A Class: Modern Meets the Indigenous, Indigenous Meets the Modern

Mon, 04/07/2014 - 5:35pm -- leeann

A Class: Modern Meets the Indigenous, Indigenous Meets the Modern.

April 2, 2014 - All Rights Reserved

By LeeAnn Heinbaugh


The Day…

I am honored that this past weekend I had the opportunity to talk with a group of twenty young Maya women and one young Mayan man who are part of a wonderful mentoring and education program here in Guatemala. I was invited to talk with them about the Maya Calendar, Traditions, and their birth Nawals (an ancient tradition that teaches of the energies of their birth, life road, and destiny that is similar to ancient astrology readings).

This was another of the many volunteer opportunities that come along, and to which I say yes... without fully thinking through what I will actually do. Typical, truly, of how my live is!

For all the years I have been taught and learned of the sacred Maya ways, as the reality of this arrived, I was nervous to talk with this group. I still often feel like a beginner and question whether the words and wisdoms will come when I need them. They are not ultimately mine. They are gifted to me. This is my knowing and belief.

It has always been and felt this way. So, in this instance it was not different... In reality, three days before I was to talk to the class, the realization hit that I would be speaking for four hours straight in Spanish. And in an educational setting where I wanted to “speak well.” Major nerves for three days. But I calmed my anxiety a bit, as we began, by just telling the kids that I was feeling somewhat intimated and afraid.

I started in with the talk, a little wobbly and still unsure at first. But I had my friend Connie, who brings sunshine and wonderful Spanish skills wherever she goes, there by my side for backup. It was her doing that I was there to begin with.

All went along in a pretty smooth and ordinary way. Then the great insight and surprise came when we asked the kids how many of them knew of the old stories, the Maya Calendar, and their own Nawals. In retrospect of the nerves, unintended ignorance, and the simple truth of this kind of sharing, this should have been our first question...

What we learned was that only four of the twenty raised their hands to acknowledge that they knew about the Traditional ways. As we questioned further we learned that only one girl in the whole class had learned from a family member, her uncle. The others who knew something of their Mayan Nawal birth charts had looked them up on the internet, which they were able to do through this program.

We were both stunned, unspoken at the time, to be reminded just how rapidly life, beliefs, and the loss of tradition can come. From my lens, these young people knew so little of the beautiful stories and soulful ways of their own ancestry. It made me both sad and reminded me of why I was really there. Connie and I both understood, unspoken again, that this massive change of tradition and remembering had come in the timeframe of just two short generations (based on our experiences of the time we have both spent here).

And so there I sat – acutely aware that I was a white woman, in traditional Mayan clothes, telling them their ancestral stories. I questioned, “Is this my place? Is it okay that I, an American, am the one who sits here telling of their lineage?” And to my relief the answer from my heart and teh anestors was, “Yes.”

This question is so important, so at the heart of truth because so many times it is the outsider, the academic one who has “studied them,” who is given authority to define their history. I strongly (understatement) oppose this long held reality and had to stop to question my own self. "Had I crossed the line? Was I standing in a place I should not be?"

I sat quiet for a bit to ask of this. What came from deep within and beyond was the sweet knowing and calm - the remembering of one of the ancient Maya prophecies the elders have taught me that says: 

“One day... Children of all colors of the sacred corn (the tree of life) will come together. Red, white, yellow, and brown/black. They will join in a time when the world we be called to remember the old ways. The sacred ways. They will join in a time when our own young people will begin to forget the words of their ancestors because the world will be changing again. They will come on big birds and flying boats. This will be a time when people of all lands are called to remember. In this way the seeds will join once more. They will join to seek harmony, balance, peace, and the sacred will be reclaimed as the Heart of life. If we do not do this the world will be out of balance, divided, and the violence that does not remember the heart of honey will continue.”

I knew, in my remembering of this sacred advisement, that this was why I was sitting there. I felt my deepest hearts desire, the same one that first called me here and has kept me here, that it was now my role to gift back some of the sacred Mayan seeds that I have received. I slowly, like a hazey realized dream, that I was unknowingly carrying out the Prophecy of story and wisdom I had been told.

