Hozro and Hiraeth

“Everything is connected. The wing of the corn beetle affects the direction of the wind, the way the sand drifts, the way the light reflects into the eye of man beholding his reality. All is part of totality, and in this totality man finds his hozro, his way of walking in harmony, with beauty all around him.”
Tony Hillerman, The Ghostway

balanced stones
Image by daschorsch

I came upon two new words recently that come from very different places and cultures, but both resonated with my state of mind this past week.

Hozro is the Navajo word meaning to be in harmony with one’s environment, at peace with one’s circumstances, and free from anger or anxieties. If that isn’t enough, it means you are walking in harmony, content with the beauty all around him.”

It is about balance; about personal and communal beauty that adds its voice to the whole blended ensemble of creation.

Hozho is about real-world harmony and balance in the trenches of life, not the weekend retreat, ”don’t-worry-be-happy varieties.” In the novel Sacred Clowns, Jim Chee, a Navajo detective, is the way author Tony Hillerman explores what it is like to be born among the Dine’ and live on the reservation through novels of mystery. Chee explains hozho in this way:

“This business of hozho… I’ll use an example. Terrible drought, crops dead, sheep dying. Spring dried out. No water. The Hopi, or the Christian, maybe the Moslem, they pray for rain. The Navajo has the proper ceremony done to restore himself to harmony with the drought. You see what I mean? The system is designed to recognize what’s beyond human power to change, and then to change the human’s attitude to be content with the inevitable.”

In hozho, harmony and balance are real and it is a realistic goal in life. You don’t find this harmony outside or in things. You find in your own heart and mind.

Not everyone I know could accept this philosophy. Some people I know want to change the world. That is not the wrong thing to do. There are things that need changing and some of them you yourself can change or at least help change. You could view hozho as acceptance. “I can’t change the climate so I just accept it.”

Adjusting ourselves to reality is an easier and certainly less stressful way to live. It seems to me that this philosophy is more about the things we can’t change. Unhappy about how the weather has “ruined your plans” this weekend? You can’t change it, so adjust yourself.

There is also a belief in certain inevitabilities in hozho. Certain things are going to happen – aging and death amongst the big ones – and fighting to change these things is harmful. I don’t think it means to ignore your health and habits and “come what may” but to battle aging every day makes what life you have left less enjoyable.

nostalgia photos
Image by Michal Jarmoluk

On the other side of the world, I found hiraeth, a Welsh word that has no direct English translation. I found it defined as a combination of homesickness, grief, and sadness over the lost or departed. The closest synonyms in English seem to be “longing, yearning, nostalgia, or wistfulness.” For the Welsh, it seems to be those feelings about the Wales of the past, but the concept is not uniquely Welsh.

The etymology is that it is derived from hir and aeth and literally means “long gone.” The word appears in the earliest Welsh records, including early Welsh poetry. This is not a new feeling.

The word came into the English language in the 19th century. Historically, from 1870 to 1914, approximately 40% of Welsh emigrants returned to Wales. Was it hiraeth?

These two words and their larger meanings don’t seem similar to me. In fact, I see them as opposites in a way. That longing for things long gone in hiraeth is a yearning for things that can never return, such as a lost loved one, or the world, real and imagined, of your childhood. Those kinds of feelings certainly would not enhance any harmony or balance in your life. It means an unacceptance of some inevitabilities.

Everything is connected. The past is settled. You have the present to live in. The future is not completely undetermined but you have the ability to change some of it. If you believe in an afterlife, you are determining what it will be today.


Dear Future Me

at the laptop

Where did the weekend go? I only arrived in Paradelle an hour ago. It almost wasn’t worth the drive. It’s getting dark and cold. I’ll have to stay over rather than drive back home. That’s okay. I’ll make a fire, and a hot toddy, rustle up some dinner and settle in with a movie. At least my weekend in Paradelle will be relaxing.

I spent a lot of Friday, Saturday, and today writing on a keyboard but none of it was for this website. Virtual work on two websites and blogs that are not my own. Gigs that pay some of the bills. But I missed this place.

I just wrote myself an email on the Future Me website that will be delivered in a year from now. I’ve done it before. You write yourself a letter and pick a future date when you want to receive it. I’ve done it before.

