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, February 4, 2015

Looking Back: What Comes After

“I do not claim to know what comes next or what happens to that bit of life [that leaves us]. I don’t know what happens. But I have faith that something does.”

I said those words in an earlier post [five years ago now]. Faith. I do not believe I had the ability to understand the true meaning of that word [now I’m sure I didn’t]. As a child I thought faith meant “believe it because I said so and I know better” and I trusted it was true. Now it means something more like “believe it because you feel it to be true even though there is no evidence you are right.”
Faith means trusting your intuition, even when the world tells you they disagree. It’s one of the reasons I both respect and fear fundamentalism. That kind of faith amazes me. It has dense power that moves like strong current. But that kind of power is uneasily wrought by those who refuse to see another side. “With great power comes great responsibility.” They’re not just words. I believe that faith means believing what you know to be true (currently) while being open to being wrong. If you put a wall up around your faith, you blind yourself.
This is something faith should not be.
Stepping onto a path of faith is stepping closer to yourself. People who are disconnected from their own faith and intuition are more easily led by someone else’s momentum if that person of faith has complete conviction. I followed a self-led religious journey through multiple churches because I wanted to have that conviction, and no church held it for me.
I think faith should have deep roots. But not ones handed to you. Ones in soil you have tended, in a hole you have worked to clear because you believe you are where you are meant to be. You should be able to stand in that hole, alone, even in no others plant themselves near you. Faith is personal. It should not be shaken by others with different faith, because their different path, their different experiences, led them there.
Sometimes, competition can breed breakthroughs, but more often than not, we apply it to aspects of life where it has no place. Spirituality is not a competition. In an ideal world, people would be happy to have found their own place, and would not need to beat down opposing views or seek to force conversion of others. My beliefs have been defined by my experiences, both physical and emotional, and probably more emotional than physical. I don’t expect others to be on the same path. So when I find them, they are precious to me.

I believe in spirits. I believe that something of life remains after death. I don’t believe every ghost story is the same. I don’t believe everyone stays behind. I don’t believe everyone moves on. But sometimes I can talk to them. There is a realness to it that means, for me, the dead aren’t necessarily dead, and I understand that I perceive death differently.
When my father’s father died I was eight. I didn’t understand what it meant beyond the fact that I wouldn’t see him anymore. I can’t say I understand it now much more than that.
When we separate from our physical body, we lose all the html code that created the cells and walls of our body, joining cells into strands of DNA, weaving strands into mobile, tangible structures. But it is our spirit that fuels movement and relation. When our spirit is strong we are invincible and when it is weak we are unmotivated. It is our spirit that dissipates into the ether. I imagine all this spirit energy combines in a great pool. We cease to be me and you and all are One. It’s a cliché and it’s true. The newest arrivals swirl on the surface, where the emotional storms of spirits struggling through the transition are more frequent and severe. The further down into the unending well you travel, the stiller, darker, and stronger the density of energies. This is where the Ancestors dwell.

I believe there is a cycle of energy that spirit goes through as we leave our bodies, even though there aren’t knowable answers to be attained. It’s what led me to start my Ancestor Work and worship. It is hard to do more than simply honor your ancestors if you do not believe that spirit/soul/anima/energy exists in the natural world. My belief allowed me the opportunity to develop a cosmology or visualization that suited me.
Still water is a beautiful mirror of the world around and above it but beneath, still water grows silty and marshy. Insects roost and lay their eggs. In the silt, vegetation rots and decays. Movement in water comes as currents break a way in, pushing and changing the flow of the water, displacing what doesn’t fit or stands in the way. Movement cleanses the water and reveals what had been forgotten beneath the surface.

The action of physically honoring my ancestors is important to my practice, whether I believe it is symbolic or not, because the repetition of movement creates changes in my physical body beneath the surface. Worship becomes a body memory and the deeper it sinks into your muscles, the deeper the spiritual experience you have.
Repetition is not about monotony if you do it right. It’s about adding layers until you find yourself navigating spirit world with ease. It takes time to sync up your physical, emotional, and intellectual bodies. The action of ancestor worship is creating a change in me, moving me towards the calm centeredness I long for.

Connection and Devotion to an Ancestor
1)      Sit in a quiet room. Think about a beloved relative who has passed on (it should not be someone who is recently deceased). Pay attention to the memories waking in your mind at the thought of their name.
2)      Speak their name out loud. Pay attention to the emotion flooding your heart center at the sound of their name.
3)      Wrap your arms around yourself in a hug and speak their name again. Feel the emotion flooding your heart at the sound of their name and the feeling of arms around you. Pay attention to the memories flooding your body as you build up energy. How has the quality of memories changed as you connect yourself to them physically?
4)      Open your arms slowly and hold a candle between your hands.
5)      Holding that candle, speak the name of your loved one again.
6)      Think of happy moments you shared and let the memories grow in your core and rise to your heart. If you have it in you to laugh, laugh out loud. Let the energy of the memories fall down through your arms, into your hands, into your candle.
7)      Place the candle in a special place on your ancestor altar. Every time you light the candle, you honor that loved one.

I don’t need to do this step anymore. The more you do it the easier it gets. But I still do, because every time I walk through this meditation, it creates another wave of peace within me. Every time I do this I change. In worshiping my ancestors I am walking myself towards being a better version of me. In honoring my ancestors, I am taking steps closer to honoring myself.

[A version of this article was originally posted February 2, 2011.]

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