As these realizations settled in, we continued on. I was both more inspired, and also feeling the weight of responsibility, to give all that I could to these young sprouts. I held a certain awe and glow of feeling that words don’t appropriately express.

This was a quiet group. Studious. Some of the kids taking notes, others mostly staring at their hands, and some making eye contact. So, about an hour and a half in we asked them if they wanted to “take a break or keep going?” We couldn’t quite tell how we were doing. To our surprise and contentment they unanimously responded, “keep on going.” And so we did.

The Tradition of Nawals and the Maya Calendar

In generations passed Mayan children pretty much all knew their birth Nawal. In fact, a pregnant woman would go to the midwives and shamans to see and know the soul of her child even before it was born. In the old ways she and her husband would actually go first to ask the spirits and creator to gift them the child and soul for their family. Once the child was conceive eremonies, singing, and natural medicine were used to ensure that the child would be born on a “good day.” All of these were done to ensure that the baby would “be born to the light of the world” in a time, space, and energy that would support and sustain this newly gifted soul and the family would know them and receive them.

It was, and still is practiced some communities, as an ancient way of honoring the nature of each person, giving order to community, and honor to each other as people. In this way children, families, and communities grow up together knowing their innate gifts, challenges, needs, and purpose by way of their Nawal nature. Everyone lives knowing “their song:” the lyrical, rhythmic, unique, and shared nature of who we “are born to be.”

Again, from my own lens and the facts of history, the reason that these old ways are being lost are long held. It began over 500 years ago with the Spanish Conquest and Colonization and it continues today. For all these centuries the Maya Traditions here have continued to both struggle, and in more recent years, also thrive once again.This is what I understood in them and myself.  

It is like all life everywhere on the globe. We are in the dance of balance. Of remembering, seeking, and struggling to find our place and meaning. This is universal and shared.

In this same reality some Mayan communities here have completely lost their traditions. Others have sustained them. And are now working to remember and revive the heart of this lineage. Just as the prophecies of old told. And we other seeds are here, too. Finding our place, purpose, and passions together.

For context of the greater story that lives here, the cause of the most recent impacts and loss of the traditional ways include: a thirty-year civil war (in which over 200,000 people were killed and of which 90% were Mayan and hundreds of thousands of others were displaced), modernization, and the influence of other religions who denounce the ancient traditions. This was not a new understanding for me, as I sat here this day, but the powerful vividness of seeing it within the living heart os this group of youth, sits in my heart.

This holds such deep meaning for me because of my own journey. Learning about my own Nawal nature, some twenty years ago, is one of the most profouns experiences of my life. Over time it has gifted me acceptance and appreciation for who I am. It has shown me how to live in community, live in a relationship with the natural and spiritual worlds that are alive and as real as I am. It has given me the universal, and at the same time, the story of who I am as just me. And it continues to gift me an ever-growing spiritual relationship with life that I had so long sought.

There is always a certain curious nature to this path I have both chosen and that has been divinely gifted to me. This path that brought me magically together with these wonderful Mayan young adults. This is the heart of what was born and lived on this day of "class."

Who knew? Really? I didn't have a clue what this day would be when I agreed "to come talk."

For context, I don't consider my own journey anything other than the normal I know. It is the just the curious, adventurous, and humorous path I have both chosen and been given. Yet there are times, like this day, when I am reminded of the truth of worlds and what it is to seek the sacred. There are many roads.

For me, the wonder and reality that I was born into a small, conservative, all white community in Indiana and landed here, now seems quite normal. It makes me smile for the truth of wisdom, care, and joining of the worlds that give life - life. My heart feels and connects with these seeded sprouts, as I can seen as I write now, because for as long as I can remember I felt a calling, a yearning to belong that I did not find in the land I was born.

So the wonderful winds of spirit blew me in many ways and  I landed here in GuateMaya, where I found a “home” and my own heart found its song. So, it brings me great pleasure, deep humility, and a bit of a giggle at the marvel of how the sacred worlds join and weave us together. As my same friend Connie often says, "The Traffic Director has one great sense of humor in the way that we all come together in community."


