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.
The Beauty Way is only one of the Navajo ceremonies that accompany important events, including the Blessing Way, the Enemy Way, the Night Way, and the Mountain Way. Together these comprise a spiritual path which opens one to natural beauty. In the Beauty Way, we look past all the consumer trappings to see beauty in the simplest of things or in the simplest of virtues, which should be the measure of a person.
As Wagamese (2019) suggests, fires that appear in our lives are authors of our discontent and wounds. Yet, these fires bring medicine our way. The fire lights the medicine and the smoke wafts up to the Spirit World. The fragrant cloud blesses us as it calls on the Other Side for assistance in transformation. Many faith traditions have burned incense, resins or herbs for purification and to send prayers heavenward. Science now has evidence that smoke of some herbs does have cleansing power.
There are four ritual Indigenous medicines—sweetgrass, sage, cedar, and tobacco—all used for smudging. Smudging is used to cleanse not only a space of negative energies but one’s emotional, psychic and energy bodies (Jane Alexander, 1999). A smudge bundle is one herb, or a collection of herbs, used for specific purposes. For instance, sage drives out negative thoughts and energy, sweetgrass attracts positive energy, cedar is for physical and emotional cleansing, and tobacco is for protection, offering thanks, and creating a pathway to Creator. As one of my Teachers offered, some herbs have more specific healing properties, such as white or buffalo sage for women. Many smudge with sage once or twice a day to release the negativity that has affected them over the day or night and invite harmony back. As Wagamese (2019) suggests, the smoke that we pass over ourselves returns us “to the purity and innocence we were born with. It cleanses us. It soothes us. It makes us ready for the ongoing ceremony of life. To smudge is to open ourselves to receive. To smudge is to become prayerful. To smudge is to join our energy to the great wheel of nurturing, creative, loving energy that is Creation—and it is the doorway to true Consciousness” (p. 15-16).
Smudging and Walking in Beauty Prayer
Smudging is one ritual for engaging the Beauty Way. Whether you grow your own ceremonial sage and crumble it into a mound or purchase a sage stick, place it in a pottery bowl, shell, or small cast iron pan.
Light it and let it burn for a few minutes then blow it out to create smoke. If it wanes, fan it or blow on it gently. Waft the smoke over your head, face, heart, arms and body. Ask the spirit of sage to drive away all negativity and all that is unworthy. Visualize that your body is being purified. Ask the spirit of sage to restore balance and positive energy (Alexander, 1999). When you feel cleansed, say this Diné prayer to right the harmony in your life. Make it a regular prayer. If you like, create some movements with it. As Paula Gunn Allen (1986/1992) says, “Soon breath, heartbeat, thought, emotion and word are one.” You are then part of the Beauty Way.
Today I will walk out, today everything negative will leave me.
I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body.
I will have a light body, I will be happy forever, nothing will hinder me.
I walk with beauty before me.
I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me.
I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty around me.
My words will be beautiful.
In beauty all day long, may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen, may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.
With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above 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.
My words will be beautiful.
(Robert S. Drake for Tom Holm,
University of Arizona American Indian Graduate Studies Program, Talking Feather Lesson Plans)