Thursday, December 20, 2007

Weaving Life in the Dine World: an interview with Navajo Weaver Winnie Henry

by Sandra Cosentino

Weaving to Winnie Henry--a handsome, wise and determined Navajo woman--is to weave together the pieces of your own life.

For Winnie, weaving is a philosophy, a way of clarifying mind and values. She says:
Every portion of weaving is a representation of Life.
The whole part of setting up the loom is the Universe.
What's in the Universe?
What makes Life?
How does Life live?
Every living plant on Earth lives for a reason.
Forward, backward living is Future.
What's in Life is all up to you, once you learn your Right and Wrong.

"Weaving to me is keeping my art. There is a legend behind it given to us by Spider Woman. She gave the art in a spiritual way." The deeper meaning is not shared in public. Winnie was told to do so might cause her to loose her art. Her dark brown, almost black eyes radiate a depth and a quiet sense of power and strength as she speaks.

Spider Woman instructed the Navajo women how to weave on a loom which Spider Man told them how to make. The crosspoles were made of sky and earth cords, and sheet lightning. The batten was a sun halo, white shell made the comb. There were four spindles: one a stick of zigzag lightning with a whorl of turquoise; a third had a stick of sheet lightning with a whorl of abalone; a rain streamer formed the stick of the fourth, and its whorl was white shell.
Navajo Legend
Winnie at her summer home site in Canyon de Chelly
Young girls that want to weave have to be initiated. Then they can learn from a wiser woman who will share sacred stories for her to hold within her heart. You are being blessed by the Holy people. They are proud of you. You keep believing it and doing.

"Art is life to me." Upon returning from her boarding school years, Winnie knew weaving was valuable. She realized it could be an art that died and knew she had to keep it. Winnie continues today to weave many traditional patterns such as the Chinle, Lightning, Two Grey Hills, Yeibichai, Chiefs, Ganado Red, Big Star, and Storm. (Photos of these rugs.) This is her personal expression of beauty--a harmonious synthesis of elements that expresses activity, movement and energy.

Every part of weaving represents something like thoughts within the mind. "When we do a good pattern, a good design, it makes a train of thought." With each new woven creation, her own thoughts become clear and focused as she plans, organizes and begins visualizing the pattern in her inner eye. All of this was given to women as part of weaving along with skillfulness, exercising the hands and fingers, strengthening the back, keeping the posture straight.

Winnie learned watching her Mother weave and from years and years of practice. She remembers how fast her Mother wove knowing she had to provide support for 9 children. "My Mother told me if you know how to weave, you will never starve." During her Mother's time every part of the weaving process was done by hand beginning with sheering and cleaning the wool to cording, spinning and dying the wool. It took all day to set up a loom. "I wanted to learn, I wanted to be like my Mother." If there is more than one daughter, an older woman can tell who will become a weaver.

Winnie at her family hogan on north rim.
Winnie, however, had only brothers--8 of them. Growing up in a earthen-floored hogan, she helped her Mother with the daily cleaning, water hauling and cooking. Each day the sheepskins they slept on had to be taken outside and shaken out. She also rode horses, herded sheep and learned to be strong in all ways. "Somebody made me be born right in the middle of 4 boys ahead and behind me for a reason," Winnie says with pride. "I cried a lot of times, why me? I was trained to be tough." Even today she walks the trails in and out of rugged Canyon de Chelly and lives in a remote hogan.

Winnie's own birth was very dramatic. Her Mother came into labor on a cold March morning, 1945, at 3 am in their isolated Canyon de Chelly, Arizona hogan. It took her Father more than half an hour to catch and saddle the horses. As they started up the 600 foot canyon wall on the White House Trail (which is much rougher than the well graded trail of today), her Mother, Rose Henry, was having contractions. Rose stopped and got off the horse and Winnie popped out and landed in the snow. All her parents saw was steam rising from the snow surface. Her Dad quickly dug her out and wrapped her in his shirt. He bundled Mother and daughter up and rode to her Great Grandmother's hogan, which unfortunately was locked. But he found a sharp can lid with which to cut the umbilical cord. Then he rode for help and the hogan key. He came back with her Grandmother who spanked her and gave Winnie her Navajo name which is only used in communicating with the Holy Ones. It is the name they know her by. Later they went to the Ganado Hospital which is about 65 miles away and the nurse there gave her the English name she carries today as her public name.

Growing up speaking only Navajo, her parents hid her from the Bureau of Indian Affairs people who came to take the kids away to boarding school. Winnie's parents believed a girl did not need an education in white men's world. So whenever she would be coming back to the hogan with their sheep flock, if a BIA vehicle was there, she was told to hide and wait until they left. At age 15 she finally was sent to boarding school in Ship Rock, New Mexico where they cut her hair, forbade her to speak Navajo or practice her religion. "I thought they were mean. I got homesick and became ill with high fever and almost died." For the next 10 years, Winnie, an "over-age" student who did not fit in, was sent to boarding schools in Shiprock, Ft. Wingate and Albuquerque, New Mexico and Phoenix, Arizona. Her last year a high school was opened in Chinle so she was able to graduate in her home town. Chinle is a large Navajo service center town built at the mouth of Canyon de Chelly.

