Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

An Evolution of Spirit

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” ~ Nelson Mandela

I talk pretty on my blog about kindness and compassion. My words are honest and I work every day to live by them. But I wasn’t always this person. We are born with open hearts, and then the world happens and shapes us and we spend the rest of our lives fighting to get back to that original place of faith in humanity. Every year I get closer. But I like people to know how different I was, to understand how much I have changed. Because if they do not perceive my change, how can they believe themselves capable of the same transformation?

“Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” ~BrenĂ© Brown

I used to be an anger ball. By that I mean I was very quick to anger. I was angry at the violence I had suffered. Angry at the people around me who found relief by taking out their pain and insecurity on others. I was angry at the hardness of a world I did not seem to belong in. I was no better. I curled in or lashed out, always one of two extremes, as a way of taking what I needed from the world to survive it.

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” ~Mark Twain

I didn’t know there was another way. I was a heavenly body on the inside of the circuit, the sun that the solar system revolved around. I didn’t see that the world was smothering me because I put myself at the center of it. All I saw was that I was suffocating. And I couldn’t see a way out.

“The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.” ~Buddha
I was at a crossroads, my own personal Equinox. I was disconnected from myself, from the earth beneath me, from the sky above me. I could see the forest of trees but not the roots of them entwining and holding each other up. I didn’t know how to bend. I didn’t know how to flow. Everything was fire and lava. I wasn’t living in the world, I was burning my way through it.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

When we feel lonely we push out at the world, keeping it further at bay. I pushed everyone away before they could leave me, before they could hurt me. I thought pain was inevitable and that was the face I gave.

“Listen—are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” ~Mary Oliver

It wasn’t what I wanted. I was at a crossroads and I made a choice. I turned away from chaos and insanity, from trying to fit in and struggling to breathe. I let go of the anger that was eating me from the inside out. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I just released it in small breaths. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I gave it up to the universe. I rediscovered faith and turned my attention to finding a path that felt firm beneath my feet. I took the time to get to know myself.

“Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?” ~Danielle LaPorte

I had defined myself for so long by what I didn’t like, what I didn’t want, and what I thought I was supposed to want, that I found I didn’t know what it was I did want. What did I like? Who was I? I first heard an answer in a ritual in the dark in the mountains. Deep in the core of you, what are you? I quieted my soul and listened, and the word that came from my mouth surprised me.
“Light,” I said, with tears in my throat. And later, the overwhelming answer I found was kindness, goodness, compassion, and joy. When I removed the protective layers from my heart, I discovered the brightness I had been searching for all along within me.

“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” ~BrenĂ© Brown
The world I live in is a better place for having me in it. I believe that. I feed it my hope and my optimism and my compassion. It does not mean I am perfect. It does not mean my heart is not weighed down by the violence and evil that men do. It does not mean that I do not cry in the quiet nights within the safety of my walls. But I cry because I am connected now. I feel part of the earth beneath me and the sky above me. I feel part of the roots connecting the trees beneath the surface.

“Softness is not weakness. It takes courage to stay delicate in a world this cruel.” ~Beau Taplin

“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” ~Iain S. Thomas

Do not be ashamed of the ways the world has tested you. Do not be ashamed of the times you have fallen, of the times you have failed to get it right. What matters is that you picked your head up. What matters is that you picked yourself up and you kept going, even though you did not have faith that what lay ahead was better. It is not our perfect moments that define who we are. It is the moments we are imperfect that shows the spirit that lies beneath the flesh and bone. It is how we carry ourselves through those moments that reveal the soul of us.

“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” ~Buddha

We are meant to follow our own paths. It is never too late to change tracks and find your way back to you. Our original state is harmony and peace. The world is hard but there are others in it, lighting candles in their hearts against the dark, struggling to grow despite the resistance. Every action is a choice. When you stand at the crossroad, open yourself to compassion and hope. You just might be surprised where you find it.

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” ~Cynthia Occelli

[Originally posted September 24, 2014.]

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Spirit Song

In 2013 I wrote a post called When Spirit Knocks about how a specific television theme song in my head was a note for me that spirit world was trying to get my attention. Just two lines from a television theme song on repeat. Over and over.

While on vacation along Lake Ontario I have been waking every morning at 6:08. It has been exactly 6:08 in the morning and I have woken with the same song playing in my head.

It's a new song to me, as far as it being a communication from spirit. I've been walking the beach and finding myself humming it deep in my chest. It's "Outside" by Staind. Not one I was familiar with. And yet the same two lines kept rolling through my brain.

That's spirit getting my attention.

Now that doesn't mean the cottage is haunted. I am a lighthouse in spirit world. Sometimes ghosts come because I am there. I do note though, that the secretary desk my alarm clock sat on was handmade by a family member who is deceased. It came out of my Grandma Pat's home after she died. So there could be something to that. I wouldn't be surprised if it was an ancestor from that family line. Maybe they just want me to know they are holding her now.

