Last night there were a lot of fireworks going off on my reservation. I admire the pretty colors on display, but I can’t stand the loud noise. To me, the explosions sound like guns and bombs; this is not the sound of freedom.
Luckily, our more than human relations are quick, as always, to remind us of another pathway forward. They remind us of simple, honest, and true teachings. “Do you want to celebrate being free on this land?” X̱wɨɬx̱wɨ́ɬ (Meadowlark) sings the question as a pretty melody. “Observe. Listen. Move. Sing. Speak,” X̱wɨɬx̱wɨ́ɬ instructs.
And so, I do.
This morning I hear the sound of Hulí (Wind) rustling leaves on the tall trees in my grandpa’s backyard. The soft, gentle sound is punctuated by the bursts of Áy’ay’s (Magpie’s) call, almost siren-like when several speak at once, “Ay-Ay-Ay! Ay-Ay-Ay!“
Now my parent’s K’usík’usi (Dog) is barking, the deep voice of a large shepherd who watches over us. Mimím (Mourning Dove) coos a greeting, encouraging me to keep noticing and learning from my beautiful more than human relations.
Like a good soup broth, Hulí gently rustling leaves keeps all the sounds of this morning tied together in a cohesive whole; each being belongs and has an honored contribution to make. I’m so glad I paused to listen and learn this morning.
As a Yakama person on my Yakama homeland, I’ve learned the sound of freedom is not the explosion caused by gun powder. Rather, it is the sound of wind tickling leaves on trees who have provided shade to generations of my family, as well as the symphony of voices of all the other beings who people this land. As I go about my day, I remember and give thanks for all my ancestors who bravely and prayerfully prepared the way for me to be here.
It is another good day on Yakama homeland.
Read more about lessons from Mother Nature’s classroom, including a story about “4th of July on the Rez” in Dr. Jacob’s book, Fox Doesn’t Wear a Watch.
Having a vision for one’s life is important. In my Yakama culture, we have always known this. We have old traditions of sending a child to find their power in the mountains, blessed under the watchful gaze of sacred Pátu (Mt. Adams), everyone secure in the knowledge that each child would have exactly the experience needed to help them walk the path of life meant just for them. Such traditions, of course, are special occasions. We also see daily affirmation of the power and importance of vision in everyday life. Have you noticed it?
The young person spending hours perfecting their jump shot or crossover–even in 100 degree heat–we hear the bounce, bounce, bounce sound of the basketball hitting the ground. “Practice your free throws!” Auntie wants to yell while driving by, on the way to Safeway to get iced coffee. But she doesn’t interrupt. She knows this is sacred time. Time when the child so clearly sees the gap between where they are and where they want to be, and they use their tremendous focus and strength to fill that gap. If you pay attention, you can see them walking the path of their vision. They are learning and growing and becoming more deeply themselves. We are blessed to witness their brilliance.
You don’t have to be an energetic young hoopster to engage with and work toward your vision, however. Thank goodness.
I witness Elders sitting quietly, engaging their visions as well. Maybe as youngsters they were taken up to the mountains to sit up all night and find their power and vision in isolation. In everyday life on our reservation I more commonly see them sitting on a favored rocking chair, recliner, or couch. In silence, they sort through the generous storage of memories their heads and hearts hold. They reflect, remember, and can bounce back and forth between times long ago and today. Just as the energy of a young person bouncing a basketball is full of determined hope and optimism to fulfill one’s vision, so too do Elders have a vision sacred and special for their own lives. If you sit with them, and bring a loving and open spirit, they’ll share a bit of wisdom to help you prepare to walk your own path.
That’s the thing about visions. They are uniquely ours. They help us be strong, self-determined individuals.
Can you imagine a community full of people like this? I can.
I did my longest run of the year recently. Long runs are beautiful, wonderful, challenging things. Hour after hour of step, step, step, breathe, breathe, breathe, trying to remember when to take in fluids, calories. Deciding how much effort to put into each uphill and downhill. In long runs, as in life, pacing is everything.
Sometimes on long runs I feel tired, lonely, and begin to doubt whether I can reach my goal. At times like these, I try to remember to pay attention…to this step, this breath, this stride, this arm swing, this mile. I look for both lesson and teacher.
Let me tell you about some of my precious teachers.
Grandfather rocks, old and wise, weathered by time and the elements. And still here, now the size of small pebbles, too many to count, on this wonderful trail I enjoy. They are here and welcoming my presence, as they always do. They cushion my every step; supporting me, as our loving and generous more than human relations always do.
