With the beauty in front of me I walk
With the beauty behind me I walk
With the beauty above me I walk
With the beauty around me I walk
In the song above, the Navajo word, “hozho,” was translated as beauty, but it was also translated as peace, poise, and harmony. To be “in Hozho” is to be one with and to be part of the world around you.
The word “hozho” is not easily translated into English, but I think the feeling it expresses is clear to anyone who knows the spiritual experience: it is the feeling of being centered and whole, or in religious terms, to be holy.
Helping people acquire something like hozho, the experience of wholeness, is one of the core values of spirituality. This is one of the main reasons why in our fractured times so many people are still looking for it. In his book, The sacred and the profane, Mircea Eliade expresses this desire for plenitude as a “thirst for being”. It provides abundant examples of how earlier societies organized their space and time to stay in touch with this primordial sense of wholeness – of being at or near the center of being, which was symbolically considered the center of the world.
In Taoism, this sense of primordial being is called “the return to the root”. From this it is written
While perishing withdraws to its root … in which the multiple becomes one. From the point of view of Tao Te Ching this withdrawal is not the loss, nor the simple completion of individual life; it is the individual’s recovery of eternal universal life. The individual sheds his individuality, which has a beginning and an end, to become one with the universal life process. (1)
In a flourishing and creative life, we always risk losing our center, losing harmony, exhausting ourselves. When this happens, going back to the root, we find our center, our harmony, our hozho.
The above quote continues:
The activity dissipates the energies of life and leads to darkness. But by calming down, signifying a return to the roots and a regrouping of energies, the darkness clears up and we prepare ourselves again for a new activity … At the root, all is calm.
The value of tranquility is common to many forms of spirituality, especially the more contemplative.
In Christianity, the equivalent of “hozho” would be holiness, to walk in the way of God. Christians, especially in monastic traditions, found or created calm environments where they could strive for holiness without distraction.
There is a considerable difference between the Navajo concept of hozho and the Taoist concept of rooting, and between either and the Christian concept of holiness, but all involve an effort to regain focus and balance when these have been lost and put great value on this feeling of wholeness and inner peace. As each of the three concepts is very different from the quasi-religious value that many people place on activity in our modern society.
The opposite of “being,” as Eliade uses the word, is randomness, distraction, inner turbulence. Poet TS Eliot uses the apt phrase “distracted from distraction by distraction” (2) to characterize the mental state of many people in the modern, secular world. In a previous section of the same poem, he uses another apt phrase, “the still point of the spinning world,” (3) to characterize deep spiritual focus and quiet. I think the Navajo, the Taoist, and certainly the Christian contemplative could all relate to this expression.
In a recent article, I characterized spirituality as the transformation of the sound of life into the music of life. The concept of hozho is a prime example of what I mean by this. What makes this effort distinctly spiritual is that it cannot be done by the ego. neither our will nor our intellect can produce it. It can only come from a submersion of the ego in greater otherness.
In theistic traditions, this greater otherness is usually God; in Taoism it is Tao and in Buddhism it is the nature of Buddha. However, such metaphysical entities are not necessary, although they may very well be useful. I have discovered that the practice of mindfulness, devoid of any other religious or metaphysical objective, can also open us to this otherness of which the individual ego is only a small ephemeral part. As a naturalist, I believe that the world works by natural law, and the gift of hozho, the return to attention and harmony, comes from a natural grace residing in our psyche. (4)
Since Spiritual Naturalism is a form of spirituality, I think the spiritual side of it is to help people achieve something like hozho: focus, wholeness, focus, and inner peace. Since our vocabulary for spiritual terms is not yet particularly rich, perhaps we should adopt the Navajo word “hozho” for this thing that we appreciate. It’s a beautiful earthy concept.
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- The quote is from The Tao Te Ching: a new commented translation, by Ellen M. Chen. This happens in the commentary for verse 16. (IMHO, Chen’s translation is the best of the many English translations available, and his commentary is full of ideas on philosophical Taoism.)
- From section III of “Burnt Norton”, part of Tthe four quartets.
- From section II of “Burnt Norton”.
- I give more details on what I mean by “natural grace” in an article called Natural Grace, published on April 13, 2017.