My first book, VIKARO, is also available here.
I grew up in a world where all of the stories I heard were based on a two-sided binary. Male vs female, then vs now, war vs peace, day vs night, good vs bad were presented to me as the unarguable basis for everything else in the stories I heard as a child.
What I perceived with my senses as I grew up did not always agree with what I had been told. Day and night blended gently together as one became the other during sunsets. War and peace were sometimes hard to tell apart as I read news stories. I visited sites of historical interest where then is performed by now. I lived between male and female or in both categories at once. After years of active study into the theology of the dominant religion where I was born, I came to feel that good and bad really seemed to be about following orders. To follow was good. To disobey was bad.
I began to feel that binaries are in fact very effective weapons. They simplify the complex choices of life into the logic of a toddler’s emotional outburst, where there are only two possibilities for the toddler. One is what they want. The other is what they don’t want. A binary applies the same simplified logic to the complex world of adult interpersonal and spiritual relationships. The binary of good/bad is the most powerful because it is the most versatile. It can be applied to almost any situation. Humans have regularly proven themselves capable of taking actions that produce imbalance, death, disconnection and environmental destruction in the name of good. The details of what precisely “good” is are continuously shifting, but the type of actions carried out to prove that a person is “good” have remained relatively consistent since the introduction of that binary. To be “good,” a person must be able to demonstrate their willingness to destroy “bad.” Depending on who is defining those two terms, the target of the destruction changes, but the violent actions directed at the individual, group or ecosystem are still happening.
Binaries are also just as impassioned as a toddler’s outburst. They are deeply stirring to be involved with. It is dramatic and exciting to attack, to destroy and to hate. It is also deeply satisfying to stand against. Defining an organization by what it is against is a great way to add new members.
I offer the labrys as a way to participate in life in a way that honors the situations where two things are needed to get a result that is greater than either alone. For me, this ancient symbol is a way to bring healing into our world that has been cut in two so many times that it has forgotten how to be one. Part of the reason the labrys is well suited to this is because of the way it looks like an axe to those who haven’t yet learned to see that it is a butterfly, a shining beacon in the sunlight, and a pair of twins perfectly joined in prayer, plus many other things. The labrys is not a symbol against anything. It is an old, old way of talking about being together. To see and understand some of what it is, we have to be willing to look close enough to realize that things with two parts do not have to be about destruction.
People with one type of body can get together with people with another type of body in order to do the things that result in making beautiful, respectful magic together or both can coexist in one person so they can understand more people. The darkness of night is the best place for dreams to come that can then be enacted under the brightness of the sun. An awareness of what has already happened can help inform how to act now so that the future benefits from the healing we do today. Conflict is sometimes a necessary part of setting boundaries that lead to open spaces for greater balance.
The labrys is a reminder to me that there is a way to approach life where I can see the value in joining and honoring what comes from two that is more than one.
The labrys is a reminder for me that there is a way to dream about wholeness where difference can be the best thing.
The labrys is a reminder to me that I don’t need binaries in how I view the world because there are pairs and there are twins.
The thrill of destruction can be replaced in the stories I choose to tell by the joy of coming together.
The temporary security of being good can be composted into the long-term support of being connected.
Two blades always seeking to cut one from the other can be transformed into two active participants dancing towards becoming more than they were alone.
I lived most of my life thinking that my experience as a non-binary spirit worker was so unusual and shameful that I shouldn’t acknowledge it, not event to myself. In more recent times, I have had the opportunity to listen and hold space as I hear story after story from other people who are in those categories. While doing my best to help each of them, I also received an unexpected gift. I learned that my story is standard issue for people like us.
It is not the only story that can be told about the times and places where it happened. It is my story, and it was the one that was left out of the other stories being told about the same times and places. I offer a version of it here in the form of a dialogue with stage directions.
TODDLER ME: “That tree is my friend. I like water on my feet. I feel joy because I am alive.” Stands in water. Touches tree. Smiles.
WORLD “Kids are so cute! What’s he saying?” Looks down at TODDLER ME.
Kinder Me: “I want to wear a dress and climb trees so I can hear their songs. The music is so beautiful! I want to share in it. I want to learn to sing my part.” Opens arms wide.
STRANGE ADULT WORLD: “Boys want to be men. Men wear boots and chop down trees.” Goes into other room with the rest of ADULT WORLD. Stays there for a long time. Comes out with boots.
TWEEN ME: “I like bathing suits for girls. I can’t stop thinking about velvet. I also want to learn how to build my own house from things I find in the woods” Is often thought to be a girl by strangers. Others strangers think is boy. Maybe is both? Has no words for own feelings.
WORLD: “Boys wear shorts when they swim. It is better if boys don’t swim often. Boys want to be men and fix cars.”
JUNIOR HIGH ME: Feels confused. “Can I have long hair?” Gets mullet because of school dress code. Wants to be Boy George, Marie Fredriksson and Motley Crue’s next drummer.
WORLD: “NO! There is only BOY and girl. Everyone must choose the same option I choose for them. You are a BOY! If your aren’t a BOY, you don’t exist. Lighten up! Smile!”
JUNIOR HIGH ME: Asks self what BOY is. Has idea, but doesn’t know. Feels depressed. Starts writing poems. Learns is invisible if is not BOY. Learns not supposed to be girl, that is wrong. Learns there are only 2 choices. Asks self which choice is own choice. Still doesn’t know. Feels more depressed.
WORLD: You are a BOY! BOYS have short hair. They dislike like pink. Your music is evil. You are evil if you admit you hear it, because it doesn’t exist”
HIGH SCHOOL ME: Considers. Feels angry. Doesn’t want to be invisible. Doesn’t want to be evil. Responds. “Oh Yeah?! How about all of my clothes have pink?! Hot Pink!” Tries to forget tree music. Feels depressed and angry. Makes own drums and learns to play. Is told drums are evil. Wonders if joy is evil. Feels very confused.
