In 2007, I received a fellowship from the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and the American Council of Learned Societies to support the enhancement of my teaching of NAS 157 Native American Religion and Philosophy during Fall Quarter 2007. The title of her project was “Ometeotl Moyocoyatzin and Ancient Nahuatl Contemplative Practice.”
Through the process of Nahuatl contemplative practice, each student enacted a healing journey, inwardly and outwardly, for herself/himself, with the instructor, and collectively with everyone in the class. The Nahuatl idea of the student manifesting her/his face and heart is tied to the concept of creativity and autonomy (personal and collective), and the centering and balancing of the individual with(in) society. Students were given regular time during each class period, and through out-of-class exercises, for contemplation, meditation, and reflection on their own movement in relation to their lives and to this age that the ancient Nahuatl people recognized as the ending of the Fifth Sun and the entering of the Sixth Sun. Students were also introduced to elders and spiritual leaders of different traditions, including the Yaqui or Yoeme, the Patwin, the Huichol, and the Nez Perce. What I demonstrated is that Indigenous religious traditions have embedded within them contemplative practices, that include meditation, ceremony, dance, song, that can enrich our understandings of how to know and be in the world.
The learning goals of the course were:
- to introduce students to some of the principle concepts emanating from the ancient Nahuatl philosophical and religious traditions;
- to introduce students to aspects of contemplative practice and creativity in Indigenous religious traditions, and their integrity, complexity and beauty as healing traditions;
- to have them consider the ways these teachings have been translated into contemporary settings, such as the ongoing reclamation by many Chicanx peoples of ancient Nahuatl indigenous heritage in their own lives and spiritual expressions;
- to have them reflect upon how the teachings from Indigenous religious traditions represent a recovery process, a healing process, which in respectful ways can be used to address issues of identity, community, education, diversity and difference in contemporary society;
- and perhaps most importantly, to have them see how these teachings and practices bring together spirituality, creativity and autonomy in daily life--with the key to collective autonomy of peoples, communities and nations being the affirmation of a principled personal autonomy within individuals.
I offered the course in the fall so that students could take part in the Dia de los Muertos ceremony, as I have learned it from the Conchero dance tradition in Mexico. This ceremony is one beautiful way of contemplative practice. Another way was through the students’ (voluntary) participation in a sweat lodge ceremony led by a California Indian elder. The sweat lodge is a connection those of us in the U.S. have with Mexico, where the sweat lodge is known as the temazcalteci, the Grandmother Sweat Lodge, in the Nahuatl tradition.