Since beginning my apprenticeship as an art therapist/counselor in training here at SWC two years ago, I have had my most challenging quarter this spring of 2016. For the past two years I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of personal transformation work in the safety of some of my cocoon-like classes. Since the beginning of practicum this quarter I have felt the internal struggle of change, life circumstances, and growth as I’ve emerged into a professional role with a greater sense of self. I have been working at solidifying my theoretical orientation to help others in the mental health field, yet I am in conflict with how I can hold and practice two worldviews in healing.
On one hand I have been indoctrinated into the Western medical model when addressing the needs of those suffering and falling ill. I have spent almost my entire life being educated in English, learning the “American” way, and conforming to mainstream cultural norms. I value the higher education I received from UNM, which gave me the opportunity to dive into more diverse areas of knowledge and has helped me to question paternalistic idealism; sources of knowledge; standards of fine art; and who or what determines what true health is.
The other hand speaks to the implicit and non-ordinary realms of healing. As far back as I can recall I have been exposed to Navajo healing ceremonies. My grandfather, before being forced to attend the Ft. Wingate boarding school, was the apprentice of a great medicine man by the name of Jeff King. I grew up learning the do’s and don’ts as implicit information. I watched and learned. I was to pay attention to the details of how things were done, with intention and mindfulness. Until my personal work here at SWC I hadn’t realized all the values and beliefs that have been instilled in me.
Part of my soul’s work this past year was going on the Wilderness Fast, through the Eco-Psychology Certificate program, last fall of 2015. At first I was pretty apprehensive about the term itself. I had to do some soul searching and a lot of praying, which also meant questioning the administration and the accompanied handbook (“Trail to the Sacred Mountain,” by Foster). I spoke to Carol Parker and she shared her learning and working experience with traditional Peruvian healing knowledge. I can imagine she receives a lot of questions regarding Native appropriation in particular to this program of study she has cultivated. Ann Filemyr was also a safe resource for me as I struggled and questioned what was right for me in honoring my own Navajo lineage.
As I was pre-reading the handbook, with a bit of skepticism, I came across a woman who had personally worked with the authors. After we spoke about her interaction with the couple and where they were coming from when writing this handbook, I felt more at ease with the material. I came to find the information neutral and not bent on a specific Native lineage that I could clearly identify. As I was internalizing this inner conflict of authentic transformation, I began to feel at ease with the choice I was going to make and I begin to experience synchronistic events validating my conclusion.
Once my decision was made to attend the Wilderness Fast I set an intention to take this opportunity to define two rites of passages for myself. The first was to purposefully connect with Changing Women, as I would have if I had had my Kinaalda (traditional Navajo puberty ceremony) when I was a young woman. The other was to reflect and lean into my current life’s transition, my only son leaving the nest to become a man himself.
The eight-day experience is one I will never forget and will always hold in my being. I was honored to hike down Canyon de Chelly as I absorbed its grandness and sacredness of my people’s land. I could hear the wind whispering in my ears and I saw the faces of my ancestors on the canyon walls. I was home.
Since then I have become a “Woman of Power connected to the land and Spirit.” I am the change I want to see in the world and I want to share that with others. I know I am at a crossroads in my theoretical ideology, but with more practice and experience I will learn to keep figuring out how to integrate both healing perspectives for the greater good of all people, but especially with indigenous cultures worldwide.