Wednesday, January 13, 2010

From the sweet side of the Moon

                                                                                                                                               by Ana Lara

In the last year, I have been learning about how the connections between traditional values and practices and the demands of the U.S. society’s values and expectations go hand in hand, and how they challenge each other.

On our way to Tepejic, Mexico for the Moon Dance in September 2009, my madrina said to me, “Just like you’re in a PhD program for your studies, all the work you are doing in the kalpulli is like being in a PhD for your spiritual development.” And it’s so true. I finished my first year of the Moon Dance in September 2009 and my first semester at Yale December 2009. And, I’m going to speak to what I have learned in the first leg of my journey, as someone who values and centralizes traditional ways and also recognizes the importance of managing the structure of the society in which we live.

The world we live in is fast paced, existing more and more on the computer and cellphone: texts, emails, Facebook, ipods, etc. take up a lot of our time. Living in the U.S. means living in a society that teaches us to give greater value to material gains, individualism, and black-white thinking than to spiritual integrity, community well being, and working with both the heart and mind. Whatever we believe and no matter how rooted we are in our own traditional or other cultures, we are all also strongly influenced by the greater society’s values, and so we have to learn to live alongside them, even and especially as our own traditional values and practices become stronger. I feel this to be true, and am learning a lot about how to do this.

In 2009, I started in “two PhDs” – one at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut and one at Kalpulli Teokalli Teoyolotl in Austin, Texas. Under the guidance of my primera and segunda palabras, Tupina and Acatzin, I made a difficult decision between leaving the community I love and was working for in Austin, Texas and going to pursue a PhD at Yale, which had offered me a five year fellowship to study, but which was far from my community. Going to Yale would essentially put me in the heart of a system that reinforces the values of materialism, individualism and either-or thinking, going against my own personal value system and the traditions I am walking in. At the same time, it was a very unusual opportunity for anyone, and maybe, just maybe taking this opportunity would mean bringing more resources to my community. So, after asking the Creator for greater guidance, I decided to go.

How then, to bridge these very different worlds – because I’m part of both of them – and stay strong on my path? This is the core class of the Kalpulli “PhD”.

When I decided to accept the offer to go to Yale, I did it with my elder’s blessings, which sounded like this: “You will confront greater darkness than you have in your current work, and you will have to be courageous and conquer that darkness.” And “Yale will make you stronger and give to you what you need to do the work that you are here to do, with greater strength.” These were two very powerful blessings for me. For what they were telling me was that I would be getting stronger, and that all the tests and lessons I would be confronting at a place like Yale would serve to strengthen the work I do for my peoples. And because my elders are wise, they weren’t going to send me to do this work unprepared. Because of their commitment, my own commitment to this path was made even stronger.
I wouldn’t be doing these “two PhD’s “if I didn’t have the understanding that both are necessary to do the work of service for my people. I also wouldn’t be doing this work if other people around me – like my primera and segunda palabra, like the PhD admissions committee - didn’t think I was ready for this work. Both kinds of work require great discipline, rigor, commitment, integrity and ability. At Yale this means reading and preparing for my classes, showing up to class and following through on my work, engaging with my professors with respect, and demonstrating my ability through the quality of my work. At the Kalpulli, this means having a very open heart, a deep respect for my elders, working continuously to shed that which detracts from well-being, speaking honestly and truthfully as well as humbly with all others, following through on my word, and maintaining the practices of thousands of years of tradition.

Guess which one demands more of me?

The main difference is that the work at Yale is only for five or six years, but spiritual work – this road – is for life. And whereas if I mess up on a paper for one of my classes and get a bad grade, that will only affect me. If I mess up in my spiritual work, all the people around me suffer. The Kalpulli exige más que un PhD because you are not just an individual making a path for yourself – you are a part of a larger community making a path for your people. For me as a Taina, my sense of responsibilty is multiplied. I am a representative of Taino people when I am with Mexica, and showing respect for a tradition that is teaching me is also about showing respect for my Taino ancestors. When I go out in the world for work, Yale will be on my resume. But the work of the Moon Dance, of the Kalpulli, will be what shows when I walk.

Because PhD’s generally engage the mind, without attention to the heart, I have to be very vigilant and disciplined about my spiritual practices, because the spiritual work suffers if the mind and heart are disconnected. Learning to walk in a world that values the mind above all else, that values the individual above all else, that values material gains above all else requires that I connect, on a daily basis, what I am being encouraged to disconnect. This is my journey on the road of the Mexica PhD. By making my body, mind, heart and spirit a bridge between these two value systems – these two worlds - I hope to have much to share as I grow stronger in this work. By bringing these two worlds together, I hope to use all that I am learning to do the work of serving all of my many people, so that our Mother Earth –Tonantzin Coatlicue (Atabey in Tainey) - can be healed of all that has hurt her, of all that has been wrong.


Guerrera del Camino said...

Very well shared hermana! Thank you for allowing me to identify with your work/batalla at Yale. How important it is to remain firm and posture to our spiritual path. It's sort of double-duty but our love for ourselves, the people, all the elements and our ancestors will continue to pull us forward.


k. terumi shorb said...

thanks, friend.