Note: I wish I could include a photo of these beautiful young people, but for privacy reasons I can not. 

The following is a poem that came from my experience this day. It is best when read aloud. 

Seeds of Change

The Call…

So quickly

The roots and terrain

Of who we are

The world itself



This truth

Lives at the heart

Of the profound mysteries

The denials of destruction

And the prophecies of hope

We live today


Not just for us


We are only a part


But for the heart of Mother Earth

The soul of Father Sky

The universal lineage of the divine

From which we are all born

And to which

We will all

One day return


We are One

Yet we so easily forget

This truth of lineage

That unites us


All living things

Of the world

Beckon us

To remember

To hear the pain

And to listen once again

To the soulful calling songs

Of our hearts

That remember



Time has sped up

The world

Forever a busier place

Modernizing with material goods

And evolving faiths

Too many of which

Teach us fear, conquest, and greed

Whose intents

Invite and incite

By their very design

The degradation

The destruction

The forgetting

And the dividing

Of the divine


The outer manifestations

Of wealth and self

Take their planted place

Deep in the soil

Of the stories we live by


They become our religion

And we are swept away

Unwittingly leaving behind

The tending

Of our deepest roots

The lineage of who we are

And the lineage we will leave

For our most precious seeds

The children

The grandchildren

And their children


I have long wrestled

For the balance
Questioned, the good and the bad

Of this world

And what We have created



In the classroom

I saw it

Felt it

In the living

Vivid snapshot

Of young faces

Whose deep skin

Rich dark eyes

Corn silk black hair

And shy smiles

Look magnificently the same

As their ancestors images

That still remain

Carved solid

By scribes long ago

Into the stone facades

And rock trees

Of the ancestral Maya



I realize

These young ones have

What I yearned for

A living lineage

Held alive

More than 2000 years strong

In the land, language

Love and lore

Of their ancestors


Yet it is I

Who remembers their old ways

And they

Who do not…


Both sadness and hope

Hold strong

In this truth


And it reminds me

That I am a seed, too


The Prayer…

I pray

That this planting

And weaving we created

Across culture, time, and space

Will gift our hearts

It will sow

Whatever it is

That we

And the world need

Now and for the future


That together
As the prophecies

Teach us

We will grow strong

Full gardens

Through the sharing of our selves

And our stories


We will create

Gardens ripe

With fruits and flowers

Butterflies and bees

To pollinate

The growing

Of our very souls


That we will all know

And remember

We are of One heaven

One earth

And One heart

Of the rainbow spirit



I do not

And may never know

The growing and dying

Of our sharing

In that Classroom


But I know

The pain of sadness

Longing and loss

The yearning that comes

When lineage is something

You lack


I know the blindness

The sense

Of being adrift

Like a seed

Blown about by the wind

Seeking its garden

And ground


My heart knows

That when our gardens

Of tradition

Are left untended

Lost solely to the lenses

Of the modern and material worlds

Our souls

Begin to die

Our gardens become barren

And our growing

Is not the same


The outer world

Of achievement alone

Simply cannot hold

The original seeds alive

Keep moist with love

The petals of the sacred

In which we

Are held

And grown


But I know

The remembering

Is still here

In the very soil

Of Mother Earth

In the aged memory

Of our elders

In the spirits of ancestors

Who watch over

Our lives


It is they

And now us

Who keep it alive

In the stories

And ceremonies

Hidden just out of site

Waiting for us

To remember

And reclaim

Recreate the world

In the image

Of the ONE great

And encompassing




A white woman

I sat

In the clothes of a culture

In the heart of a community

Who adopted me

Gave me back my breath

My garden

And my soul

So that I could grow


I pray

That I may honor these gifts

That I may have offered some remembering

Some tiny germinating thing

For those whose hearts call them

To remember, too

To grow

And to know

The beauty of lineage

The love of community

And the wisdoms of tradition

We visited together

This day


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Disclaimer: All work and professional services offered by Journeys In Living and LeeAnn Heinbaugh are Spiritual and should not be misconstrued as any other professional service.

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