Do you smell the rich fragrance of the pine forest on a warm day? It’s the smell of love and generosity and wisdom and strength. How could I ever feel lonely or doubtful in such a blessed place?
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I love watching the beautiful deer. So elegant and graceful in their pretty brown fur coats, black noses sniffing the ground–Mother Earth–beneath a clump of trees who stretch up and touch the sky. Another deer, a larger youth, has two tall nubs, still covered in fur, sprouting atop his head. With time, he’ll grow an impressive set of antlers. I wonder if he feels how I do sometimes, impatient for growth and transformation? Or, like my dog who’s resting contentedly next to me, is this deer happy to live moment by moment?
They inspire me.
My days are so full of the intelligence of the head–the kind my institution knows, values, and runs on, sometimes seemingly at any cost.
A lesson arrives with the cool spring breeze rustling through the trees: without an intelligence of the heart, we’re just running around trying to make our antlers grow.
My new/old resolve: take time, be quiet, pay attention to our More than Human Relations. Live up to their standards. Put myself in environments where my growth and transformation just happen. Being in places and among beings who help my intelligent heart grow stronger every day–not through great effort, exemptions, or productivity hacks. Rather, the whole environment–every system we create and maintain–is structured to support me and my precious, fierce, fragile, intelligent heart.
Come–join me! All are welcome here who lead with the love of an intelligent heart.
Transform your relationship with writing in The Auntie Way Writing Retreat! Summer session registration is open for individuals and groups. Write in nine sessions this summer with Dr. Michelle M. Jacob and a supportive group of amazing scholars!
I went to town to buy myself a printer. I’m kind of old school and love working with hard copies of documents. In the printer box was a CD, to install it I suppose; I didn’t look carefully at it. I don’t have a CD slot on my current computer, so I pondered what to do with it–this object included in the package for which I had no use. Or so I thought.
I decided to take a piece of yarn and tie the CD to a low branch on one of the maple trees outside my grandpa’s old home on my reservation. Now I sit at a little writing desk looking out the window at the tree, CD, and bit of yellow yarn that enables the CD to move and dance, spreading rainbow light all around. How pretty it looks in the slight breeze and bright sunshine of this cool spring morning. There’s movement, elegance, and grace in this office-supply-turned-yard-art.
Just think–these simple items: an unwanted CD, an extra bit of yarn–surplus, disposable items–have brought wonder, joy, and focus to my life. I bet this is a future the CD and yarn weren’t expecting. Just like that–their purpose and existence are transformed.
I wonder what my next transformation will be?
I’ll try to pay attention and notice the unexpected gifts and possibilities all around me.
Transform your relationship with writing–Summer Registration for The Auntie Way Writing Retreat is open!
Yesterday in our Sapsik’ʷałá Seminar, Yakama Elder and “Super Auntie” Tux̱ámshish Dr. Virginia Beavert reminded us about the importance of welcoming students to our classrooms and welcoming guests to our meetings. She encouraged us to make sure people have water to drink and a little snack–something low in sugar, as so many people struggle with diabetes and managing blood sugar.
It was such a simple comment; yet, I see so many wise teachings in her instruction. These teachings reflect the strong tradition of love and leadership in our Indigenous cultural ways. I’ll name just a few:
Leaders are responsible for caring about the environment they prepare for students and guests.
Kindness, generosity, and inclusiveness are important parts of welcoming people appropriately.
Model the importance of nurturing individuals and the group–so that our best thinking, sharing, and work can happen.
Yakama cultural teachings affirm that Chúush (Water) is sacred. Having this blessed relation present in our classrooms and meeting spaces will help nourish and sustain us.
All of these teachings encourage us to see the power of the collective and how, as individuals, we all have the ability to step forward as leaders who care for the people around us.
In all of your classes and meetings, I hope you find warm welcomes, deep wisdom, and rewarding work.
In marathon training, as in life, we need to make decisions about whether we’ll follow a plan we’ve set out for ourselves. When conditions are such that no major changes or dramas unfold it can be, in many ways, easier to “stick to the plan.” However, when big changes come our way–when hurdles or detours appear that we haven’t been fully expecting, sometimes doubt can creep in. Questions can arise: “Well, the race I was planning for has ben cancelled, so do I keep training?” “Should I adjust the plan and keep training–for a race later in the year that, at least for now, is still scheduled to happen?” And of course the big question that can present itself once an inkling of doubt has set in: “Why am I bothering doing this?”
