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 27, 2015

Go to the Woods

Go to the woods, or the desert, or the plains, or the shore. Go to the spaces and places you live upon. Get out of your homes and your boxes and walls and sit in the natural world you have adopted as your own.
For people with an earth-centered spirituality, it’s an urgent heartbeat pounding at the back of our souls. Go to the woods. Sit by the river. Climb those rocks. Sail those seas. Bird watch. Forage for fungus. We are meant to want to be part of it all. The more attuned to nature you get, the louder that rhythm pulses through you.
In the city I can’t see that the sky is literally dusted with so many stars there is no such thing as darkness. In the city I can’t hear the symphony of birdsong over the sounds of traffic, both human and automotive. But I heard them in the woods, the beautiful birds in chorus with soft tweets and sharp whistles, punctuated by the percussive woodpecker and the scatting grok of the raven.
A week on a mountain and I was humbled in those woods. I was a human walking in their world. I was not threatening and, after a cursory examination, they paid me no mind. Catbirds swooped down to see what I was doing in their territory, and I acknowledged their claim to the space with offerings of birdseed and nuts.
Go to the woods, where the beetles and the chipmunks live. Go to where the wolf spiders and snakes are, to where the coltsfoot and burdock blossom. Learn to walk as part of their world, not as a predator in it.
Find where the wild strawberries grow and the raccoon kits take their first steps. Listen at dusk as the owls call out and the heron glides silent across the water. Open to the land our ancestors lived on. Open to the new world they experienced and relied upon. Have gratitude for your industrial comforts. And then, go to the woods.
We are one of many animal species, and we all make home from the same earth. It matters. Our sameness matters. How can we truly live in a place if we do not know it, if we do not understand it… if we cannot see it? How can we care about it? Or about what we leave behind for the coming generations?

So go to the woods. Go to the park. Plant a garden. Fill your bird feeders. Hug a tree and feel it bend in the wind. Feel it bend and sigh and speak. Watch the weeds find purchase in broken sidewalks. Nature has a will and nature finds a way. All is changing and we are made to be changeable. Be a part of the flow. Do not stand against it. Stand in the awe and might of the natural world and be of it. Be home.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Prayers for Nepal

"Prayer Flags" by Michael Day
On April 25th, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake devastated Nepal. No matter where you were, it dominated the news. It was hard not to see the photos of the destruction, of the people living in the streets and open spaces, of the bodies buried in rubble. Over 8,000 people died as a result of that quake, and another 17,000 people were injured.
Last Tuesday morning, on May 12th, a second earthquake, magnitude 7.3, struck outside Kathmandu again, this time to the east. From reports, many people had yet to return to living indoors. As of this past Sunday a total of 8,583 deaths occurred between the two quakes.
I cannot imagine having such fear of the earth beneath my feet, like the people of Nepal. Or of the ocean along the shore, like those who survived the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011; we’re still watching them try to rebuild. And what of the thousands who were recently evacuated from their homes near the volcano in Chile? Can you imagine watching lighting, lava, and ash blow into the sky. Your sky? Into the air you breathe?
Nature is full of awe, and in its stretching and pulling we are shown that we are no more important to the planet than the ants seem to us; little buggery nuisances that get into our pantry and eat our food. As I pack for a yearly excursion to the mountains, I wonder what would happen if they woke briefly and turned in their slumber? How would we, who build on earth with the expectation that the stone will support us, feel if it were to suddenly shift beneath us?
And I pray for those people, for the lives lost and for the ones surviving those losses. I pray for the ones still living in tents in the streets, wondering when the next will come. I pray for the worried villagers whose folklore says that once the mountain wakes, it will never quiet.
I am not saying that prayer will help those who lost homes and families and ways of living in the earthquake. It won’t help them recover. It won’t bring the dead to life. But it does something else, energetically in the world. It builds compassion.
When we pray, we put ourselves in the shoes of those who are suffering. From the purist place of our spirit, we ask the universe, through whatever divinity we ascribe to (which all pool into the same energy source when you go back far enough, just like genealogy):
May the hands of those who can save the injured be steady and strong.
May the hands of those searching for life and death find purchase in the rubble.
May those hearts that have felt loss and terror be healed.
May those hearts, displaced and fearful, know comfort in such dark times.
May those in power with the ability to aid the people in need do so.
May this be a time of magic, miracles, love, and hope.
Whether or not we choose to find compassion for those in need, it should not matter who it is happening to or where they are in reference to ourselves. We are all dependent on this earth to support and sustain us. What happens to one of us could happen to any of us. To all of us. So we reach out to those in need because we would hope someone would do the same for us.

