Navajo people call human beings “five-fingered” people. This refers to the way that Navajos relate their clan connections using the fingers of their hands. The thumb is “shay”, myself. And each one is imprinted with a unique spiral pattern. This spiral pattern is said to emerge when a child has spirit blown into it be the ye’i – the ancestors, who also produce the spiral of hair on the top of each person’s head. The spiral gives life. From there, each person can recite their clan heritage through the remaining four fingers, their father and mother, their father’s mother and mother;s father.
In reciting these clans, Navajo people tell their names and clan and then say “born for the” clans of their ancestors. This recitation is an acknowledgement of k’e – the relationship that binds us together. When you say the word k’e in Navajo country, the first thing that comes to mind is the relationship to your clans.
When we were designing this particular Art of Hosting gathering with our friends from the Healthy Native Communities Fellowship at the Shiprock Medical Centre, Orlando Pioche, Karen Sandoval, Tina Tso and Chris Percy, we dived very deeply into the idea of k’e. In seeking to understand more about this concept, we began to realize that the word refers to a quality of connection that flow between people and indeed between people and all living things including the land. It is this particular connection that we decided to explore in this Art of Hosting. Indeed, it might be said that the essence of the Art of Hosting in general is about how we work with the space between people to produce good in the world. It quickly became clear that we were designing a four day learning laboratory on how to use k’e.
In the context of a facilitation and leadership training, I began to think of k’e as the water that flows in a river. That water flows all the time, and if you want to use it, you have to use appropriate tools. You can build a turbine to produce power, build a sluice gate to channel it into a field, dip into it to drink it. The water does not change but it does different things depending on how to use it. In fact as we talked about this, Orlando, a spiritual man and a man moving beautifully into his Eldership, made the connection between this idea and the iina twho the river of life.
As we explored this further in the design day, lights came on in all of us. We lit up with the idea that the art of working with groups was the artful use of tools and processes that worked with k’e to shape the changes that were needed in the world. We designed a four day process to enter a learning journey on this idea. (see the photo gallery for images).
Our first day was really about wrapping our heads around the concepts we were discovering. The 63 people that joined us I think weren’t expecting us to be working so explicitly with k’e but as we moved through a day of storytelling, appreciative inquiry and world cafe we explored the concept very deeply By the end of the day everyone was excited about what they were discovering about a concept that they had forgotten that they knew about. K’e is everywhere in Navajo families and communities and it was perhaps this close proximity, this fabulous intimacy, that had made the concept so common place that few people remembered that it was the Navajo’s strongest resources for building wellness and sustainable communities.
On day two, after exploring the idea in depth, we began to talk about working with it, spending much of the day in Open Space to see how k’e applied to real word projects. This was followed on day three by grounding these projects in real commitments, a process which deepened on day four when we worked with a smaller community of practice who were actively facilitating community wellness projects and who were looking for ways to bring k’e deeply into the relationships that they need to cultivate with on another.
I learned a huge amount in this Art of Hosting. I learned that in fact k’e,like the Nuu-Chah-Nulth concepts of heshook ish tsawalk (everything is one) and teechma (the heart path) or the Nisga’a and Tsimshian idea of sayt k’uulum goot (of one heart) is the essential element that produces all things. It is what illuminates the social spaces between us, what allows us to produce quality work together. In fact, if you think of all human endeavour, there is nothing you can think of that was not produced by k’e. We sometimes think it is great people or great teams that produce great results, but more and more I am seeing that it is great k’e that is the source. I’m willing to be that everything – peace, food, shopping malls, aircraft, marketing campaigns, shoes, families, buildings, art – arises from this source. It is love and power combined, to use Adam Kahane’s framing. We can choose how to work with k’e using it to produce acts of beauty or terror. Our Navajo friends warned us that k’e on it’s own is no guarantee of wellness or peace. We must work skilfully with these connections to produce what the call nizhooni – beauty. K’e itself is beautiful, but only with attention can we work with it to produce more beauty. This is wazhonshay the Navajo “beauty way.”
It is simple. When we give attention to the ways in which we work together, connecting as deeply as we can and paying attention to the quality of the relationships between us, we produce good things. If the Art of Hosting is about anything – indeed if working with groups at all is about anything essential – it is that. Beyond methodology, beyond concept, beyond language.
Update: Tenneson has posted some reflections and a photo set as well
Thank you so much for sharing this harvest Chris.
I want to leave a lot of space for the smooth swirling voice of it —
I’d like to share, too, a passage from Gretel Ehrlich’s Islands, the Universe, Home on connectedness and the spirals of our fingerprints.
“To think of an island as a singular speck or a monument to human isolation is missing the point. Islands beget islands: a terrestrial island is surrounded by an island of water, which is surrounded by an island of air, all of which makes up our island universe. That’s how the mind works, too: one idea unspools into a million concentric thoughts. To sit on an island, then, is not a way of disconnecting ourselves but, rather, a way we can understand relatedness….
Another definition of the word “island” is “the small isolated space between the lines in a fingerprint,” between thoughts, feathers, fingerprints, and lives, although, like space between tree branches and leaves, for example, it is part of how a thing is shaped. Without that space, trees, rooms, ducks, and imaginations would collapse.”
