“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
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.
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.