Friday, June 08, 2007

Walking in Beauty

Following is a short personal essay I wrote in early 2004, a few months before I pulled up stakes in the Midwest and moved to Taos, New Mexico. It was a risk, a leap into the unknown. I had a Scamp trailer that I towed out there with my pickup truck, and I lived in that camper-trailer till December 2004, when the mountain winter cold drove me to move to California. I did move to California, but the trailer didn't make it: not far from Taos, it broke loose of the truck, snapped the safety chains, and went over a cliff in the Rio Grande valley. I survived, the truck survived, no one got hurt, and while I lost some belongings, I survived. I had dreams and post-traumatic stress about the event for a couple of years, afterwards.

But this is what I thinking about in early 2004. I had been living in a dead-end situation, a no-win situation, and I needed to shake up my life. So I followed my heart, and hit the road, and went West. So, this is where my thinking started about it all. It was the beginning of my own nomadism, which I resume whenever I can, and which still calls to me, as often as it ever has.

I've been reading all morning again about hozhoni—the Navajo word for harmony, implying balance between all elements of life, and being in a balanced relationship with them all. (Some part of me has always felt a perfect fit between me and Navajo cosmology and sacred ideas; I find myself practicing them without knowing their origin, sometimes. It just seems natural to diagnose a client who needs healing by looking for where they are out of balance with themselves and nature. I was ten when I first encountered Navajo ideas, and my response was "this makes sense" from the get-go.)

Here's a thought I just had today: Because of who I am and what I do, I need to heal the disharmony between me and the corporate world—that, ironically, was the worst I'd ever experienced at [a certain Twin Cities new age book publishing company], a supposedly "enlightened" publisher of spiritual materials; well, they do publish some very good things, but the collective Shadow rules the office itself—that was part of why I left that world and haven't been gainfully or traditionally employed by it in 2.5 or more years. I need to heal that. I don't at this time know what that looks like, or how to do it; I have a sense that this will become clear later this year, but I need to go live in New Mexico for awhile first, even if I don't end up finding much work there. I frankly am weary of living in big cities with lots of people (constant shielding takes effort), and part of me longs for the silence of simple country life, at desert or seashore. I also know that running away from something—from anything—is not going towards hozhoni, but away from it. You have to face your shadows, and meet them, and integrate them into who you are. You have to find that balance; otherwise your shadow rules you. Jungian and Navajo ideas get along well, at least for me.

I make no claims towards being, or having the right to be, a traditional medicine man, or shaman, in any traditional culture but my own. And yet I share a lot of that worldview, and in retrospect always have. It just makes sense to me.

Remember, too, the Navajo believe that the healer must walk in beauty as an example and role model for others to also see how to walk in beauty. You show others how to be in harmony by doing your own best to be in harmony; this isn't very big or showy, or dramatic, and it won't win you any fame or prizes, and it's all the more real for not being big and dramatic. And there's another reason: you walk in beauty just to do it, for yourself. To heal yourself, to be at peace with your own world. It's altruistic and it's selfish; other-centered and self-centered. (Both/and rather than either/or.)

To live in harmony with the world requires conscious intention, and attention to detail. Living consciously, rather than being ruled by your unconscious shadow, takes self-awareness, and noticing what happens when you don't pay attention. My anger and frustration brings me out of harmony, yet it also can be the catalyst for positive change. Change is chaotic, disruptive, scary and to many people "dangerous." Living without knowing what's going to happen next—living in the present moment—and dealing with it in the moment, is also a way of harmony. You learn to be poised and to react appropriately to any situation, without a lot of drama about it. But chaos isn't fundamentally wrong or bad or evil—it's just change. It's just turbulence between stable states. Sometimes the tribal traditionals don't see that change is flexibility and adaptability, rather than something to be feared and fought against. Conservatism is fear of change. Yet there is room to accommodate the traditionals' thinking into the changing world, too; it is a commonplace that Navajo healers very often correctly diagnose medical conditions in their patients, and some healers do send them to the Western man's medicine hospital if that is what they need. (Gall-bladder surgery, or a broken leg, for instance.) But curing alcoholism is something that requires a change in the person themself, a return to harmony and beauty, a change in the way the person looks at themself in relation to the world. Alcohol makes people do a lot of things they wouldn't otherwise do; it is soul sickness at least as much as it is a physical one. Again, a case of finding balance and harmony. Sometimes what actions the medicine men prescribe seems surprising to us, but it's because we aren't aware where we are out of harmony. The Navajo Sings or Ways are specific curing rituals, with specific rules to be followed during the curing ceremony that will restore harmony within the patient, and heal them. This doesn't contradict Western medicine; as the great Lakota shaman Frank Fools Crow once said, I can heal you, although I might not be able to cure you. He was making a distinction between healing and curing to describe how a person can restore harmony to their life, find balance and beauty again, and still have to go through the experience of dying of cancer. This distinction has always made sense to me, and in itself is a way of looking at things that restores harmony. (All shaman do this; Fools Crow was brother to the Navajo Singers in this respect.)