I used to do this with my middle school students before the web could do it. They wrote letters to their graduating high school selves based on some models I provided. I never saw the letters other than briefly as they put them into a self-addressed and double-stamped envelope, and I noted that they had done the assignment. Then I bundled them and stored them. I would mail them out at their graduation time in 4 or 5 years depending on their grade level.  (Double stamped in case the postage rates changed in the interim.) A middle-schooler writing about who they were and who they wanted or expected to be as graduating seniors could be an interesting letter.

After I mailed them, I would have a few students return to visit me. Some had forgotten the assignment and were amazed that I remembered to mail the letters. A few letters bounced back to me (I was their return address) because they had moved. Most of the students never came back. That’s typical with students you taught in middle school, But the ones who did visit me were really excited to get their letter. Their reactions to reading it ranged from “Geez, I was such an idiot” to “I was so wrong (both in good and bad ways) about how high school would be.” They told me they had written about middle school best friends and interests and dreams that had faded away. Some said their ambitions were still ambitions – perhaps still to be fulfilled after graduation.

Who can predict our future? None of us, though we try. Just now (for the purposes of this post, of course) I took a look at my horoscope and tarot reading for today. Am I a believer in such things? Not really, but I treat them like having a daily affirmation or keeping a gratitude journal. They are a moment to reflect on yourself. The unexamined life isn’t worth living, right?

My horoscope said You may be wondering why everyone is getting so touchy when you see this as being just a normal day. No one was touchy today. I only saw my wife and she was fine with me today. The wonderful thing about horoscopes and tarot is that you can always get another reading. I checked a second horoscope source and it said:  You may discover that what you find beautiful today is different from the idea of beauty you were raised with. That is certainly true. Today, at least this second half of it, was beautiful in a way that I was never raised to think of a day. But then the horoscope went in a totally different path: Even if you have already been drifting in this direction for some time, being able to clearly articulate what you do and don’t like in the moment can help you make decisions more easily about how you’ll style yourself going forward. Once you have the idea of a general style you want, you may really enjoy shopping for some of the specific items. Shopping? Is that tied into the ads on the webpage? I hate shopping and my style hasn’t changed in decades.


Let’s look at my tarot reading done online – which is perhaps as valid as one done by any human including me.

Your emotional foundations benefit wonderfully from a New Moon on the 2nd. This offers a fresh start domestically, within your family. I don’t feel I need a fresh start domestically but let’s wait for that New Moon.
It indicates a possible house move or the beginning of a home-related project. Well, I can always anticipate that my wife might start a home project. She’s been talking about new furniture and making a new area around the fire pit, which is currently snow-covered.
It could also mean new domestic responsibilities come your way or any issues connected with your clan get ironed out. That’s ominous. I already have responsibilities for my older, ailing sister, and I suppose either of my grown and married sons might add something. I hope this prediction is wrong.
Resolving or proceeding with anything home or family-related is supported further by your ruling planet Venus moving forward on the 29th. Where emotional security and contentment are concerned, it’s all systems go! Well, that’s encouraging.

I’ll make a note on the calendar to check back on the 29th and February first (which is actually when the New Moon slips into place) Should I worry about any of this? The Magic 8-Ball says “No” and I like that definitiveness.

In case you’re curious about sending your future self a letter…

Revise and Relive Your Past

Image by chenspec

I just finished reading The Midnight Library, a novel by Matthew Haig. In this story, a woman, Nora, is given the opportunity to revise some of her life choices. The opportunity comes on a night when she attempts suicide and she finds herself in a library managed by her beloved childhood school librarian. This library, where it is always midnight, is between life and death. It has an infinite number of books filled with the stories of her life if she had made decisions differently. By choosing another alternative path from her “Book of Regrets” she can try to find the life in which she’s the most content.

The opportunity sounds great but – no real spoiler – most of her alternate life stories are not ultimately much better than her “real” life.

I also discovered this weekend Reminiscence, an upcoming science-fiction film, via a clever piece of promotion that had me enter a bit of information about myself and upload a photo which was then animated and used to create a short “memory” of mine. A false memory, of course, but then as my memory deteriorates, maybe I would believe it to be real.

One of the trailers for the film

The promotional campaign says that “Nothing is more addictive than the past.  Nick Bannister (Jackman) offers clients the chance to relive any memory they desire. Looking into other people’s memories – especially people who you become romantically involved with – can turn up unexpected results.