Maybe it's someone new.

Magic is real. You can call it whatever you want to but it happens for me. This feels like a new introduction of sorts. So I'm opening up to dreamworld again. Whoever's trying to connect with me, my door is open. The light is on.

I'm on the outside
I'm looking in...

...I can see through you
See to the real you.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Safe Journeys, Traveller

On April 11, 2018 I wrote My Grandma Pat is Dying which involved how I used my spiritual practice. Seven days later my mom messaged me to say that it wouldn’t be long. I lit my altar and called the waiting ancestors back in.

Parents of my grandmother
Margaret Burke & Robert Art.
Grandparents of my grandmother
Eliza Conners & Frank Burke.
Katherine Pils & George Art.
Great-grandparents of my grandmother
Mary Dowd & David Conners.
Thomas & Ellen Burke.
John Pils & Mary Smith.
Adam Art & Ana Catherine Blume.
Great-great-grandparents of my grandmother
Barney Dowd.
Betsey (uknown, married) Conners.
Ann (unknown, married) Burke.

I opened the way. I told her it was time. When she was ready she could let go.

But she wouldn’t. I was standing in front of my ancestor altar with one foot in this world and one foot in her limbo. I saw her, hanging on to an almost translucent thread. We were in motion, being pulled to the right. She stared at me, her left arm curled up around an empty space.


Her cat.

I told her Bella would be fine. I promised we’d find her the right home.

Fuck. Those oaths you have to keep.

She relaxed. And she was gone. I was back in my room in front of my ancestor altar. I bent down to check my messages and as I watched, in Ethernet real time, my mom let me know her mother was gone.

I surprised myself by bursting into tears.

I was sad but wasn’t grief. I didn’t know her well enough for it to be sorrow. But it was sadness. Sad for my mother. Sad for the day I will lose my mother that I know will come. Sad for the years of getting to know the woman-my-grandma-had-become I won’t get. Because she changed at the end. I was sad  for the relationship I won’t get to have with her. The sadness was real. Just greater than I expected.

I didn’t cry again.

A few weeks later I attended an outdoor gathering where I went to a Grief Ritual. I didn’t necessarily feel like I was grieving but every cell of my body felt this pull to go. I felt I needed to go. So I did.

I was given a moment to speak to her one last time. And I did. I let two things be true. I wish she’d been able to make different choices. And I loved her. I almost qualified that with ‘anyway’ but I took a breath and held that word in.

She was one of my grandmothers. I knew of her growing up if I didn’t know her. She was Christmas Eve after-dinner and before-santa. There is a part of my heart that the shadow of her lives in. I have always carried her with me, imperfections and all. And I feel her loss.

In her last incarnation she adopted a cat and made friends with a local deer and their family. They would come to her ground level window and look for her. She would cut up apples and take them outside. The deer would let her walk among their young to set the apples on the ground. I wonder if they know what happened to her. I wonder if they understand what an empty apartment means.

I wonder who’s feeding them now.

The last time I saw her she gave me a book she said was too complicated for her—there were more than five characters and she couldn’t keep them straight. It’s not bad. I started reading it again when she got sick as a means of connecting in to her energy, to her heartbeat. I stopped reading when she died. It’s the last thing she ever gave me in a life where she didn’t give me many things… although she did give me a lot of my Nancy Drew Mysteries. I forgot about that until I was writing this. That’s something, too. They meant everything to me.

But I stopped reading. I put a bookmark in between the pages. It’s the last thing she will ever give me.

I’ll sit with that and set the book aside for now.

At the end of the gathering I was standing in the outdoor Ancestor Shrine and a friend was leading us through a meditation to connect with an ancestor. I opened myself to whoever wished to come through.

I almost audibly gasped.

For a moment I got a picture in my head. It’s almost always a similar one when I see him. Some forest glade, thick old trees and part of a rustic wooden fence. Mop of thick hair. Tall. Smiling. This was my German Guy. I realized in that second that he came to me through my Grandma’s family line. I also, instantaneously, felt the reassurance that she had crossed over.

Something like ‘we got her.’ But in German.

Hail to the Ancestors. 
Safe journeys, Traveller.
Bye Grandma.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Preparing to Revere the Dead

Spring has finally sprung. This is the time of year that I pull out my box from Samhain, from when we spoke the names of Ancestors and Beloved Dead and burned their ribbons in the fire. It is the time I take to prepare for the shrines I hold between Beltane and Samhain.

I pulled out white muslin and cut new ribbons, one inch by twenty-one inches. I cut one-hundred and one ribbons, adding them to what was left of last year. I folded them up and slid a straight pin through them.

A little danger as sacrifice for standing in the presence of the Ancestors.

