The Beautiful, by Lyla June Johnston

The Beautiful

By Lyla June Johnston

Lyla June Johnston, Writing for Peace Young AdviserPART I.

How many times have I seen the most precious beings crouch abashedly in the shadows? How many times have I been one of those precious beings that does not understand her own beauty? I was raised to have a filter over my eyes splitting the world in two: beautiful and unbeautiful, worthy and unworthy, virtuous and un-virtuous. Now I understand that there is beauty, worth, and virtue in all beings and that by honoring this, I am honoring the Creator.

This morning I awoke at dawn, as is traditional for my Diné ancestors. I had a pinch of white corn meal between my fingers and raised it to the horizon. I made my daily prayers for my mother, father, siblings and my niece. I prayed for my friend who was ill and for my other friend who was trying to get sober. All of these things were easy to pray for. And it was easy to see the beauty in my two-month-old niece’s big brown eyes.

But then I did something that may have offended many of my cohorts. I said a prayer for what many would call “the unbeautiful.” I made a solemn prayer for the woman who had recently robbed a family and beat her children, and for the man who first raped me. I said a prayer for a man who had stalked and manipulated me and confessed to me one day that he had once molested his younger sister. I prayed for the people I was raised to hate like Donald Rumsfeld and Mitt Romney. I prayed for those souls who we hold in a red glare of fear and disdain as an experiment in unconditional love.

Once I was told that the Diyin Diné’é see anyone with ten fingers as their beautiful child. No matter what has been done to us or what has been done to others through us, we are seen as beautiful, beloved grandchildren in their eyes.

I thought of the young man who molested his sister and I began to realize that humans are not naturally born this way. In order to convince a human being that it is right to molest another, you must bend and break their spirit in half. I wished I could teleport myself back in time when he told me this story and say to him:

“You know, I really don’t care about how you molested your sister. What I want to know is…Who molested you?”

The Dalai Lama taught us all that you do not have to agree with someone’s behavior in order to pray for them and honor them. A journalist once asked him how he could possibly pray for the soldiers who came into his peaceful kingdom and gunned down Tibetan monks, mothers, and children right before his eyes. His reply was simple: “I pray for them more than anyone else. They are the ones who need it.”

I have been told that by loving and praying for those who have harmed us and the ones we love we are restored to our natural state. It is not only about helping to restore their mental health, but also about restoring our own. It has been said that only by clicking into this state of compassion can we help others and be a hollow bone for the Great Sacred. When we are clogged by the cumbersome emotions of hatred, fear and disdain, our creations will reflect this. Forgiveness is the act of becoming a hollow reed once again for the breath of the Diyin Diné’é. It doesn’t mean that you accept the behavior or that you shouldn’t spend every waking moment of your day working to prevent it from harming more people! It means that you will pray for those who have harmed you as a means of healing them and preventing them from harming others. It means that you are motivated by a patient love for those who are still learning. It means you are steadily marching towards the day when all of the children of the Diyin Diné’é work together in perfect synergy and we have nothing left to do but celebrate our victory over the evil within ourselves.

Truly, I do not think that this young man’s behavior is right. But at the same time I do not believe that his soul is wrong. My most recent hobby is inquiring into the lives of “bad” people and seeing what kind of childhood they had. Criminologists agree that all criminals have one thing in common: a rotten, abusive childhood. I believe that the day that he finds the courage to see the awful things that others did to him is the day he will see that he was trained to harm his sister. Just as humans “break” horses to be subservient and fearful, I have seen humans be “broken” by their home life to the point where they can no longer see what they are: beautiful, precious beings capable of wielding great medicine for the earth.

Indeed, the world began to feed me illegal drugs and alcohol when I was just eleven years old. At this tender age I continued these habits to “take the edge off” of this difficult life. When I was 16 my science teacher found a few remnant flakes of marijuana in my backpack and reported me to the police. I was charged with possession of marijuana and given several months of probation. The system threw me around its convoluted infrastructure, analyzed my urine every month and labeled me a criminal.

