Personal story by Woody Goulart in his own words…
There is one word in the Navajo language — hozho — that attracted my attention many years ago. Learning that word and that concept changed my life. That one word and concept have shaped my character and credibility as a person and as a professional.
I was introduced to the Navajo cultural concept of hozho through my travels into the vast Navajo Nation during the 1990s. If you are interested in this, I recommend that you explore hozho through the eyes of American writer Tony Hillerman (1925-2008), who wrote numerous detective novels set in the Navajo Nation.
The Search for Balance and Harmony
The meaning of hozho is easier to master than the correct pronunciation. However, there is not one, singular English word that can be used to translate the Navajo word hozho, which is a central cultural concept of the Navajo people. My definition of the word hozho is the happiness, contentment, peace of mind and soul, and centeredness that comes to someone who embraces internal and external harmony, beauty, wholeness, balance, goodness, peace, and truth.
During the 1990s, I was someone who desperately needed to attain balance and harmony in life. At that time I was a dozen years into the one-man-with-one-woman marriage scenario that I so completely wanted to embrace in those days. However, neither she nor I could prevent us from growing apart.
Traditional and conservative people push for the belief in the one-man-with-one-woman marriage scenario. I happened to have been born and raised into what was then a traditional and conservative organized religion—the Roman Catholic Church. I even was taught by various priests and nuns from the days of my youth that I was fortunate to be in what they called “the one, true church.” The social and moral power and authority that was created by that organized religion cannot be overstated.
One fatal flaw is that no organized religion (least of all the Roman Catholic Church) has ever discovered a way to deal with human sexuality other than to push arbitrary rules of behavior upon believers. Like many others then and now, I was socialized at a very early age to believe that human sexuality is strictly for the sole purpose of producing babies so that the human species will continue.
Further complicating matters is the fact that some people’s sexuality just simply is not oriented toward the traditional one-man-with-one-woman marriage scenario. There are many straight people whose behaviors threatened traditional marriage—Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Arnold Schwarzenneger, Anthony Weiner, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Rudy Guliani, Newt Gingrich, and many others.
Being gay is a separate problem. You do not “choose” to be gay any more than you “choose” to have brown eyes or be right-handed. If you are gay, you will not be able to pretend that you can fit into traditional, conservative narratives about marriage or sexual behavior. You eventually realize very clearly that you have no choice but to leave all organized religions behind because you will never be able to fit in with them. They will always think of you as “living in sin” and worse, they may try to “cure” you of your “homosexual disorder” using techniques that belong more to the days of the Spanish Inquisition than to the 21st century.
Awakening on the Old Spanish Trail
One week after taking the very bold step in my life to end my traditional, one-man-one-woman-marriage by leaving my wife, I ended up traveling along the historic route of the Old Spanish Trail in what is now the Southwestern United States. This long trade route from Santa Fe, New Mexico westward to Los Angeles, California dates back to the late 1700s. I was there, driving like the tourist that I was through beautiful Durango, Colorado. The physical beauty of the southwestern part of Colorado was intoxicating to me as though I had never before seen any mountains and trees.
I came to realize that seeing anything in this life such as mountains and trees requires one’s mind to be clear of fog. Maybe my journey that brought me near the mountains and trees of Colorado was not an accident. In Colorado, I came to realize that I had assumed normal life meant having a mind filled with fog. Why I had to leave my marriage was to free myself from a life that was certainly neither normal or healthy for either partner. I felt guidance in my heart to drive away from Massachusetts and return to the West. But, I’m sure that I did not accidentally end up in Durango, Colorado because that area is about as far “off the beaten path” as one can get.
I have to conclude that I was drawn to that area by something within me to awaken me. Just under two hours drive in a westward route from Durango will bring you to the famous Four Corners Monument. This stop on a lonely highway is very unusual because this is the only place in the United States where four states share a common border.
As you stand on a small marker at the monument, you are physically in the states of Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico all at once. I did not have what can be considered “an ordinary tourist experience” at the Four Corners Monument. For me, standing there in four states at the same time brought on a surprisingly emotional response. I heard distant thunder announcing the arrival of late summer rains as I inhaled the surprising scent of moisture mixing with arid sand and shrubs on a hot afternoon. When uncontrollable tears ran down my face, I vowed there and then that I was going to survive the painful and traumatic realities of divorce by drawing from what I perceived as the energy of the American Southwest.
The Journey Continues
I kept driving westward through the Navajo Nation on Highway 160, which is one of the most isolated stretches of road that you can find anywhere in the United States. I picked up a hitchhiker on that highway who’s Jeep had run out of gas. As we rode together towards his home in Kayenta, Arizona, he talked to me about an uncle who was a singer. Of course, I presumed he meant that his uncle was an entertainer who sang songs. I was wrong.
The Navajo use the English word singer to mean a holy man who leads believers through healing rituals. When we arrived at Kayenta, the hitchhiker thanked me for helping him to get back home. Then, he told me that if I ever felt I needed to be healed, I should come back to Navajo Nation and seek him out so that he could return the favor I had done for him.
This is how I became aware of hozho. More importantly, this is when I became aware of the elusive truth that all healing first must begin within oneself by oneself. To my way of thinking, the acceptance that health, well-being and happiness all begin within oneself is what defines a person’s essential credibility and depth of character. My journey to find and maintain hozho became a lifelong commitment starting on that one day I traveled among the Navajo people.
I chose to live in the Mojave Desert shortly after my wise decision to get divorced and restart my life. Living in the desert helped me in ways that I may never fully understand. I think that the high heat “scours the soul” or some such metaphor. I chose to return to living in the Mojave Desert from the Washington, DC area in 2012. I worked in San Francisco for about a year before returning once again to be a local resident of Las Vegas, Nevada.