We create a world of compassion and brotherhood in these actions and it ripples out. Kindness is remembered. When we engage in acts of kindness, we build up the web of compassion, an energy source that others can tap into during dark times. We add our light to hope, and the world is better for it. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Imminent Death

I wasn’t sure what to call this article. That sounded so urgent, but it’s what I want to talk about. I want to talk about those times in your life when death knocks. When you know to expect it… soon, and you have a little push time until it arrives. Where “soon” is the closest you can get to any certainty.
I’m packing for an annual retreat in the mountains, away from technology, away from traffic, and away from my senile, dying 20 year-old cat. It’s not that a vet has told us she’s dying. She’s 20 years old. That’s like, 96 in human years. She’s looking tired and worn. She sleeps twenty hours a day and walks stiffly through the house. We don’t know when, but we know it’s coming, likely sooner, rather than later.
I have a ritual now, before I leave overnight to go anywhere. I snuggle my cat, now affectionately called Grams, in a blanket and I cradle her in my lap. I listen to the familiar heavy-motor purr, the only thing that hasn’t faded. From just one touch of my finger she could run for hours, without breaking. I often woke in the night, distressed that something was different- only to discover that my kitty sound-machine had finally stopped purring.
And in my ritual, I listen to her purr. I tell her how much I love her. I tell her how lucky we were that she picked us in that winter storm in Fredonia. I tell her how happy she has made us. I listen as her purr turns to chirp as she headbutts my elbow crook. I listen to her chirp turn to chirrup turn to coo as she goes limp with bliss in my lap.
I use the special singsong voice she loves most. And then I sing to her, “Songbird” by Fleetwood Mac. My cat trills a special note she only uses when I sing. And I sit with my beloved friend, who has been in my life for seventeen years. The things she has seen no one else knows. The ways we have changed, only she has witnessed.
I know this. I hold her. I feel sorrow for what is coming. And I feed that sorrow my love. In that last moment, whether I am with her or whether I am away on retreat somewhere, I know I will not have regret, because I told her how I felt and I showed her what she meant. She will know how much I loved her, she will feel how grateful I was for her, and she will remember the vibrations of my chest on her muscles as I sang sweet words to her:
“For you, there will be no crying.
For you, the sun will be shining.
And I feel that when I’m with you, it’s all right.
I know it’s all right…”

I could talk about my uncle, the first of my father’s siblings to be gravely ill. I could talk about his fight that he’s winning and losing. I could say that I am afraid I won’t see him again, and I know that’s why we had the conversation we had at Christmas. Because he might not see me again, and he didn’t want to leave things unsaid.
In that moment, it broke my heart. I wanted to push him away. I didn’t want him to say the words because to me words are magic. But this is my work. This is what I do. So I stood and I listened, overwhelmed with gratitude to be witness to his life, to stories he’d never told anyone else. To be gifted a shared intimacy that will last longer than this flesh.
I would talk about it more but I am sensitive to those loved ones who may not want to hear the words, he is dying. He is, right now. But he could get better. But right now, he’s not. But I get it. Words are magic. To act as if he is dying, to acknowledge it so that loved ones can prepare for its arrival, is as if to invite it in sooner. As if you are lighting a beacon. As if saying you acknowledge you will die, sooner than later, is the same thing as saying “I’m ready.”
But what walled city saw the fleet of ships arriving with weapons drawn and said, “I’m ready to fall?”

