a

On a Trail of Beauty, Lively, May I Walk

On a Trail of Beauty

Look into the photo above these words and in the distance you will see a road. For hours I walked, everyday, for one week, upon that road. I saw no one. Not a soul. This road leads to the Valley of the Gods inside Navajo Country. Now, I am not Navajo but there is a Navajo prayer, used within the Night Chant Ceremony, that I have loved for decades. I found it long ago in a novel written by Scott Momaday entitled, House Made of Dawn. I know little about this prayer. I am doing my best to find out more. What I am choosing to share with you here, therefore, comes soley out of my personal, intimate relationship to this prayer. Here is the fragment of the Night Chant prayer that I say to myself, sometimes silently, sometimes out loud, when I am out walking alone.

In beauty, may I walk.

All day long, may I walk.

Through the returning seasons, may I walk.

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.

‘Sa’ah naaghéi, Bik’eh hózhó

 

Allow me to tell you why I love this prayer. Of course, the word walking here is used metaphorically to mean how we walk through our days, how we walk through our lives. However, one cannot help but feel that the prayer is meant to be taken literally as well. It feels to me that the prayer is telling me to walk, literally, to walk. It’s telling me that attending to how I walk can be the methodology, the practice through which I learn how to walk through my life in the manner I desire for myself and for those around me. It’s telling me that how I am to live my life may reveal itself to me through walking. It’s telling me that walking is the way to find the trail.

Taking it line for line, and given where I am now along the trail of beauty, this is my reading:

In beauty, may I walk.

Why the word “In”? Because being “outside” is really being “inside”, inside the Mother. Inside the “house made of dawn.”

Beauty is one name for the Mother.

The word “may” is of profound importance. The word may is what makes this a prayer. It is a wish. It is a request. It is a hope. An invocation. This means I cannot will this to happen. I cannot make it happen. All I can do is ask and open myself to it happening. 

Why the metaphor of walking? Why the act of walking? When life feels impossible, when we find ourselves in dire need of healing, when it all feels like too much, unbearable, walking may mean not staying in bed, getting up, standing, walking, proceeding, moving forward. Walking may mean courage, endurance, determination.

Perhaps walking also suggests a pace for living my life. Not to run. To move through my life at a pace where I can see and hear the world around me. To move through my life at a pace where I can interact and interrelate with the world around me. A pace conducive to thinking and sensing and living. Walking also suggests not standing still. Not being afraid to walk forward into an unknown future.

All day long, may I walk.

This refers to time. It is a request that time be granted to me. Leisure time. Time to walk. Time to be. Time to receive. Time to behold. It is also a request for energy, endurance, stamina. 

Through the returning seasons, may I walk.

Again, a reference to time. Not to digital time, but to cyclical time. To a time rooted in nature. To mountain time.

On the trail marked with pollen, may I walk.

Corn pollen has great significance in Navajo culture. It may mean here that this trail is sacred, that it is blessed. That it is a path with the power to resolve conflict and create peace.

With grasshoppers about my feet, may I walk.

Legend has it grasshoppers had the power to predict and influence the weather, particularly conditions of drought and rain.

With dew about my feet may, I walk.

Again, a reference to water. Anyone who has been in Navajo country will understand the preciousness of water. Dew implies to me morning, sunrise, a new day, freshness.

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.

People love this part on the Night Chant because it shifts our attention away from ourselves, away from our preoccupations and problems. It lifts our gaze to all that surrounds us. Turning our attention to her, we get a rest from ourselves.

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. 

How beautiful, this honoring of old age. We are being taught something here. That in old age it is wise to spend time wandering. Usually when we walk, we walk to get somewhere and do something. 

To wander means to wind one’s way, to meander. There is no urgency to get anywhere. When we wander, we are where we want to be, doing what we want to be doing. It is much like John Muir’s preference for sauntering rather than hiking.  

Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre’, ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”

When Muir says, “Now these mountains ARE our Holy Land, he’s declaring that we have already arrived into the Holy Land. It surrounds us. Perhaps Muir’s Holy Land is the Navajo’s Trail of Beauty. 

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

Lively, may I walk. Not half-heartedly, not listlessly, not mechanically, not unconsciously, not apathetically.

Might not walking itself be a way toward generating liveliness?

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

Living again, may I walk. 

Living again hints at a rebirth of oneself that can be granted us in old age if we remain open to it, if we let ourselves wander and walk.

For me, living again also means that if we are blessed to awaken in the morning, we are “alive again.” We have been granted life again. This becomes evermore poignant the older we become.

It is finished in beauty.

It is finished in beauty.

These lines remind me to “number my days”. That my life here on earth is fleeting. That my life, as I now know it, will end. This wakes me up. It tells me that now is the time, now is the time to walk in beauty.

It is also not a request. It is a statement. The prayer is telling me, in no uncertain terms, that it is finished in beauty. It’s telling me not to worry about the finish. She will take care of this for me. My job, while I am alive, is to walk on the trail of beauty. That is all. That is enough, more than enough.

‘Sa’ah naaghéi, Bik’eh hózhó

Sa’ah Naaghái Bik’eh Hózhóón is Diné epistemology, a complex system of knowledge encompassing two paradigms: Beauty Way (Hózhóójii-female) and Protection Way (Naayée’ k’egho-male), with hózhó at its core.

Sa’ah translates to holy people.

Naagháí refers to walking in balance.

Bik’eh refers to obeying the natural laws and following the higher intelligence of the Holy People.

Hózhó is the way of balance, harmony, and beauty.

‘Sa’ah naaghéi, Bik’eh hózhó

 

 

You may also enjoy…

KOREA

KOREA

My kids are Korean. When they were babies, I stared into their eyes and gazed at their faces as they stared into my eyes and gazed at my face. So, I feel I look like them, and...

Home

Free Events

5-Week Course

Community Blog

Login