From this time on I began to believe that there was something wrong with me and that I was “bad.” By the grace of God, I made my way into Stanford University, but never felt like I really belonged there. I felt like the only reason they let me in was because they didn’t realize that I was “bad.” I never thought to trace it all back to my basketball coach handing me a joint and a beer at the age of eleven. I wish someone had told me as I sat in the juvenile justice hall:

“I don’t really care that you gave pot to other youth. What I want to know is… Who gave you pot?”

It has taken me years to see the truth of my innocence and it pains me to know that many people will never realize their own beauty and innocence. How many precious beings have I seen walking the streets living out the label that someone else placed upon them?!? We just go along with this deafening narrative that, “People who do bad things are bad and once someone is bad there is no reversing this.” In time I came to see that I was never a criminal. I was a poor little girl who got caught in the waves of the drug culture that saturated my hometown.

Now I see the truth! I see that I am a medicine woman and that there are forces in this world that don’t want my medicine to shine. These forces depend on the lies of shame, guilt and fear for their very existence and dwelling place. I see now how these forces worked very hard to sedate, rape and confuse me until I couldn’t see the beautiful being that I was. The Diyin Diné’é take one look at me and say, “This is no criminal. This is a war veteran who has emerged from the sludge and slime to reclaim her medicine; to reclaim her beauty.”

And so this morning I attempted to see the world through the eyes of the Holy People. I would not intentionally place myself beside someone with homicidal tendencies lest they do something that we would both regret. But one thing I will do is cradle them in my prayers. I will speak their name to the illuminated horizon at dawn and ask the Diyin Diné’é to grace their path with love and clarity. They say compassion is the Angel’s gateway. Through our love the Angels, the Diyin Diné’é, whatever your culture calls them, can breach through into this world and help others. It is our prayers, my elders say, that enable so much change in the lives of those we pray for. No I cannot see these beings, but I can feel them as I pray for others and as I write these words.

And so I am praying for all you “unbeautiful” ones. I am praying for the ones that believe that what they have done is so shameful they will never be allowed to “be good people” again. I am praying for all the men and women incarcerated. I am praying for all the crooks and prostitutes. All the rapists and racists. I am praying for all the bent and broken. I pray that we can have the courage to look back and see how this world trained us to be “criminals,” no matter how painful that may be.

I pray that we can see that we are still worthy of taking a hold of our medicine bundles–whether it is made of eagle feathers and sacred songs, paint brushes and canvases, calculators and rulers, keyboards and mice, guitars and drums, spatulas and griddles, seeds and dirt, thread and needle, salons and scissors, tripods and prisms or your voice and a dream–we are all medicine people and we are all given our unique medicine bundles that can be used for love and life, instead of fear and destruction. It is time to break them out from the dusted shelves and reclaim our place as beautiful children of the Diyin Diné’é. No matter what has been done to us, or what has been done to others through us, we can always choose in this moment to be what we are: precious and beautiful Creations.

Lyla June Johnston, Writing for Peace Young AdviserPART II.

Beautiful. For centuries we have defined, re-defined and refined its meaning in our personal lives. Like trying to grab water, the word has always slipped my grasp.

Beautiful. The old philosophers played with the concept saying that many of the most beautiful things in life were not even physical objects. Rather, they said, they were ideas or emotions like compassion, brotherhood, sisterhood, courage, equality, etc.

Since birth I was taught a different story… I was taught that the definition of beauty was written from the core of sexual desire. In fact, I was told, I was not beautiful unless men coveted me and women were jealous of me. Growing up in 21st century America is not for the faint of heart. We may live with clean streets and fulfilled material needs, but our spirits are bankrupt and our morals thickly polluted.