I cut blue ribbons for those who died since last year’s shrines. My hands trembled at the list of names of loved ones who passed this last year. The seasons of hard losses stick under my ribs.
I ironed the ribbons one at a time. It is a meditation I enjoy. That level of mindfulness is the least I could do. So many remembered dead dance through my heart, as they did in life.

Mark Dutcher Eaton*, Melinda Tanner, Elizabeth Fricke, Jeff Patterson, Willie Lingenfelter, Elsie Durant Riddle*, Gabe Reynolds, Joel Pelletier, Victoria Eaton*, Edward J. Jerge II, Trent Illig, Donna MacDonald Riddle*, Jurgen Banse-Fey, Charles ‘Sienna Fox’ Duvall, Jack Singer, Tommy Amyotte, Paul Seeloff, Richard James Riddle*, Andrew Begley, Susan Alvarez-Hughes, Coswald Mauri*, Norm Herbert, Jad Alexander, Dr. August Staub, Princess Leather Falcor*, Melvin Chausse, John Simeon Croom, Karl Weber, Luna Jackalope*, Albert Gritzmacher III, Freya Moon Greenleaf, Patches the Crazy Circus-Freak Dog*, Barbara Jean Schiffert, Bella the Bear-Cat*, Joe Quagliano*, Soja Arumpanayil, Tracy Lee Flint Jr., Christina Adkins, Harry T. Brashear, David Ruston Eaton*, Carol Quagliano*, Paul Ames*, Robert Kiff, Sumant Malhotra, David Knight, Amy Maxwell, Ruth Ann Livingston Kiff, Zami*, Joseph Croteau, Norm Eaton*, Patricia Ann Art-Slomba*…

They are not forgotten.

I breathed deep and exhaled. And then my heart skipped.

This year the heat startled me. It pulled me from my litany of names, from my ancestors. The heat scared me. It’s a sign of how well-recovered I feel that I stepped back into my spiritual habit without remembering that I have not handled the iron since being on fire. I forgot that my wife did this part for me, sacredly, the last two years.

I ironed all of the ribbons. Slowly, reverently, cautiously, and carefully. My hands were unsteady and clumsy as I have been since recovering but I did not burn myself. My ancestors stood with me, hovering like they did in the Burn ICU.

But I ironed all the ribbons.

My wife came home soon after and ironed the prayer flags I use to mark the entrances to the shrines. There are 63 flags, all hand cut and hand sewn. It was a way of layering magic, fluttering flags calling those who hear to come greet their ancestors.

This is what it means to build a practice. This is how I prepare to honor the dead. Focus. Intention. Work. The spirits from the other side who meet me in the middle sure do help. This is how we open a doorway that others may walk through if they desire it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Ghost in My Bed

Every night I spend an hour or so in bed watching a movie or drama episode. My cat curls up on me behind the small screen and reaches with her paw. I put my hand out and she spreads her toebeans around my fingertips. And squeezes.

Love floods my heart.

We stay that way until she presses her paw against my palm. And she falls asleep. Deeply. With three cats deceased, this is precious time to me. Some nights I steal to bed early just for a little more connective mindfulness of being together.

I brought it up with my wife because there was something about the recent nights that had stuck with me. I was recalling the sweetness of Mara’s paw in mine and I realized that I was strongly visualizing a small grey tiger cat paw.

Mara is a tuxedo.

My next thought was of Luna, the first of our cats to pass back in 2010. She was my familiar. Any time I meditated she would come and curl in my lap. She slept on me every night and would often appear in my dreams. She didn’t always stay to see them through. I have dreamed with her since she passed, but rarely.

I was sure the feeling of similarity would vanish after I made the connection to Luna, like it was some grief-filled longing that brushed my senses. But that wasn’t the case. The next night that sensation was more certain, so much so that I moved the screen to put my eyes on Mara’s black and white coat.

Even looking at Mara with my eyes, my heart was telling me it was Luna. There was this thing I used to do, with my fingertip spreading Luna’s toe pads. None of the other cats allowed me to do that. Especially not Mara. So I initiated the moment and Mara spread her toes and let me pet her there.

My heart caught in my throat. I didn’t need to prove it. How can you prove such a thing? I just accepted it as a gift. I don’t know how long it will feel like this. I don’t know how long Luna’s ghost will join us in our nightly cuddling.

All I know is how much I miss her after eight years and how joyful my heart has been to feel her again. It is strange to touch Mara’s arms and paws but to feel someone else, to feel Luna. And then an hour later it was not-Luna. It was Mara again.

I curled myself around her, me and Mara, mindful of the love I have for her. Mindful of the different relationships I have had with each of my cats. I am mindful of the lessons I learned from loving them.

Not all ghosts bring sadness and sorrow. Some bring love. When you stand in the river of your Ancestors, the only thing you can do with all that love is pass it on.

