Words fail …

During one of my annual treks to Taos, I visited a friend who taught fifth grade in the school for the Cochiti Pueblo outside Albuquerque, NM. My visit coincided with feast day, and although she’s Anglo like me, she was invited to many of her students’ and former students’ homes, as well as to the traditional, day-long dances. I got to tag along.

On the approach the Pueblo, and in the Pueblo itself, there were signs delineating those parts of the community that are private, including the church and kivas. These signs state very clearly “no pictures.”

There are nuanced layers around photography of indigenous peoples; photographs can and have been used to create distance between, and domination over, picture-taker and pictured. And, my friend pointed out, participation in a ceremony is an experience to be had; it can’t be captured for later. It has to be lived.

But just watch, she added. Someone will try to take a picture and the elders will confiscate their camera. Sure enough, twenty minutes after the drums began and the dancers circled into the square, a tourist with a telephoto lens had made his way onto the church balcony (yes, the church that had “no public access” signs at each door). He raised his big ole camera and began clicking away. And it felt wrong. It was more than disrespect. It was robbery.

My notebook: closed because I am experiencing rather than noting!

My notebook: closed because I am experiencing rather than noting!

Fast forward to this past week, when I spent five days at the Brave New Story workshop with Jeffrey Davis, Laraine Herring and Cathy Shap, all members of the Tracking Wonder team. Instead of taking “pictures” (aka notes) about their facilitation techniques and observing my reactions through my intellectual lens,  I accepted their invitation to step fully into my body and my story. I let them guide the workshop sessions and I participated wholly: I listened to my colleagues in the workshops rather than stereotyping them; I howled and danced and cried; I wrote and read brand-new words about my story’s protagonist. I emerged from the week with clarity, a renewed dedication to my story, and a new-to-me reluctance to talk about the experience. My friends and family all want to know, What happened? What have you learned? What was it like?

Rainbow on morning mindfulness walk at Mohonk House.

Rainbow on morning mindfulness walk at Mohonk House.

I have some pictures of the place we stayed, and of my new-found friends, but those doesn’t begin to capture my transformative experience.

For once, I haven’t figured out the words to tell the story of what happened. I lived it. It was magical. It was deeply personal even though I shared it with 17 other women and the Tracking Wonder team.

And I’m honoring my heart’s instinct to hold the experience close for now. To allow it to live inside me instead of tossing it hither and yon in anecdotes and intellectually satisfying summaries.

In this part of my story, the point isn’t the words. The point is the being and doing, with passion and integrity.

May it be so for you as well.

4 responses to “Words fail …

  1. Just reading your essay was inspiring.

  2. Love this. And I kind of feel the same, keeping it close to my chest so that the magic lingers a little longer. I also rarely take photos. It might be because I suck at it, but it’s also because the pictures are never as good as the real experience. Never.

    • Often when I take photos, I never look at them again until I need more space on my phone, another aspect of the pictures not serving, for me, as a reminder/touchstone of an experience.

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