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Becoming Beauty

February (and early March) is the Beautymaking Moon, but not only making beauty with our hands—to reconnect to the seasons, honour the gifts of the Earth, and recreate the Old Ways of life-giving societies. It is also about becoming beauty in the way we live. Wisdom, truth and beauty seem to have been casualties of our Western way of life. It takes self-discipline to learn wisdom from life, but we can be too busy to do so. In the past few centuries, Truth has been thought of as universal, science-proven theories. Now, however, we have entered the anti-truth era where truth is inconvenient to power. Beauty has given way to the ugliness of mass production, and convenience in everything from fast furniture to fast clothing to fast food.

But what about us as humans? We have lost the dignity of living well. The faster our life speeds up, the more we skate across the surface of life, the less we take the time to indulge in sitting, thinking, self-care, health and relationships. We may try to jam these elements into our lives, but they are boxed in by time and represent one more thing to accomplish on our checklist. Beauty is a consumer item…from health tonics to lotions to surgery and from shoes and clothing to salons.

Think of “shopping therapy” or the maxim “look beautiful to feel beautiful”. We illustrate our identity and success through consumer items…our way of showing we have good taste, the Western equivalent of beauty.

But what does it mean to become beauty. The Diné or Navajo have a concept called the Beautyway or Hózhó. Sometimes it is called Walking in Beauty, hózhó naasha. Hózhó has multiple meanings—balance, natural order, harmony, wholeness, goodness, and right relationship. As Wisdom Keeper Patricia Anne Davis of the Navajo Nation says, when one goes into a ceremonial process to address the dis-ease/disease that has disrupted equilibrium, they can begin to engage in a loving way of living again, in right relationship to the four cardinal directions. Thus, such a ritual is a restoration of harmony and beauty.

Walking in beauty is being like a rainbow, reflecting the beauty that resides within and around. As the person radiates beauty, they are part of weaving beautiful life conditions for other humans and species. Beauty is a grand reciprocity. As Erik Painter (2014) says, the Beauty Way has both a moral and aesthetic connotation that cannot be fully captured in the English language.

After living among the Navajo for many years, Painter suggests that the approach of Westerners is to struggle through life, and I would add, wrestle it, until it is under our control. “Command and control” are how Westerners approach life, putting in long, hard hours to ensure life does not spin out of control. Most call it “trying to keep all the balls in the air” and “keeping up appearances”.

When engaging adults in a process of transformative sustainability education, this control stance was the hardest to budge. I found it was usually when something dramatic had happened—a near death experience of self or family member, a life-threatening illness, a divorce or death of someone close, or a traumatic crime—that the façade of control loosened. Given these fractures, they were able to take some time to contemplate a new way of living. It was an opening in which they could just be…allowing oneself to be absorbed into the harmony and beauty around them, reconnecting with inner and outer resources. Often, it took a weekend away in the forest for these first tenuous steps into becoming beauty.