This is director Lisa Joy’s first feature film.  She is best known as the co-creator, writer, director, and executive producer of the HBO science-fiction drama series Westworld. She is married to screenwriter Jonathan Nolan, the younger brother of director Christopher Nolan. Sci-fi must be floating in their home as Jonathan is the creator of the CBS science fiction series Person of Interest (2011–2016) and co-creator of Westworld. He collaborated with his brother, on the adaptation of Jonathan’s short story “Memento Mori” into the neo-noir thriller film Memento (2000), and they co-wrote the scripts for The Prestige (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and the science fiction film Interstellar (2014).

The film is written and directed by Lisa Joy and stars Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, and Thandiwe Newton. It is scheduled for release by Warner Bros. Pictures in the United States on August 20, 2021, and will also have a month-long simultaneous release on the HBO Max streaming service.

The film and the novel share a pretty universal idea that if we could go back into our past memories and select a point of departure, we could lead a better life. Change the college you attend, change your major or your career, pick a different spouse or no spouse at all, have children or don’t have children. There are so many possibilities.

You can’t change anything without changing everything. You change your college choice and your major might change and so your career changes and also the people you meet and where you live and so you end up marrying someone else or not getting married in that life. Maybe your life is longer. Or cut short.


Are You Suffering from Chronophobia and Anticipatory Anxiety?

fear of future
Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

I don’t need more to worry about these days, but I recently read about a reported increase in fear of the future by therapists and mental health providers. I did some reading and found that the official names for those fears are chronophobia and anticipatory anxiety. If you’re not fearful of reading more about it, proceed.

Chronophobia – like all phobias – manifests as an extreme, one that can cause obsessive and debilitating behavior. It is a fear of time and mostly fear of time moving forward. That fear often comes from the unknown, and the future is the great unknown.

For some people, the fear of the future is based on a fear of failing in that future.

Anticipatory anxiety seems to be defined as pretty much the same thing: being nervous about future events where the outcome is unknown.

Some of the warning signs of these mental health issues are problems eating, sleep disorders, and muscle tension. Aren’t those just descriptions of how we all feel all the time? Hopefully not, but…

Fear causes inner pain and body pain perceptions. We often try to numb the pain with substances and behaviors that seem to have a temporary effect but often have a longer-term negative effect.

I’m not a professional but I point you in this post to some articles with coping suggestions.  I channel some of my anxiety, stress, or fears into my walks in nature. I think writing also helps, though those things sometimes both inspire and hinder my writing.

If you made it to this point in the post, at least you didn’t fear reading about your fears.  And acceptance is the goal at the end of the acceptance cycle, so good for you!




The Uncertainties of Progress and a History of the Future

H.G. Wells is best known for his pioneering novels of science fiction, including The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, and The Island of Doctor Moreau. Wells also wrote extensively on politics and social matters and was one of the foremost public intellectuals of his day.

He wrote about the new technologies of his time in both fiction and non-fiction and wondered in both about where that technology would lead in the future.

He was not very optimistic. He believed that technology would expand, but he also believed in human folly. That led him to ponder with some trepidation what “progress” might mean for mankind.

In some ways, he is not unlike those who caution us today about where technology, such as artificial intelligence, might lead or leave us.

In an essay by Peter J. Bowler on publicdomainreview.org, he writes about Wells’ uncertainties about progress and the future of humanity.

Though Wells championed technological developments, he worried about where and how they could be used. Technological innovation would require remodeling society. As good as Wells was about looking at the current leading edge of technology and predicting where it might go, he realized that predicting future inventions and their consequences probably would require a new definition of progress.

In The War in the Air, a science fiction novel, progress leads to more effective, and therefore more deadly, warfare. Written in 1907 and published in 1908, it contains another one of Wells’ prophetic ideas: that the technology of aircraft would be not only used for transportation that could unify the planet, mapping, and research but also for fighting wars.

Remember that the Wright Brothers’s only had their first successful flight in 1903. Wells has a “war in the air” happening in the novel sometime in the late 1910s. World War I did come in that time period but aviation technology did not progress fast enough to make World War I into “war in the air.” There were German airship raids on London, but airplanes of that decade were not capable of the bombings and destruction Wells predicted. That would come with World War II.

Wells even throws some government conspiracy into the plot. He has the Wright Brothers and other aviation pioneers around the world “disappearing” from public view because they have been pulled into secret military projects to develop aviation weapons. Not that farfetched of an idea, considering how scientists were hidden away to develop rockets and the atomic bomb and still are today in parts of the world.