As Michael Moorcock put it, in the cosmology that underlies many of his fantasy novels in the Eternal Champion cycle, "good" and evil" is far less useful as way of thinking about life than is Law and Chaos. Too much Law, too much order, and things get stagnant, unbending, brittle, totalitarian. (Our current political climate is spawned by fear of change; conservatism is always brittle, which is why it seeks to repress life in order to control it. Fascism is ultimately anti-life, and even more brittle; that's why it tends to break itself on the winds of change, eventually.) Too much Chaos, and things get too random an capricious, our senses can't track much less understand, and the ground goes out from under our feet, leaving a Void. The real harmony (and this is an area where Taoism and Navajo ideas overlap) is in finding that balance between these forces. The Balance is the Tao, and is one kind of hozhoni.

The boundary zone between Law and Chaos is most beautifully and evocatively described by fractals. Fractals exhibit fractional dimension, self-similarity on many scales, and infinite complexity bounded within a finite space. Fractals are not necessarily themselves chaotic, but they do describe the boundary-edge between chaotic states and stable states. These areas of complexity describe how chaos and stability interfinger, send out little tendrils of exploration into each others' territories, and generally mix without truly mixing. This is an incredibly Taoist idea; the seeds of light are in the darkness, and the seeds of darkness are in the light. (An overly orderly society begins to spawn its own chaotic destruction, if it becomes too rigid; a chaotic society will exhibit pockets of orderliness, as members of the society group together in common purpose. This has nothing to do with political ideology; it's a natural phenomenon.)

The fractal geometry of nature has one more huge lesson for us in the realm of seeking harmony; when we see how shapes and patterns of river estuaries and tree-branches and the branching pathways in the alveoli in the lungs are all the same basic patterns, and how they are all self-similar at differently-sized scales, we realize how interconnected everything is, and how it all relates together, and how essential it is for it all to be in harmony and balance in order to function. The Universe is revealed to us as a living, breathing organism, with the same patterns and shapes of forces operating on all different levels. The way clusters of galaxies thread themselves across the skies looks exactly like the patterns fallen maples leaves make under a tree in autumn. This is what it means to walk in beauty; to see harmony and connections in all things.

When the world falls out of balance, the job of the healer is to restore harmony. Walking in beauty, the way of harmony, the way of peace, means that sometimes the healer has to move one way or another off-center, to bring himself and the world back to balance and center; that's why we act crazy sometimes. That's why some of the most difficult clients in a healer's seem so unbalanced; they're the bellwethers for social and cultural unbalance, the shadows the city embodies because the culture wishes to repress them; they act out the culture's schizophrenic contradictions within their individual lives, and sometimes they can be cured not by being given a pill but by being listened to and understood, and brought back into harmony. You can't live in crazy times all the time, or you lose your center; eventually, you have to find some tranquil times to balance them. This, too, is healing.

So, I think that I must go to New Mexico ..... it doesn't mean I won't be back in Chicago, or Wisconsin, or somewhere, or who knows where else, even San Francisco, with an actual real employment kind of job. Eventually. But I need to spend some time in the Four Corners area, which I have been drawn to my whole life. Maybe I need to heal myself before I can go on to the next thing and heal whatever's next. This is all training and initiation and life-college.

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Blogger pea ramshaw said...

Thank you for wisdom I have gratefully enjoyed reading this.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

My thanks in return. Glad you enjoyed it.

9:28 AM  

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