"I always wanted to go home. The teaching from my parents and grandparents were a treasure to me. Every Sunday, we had to go to a Christian church. But I never lost my Native religion. Mom and Dad always said, "if you know who you are, where you come from and where you are going, you will never get lost in this world. I believe that philosophy so deeply, so I stayed with my own religion."

Winnie says with firm conviction, "I can pray anywhere. God doesn't tell us to practice this way and that way. I don't think there should be a routine. There are signs I see and notice when I pray. Examples make me believe--people living their belief. My culture and my religion live within me and won't come out. Trees, water, every living thing has male and female. The heat, the air, is for a reason. All are team work."

I witnessed people with alcohol problems. I feel like it is not their fault they started drinking. They were never told what my Mom and Dad told me. How to keep my center of faith. You have to be an example if you want to help people with addiction problems. I refer back thousands of years to First Woman and First Man. Generation to generation, never written. Mistakes were made, corrections were made. I also read the Bible three times as an adult. To me the Old Testament is very similar to our legends. I used to teach Sunday School.

Hozona h'astleen is the way the Dine (Navajo word meaning "the people"--what they call themselves) close their prayers. Winnie interprets this as "everything will go well." She says to be in balance you must evaluate good and bad in your thoughts so one does not get overemphasized. "Everybody makes a mistake, sometimes you just need a listener to heal yourself."

"To walk (live) in beauty and to die naturally of old age is the Navajo notion of the good life. Weaving offers Navajo women the chance to be active participants in the generation and expression of beauty. To be able to create and experience the universal theme over and over again--each time in a unique way--is certainly an exercise that builds self-esteem and enhances self-expression."
(quote from Tension and Harmony: the Navajo Rug,
Plateau magazine of the Museum of Northern Arizona,, 1981)

I asked Winnie what advice she might offer to people. "I advise women to weave together the pieces of your own life. Remember that interwoven with the mind are meditation and thoughts. Find something to look forward to--a permanent goal--and go get it. When you make a mistake, correct it. Life is like a menu, you have to mix all kinds of ingredients to stay strong. If you get too perfect, you are in heaven already. Once you find yourself and open the door, you know when to come home."

You can order a custom-made Navajo rug from Winnie
and, if you are in are at an Arizona location, arrange a weaving demonstration and talk:
Winnie Henry
PO Box 1583
Chinle, AZ 86503

See photos of rugs here.

Some of the traditional designs that Winnie weaves are Chinle, lightning, chief, big star, , talking bird, yei.
Estimated costs, depending on design:
2 x 3, $360
3 x 4, $675
4 x 5, $975
4 x 6, $1,275
5 x 6, $1575
50% deposit, balance on pick up in
Chinle or with COD delivery. Buyer pays shipping, insurance, COD fees.

Hopi-Navajo-Zuni Cultural Journey,
spring and fall or arranged at other dates

Crossing Worlds Journeys and Retreats
PO Box 3288
Sedona, AZ86340

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder

Following are some excerpts/concepts from this excellent book by Richard Louv
Review by Sandra Cosentino

Nature-deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them:  diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.  The disorder can be detected in individuals, families and communities.

Sensory magic occurs when we are exposed to even the smallest direct experience of a natural setting. And brings with it so many values; such as,  complete relaxation, a sense of pattern and order, a sense of wonder.  It can help us develop a habit of quiet and concentration and allow us to use more imagination than in structured environments.  When we witness natural events beyond human control such as lightning, there is a keen sense of being alive.

Ecstatic memories give us meaningful images, an internalized core of calm, a sense of integration with nature, and for some, a creative disposition.   Ecstatic memories require space, freedom, discovery, and and extravagant display for all five senses.  And behind this is the effusive quality of loveliness.

In the most nature-deprived corners of our world we can see the rise of what might be called cultural autism. The symptoms?  Tunneled senses, and feelings of isolation and containment.  Experience, including physical risk, is narrowing to about the size of a cathode ray tube, or flat panel if you prefer.  Atrophy of the senses was occurring long before we came be bombarded with the latest generation of computers, high-definition TV, and wireless phones.  Urban children, and many suburban children, have long been isolated from the natural world because of a lack of neighborhood parks, or lack of opportunity—lack of time and money for parents who might otherwise take them out of the city.

“We are beginning to lose the ability to experience our world directly.” (Edward Reed, The Necessity of Experience)

“Children live through their senses.  Sensory experiences link the child’s exterior world with their interior, hidden, affective world.  Since the natural environment is the principal source of sensory stimulation, freedom to explore and play with the outdoor environment through the senses in their own space and time is essential for healthy development of an interior life.”  (Robin Moore, director of the National Learning Initiative)

Not surprisingly, as the young grow up in a world of narrow yet overwhelming sensory input, many of them develop a wired, know-it-all state of mind.  Any natural place contains an infinite reservoir of information, and therefore the potential for inexhaustible new discoveries.