Illustration from Wells’ The War in the Air via archive.org

Wells earlier novel, The Time Machine, sent a time traveler into the future and what he observed was not good. The future was a Darwinian nightmare.  The leisured upper class had devolved due to a less active, less challenging way of life.  (How many people have since predicted that technology would bring us more leisure time?) The descendants of the industrial workers have become brutal rulers.

In the article, Bowler says that the Marxists saw history as climbing a ladder to a kind of utopia. But the Darwinists saw our life history as better represented by a branching tree. Wells saw science and industry’s evolution in the Darwinian way. Look how those originally insignificant mammals developed during the age of the dinosaurs and ended up becoming the rulers.

But he thought that scientific and technological innovation was leaping ahead of society, culture, and politics. We were not ready for the changes.

Another book he wrote in 1914, The World Set Free, predicted that the latest discoveries of atomic physics would give us a new source of power and also an atomic bomb.

The next step in Wells’ fears of progress is displayed in his 1933 novel, The Shape of Things to Come. The war fought in this story reduces us back to savages. His only optimism in the story was that a few technocrats survive who can recreate society but under new and more rational ideologies.

“I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”  –  Albert Einstein

Though I really enjoy Wells’ novels and admire his ability to envision the future, I’m not a fan of the future world he hoped would come to pass. His “World State” had technological innovations helping all but those in charge were an elite group, like those who save and transform the world in The Shape of Things to Come. I hope he was wrong in this prediction of things to come.

Peter J. Bowler is Professor Emeritus of the History of Science at Queen’s University, Belfast and the author of A History of the Future: Prophets of Progress from H. G. Wells to Isaac Asimov.

Reading the Tea Leaves

tea readers

This morning, I brewed a little pot of tea in the old way and so I ended up with some tea leaves in my cup. And I did a bit of reading the tea leaves.

You’ve probably heard about that and I’m not claiming that tasseography (or tasseomancy or tassology) works, of course. But divination by interpreting patterns in tea leaves is quite an old practice.

Tasseography comes from the French word tasse for “cup” (which comes from Arabic tassa) and the Greek suffixes -graph (writing), -logy (study of), and -mancy (divination). You get a bit of history by looking at the word and see who practiced this art. It is also done with coffee grounds and wine sediments, but tea leaves are the most common method.

I know there is no scientific evidence that the future can be determined through any method, so you can view this as just a party game – but I do have an affinity for things that are interpretations of synchronistic events.

The methodology is simple: pour a cup of brewed tea made without a tea strainer into a white cup and drink the tea. (I don’t think you should just pour it out.) Some things I have read say to shake the cup but that seems like some deliberate changes to the leaves, so I leave them be unless they are all in a lump. I did give a final swirl before I finished the last sip. There aren’t that many rules about what to see and much of the interpretation is in the eyes and mind of the reader.

Look for a pattern: a letter, a shape, a face. There are books that give clues, much in the way that dream interpretation books suggest meanings and symbols. But the meanings are supposed to be so personal that you need your own system to interpret your future.

Guides will say that a heart means your love life, a snake is falsehood, a spade is good fortune, a road or mountain is a journey, though the mountain might be an obstacle along the way. Pretty standard interpretation stuff and far too generic to have much personal meaning. Maybe, for you, a heart indicates actual heart health. Maybe snakes are pets to you, or perhaps you just saw one in your garden this morning. Meanings are personal. You could certainly anger some people by saying that a cat represents “a deceitful friend or relative” while a dog is “a loyal friend or relative” as I read online.

I was taught (by a girlfriend in college) that you read a cup starting at the rim by the handle as the present, and down to the bottom as the future. If you’re able to do it, some readers can see not only images in the dark tea leaves, but also the reverse images in the white negative spaces (the dark leaves are then the background).

tea leaves

What did I see of my future in my cup of plum tea?

I think near the handle I do see a mountain.
Those two blobs to the left? Clouds?
On the bottom, I see an alligator with its mouth open at the left. Not sure what is below it.
So, am I facing a mountain that I must climb soon? One obscured by clouds or something?
To the future, that alligator doesn’t bode well. Unless, it’s a lucky dragon.

I think I’ll stick to my casting of the runes.