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Reconciling the Blessings and Challenges of Diversity through Ancestral Spiritual Values

By Yoland Trevino

Reviving Indigenous Values

In Lak’ech Ala K’in. In my Mayan tradition this sacred greeting serves to honor another and means “I am another yourself” or “I am you, and you are me.” Another meaning is “I bow to the Divine within you.” When this greeting is given, there is always an action of placing the hands over the heart. In the Hindu tradition the greeting Namaste, which I learned through my work and connection with spiritual teachers in India, corresponds and is similar to the Mayan greeting. It is a philosophical statement affirming that the doer of everything is not me but the gods. With these greetings I embrace the blessings of diversity.

 Mayan temple in Tikal, Guatamala

Mayan temple in Tikal, Guatamala

I was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala, of indigenous Maya lineage. The greatest influence in my life was my paternal grandmother, whom I affectionately called Mama Munda, which means “mother of the world.” She was the one who taught me to understand the Maya Cosmovision, which views the universe as a dynamic web of ever-changing living energies that constantly flow from invisible to visible living forms, and the Maya holistic understanding of reality. Everything was alive and sentient to my grandmother, who possessed a certain spiritual sight that both guided and informed her. Once she and I were walking in a forested area near our home when she pointed to an elemental being that she alone saw. My grandmother said it was an enanito, a small dwarf helper of the rain spirits. Although I did not see it, I will always remember her telling me this. This and other instances where she shared her spiritual worldview instilled in me a sense of wonder and amazement of the worlds both seen and unseen as well as an awareness of the inner lives of all beings.

I experienced my interconnectedness with all creatures, be they human creatures of the air, land, waters, or even the very stones and plants themselves. I learned that we are all part of one vast unchanging network of relationships that can be traced to the Great Spirit Ancestors across many cultures. I am in attunement with all that surround us, and I am at peace with it. My grandmother taught me about the inherent value of life — a concept I would later come to know as ahimsa, a Sanskrit word meaning “nonviolence” — as she refused to kill even an ant. Instead, she fed them so they would leave the house on their own. As a child, observing my grandmother’s reverence for all life taught me the spiritual views and values by which I live today.

I have also been deeply influenced by the spiritual teachings experienced throughout my travels in India, where I came to fully appreciate the Living Universal Consciousness. This expansive worldview recognizes the Divine within each one of us. As we feel the blessings of what each of us brings — our divine expression of who we are — we can mirror that in one another. In Mayan tradition we believe that we are all related to one another, not just in an abstract sense but as real family. As I look at nature and its wondrous expressions, I am in awe and delighted about the colorful array. The same is true of our human family — how boring it would be if we were all uniform and without our own unique definitions. My knowledge and experiences have been deeply influenced by the spiritual awareness I learned as a young girl. Later I discovered that even contemporary men of science have expressed an understanding of the subtle spiritual nature of reality: “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe — a spirit vastly superior to that of men.”1

 The Mayan calendar

The Mayan calendar

I believe that the challenges of living with diversity grow from a cultural socialization that promotes separateness as opposed to oneness. I believe that this perception of separateness is the biggest challenge, as it creates the false view that my manifestation, my religion, my country is better than yours. In this way it serves to divide people. In Guatemala there was a sense that people, ideas, religions, and other things that were of European origin were inherently better. This can create for many the belief that Native ways, people, and beliefs are to be avoided or forgotten, which is very sad. Of course, this was fueled by many religions promoting the old European concept that Native indigenous people were savages to be dominated, Christianized, or killed. To this day, this perception continues to fuel a division between the indigenous people and those of mixed Native and European ancestry.

For me, the blessing of diversity is to experience ourselves as interconnected, integrated in all that lives. We are called to experience the gift that when we stand for each other, greatness can bloom before our eyes. When we accept that every member of the human family has an ultimate reason and a purpose for being on the planet at this time, only then can we joyously experience existence. When I can be my unique self by embracing who I am at my highest, I can offer the same divine right to the rest of the world. I believe that “we are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.”2

How can we reconcile the challenges and blessings of diversity? Our first challenge is in recognizing when we slip into judging, distancing ourselves from walking a mile in other people’s shoes, we are slipping into a place of separation from that oneness. Separation eventually leads to despair. The blessing is our opportunity to embrace “what is” without wanting to change it into something else. I intentionally choose to experience myself and see everyone else as a jewel in Indra’s Net. As the author Stephen Mitchell wrote in his The Enlightened Mind: “The Net of Indra is a profound and subtle metaphor for the structure of reality. Imagine a vast net; at each crossing point there is a jewel; each jewel is perfectly clear and reflects all the other jewels in the net, the way two mirrors placed opposite each other will reflect an image ad infinitum. The jewel in this metaphor stands for an individual being, or an individual consciousness, or a cell or an atom. Every jewel is intimately connected with all other jewels in the universe, and a change in one jewel means a change, however slight, in every other jewel.”3

In this world, where there is so much emphasis on money, power, prestige, and fame, when the TV news is largely tragic and undermining our happiness, it can be easy for some to forget our true divine nature. When we get caught up in the world of pain and loss, it is sometimes easy to forget the wonder and joy of our cosmic heritage … that many of the very elements that make up our bodies were fused within stars in the distant past … that we are all one, and one with all there is. Keeping this knowledge alive in our hearts through ritual and ceremony can help us step outside of our small selves and experience the world and its people as sacred.

My values and spiritual traditions take me to far and distant lands to meet with authentic indigenous leaders, where I may sit at their feet and in ceremony remember who I really am, and bring forth the innate wisdom whispered by my ancestral spiritual guides. My spiritual values were shaped by the traditions and practices with which I was raised —et my cultural and spiritual identity continues to evolve throughout my life by my learning, sharing, and celebrating the diverse traditions of others. Perhaps the greatest blessing of diversity is that it is a great teacher — for in appreciating our differences, we come to realize in some fundamental way at our very core, within our heart of hearts, that we are all brothers and sisters on the road of life. In this way we consecrate the path we tread as we make our way in the world. Each one of us has a higher purpose as a sacred manifestation of the divine. When we pursue this purpose, we contribute to manifesting a world in balance, where women and men can fully express their divine origin as being complementary opposites in a world where there is no “other.”

This article is republished from Women, Spirituality, and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power (SkyLight Paths, 2012).

1 Albert Einstein, The Human Side: New Glimpses from His Archive, Ed. Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1981), 33.

2 Luciano de Crescentzo, “Thus Spake Bellavista,” Magill Book Reviews (Ipswich, MA: Salem Press, 1989), 15.

3 Stephen Mitchell, The Enlightened Mind: An Anthology of Sacred Prose (New York, HaprerPerennial, 1991), 41.