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, May 28, 2014

How We Honor the Dead

We stood in the woods at the edge of the water, in a space we use every year. Years of gatherings lay upon each other like the bones of the dead beneath us, like the ruins of civilizations buried beneath cities the living walk every day. Even at the edge of a busy beach, stillness invaded the Ancestor Shrine, save for the sounds of birdsong and the wind in the trees. The magic was tangible.
Together, we called in the ancestors with a prayer I have been voicing for a decade, pouring water as an offering to the dead, to both the ancestral dead we did not know and the beloved dead of our blood and heart who were lost to us in our lifetime. To Those Who Have Gone Before…
We anchored our bodies to the earth. We anchored our spirits to the sky and we opened a Way within ourselves. We stood at the edges between them, so that we might stand with them, unafraid. You are the place where earth and sky meet. You are the doorway to the Ancestors…
We journeyed inward, down the path of ancestral rivers emptying into our veins. We remember our parents and grandparents, our great-grandparents, and their great-grandparents. We walk with them, travelling backwards through time with each step forward we take. We are that they were. We breathe in the echo of Those Who Took Breath Before. We honor them with our presence in the world…
We hung ribbons for our dead, speaking aloud their names and calling them into the circle with us. We opened the way. We hung ribbons for those we have lost within the last year. We shared their names with stories and tears, and heavy hearts. We added names to the list every day. May they be at peace. May the Ancestors welcome them home. May the Ancestors watch over the living left behind in their grief. May it be so…
We sang of circles within circles. We opened our hearts and voices to the air around us. We shifted the space to send our prayers for peace out into the ether. We shared work and magic in the morning mountain time, hanging colorful ribbons to mark stories of gratitude in memory of the dead. We remembered something they gave us, something we learned from them. We honored them in words and laughter and added the breath of the living to the web we built. We remembered our bodies and how our ancestors were our way into them. Every day we walk and breathe we honor those we have lost…
We read poems in the thicket along the water’s edge, remembered words for ears that no longer need them to hear. We lifted our voices in petition and prayer in that space. We remembered that we can still speak to those we miss, that the winds will carry our words to the places we cannot follow. And we left birdseed behind, in pockets of earth in gratitude for their songs filtering into the Shrine. The best way we can honor our ancestors is to love and care for the living.

What is remembered, lives. Whether we know the names of our ancestors or not, we simply have to connect into the energy thread of them that lives within our bloodstream. When we do this, we can feel them walking with us. And when we can do this, we know that we never truly walk alone. We are that they were. We live. We are that others will come after us.
May we remember the interconnected web. May we greet each other with kindness in both life and death. May it be so.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ancestors in the Woods

As the internet posts this blog, I will be far from electricity that could handle more than one hairdryer plugged into an outlet at a time. I will be in the mountains of Massachusetts, celebrating Rites of Spring with the EarthSpirit community for my eleventh year. I don’t have to be psychic to say that I am having a good time right now.
I will be tending the Ancestor Shrine for the gathering, down in a thicket of woods along the beach. The space is open as a natural spot where the living and the dead can commune together, alongside the living creatures of the physical place. It’s a way of using the magic of the natural world as a tool to peer into Spirit. We will hang the names of our ancestors in the trees, and ask them to watch over those we have lost in this last year. And we shall feel our feet on the earth and we shall have gratitude for the breath in our lungs. We are living because They Were.
While I am off teaching in the woods, I wanted to share my favorite poem with you. If you are someone who likes poetry and likes nature, and you haven’t checked this poet out already, I highly recommend Mary Oliver’s work. It’s hard to choose a favorite, really, but this one resonated most authentically with me. It’s how I feel when I spend time in nature.

Sleeping In the Forest
by Mary Oliver

I thought the earth remembered me, she
took me back so tenderly, arranging
her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds. I slept
as never before, a stone
on the riverbed, nothing
between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated
light as moths among the branches
of the perfect trees. All night
I heard the small kingdoms breathing
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in the darkness. All night
I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling
with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

(Tune in next week for my 200th blog post!)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Silver Lining of Regret

