There I was. Sitting, one leg crossed over the other, on the edge of Coal Mine Canyon. There was a group of fourteen people beside myself sitting in much of the same fashion as I was, scattered across the canyon’s edge. But even with fourteen other individuals around me the silence encompassed my body, my thoughts, and my soul. I gently let my eyelids close and when I did it was as if no one else was around. The quietness of this place was incredibly peaceful. There was not even a faint rumble from distant cars. I heard absolutely nothing, but I felt everything: the breeze brushing through my hair, the soft clay dirt under the palms of my hands as I leaned back, the rough texture of the canyon beneath my legs as I shifted on the rocks, and the sun grazing my cheek from up above. I sat there, at peace with myself and the world around me for this brief moment in time. I was still in this world of constant motion. And then from what seemed like a faraway place I heard a voice. It was Melissa, telling us it was time to go. I squeezed my eyes shut one last time, taking one last deep inhale, and then I let it all go. That was the first lesson I learned from the Navajo people.
Coal Mine Canyon is a sacred place to the Navajo. I was taken here for a cultural learning experience. It was a part of my service learning/ alternative spring break trip to Tuba City, Arizona with a group called Amizade. I was accompanied by some of my peers from my university and two faculty members along with a group of graduate students from another university. During this one week I learned as much as I could about the Navajo culture while working on community projects like putting roofing on a shed that would hold donated clothes to be given out to the families in the community and helping to fix up a house for a Navajo woman so that she could move back into her home. We helped the community with projects that at that moment needed to be done and in return some of the community members taught us about their culture, their beliefs, and their customs. I learned more about the Navajo culture from them than I ever could from any textbook because the lessons I learned from them were life lessons.
Be present and listen was the first lesson I learned while on the reservation. It happened the very first day that I visited Coal Mine Canyon. Sitting there on the edge of the canyon, breathing in the silence, I realized that even in the strongest silence you can still hear what the world around you is saying. Silence allows you to really hear what your mind and your body is telling you. The Navajos believe that in order to take care of others you must be able to care for yourself first. In this world we are surrounded by noise, of cars, people, and machines. But the most important conversation we can have is with ourselves, listening to what our body needs.
Once we master listening to ourselves we can focus on listening to the ones around us. The Navajos also teach being present in the moment and listening to those around you. As human beings we are prone to thinking ahead: one of the major questions we hear in job interviews is, “where do you see yourself in five-ten years?” It’s only natural that we think about our future. Some planning is required if we want to save up to buy a house or when we start a family. But what the Navajo have taught me is when your thoughts of the future consume you, you begin to miss out on the simple everyday pleasures. You begin to become disconnected from the people around you. So how do we become more present? We listen and observe.
Always walk in beauty. This was one of my favorite phrases of the week. I heard it multiple times used in different ways. When the Navajo say “always walk in beauty” there are a couple of meanings. The first, every morning when we wake up, it is important that we awake with the attitude of, “today is a new day”. We want to walk through our day giving and receiving positive vibes. Beauty comes from within and the way we see the world has an effect on not only ourselves but the people around us. Second, “always walking in beauty” means that we should appreciate nature and our environment. We should want our world to be filled with natural beauty. The way we treat the world has consequences and if we wish to continue to walk in beauty we must take care of the earth as we take care of ourselves: we must respect it.
“Okay good!” was another catch phrase of the week. Melissa, our site leader, started off our first meeting by explaining that things don’t always go the way we plan. Sounds simple enough but what really struck a cord with me is that Melissa used this catch phrase for all of her groups because often when it comes to service work we have an idea of what it is we are going to be doing and what we are going to get out of it and what the community will be receiving. And I think that translates into everyday life. We have an idea of what our day is going to be like and what we are going to accomplish and how it might effect those around us. And what Melissa taught me was that we have to be open minded to shifting gears when our day or our tasks change. We have to say, “Okay good! What’s next?” or “how do we move on from here?”
The Navajos have a beautiful culture that teaches respect and patience. They value calmness, peacefulness and the earth. My week on the Navajo reservation taught me many life lessons and these were just a few. I keep these teachings in mind everyday and I would say my life is better for it. I can find peace and connections with the world around me in this ever changing, crazy world we live in. All I have to say is, “Okay good!”
Feature Image: John Fowler , Creative Commons