In times like these, we’re invited to pause and reflect. Where do we really want to go? There are so many paths in front of us, many choices we can make. Do we still choose the path to the great challenge we set our heart on several weeks (or months, or years) ago? Does our heart still urge us to keep going down that path?
If, upon reflection, we find there’s absolutely no appeal, then we can take a different lovely path and see what unfolds.
However, if we’re even just slightly longing to see what’s down that path, the difficult one we’ve begun and are now doubting–well then, I believe it’s time to restock basic supplies while we regather our courage and focus during this moment of pause: rest, nourishing food, water, maybe a change of socks.
And then get back out there.
This is your path.
Follow it and see what lessons unfold just for you.
Work with Dr. Michelle M. Jacob to find and savor your own path!
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This week I’m celebrating the launch of my new book, Fox Doesn’t Wear a Watch: Lessons from Mother Nature’s Classroom. This is the third book published by my company, Anahuy Mentoring, an independent Indigenous press and professional development company. I am honored to feature the beautiful work of Yakama artist Crystal Buck on the cover of Fox Doesn’t Wear a Watch. The cover features Pátu (Mt. Adams), one of our sacred mountains who lovingly watches over us. Crystal’s drawing features the eastern-facing slope of Pátu; this is the perspective of Pátu we see from the valley floor on our reservation and is the site familiar to all of us who’ve grown up there, live, or visit this special place.
I remember as a child the first time I saw blessed Pátu from the west side. I had no idea there were a bunch of people in Western Washington who loved and admired Pátu from this different perspective. Before this, I had a kind of working theory that anywhere I could easily glimpse Pátu was “home.” Could my notion of home be expanded? Later, I heard Auntie stories of picking Wíwnu (huckleberries) in berry fields on the west side. And fishing with relatives in lakes and rivers far beyond, but connected to, our reservation.
I learned, not in school but from relatives, that the whole notion of “reservation” is a foreign idea mapped onto us and our beautiful homelands and waters by people greedy to take them.
Yet, our people continue to honor our traditional teachings of being in good relation with the Land. Pátu was taken from us by the U.S. government and my Yakama Nation leaders successfully fought to restore the sacred eastern slope to our people. Upon this #LandBack victory, which took over 100 years, our reservation’s western boundary was moved.
Anytime you look upon the beautiful perspective of Pátu I know and love best, whether you’re on our reservation or simply holding Fox Doesn’t Wear a Watch in your hands, you too can pause and reflect on the brilliance and wisdom Indigenous peoples and cultures continually demonstrate.
How will you honor Indigenous peoples and lands today?
Marathon training, like life, is sometimes easy. Sometimes there’s a magical alignment of vision, plan, and task completion that’s done with such abundant energy and gracefulness that anything and everything seem possible.
And sometimes, well, it doesn’t. In place of clarity and alignment perhaps we have fuzziness and doubt. Yet, deep down, we know we believe in our beautiful vision. So we lace up our shoes and head out the door, hopefully to a favored running place. Have you noticed that when we lack internal stores of inspiration Mother Nature is always willing to share with us? If we pause and notice the gifts she provides we cannot help but be inspired to be in the moment, in our bodies, moving with a sense of ease in this beautiful place.
I return to this wise teaching, again and again, in marathon training and in life.
I witnessed it yesterday: my gait all awkward-feeling, my body seemed to lose all sense of pace, my breathing sounding strange to me. Everything felt difficult. And then, I remembered what I always need to remember, and especially if I’m feeling awkward or confused: Pay attention to my teachers.
I looked more closely at the dirt and gravel road–noticing the beauty and variety of shades of black, brown, and tan on this simple and strong surface, this part of Mother Earth, sacred Tiichám (land) who always supports my every step.
I smelled evidence that Tiskáy (skunk) had recently visited this place, the strong odor reminding me of happy times with childhood friends and our prized scratch and sniff stickers we enjoyed in elementary school–do you remember the skunk sticker?
I noticed the clouds and how they somehow looked both puffy and flat from my perspective. I think Tamawiɬá really had fun painting the sky–how beautiful! How blessed I am to witness all of this.
Yesterday was a hard run. My mind was in a tug of war between the sacred and profane. It wasn’t easy; however, I focused enough on what truly matters to find, in some blessed moments, a sense of ease.