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Monday, October 11, 2010


Hozho. It's a Navajo word that often is translated as harmony . But to the Navajo, this word cannot be translated so simply. Its true meaning, complex and multi-layered, reflects a state of being one with the world.

I ran across this word recently while reading a book by my favorite author, the late New Mexico author Tony Hillerman. Not speaking Navajo, I don't have a good sense of the depth of meaning of the word. But harmony is a start.

Hozho also has been defined as beauty, order, truth, balance, and clarity of action, thought and thinking. It is the way traditional Navajos strive to live their lives. Those who are 'in hozho' feel that their lives are in harmony with their environment, at one with the world around them. Those who are 'in hozho' walk with beauty, perfectly balanced and in tune with the world, yet still a unique part of it. Traditional Navajo life is focused on obtaining and maintaining hozho. The Navajo respect and honor the natural world, and they are mindful of its importance to their own well-being.

When hozho is lost, the Navajo hold a ceremony to restore themselves to balance and harmony. As Hillerman wrote in Sacred Clowns, "The system is designed to recognize what's beyond human power to change, and then to change the human's attitude to be content with the inevitable." I admire the fact that the Navajo acknowledge that there are some things beyond their power to change; instead, they learn to accept what they cannot change.

It seems to me that hozho is something that is seriously lacking in our world. Modern society is so out of balance with our environment, with nature, with ourselves. We clearcut forests, we pollute the air and the water, we build homes in areas without the resources to support still more people. We take over the habitat of other animals, then we complain when they wander into "our" neighborhoods in search of food. New Mexico is considering an 80 percent increase in the number of black bears to be killed each year because they are becoming 'pests.' A similar fate may await female cougars, in an attempt to reduce the number of animals able to reproduce and add to the 'problem.' Yet we continue to build in the bears' and cougars' habitat, and to graze sheep and cattle in the animals' traditional hunting grounds.

I live in the high desert of New Mexico, where water is always in short supply. Yet wherever I drive, I see bone-dry, sagebrush-covered land being cleared for more new homes and businesses. Vacant land is plastered with 'land for sale' signs. New roads are being constructed. Where will the water to support thousands of new residents and businesses come from? A system woefully out of balance now will only become more unbalanced in the future. How do we restore balance to a world out of control, where nothing seems to matter except pursuit of ever more profit? How do we balance human greed with the environment's need for protection?

The 1/2-acre lot next to mine is still undeveloped, although it is for sale for $95,000. How I wish I could purchase that scrub-covered lot to protect it from development. I know that in better economic times, that lot, and numerous others in my area, will be sold and a large house built on each one. It saddens me greatly to see the never-ending drive for 'development' of our open spaces.

I would like to think that a Navajo ceremony could restore hozho to our world, but I don't have faith that balance can be restored. We humans are taking from Mother Earth in quantities that cannot be sustained, whether it be water, land or resources. And we are 'giving' our planet endless pollution in the form of trash, greenhouse gases and environmental disasters.

Harmony or balance is something I, like many other individuals, seek in life. I seek to live in harmony with the natural world. I try to limit my impact on the environment by recycling, by not buying unnecessary items, by using my own bags when I shop, by driving a hybrid vehicle. Yet my small efforts seem so insufficient and useless when confronted by the never-ending building and construction I see going on around me.

The Navajo approach to life is expressed in the following prayer:

In Beauty May I Walk

In beauty may I walk.
All day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons may I walk.

Beautifully will I possess again.
Beautifully birds . . .
Beautifully joyful birds.

On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk.
With dew about my feet may I walk.

With beauty may I walk.
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.

It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.

What can we do to get our world back 'in hozho'? Will we ever be able to 'finish in beauty,' or have we already reached the point of no return?