Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Four Sacred Directions: East, South, West, North

Yá'át'ééh (a traditional Navajo greeting)

I hope you don't feel neglected. I have been terribly busy with out any spare moments to process my experiences in writing. In the lapse of time since I last wrote, a new world has been constructed before my eyes and I am presently at a loss to know where to begin even depicting a piece of it all. I deeply desire discussing some of my developing thoughts and philosophies of late but I also know that some if not all of you have been patiently awaiting a brief if not detailed description of my daily life here on the rez...

I will provide a painting if you the style of Jackson Pollock, only blots of colors of paint here and the reader or viewer, you will discern the meanings inside the images I depict...each seeing something different than the artist intended.

In retrospect, going backwards in time starting with last night...

BLACK/NORTH- A shooting star passes by my path. In cut-off jeans, a plaid button-up shirt, chaco sandals and straw hat, walkin' back up the long dirt driveway through three field gates, accompanied by sheep dogs Tanner and Buddy, it's darkness now...the world lit up only by the stars, the moon and the kitchen lights in the small town of Ganado, Arizona. I'm on my way back from a late-night revival, I stop dead in my tracks, staring at the universe above me. I've never seen so many stars in my entire life...can you imagine? Gazing at the stars, time loses its meaning, my troubles lose significance and the world's put into perspective...I remember how little I am in such a large universe. I realize again something I had almost forgotten.

YELLOW/WEST - Mutton stew and frybread...the traditional staple of Navajo families. We ate dinner on the picnic table outside tonight while the sun set over the horizon. I learned how to prepare frybread by helping my host mother roll out the dough and then watching her carefully drop each one separately into the boiling shortening. We fed the dogs so they wouldn't beg but we could do nothing but swap our hands to stop the knats, and the ants all the while seemed undisturbed by our intruding on their hills. In the gentle breeze from the Arizona mesas, we begin eating after my host father offers a prayer of gratitude in his native Navajo tongue. Teasing, jokes, and laughter over the dinner table.

BLUE/SOUTH - I read books all day inside the hogan. I finished "Sacred Land, Sacred View" and began another until dinner time. In the morning, I drove the forty miles one-way to Windowrock, Arizona/New Mexico, to attend a field study/DPI meeting that I arranged and then studied for the rest of the afternoon back in Ganado. Exhausted from thinking, I climbed through the barb-wire fence and hiked up to the top of the mesa behind the hogan...jackrabbits, praire dogs, and other small animals crossed the horse-trail pathway. On top, I had a bird's eye view of the entire town of Ganado; the leaves on the trees growin' on the sides of Ganado Wash blowin' in the wind, gas station/small grocery store in the distance, Sage Memorial Hospital to the East, Hubbell Trading Post across the road to the South, hogans and trailors spread out to the West and the North, electricty but no telephone lines and no running water, sagebrush, sacred yucca plants, juniper trees, and orange dirt, acres and acres of corn fields, blue sky, clouds.

WHITE/EAST - I greet the dawn each morning around five or six o'clock. Horses - Cowboy, Handsome Missouri, Bailey, and Twis - don't allow me to sleep in. Before bath and breakfast, I feed the horses their two squares of hay. Lately, the insects and animals have been joining me in the hogan. First the ants and crickets, next the lizards and now the beetles. I stay in a traditional, one-room Navajo hogan or home. It's eight-sided, built of wood and earth with a doorway that opens to the east to greet the rising sun. The entire structure is symbolic of the universe. The four long posts representative of the four sacred directions, East, South, West, and North; the ceiling - Father Sky; the dirt floor - Mother Earth, a fire-pit in the center, and so on.

FOUR SACRED DIRECTIONS - In the Navajo worldview, the four sacred directions each teach and guide - leading a person to live a balanced and harmonious life. The East (DAWN) - for values and thoughts/plans, the South (DAY) - for livlihood and work, the West (EVENING)- for family and social gathering, the North (TWILIGHT) - for rest and environment. Unconscious of it until I became aware of the meanings of the four directions, these principles guide my life in these areas as can be seen by the painting above. If any of the directions are missing or are being disrupted and not fulfilled, then a person will become imbalanced and unable to live in hozho (beauty). (A note for the reader - this explanation reflects my current understandings and interpretations of key values and principles I am learning about in the Navajo lifeway.)

1 comment:

mark said...

Thank you for surfacing some childhood memories. Growing up on our family farm we had the bare necessities but an abundance of love and the beauty of nature as far as I could see. Life was simple. Days were long. I saw the beauty of every sunrise and sunset. I remember the smells and changes before a storm. I could predict the weather by sunrise and sunset. The smallest things brought joy. We lived close to earth and survived from it's bounty. I remember rising at 3:30am to start my workday to bring cows in from the pasture for morning milking and combing the pastures. A memory never forgotten, one early morning, I sat on the side of a steep slope etched with hoof paths and gazing into the dark night over the valley. It was between 4:00 and4:30 a.m. and suddenly the darkness deepened and I was terribly frightened. I was eight or nine years old. I was afraid when sunddenly the horizon began to break forth with light and I took courage and remembered a familiar verse, "it is always darkest before the light". Thank you for sharing your experiences and refreshing my cherished childhood memories. I never would have dreamed you would spark those almost forgotten memories. those memories are for me the sweetest and most enduring. I have often felt my childhood was an extension of heaven because I felt so close to God and nature. Cornbread and brown beans was our staple.