Last year I came across an article written by Bronnie Ware, about the five things people on their deathbeds regret most:
  • “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
  • “I wish I didn’t work so hard.”
  • “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
  • “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
  • “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”
How simple these thoughts are. Bronnie Ware worked in palliative care, improving the quality of life for patients with life-threatening illnesses. Her list gave me pause to reflect on my own years and the choices I’ve made. More than anything, I wish to meet the end of my life with as little regret as possible.
It’s not easy to make choices that go against expectations of society. In our culture, it’s not easy, nor often acceptable, to give yourself permission to take time for you and your passions. Our culture does not value emotions, and in many cases, actively frowns upon anyone who is emotional as being overemotional or overreacting. We see tears as weakness. We pride money, status, and material things over happiness and love between humans.
In your life, it is not easy to own all of your choices. Sometimes we make choices that we later would not have made. It happens. These are lessons for us to learn. Sometimes we make necessary choices, decisions that are right for us, and still, we incidentally hurt others we care about. That happens, too. Those choices are not ones we should regret, but if we have love for those who were hurt we need to acknowledge it. It isn’t about fault or blame. You are not to blame for their hurt. But if you love them, you apologize for the hurt that was caused, though no reparation is needed.
Still, sometimes we make choices that we regret. Sometimes immediately, often not for years, not until we can see the repercussion of the consequences we wrought. Why carry that around with you when the easiest answer is that it’s not too late? If you are living and breathing and walking the world, it’s not too late.
If your regret involves other people, and they are alive, it is definitely not too late. Maybe there won’t be resolution. Likely things will never be the way they were. You can’t undo what is done. You cannot walk with eyes open and pretend a thing has not occurred. But there might be peace. The only actions you can control are your own. But if you can say you did everything you could to make amends, you can let go of the regret you carry.
If your regret involves those who are no longer living, it is not too late. You can make offerings to the dead and explain your regret. You can wish them peace as well. You can do good deeds, some random acts of kindness as a way of making amends, of paying forward the fact that you had regret and are releasing yourself of it.
I speak mostly of small regrets. I should have… I could have… In these cases, amends aren’t about repayment or restitution. That’s important. I am talking about the human experience of being alive and loving other people. I am not talking about the materialistic culture we live in where people think nothing of taking friends and family to court over trivial matters. At the end of the day, it is not things that make our worlds go round. It’s people. It’s you and me. It’s those who came before us and those who will come after.
I want to mention, too, that especially in dealing with loss I hear many stories of regret wrapped around how the family members poured their sorrow into controlling the disposition of the deceased and their things. It seems all too common for families to displace their sadness into squabbling over material items, as if death equals inheritance rather than grief. I have seen families splinter and separate, as if they never were. It’s never too late to heal those rifts.
We owe it to ourselves to face that fear we feel swirling in our bellies at the thought of admitting our weakness. Our society tells us we are saying we are wrong by admitting regret. I say we are freeing ourselves and cleansing our spirit, our soul, by purging that shadow within us.

Sometimes all we can offer is, I made a choice and I am sorry for the unexpected consequences of that choice. I did not mean to hurt you. And our hearts will be lighter. And those we hurt will know we feel remorse, and perhaps they can find their own lightness. And there’s always hope that in that common place, there can someday be peace between peoples.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Magic of Ferns

In September of 2011, we suffered flooding in my town so badly that our area made the national news. For one night, my neighborhood was cut off on all sides by water. It was heavy in the air. We were saturated with it. Hours before the river levels crested and then fell, I walked the nearby park to find it littered with fungus of all kinds. Many of them I had never seen before and haven’t seen the like of since.
In the aftermath of all of that moisture, one little fern frond sprouted in our yard, just before autumn walked in. The following spring, it reappeared, a handful of fronds. There was something about it that felt like a gift. Ferns are sacred to my household. Ferns and birch. Even my landlord seemed to know to mow around it without having to be told.
For the third year the gentle fiddlehead has returned, a small gang of curls waiting to unfurl. And it speaks to me. Every year I am reminded of the moments that follow painful growth and great change. The stretching out into new spaces. The discovering of new edges. For me the ferns are a promise of possibility, a promise of hope.
Sometimes we need to have symbols. We need totems or guides that mean more to us than what they are. It’s how we move forward when the world seems determined to hold us back. Some days are harder than others, and the darkness chips away at the hope you have managed to hold onto…
Most days are good. Most days are blessed. But we are all human, and we all have days, weeks, months where it just feels like bad news after bad news and sucker punch after sucker punch. I wonder how my ancestors did it, how they found the courage to keep waking in the morning and going about their days when the future seemed so intangible.
On those days I turn to nature. I go with gratitude to our small garden and I put my hands in the dirt, pulling weeds and tending to the growing things. In the working of the garden the world of rushing traffic and ticking clocks slows until it flows invisible around me, air that cannot touch me. There are just hands and the dirt and the sun warming us. The world I am in narrows. My breath slows. My heart grows lighter.

The fiddlehead ferns dance in kind. They allow me to watch their emergence into the world above ground. They appear, coiled in protection as they shield themselves while they discover their new edges and the feeling of air against raw skins. When they are ready, when they are matured, when the time is right, they open themselves to the sun. They turn their fronds to the light.
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