Posted in Essay, First Peoples, General Interest, Michael Watson, Nature

Walking In Beauty

Lake-ChamplainThe fog is lifting, revealing a lovely spring day.

There is a Navaho word, Harzo, which can be translated as a life in Balance and Beauty. Balance and Beauty are complex concepts, changing as they move across tribes and cultures. I’m not Navaho and only understand Harzo as it has been explained to me by friends and colleagues. My felt sense of Harzo comes from living in the mountains of New Mexico as a grad student. There one is surrounded by Beauty and Vastness, and reminded of the insignificance of one’s self. It is not that we are unimportant, rather, we are simply part of the unimaginable Vastness of Nature.

One of the challenges many urban folks face is no longer recognizing our place in Beauty. We are drawn to the picturesque, yet so often we are unable to experience ourselves as part of the Beauty of Nature. Perhaps this difficult is rooted in our use of English. I am told by those who speak our tribal languages that most Indigenous languages in North America are verb based. The landscape and the living beings who live there are understood to be complex, evolving processes, rather than things. One is simply a process within a context of other and greater processes.

Walking in Beauty encourages us to recognize our relatedness to one another and All-That-Is. It is a good road that teaches empathy and reciprocity. As we live we begin to understand there is Beauty before, behind, and all around us. We also learn that we are unimaginably complex, filled, as is the world, with nuances of light and dark, and that, too, is beautiful.Trillium

Beauty exists even in the darkest of times and the most violent of places. Walking in Beauty implies remaining open to its presence and influence even when we are afraid or suffering. This can be a difficult task. My Navajo friends families’ held stories of The Long Walk, a trail of misery and suffering, a time when the Beauty of the Navajo homelands was lost, although the memory of Beauty and home was not. Eventually the Navajo went Home to their land bordered by the four sacred mountains, the place of Beauty. Sadly, that place remains under siege.

I imagine most of us have stories about the loss of Beauty, about exile and suffering, and about the journey Home. As I write this, a development project threats the natural beauty of our neighborhood, and perhaps the cohesiveness of the community itself. It is an old story: greed and avarice distract a few powerful people from the Beauty of place. So often, development is simply a code word for the further acquisition of power and the endless search for more wealth. Perhaps greed is simply a part of human nature, sometimes held in check by a collective focus on the good of the whole, and other times freed to wreck havoc on the world. It can only exist when we forget we are totally and irrevocably interconnected, when attachment and empathy fail, and when culture condones placing one’s desires over the good of the whole.

Evening-Sky The sun has broken through and the sky is a brilliant blue. Over the lake a layer of clouds, white and bubbly, hangs. Trees and gardens are  abloom, and the scent of lily-of-the-valley and lilac saturates the air. The day is beautiful. May we walk through this day in Beauty, together.

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

17 thoughts on “Walking In Beauty

  1. By chance, just this a.m., I talked with an elderly lady of Mexican decent who is originally from Santa Barbara in Southern California. I mentioned that I hadn’t been there since the ’80s and had thought it a lovely and lush area. (Of course, it’s another relative thing. Lovely and lush to a city girl might still seem overdeveloped to one who comes from the country.) She described what it was like when she was growing up and how she mourns for the time before development. A lovely piece, Michael, and lovely photographs. I particularly appreciate the insight into Indigenous languages. Thank you!


    1. Thanks, Jamie! My mother mourned the time before development; now I do. So did Thoreau. Yet even development is a natural process, a doing rather than a noun. When we view it as a process we may begin to understand we have some say in participating in, and shaping it.


  2. Wonderful piece Michael – your use of the word picturesque to describe how we urban folk enjoy nature gave me pause….how often I see folk happily snapping photos of a beautiful vista…and then move on within seconds. Rather than really be with nature, the tendency is to capture it in an instant and then move on….


    1. Stephanie, I find myself doing just that. I love taking photos, yet find myself more likely to take snapshots these days. I am working on that. Yes, taking time to be silent and merge with the landscape transforms the world.


  3. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece Michael. You have echoed how I feel. I grew up in both the country (Vermont) and the city (Manhattan). I have spent the last 37 years in an urban setting and have just this past month moved to downtown. I have planted on out deck, but it is certainly not the country. That said, I attempt to remain grounded through nature. I also think that it is very important to do all one can do to remain grounded through nature, just as I feel that it is important to find beauty where one is. Thank you!


    1. Raven, I love walking in Central Park, when I come to the city. One never knows what one will discover.
      One of my teachers used to say that placing a single leaf on the altar connects us to all of Nature and the Divine, and offers renewal.


  4. Yes we may, and as often as possible, Michael. The vastness of nature is salutary enough, the vastness of the universe and all its stars must be sobering. I mourn the loss of beauty to the pursuit of money and power, but is there beauty in the latter? No, I think not, unless I have a lobotomy! Perhaps the point you make best, without being explicit about it is that each of us has the power to retain the beauty of a time and of a place … between our ears. And, through our connectedness, reinforce those images, so that one day, when money has no more value than its ability to buy a simple loaf of bread, we will recreate that beauty 😌.


    1. In dark times we have the capacity to hold on to what we find dear. We also have the opportunity to follow a sustaining vision. That said, I fret about the futures of my grandchildren, and the may non-human beings I love. The long view helps, yet can be illusive. In the shorter term, the time you speak of may be closer than we would like. It seems good to have friends with whom to share bread!


      1. I’m with you there, Michael; it does so depend on how optimistic of otherwise we feel at the time. The last poem I wrote for one of my grandchildren was, as you may recall, “An Apology from Your Grandfather”, whose tone wasn’t actually pessimistic, but which, I feel, will remain a recurring theme for me in the coming years, should I be blessed enough to see my grandchildren grow up to be adults …


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