Are we ever ready? I snuggle my cat close to me. I tell her it’s all right. It’s all right if she hangs out with her moments of dementia for more years. It’s all right if I wake up tomorrow and she’s gone. It’s all right if she passes while we’re away. As long as she knows we love her and what an important part of our family she is, will always be.
I think of my uncle, the funny one, and I feel bad saying he’s sick. As if somehow I am unweaving any healing work he is undergoing to get better. I pray to my Grandpa Mark and Grandma Ruth and ask them to watch over my uncle every morning, to give him as much life as he has in him. I ask them to watch over their other children as they deal with their varying levels of grief over the idea that, eventually, one of them will be the first to die.
I pray to my cats that have crossed over, Luna and Bella, and ask them to watch over Zami, and to welcome her across when she is ready to take that journey.

May we live each day with our eyes open.
May we know the light and the darkness,
and may we fear neither.
May we learn to feed the shadow with light.
May we know joy and sadness.
May we feed our sorrow with love.
May we live without regret.
May those we love know our hearts.
May our last moments be good moments.

May our last words be words of love.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Ancestor Reverence and Ancestor Work

Part of the path I walk involves a deeper sense of metaphysical belief and requires more understanding of what we call super-natural, as well as a strong sense of communion with the natural world. It’s important to me that people find their own way towards creating a personal relationship with their ancestral spirits, to help process and find peace with the death that affects their lives. I have taken my reverence a step forward and use my ancestral line as an energy source for my work. I will often differentiate between reverence and work when I speak about my practice.
Ancestor reverence is accessible to everyone. I also call it honoring, worshipping, and remembering. At its simplest, ancestor reverence is the act and mindset of honoring your family lines, known and unknown to you. It’s the act of remembering them as living and breathing people who paved the way for you to be. It’s the way of thinking of them as a greater whole, one entity that is Those Who Came Before.
This is something that everyone can include in their lives, regardless of religious beliefs. In this model of thought, the dead are dead, and what you are remembering is a name and the history of the life beneath it. That has tremendous worth in itself, and is a way of finding connection in uncertain and unsettling times. It’s also a way of teaching your children their history, of teaching them that same connection; that we are each wonderful and unique, but not more so than the ones who bore us.
To take that next step into ancestor work, you must be open to the possibility that there is more to the world than we comprehend. You must be open to believing with certainty that the world is more wonder full than our brains can comprehend, and while science will come close, it will never be able to explain that wonder away. You must be willing to step into the wonder and be a child again, releasing your ego to learn a new world.
My work involves developing a personal relationship with what happens in death and the kinds of transformation that take place during and after. I understand spirit as passing on from its physical body and reincarnating into… something other. I see spirit as a residual echo of the living, in the way that we know the star light we see in the night sky flickered in a past long gone. Both exist simultaneously.
That spirit reincarnates and becomes something new. And it evolves and becomes something better. And it transforms and becomes something inconceivable. And it retains a familiar shape of the body it wore. All things are true. Some residues still ring strongly with persona, so much so that you can call on individual or specific spirits to work with- ones you have connections to. I do that.
What I mostly do involves energy work and energy manipulation. I break up elemental energies into qualities of earth, air, water, fire, and ancestor, striving for some kind of equilibrium between them, depending on what the moment calls for. If I’m feeling pulled in all directions, I seek some earthy grounding. If my emotions overwhelm me, I let them flow like water so they might pass through me. If I’m stuck on a problem and a solution seems impossible, I open the top of my thoughts and let them float free through the air until they arrange themselves in a different order. And if a family member is ill, I tap into the ancestor energy so that they might watch over them, and aid their healing.
Energy is energy. I break them up into elementals as a tool to help my brain understand them and to help me understand the qualities of their differences. The important part is recognizing that they are different aspects of the same thing. Energy is life, is deity, is divinity, is interconnectedness, is one, is everything. Everything that grows and decays is connected, depending on each other for the space to grow and flourish.
There is a unity and sameness to all living things. It’s why bigotry seems stupid. We fight between gender and race, trying to hold one up against another, when we are all humans. We are all humans who are no less entitled to live on this world than the elephants and the whales and the crows and the goldfish and the honeybee.

 [Revamped draft of an article originally published March 30, 2011.]
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