wonderful man who continues to inspire me to be better and for whom I would certainly not be the woman I am. Ahé’hee’ Dad for reminding my best is always enough and I can always do more. Happy Father’s Day today but know I am never without your lessons and words. I love you.

Friendsgiving

Giving thanks has long been a part of my life. As Navajo people we are taught to rise early in the morning and giving an offering as a way to thank the Holy People for the day ahead of us. What I love about this practice is as a people we continuously live in the present but also look forward – we look ahead for the goodness and the beauty. Our efforts in prayer in the morning are meant to prepare us for the journey.

My gratitude practice has continued to formalize as an effect of my grownupness. After college, I was new to the “real world” and would often get distracted by the daily minutia. As a way to quell any negativity I created a daily alarm on my phone with a note to find one thing every day I was grateful for. Four notebooks and counting later, I have a written record of the many things in my life from the best scoop of ice cream, an insightful phone call with my mom or a dream of my late grandparents. Each entry varied some profound, many were silly and all heartwarming.

Through this journey, I have continued to add new aspects to my practice. For me being grateful is a constant state. Last year I started a new tradition of reframing and reclaiming Thanksgiving by celebrating Friendsgiving a time to celebrate the wonderful friends who make my life rich and me a better person.

I’ve mentioned on this blog before the importance of recognizing how interconnected we are to one another. For me this practice of communicating is expressed in saying Ahé’hee’. Whether it is in Navajo or English or Spanish there is power in sharing a moment where no ego only selflessness exists. I think when we say thank you it is our opportunity to just “be human”.

Nearly a year ago I launched my card company the Naaltsoos Project, the motto “putting Navajo to paper”. It merges both my love of letter writing but also is meant to share the importance of communicating with whatever words we know of our Native languages. My favorite card and really the reason for the others is my Ahé’hee’ or thank you cards. I wanted a personal card which would say and carry the love and power of the word.

I read an article years ago about a corporate woman who noted the value of saying thank you before you get to where you are going. It reminded me instantly of me late Nalí who never waited to say thank you. She would always get little gifts for the people who helped her at work or relatives. She was the most selfless person and I know. If I can be even part of the person she was I’d be particularly grateful. I continue to thank her for the example she set and recognize every time I utter or write Ahé’hee’ I am more like her and that is what I am thankful for today.