A favorite dance teacher of mine would remind us over and over to “create space;” working to follow her lead always seemed like reaching back to an old wisdom.
It is a great joy linking and layering vocabularies and stories; I will turn this around and around for quite a season.
Love and Light to these circles,
Thank you chris and tenneson for harvesting your learnings for us. The Dine are powerful teachers. I learned life transforming lessons that still resonate and recycle — about community, ritual, relations, power, hosting, healing — in ’86 when I responded to an invitation from the elders to come to Big Mountain and support their struggle against a government-fabricated Hopi-Navajo land dispute.
The elders welcomed the supporters with the most powerful gratitude. We were a messy collection of international lefties (comfortable with the language of power/who needs love?) and new agers (comfortable with the language of love/power is bad). The elders made us whole, connected, and useful simply by hosting/welcoming us with gratitude, immediatly orienting us to their ritual (sweat lodges) and putting us to work (digging ditches, herding sheep).
I returned in the 90’s to the Chinle Health Center to work on a diabetes project and experienced the same hosting energy in the way that the Dine welcomed and valued Western/non-Indian medical providers.They brought us in to their way first and engaged our hearts through gratitude and profound lessons (the beauty way). Then they asked us to give what we had to offer.
I have drawn on this experience (I am the harvest) without great ability to give it legs (story, take aways).
Your learnings are helping me to write about it for the first time here….when I am working in a setting with ‘supporters’ and ‘supported’ (primarily community leadership around HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention in science/medical based paradigms) I look for the place were Power-Love lives (maybe not exactly what Kahane means by Power, but a close cousin). How/where is the place where the ‘supported’ can truly lead the ‘supporters’ to give what they have to offer?
Just back from 5 weeks in India and saw Caitlin around Killarney and thought I would look at what you were up to.
K’e….. certainly was my 5 week experience of India, the land, the people, the culture.
There is an energetic (thats not the right word because you can’t feel it) that permeates and is continously flowing
through India that allows you to effortlessly let go into whatever is
happening. My experience was that it is possible to flow with everything. I have wondered if this is possible when you’re faced with what alot of people would call tragic or ugly etc.. I have had my fair share of sitting with ugliness but its required what feels like a continuous practice of meditating,walking etc. to feel flow and relax into that space of radical acceptance.
Its funny when I was in India I realized that there were times that I “should” have been “more” concerned ie., my daughter ended up in the hospital, we found ourselves hiking through tiger country on foot, at the world peace summit we listened to one tragic story after the next, there were simply endless opportunities to contract….but nothing sticks, no attached emotion (so much for emotional intelligence) just
noticing and responding. In the west I can feel the tingling of
subtle energy or have a sense of opening of causal space or flow. In India I
didn’t feel anything because there was nothing to come up against.
There was no contrast, and yet contrast was everywhere but no fixed
boundary. Everything was just wide open, flowing and effortless. I imagine this is true everywhere or is it?? Just like in group settings that hold a capacity
to move old conversations into emergent potentialities (I guess these are the tools), there is a capacity that India offers and invites you to live with a sense of profound interbeing with no tools. This was my felt and intellectualized truth when I returned and realize it doesn’t need to be translated into a new
belief system. Just reflecting or maybe defecating.
Just thought I would share briefly some intial contextualizing. In terms of harnessing this flow.. I dont know…It seems as though you just let yourself go into it and choiceless choices emerge but there is no efforting or harnessing. I don’t know. I would love to understand more of what you mean here in terms of the workshop you were at.
Is this flowing with what is or what some might call living a life of a permanent non-dual awareness state only available when relative suffering is so overwhelming? Everything has to be wide open. There can be no contraction or attachment to anything. Indian’s seem to feel suffering and happiness flowing through them but do not define themselves as sufferers or selfs that are happy. Their language reflects their embodied sense of non-separation. There is no reason to say thank you or I am sorry. Who are you thanking? Who are you saying sorry to? It makes me wonder about all this need for reconciliation. Is it possible to live with this flow state here when there is very little to support it? To me it felt that the energy with which I threw garbage out into the street there with no attachment was possibly better for the planet than all the self righteous contracted recycling bullshit that all the green folks are attached to in the west. I don’t know. I am not saying recycling is a bad thing . Its how you approach recycling with a “should”. You can see I am processing as I write this so I will simply stop the dribble at this point. I have never experienced the walls of our culture clamping down on me with a sense of devastating isolation the way I have upon reentry into the west. Our separateness is our disease.
On another lighter note, I loved my time in the Southwest a few years ago and felt a deep connection with the folks who were sharing their wisdom with your group. I am off to Upaya in Santa Fe in 2 weeks to begin my training in the Buddhist Chaplaincy Program and hope my connection with the Hopi and Navajo widens. I noticed that Meg Wheatley is part of the group.
Thanks for reading..
two hands together
John O’Donohue wrote a poem called “Fluent” (Connemara Blues, 2001, p.23)
I would love to live
As a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of it’s own unfolding.
Seems the river theme knows no boundaries.
Thank you all for these amazing comments…
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