Bhagavad Gita 2.20:
The soul is neither born, nor does it ever die;
nor having once existed, does it ever cease to be.
The soul is without birth, eternal, immortal, and ageless.
It is not destroyed when the body is destroyed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

My Grandma Pat is Dying

I laid two candles down.

I have a book she gave me that she said was too complicated for her, about religious archaeologists. I put it on the altar.

I poured out a glass of water.

I am Sarah,
daughter of Margaret,
daughter of Patricia,
daughter of Margaret,
daughter of Eliza,
daughter of Mary,
daughter of Irish mothers unknown.

I struck match to metal and lit one wick.
I called in my grandmother’s ancestors.
I called her mother Margaret Loretta Burke.
I called her father Robert Joseph Art.

I called out the names of her mother’s Irish ancestors:
Frank Burke and Eliza Conners,
Thomas and Ellen Burke,
David Conners and Mary Dowd,
Mrs. Ann Burke,
Barney Dowd.

I called out the names of her father’s German ancestors:
George Art and Katherine Pills,
Adam and Catherine Art,
John Pils and Mary Burzee,
George Arth and Wilhemina Wernersbach.

I asked them to watch over her, and to welcome her when she is ready to move on.

I lit the second candle. I asked them to watch over those of us who are afraid to let her go.

I spent the time it took the candles to burn down reading the book she gave me, connecting in to her Hospice bed across the miles. I spent my time reading also connecting into the thread of her that lives in me.

And breathing.

[A look into how I use my ancestor work in practical applications.]

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Why We Funeral

The day before Easter, my Uncle Norm died. He was my dad’s younger brother. He lived directly across the street from me. His was the second sibling death in the family in three years. And it hurts.           
And even in dealing with this grief, another death is looming. And my heart feels like it’s drowning. What do you do when you’re drowning? You focus on one small thing at a time to get yourself above water.
Everyone else’s lives continue at a frantic pace but you are stuck simply trying to remember how to breathe.
I don’t live in the same place as my family. It makes death hard. I don’t have my own vehicle, and I haven’t been able to drive distances since my accident. My recovery also makes public transportation difficult. For now I have no choice but to grieve from here. Here, where no one else knew the people I lose from home, where no one else can or will grieve with me.
For a moment, I wish professional keening was still a cultural thing. I could hire a handful of women to bring over casseroles and cry with me and let me tell them my complicated stories.
We still don’t really talk about grief. Not outside of wearing black while standing inside funeral parlors. My mom had a funeral outfit. I remember the nights she would come home from work and get dressed up in that blouse and those slacks, with hose and heels and make-up. Sometimes a friend would come over and they would go pay their respects together for an hour or so.
I remember. But what I didn’t see was that grief is hard. I sit on that edge uncertain as to whether or not I am grieving the loss of them or the loss of the relationship I will now never-get-a-chance-to-have. Maybe it’s both. It’s probably both.
I think the beginning of grief is largely uncertainty.

One of my first jobs besides babysitting was getting paid to sing at weddings and funerals. Singing at funerals is so surreal when the families are unknown to you. You need to be both a comfort and a catharsis.
The main aspect of a funeral is to lay the body, the sacred vessel of the beloved dead to rest based on their wishes. It’s a way of capping the respect and affection you had for them. It’s a way to wrap up the end of their story.
And that’s great.
[I do think that there will be a tipping point where we have to be accountable for the ecological impact the way we dispose of our dead, of the carcasses left behind. I think that point has already come. No more chemicals. No more sealed vaults. Our bodies were meant to decay in the earth and feed the soil. So we have to change our relationship with death. And our bodies. And how we connect soul/spirit/anima to flesh.]

Mostly funerals are for those left behind to grief. It’s a place we’re allowed to grieve. The coming together of family and loved ones is a soothing balm. You’re not the only one who feels like time stopped. You get to share funny stories and poignant stories, about what a good person they were or lament the loss of time to smooth the broken edges of your relationship. And in some way the ritual should serve those who gather together.
I think about this a lot. The funerals I have been to that were officiated by someone who did not know my beloved dead were laughable. They were bordering on farce—as if the officiant had never performed a funeral before. But the ones I have attended, led by someone who could keep themselves composed, but who had love for the dead were brilliant and moving and beautiful and stirred the ghost of them in me.
I take notes as I grieve. Connection matters. Without connection we are just flesh. So we come together to grieve to make it real. To reconnect a new reality to an old one. If everyone is grieving they are truly gone. When we know that whether or not anyone grieves a death, they are truly gone.
I regret missing my Uncle Dave’s funeral. I know I’ll regret missing my Uncle Norm’s as well. But this time I am not well or fit for travelling. So I gather up my thoughts and I request them to make sense.
I’m still trying to figure out how to grieve alone from hundreds of miles away.

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