I remember sitting on the floor of my room with some magazine designed to market products to teenage girls. I eagerly flipped the pages hoping to discover some special secrets that only these multi-million dollar companies seemed to know. The headlines lured me in: “Have The Best Sex Ever,” “Get Him to Notice You” or “Boost your Butt.” And to think I was reading these things at the ages of eight, nine and ten. Now I see that even if I had been 35 years old, it would have been the same violent assault against the inherent gorgeousness of my body, mind and soul. IF the magazine editors stood before me now I would say with conviction: “I am a child of the Diyin Diné’é! And no matter what my butt size, cup size or eyelashes are, I am SO BEAUTIFUL! Just look at my beating heart…”

I almost want to cry for people who are so frantic to sell their products that they will manipulate and destroy the self-esteem of millions of young women. Indeed, at the age of fourteen I called over 100 people per day as a telemarketer in the suburbs of Phoenix, AZ. I know the woe of being a desperate saleswoman. It was a sad day when I began prioritizing my bank account figure over being honest and compassionate towards humans I didn’t even know…

I wrote the following song, or perhaps it was written through me, last summer in the oakforests of Alabama. I decided to take a few months to myself as I had just gone through a horrific break-up. Music helped me immensely to get through this lonely and confusing time. Although I wrote many songs, only one came as easily as this one did. On the first take it was finished. Things I could have never planned lined up perfectly with the rhythm of the guitar. It seemed that I was able to let go of fear and self-judgment for enough time to be that open doorway for the music to step through. I believe it came to remind us of our true beauty.

It is an assertion that all of the children of Creation are born beautiful and that beauty is first and foremost an intangible love. It is not something that can be sold to us in a 20 oz. bottle or something that can ever be taken away from us. Truly, I have come to a place where it does not matter whether my future husband is 200 pounds overweight. If his heart is in line with the Creator, I would much rather raise children with him than a man with chiseled abs and no idea how to respect women.

This song was written to say that beauty is a free and abundant thing and that at any moment we can choose to possess or dispossess this beauty through our intent, words and deeds. It is my very humble attempt to tell each and every one of my earthen siblings that I love them and that I think your heart is so so BEAUTIFUL.



The Most Beautiful Girl in the World

When you meet the most beautiful girl in the world,
it will not matter what language she is speaking.

What will matter is what she is saying.

And when you meet the most beautiful girl in the world,
it will not matter who she came with.

What will matter is who she is.

And when you meet the most stunning girl in the world,
it will not matter what she is wearing.

What will matter is why she is there.

And when you meet the most beautiful girl in the world,
it will not matter what is in her wallet.

What will matter is what she has given to the people!

And when you meet the most beautiful girl in the world,
it will not even matter what she looks like.

What will matter is how you feel after you have met and she is walking away.

Beauty is on the inside not on the outside.
Beauty is on the inside, mask on the outside.
What is in the inside? All my women worldwide.
Look into her eyes and you will see what’s on the inside.
The media will misguide. All my people worldwide.
Beauty is on the inside not on the outside.
Beauty is on the inside not on the outside.

About the Author

Lyla June Johnston3Lyla June Johnston is a Navajo poet and peace activist from Taos, New Mexico, who has found her home in the service of humanity. Lyla is a founding member of the Writing for Peace Young Advisory Panel. Learn more about Lyla June Johnston here.

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3 thoughts on “The Beautiful, by Lyla June Johnston

  1. Willean

    What a BEAUTIFUL statement and song. One of the finest essays shared on Writing for Peace. I hope every reader will share it on their Facebook page and with other friends. We need more young women to speak out, as has Ms. Johnston, for truth and beauty which are synonymous.

  2. Running Water

    Inspirational…a beautiful realization captured with such candid eloquence. Truly a masterpiece expressed through the marvels of the written word, harmonized in a song of truth.
    Thank you for all you do.

  3. Gabriella Balogh

    Dear Lyla Jun,

    I hope You are well !
    May I ask where did you learn the word ” Magarorsag / Magyarország” in your beautiful song of Mamwlad? It seemed I could hear this word at 0:50-0:52 seconds. May I ask which language is that come from? 🙂
    I am Magyar, and I was surprised to recognize the name of my Homeland. Or, maybe I misunderstood?
    Please, answer to me, because I am full with questions… I appreciate if you can clarify.
    Have happy and useful time!


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