D.H. Lawrence describes his own awakening to nature’s sensory gift in Taos, New Mexico, as an antidote to the know-it-all state of mind, that poor substitute for wisdom and wonder:  “Superficially, the world has become small and known.  There is no mystery left, we’ve been there, we’ve seen it, we know all about it...Yet the more we know, superficially, the less we penetrate, vertically.  It’s all very well skimming across the surface of the ocean and saying you now all about the sea...We are mistaken.  Underneath is everything we don’t know and are afraid of knowing.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Primal Vibrations of Nature Bring Us Home to Who We Really Are

Canyon de Chelly--Eyes of Mother Earth ancient sacred site

by Sandra Cosentino

Given even a brief encounter with a coyote’s bold yellow wild eyes, or in a soul-imprinting moment gazing at the luminous layers of light and color of a sunset over prairie or sea, or seeing the stars out away from city lights--wonder can erupt.  It is never too late.  In a flash we remember we are connected to a vaster universe full of mystery and beauty that is always there, eternally waiting to inspire us directly from Source.
“By becoming more attuned to the vibrations of life, we come closer to our natural state.  We clear our blocks and our resistances.  We discover the power to be. “ (From Being and Vibration by Joseph Rael from Picuris Pueblo, New Mexico.)
“Bird language will get inside you and changes you, opening up deeper and deeper levels of perceptive ability...Nature awareness also develops your ability to go into deeper and deeper levels of connected consciousness.”  (from Advanced Bird Language, Reading the Concentric Rings of Nature, CD set by naturalist and tracker Jon Young available from Wilderness Awareness School,
  As  you absorb and observe with child-hearted openness the primal vibrations of nature, you become more and more the mystical being, which is actually a natural state that is all too often drowned out the the noise of daily life, our busy ego minds, and cultural beliefs. Mystical, to me, is absorbing eternal wisdom from direct observation and knowing.
On our most fundamental level, the human mind and body are not distinct and separate from their environment but a packet of pulsating power constantly interacting with this vast energy sea.  (From the work of Lynne McTaggart, investigative journalist, who reveals in The Field a radical new biological paradigm.) 
Just the simple act of greeting the new day can be a connecting point.  Sun, radiant sun, primal central fire of life--rises at dawn with hopes for a bright new day.  Birds, feeling its pulsation of life, joyfully sing up the sun.  In turn their song vibrates like harp strings though me —I sense life force rising.
Sunset Crater at dawn
As a child I lived for the summers in the central Arizona mountains on Aunt Beulah and Uncle Jacks’s ranch.  There I was free to explore the juniper studded hills that held remnants of ancestral people who lived there hundreds of years before my time.  Lit by the softness of gas light with no TV, nights spent on the porch watching lightning storms were great entertainment.  I could explore mysteries just going to the huge barn of rough sawn lumber from Jack’s mill. Smelling of earthy horse scents, full of hidden places where hens would lay eggs I would search for, and full of shadowy corners, this was a place I adored. The big corral gates and the loft were such high places from my child 's eye view. Yet I was safe there to just be me.

Every fall I feel the Grand Canyon call to me.  I must go to both rims and be in communion with those depths.  Just as the bear prepares to go into the cave for winter, I connect with some deep place in me that is stimulated by this extravagantly eye-dazzling display of light-infused-in-colored rock shelves dropping off to dizzying depths.  It is kind of like renewing that inner hum. Something beyond mental understanding calls me to renew my sense of true center in a place that is beyond human scale.   

 This voice from the natural world is as real as a phone call from a human friend.  Such a calling took to Alaska to experience wilderness for 10 years.  That time ended when I heard in my inner being the voice of the Colorado Plateau:  I am your real Mother, it is time for you to come home now.

Wild nature has infused some of my most inspiring lucid dreams.  Even in my soul body I flow through pulsing streams and move through high mountains in a blissful state of union.  I once fell over the edge of the Grand Canyon in a dream and somehow she cradled me on the landing.  I wonder if all people have such lucid nature experiences in the dream time?  Or does my dreaming come from my direct physical world experience and love of these primal places?  Perhaps they are just mirrors of the same reality.


May you..... remember yourself in primal places—that windswept seashore, under the sheltering arms of your favorite tree, laying on crystalline red sandstone looking at an impossibly blue sky that goes forever, entranced with the plant beings in your own garden....Be graced by looking into the soft eyes of a deer in the woods who curiously comes near to you at a moment when  you are free of the electric mental static of everyday life....or laugh at yourself when a raucous raven breaks into your self-absorbed reverie with its loud mocking call as if daring you quit taking yourself so seriously.

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