Eugene Hasgood – Chapter 8

After I had been leading sweat lodges for a few months, Eugene Hasgood, a Navajo man, came to stay at my house for a couple of weeks. He was doing research in Albuquerque in connection with the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute, and because of my involvement with this issue, someone had suggested that he stay with me.

Eugene was a very quiet man, about 5’8” tall, and slight of build. His hair was long and worn in a traditional Navajo bun on the back of his neck. He was from the back desert country of Arizona, and spoke a little English, but not well.

The first night, he sat at the kitchen table and started beading a cylindrical cigarette lighter case. This was clearly something he had done many times. He said that he would sell what he made the next day to buy food. This was his customary way of living, from hand to mouth. He spoke very little that evening, and I didn’t press him. I was in the midst of beading the handle of a sacred rattle, and we spent the evening beading together in silence.

Eugene asked if he could assist me with a sweat lodge I had scheduled. He was apprenticing to be a medicine man on the reservation, and was interested in observing my sweat lodge. He helped me set up and build the fire. Then he tended the fire and the rocks while they were heating up, and brought them into the sweat lodge during the ceremony. I learned a great deal from him that night. His level of attention to detail and the delicate way that he handled the rocks were examples of respect and integrity that were beyond what I had seen before.

After the sweat lodge was over and people had gone home, Eugene told me he liked the way I led the ceremony. He also said that the Navajo elders would be angry with me. The way he spoke was so calm and non-judgmental that I didn’t feel criticized by him.

“It is a very serious thing to have a sand painting near a fire. It is not allowed,” he said.

I reflected upon Eugene’s comments and the Navajo way. How could I balance the absolute clarity and connection I had with my own Dreamtime, with respect for the Navajo elders’ Dreamtime, part of an ancient tradition likely thousands of years old?

Around this time, I had attended a women’s gathering in California, where over five hundred women attended workshops, lectures, and ceremonies for a week. A Lakota woman was leading a sweat lodge and forbade any menstruating woman from participating. I knew this was a consistent tradition in all indigenous cultures, though I didn’t know why. Arturo never spoke of this.

At the time, my intellect bristled at excluding any woman from the lodge because of the universal human history of demonizing women. I stood up and announced that I would lead a sweat lodge for any woman who was bleeding.

The event organizers didn’t allow this, as the Lakota woman threatened to leave if I led a lodge for menstruating women. Much later I knew how naïve, presumptuous, and arrogant I had been to challenge the ancient Dreamtime voice of the Lakota wisdom teachings with my own limited and short-lived Dreamtime experiences.

Remembering this lesson, I tried to walk with one foot in each world, and approached Eugene with humility.

“Here’s the thing, Eugene,” I responded. ”I am not a Navajo. And this is not a Navajo sand painting. My sand paintings come from my Dreamtime, from instructions I receive from my own spirit teachers. But I don’t want to offend the Navajo elders. Maybe I’ll modify my sand painting so that it is only on top of the mound, and doesn’t reach the fire.”

“The elders would still be angry. It is still too close to the fire,” he said.

Out of respect for myself, I kept doing the sand paintings. Out of respect for the Navajo elders, I ended the paintings before they reached the fire. For me, the sweat lodge experience was itself a spiritual art form, and the sand paintings were an integral part of that experience. Not only was I learning to walk with one foot in each world, I was learning to balance conflicting values through compromise.