Secrets in Plain Sight
Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors
Secrets in Plain SightSpirit lives in many disguises.
“The best way to hide something is to keep it in plain sight.”
Those were the words that drifted across the dusty road leading into the Taos Pueblo on a hot afternoon in August of 1991. I’d set the day aside to explore the place that held such an attraction for some of the most inspirational creative figures of 20th century. From Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe, to D. H. Lawrence and Jim Morrison (from the rock group the Doors), the mystique and beauty of the high deserts has changed the lives of many artists and their art.
I glanced in the direction of the voice to see where such a curious statement had come from. Across the road I saw a small tour group following a beautiful Native American man as he led them through the main plaza of the pueblo. I stepped closer to hear what the young guide was saying and quickly became part of the crowd. While we were walking, a woman in the group asked the guide about the spiritual beliefs of the Tewa people (the name that the original Taos natives called themselves based on the red willows that grow along the river).
“Do you still practice the old ways here, or do you keep those things hidden from outsiders?”
“‘The old ways?” our guide echoed. “You mean like old medicine? Are you asking if we still have a medicine man around here?”
Now the guide really had my attention. Five years earlier, I had walked into the same pueblo for the first time and had asked the very same question. I’d quickly discovered that the spiritual practices of the local people are a sensitive topic, something that isn’t shared openly beyond close friends and tribal members. Today, however, our guide offered a cryptic reply. “No way!” he said, “We don’t have medicine people here any longer. We’re modern people living in the 20th century, with modern medicine.” Then, as he looked directly into the eyes of the woman who had asked the question, he repeated, “The best way to hide something is to keep it in plain sight.”
As the words left his mouth, I could see the twinkle in his eye. He was letting her know that while “officially” the medicine people no longer practiced, their wisdom remained—safe, sound, and protected from the modern world.
Now it was my turn to ask a question. “Just what does it mean to hide something ‘in plain sight’? How do you do that?”
“Just what I said,” he replied. “Our ways are the ways of the land, of the earth. There is no secret to our medicine. When you understand who you are and your relationship to the land, you understand the medicine. The old ways are all around you, everywhere. Here, I’ll show you.”
Pointing to our left, he began walking toward a building that was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. As we left the road and walked along the side of an ancient-looking wall, I found myself staring at what looked like a cross between the thick buttresses of an old frontier fort and the unmistakable bell towers of a chapel. Our guide opened the gate and motioned us into the courtyard. It was old and beautiful.
When Spanish conquerors first arrived in the pristine wilderness of northern New Mexico, they weren’t prepared for what they found. Rather than the primitive tribes that they’d expected, they found an advanced civilization already in place. The early pueblo people practiced a powerful spirituality that allowed them to live in balance with the land for more than a millennium. “We already had a religion,” our guide explained, “but it wasn’t what the Spanish were looking for. They forced us to accept what they believed.”
“The choice was clear,” our guide continued. His ancestors had to conform to the religion of the explorers or lose everything. So they compromised. In a maneuver of sheer brilliance, they masked their beliefs, hiding them in the language and customs that satisfied the Spanish. In doing so, they kept their land, their culture, and their past intact.
“The Spaniards called their creator ‘God,’” our guide explained.
“While God was not quite the same as our creator, it was close enough, and we began to call our Great Spirit by the same name. The santos (saints) that the church recognized were like the spirits that we honor and call into our prayers. Mother Earth that brings us crops, rain, and life they called ‘Mary.’ We substituted their names for our beliefs.” That explained why this church looked a little different from those that I’d seen in the past. The outward symbols were masking a deeper spirituality and the true beliefs of another time.
“As I told you, our traditions are still here, even after 400 years!” our guide said with a grin. His voice echoed through the empty space below the exposed timbers and vaulted ceiling. “For those who know the symbols, nothing was ever lost. We still change Mary’s clothes to honor the seasons. We still bring flowers from the desert that holds the spirit of life. It’s all here, hidden in plain sight for everyone to see.”
I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for his people when everything changed four centuries ago. I had a renewed respect for the strength and courage, as well as the ingenuity, that they had to have had in order to mask their traditions with another religion. Now the mysterious words that I’d heard less than an hour before made sense. The best way to hide something is to place it where no one expects it to be: everywhere.