WORLD: “Are you a BOY or a girl. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING!”
2ND HIGH SCHOOL ME: Tries BOY Stuff. Is good at sports. Feels depressed. Harms self. Medicates self. Best friend medicates self. Best friend dies.
WORLD: “Are you a BOY or a girl. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING!” Regularly threatens 2nd High School Me with physical assault. “Why aren’t you smiling? You’re too sensitive. MAN up!”
3rd High School Me: Wears makeup. Feels free. Is chased or threatened most days. Medicates self more. Takes risks. Wears spikes. Barely makes it to 18. Loses many friends.
WORLD: “Are you a BOY or a girl? THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING! I’m gonna KICK YOUR A$& ‘cuz I CAN’T TELL. You’ve got to be a people person. Why aren’t you smiling? You just need to get happy!”
AFTER HIGH SCHOOL ME: Finds new friends who also medicate selves and take risks. Mostly forgets tree music. Loses some new friends to medications. Gets romantic partner who is likely Borderline Personality Disorder. Is ok with that because BPD partner will go out in public while both wear skirts and Goth makeup. Is used to verbal abuse.
WORLD: “I HATE YOU because you won’t answer! ARE YOU A BOY or a girl!”
EARLY COLLEGE ME: I am so ANGRY! What?! That’s normal here? Ok. I want to make films.
WORLD: “Wait, where did HE go?” Looks angrily around. Can’t find EARLY COLLEGE ME.
COLLEGE ME: “I’m at work in girl clothes making posters for concerts!” Some friends with same body type who also wear girl clothes get beat up. Sees their bruises and scabs. Wonders when same will happen to me. Makes friends who can hear tree music and like it when wears mix of BOY clothes and girl clothes. Forms accepting family with them. Celebrates holidays with accepting family. BPD partner leaves. Travels. Falls in love. Graduates.
POST-COLLEGE WORLD: “MEN get jobs and earn money. You’re a MAN, MAN, MAN!”
LATE 20’S ME: Moves. Loses accepting friends family. Finds self with new people in new place. Sees MEN. Sees women. Tries to make friends with both. Men kick poles and hold beer. Women sometimes act like friends. Other times are suspicious. Feels isolated. Thinks maybe am a MAN after all. Still not sure what MAN is. Observes carefully.
Tries to MAN. Feels like is losing self, but also it must be done. Has tried other options. Didn’t work. Medicates self. Doesn’t admit to hearing tree music. Feels love of food is accepted by World. Feels might disappear if not seen by World. Overeats. Feels confused.
WORLD: “Good job. You’re getting better now. You just need to try harder.”
EARLY 30’S ME: Tries harder to MAN. Overeats more. Attempts to Workaholic. Succeeds. Feels terrible. Reads stories from ancestors’ times. Learns ancestors loved tree music and ocean songs. Tries to become parent. Succeeds. Feels happy.
WORLD: “You are almost there. You still don’t do it right. Are you a MAN or not?”
LATE 30’S ME: Gets depressed. Gets more depressed. Gets so depressed, can’t remember most of a year. Sees own death. Starts hearing tree music and ocean songs again. Learns to meditate.
WORLD: “I thought you got over that nonsense. I am disappointed in you. Don’t you know everyone else got over it years ago? By the way, what do you do for WORK?” Many friends appear to agree.
PARENT ME: Works at least 3 jobs. Is very tired. Feels confused. Most known parent examples look like bad ones. Makes mistakes. Loves child deeply. Decides to be there for child. Changes jobs so can read bedtime stories instead of work at night. Goes to park with child. Mothers at park move to get away. Fathers at park hide beer between legs and ignore children.
Is represented by paper necktie at child’s preschool. All MAN parents are paper neckties. No other option for children to make. Is quiet often, sometimes angry. Some friends buy iPhones. Some friends lose selves to medications. Stops medicating self. Wants to be in better health. Feels confused.
PARENTING WORLD: “MEN go to WORK to make MONEY! MEN talk about WORK or hobbies that cost MONEY when they are not at WORK. Women and MEN can’t be friends. They should not speak unless forced to if they aren’t at WORK. If you think you have friends who are women, you are wrong. Your imagined female friends will agree with me because you are a MAN!” Most imagined female friends appear to agree.
EARLY 40’S ME: Stands up straight for first time. Marches in parade in drag. Finds friends who love tree music and ocean songs. Feels free.
Sees own worst fears happen at Pulse Nightclub. Feels scared. Loses some friends to high cost of living. Gets quiet. Decides not to medicate self. Eats right amount. Exercises more. Gets better at being parent. Learns to process feelings. Starts spiritual tradition with others who hear same music.
WORLD: “What you’re doing is stupid. Don’t you remember what the MOST IMPORTANT question is?!!!! You ARE your GENETALIA!” Ignores all intersex and trans people. Most national government organizations agree.
ME: “I dislike politics, but find that my existence is itself political. Binaries are always weapons. I’m not either of those, I am both of those, I am one followed by the other, I am more than either alone can be. I am a third option that is peace and healing.
There are others like me. We are not new. We have always been here because we are a natural part of all the ways to be human. Each of us exists as we are because it is true. We didn’t choose this. We ARE this. We have value. That tree is my friend. I like water on my feet. I feel joy because I am alive”
Even if my mind does not remember the stories, songs, and dances the ancestors of my path did for connection, healing and seasonal celebration, my body remembers how to listen for their voices if I can learn to hear. My dreams know how to sing if I can hold their gifts with gentle care. My soul remembers how to dance if I can learn to be quiet and to move without asking too many questions. Mine is a path of holding still under the stars, and staying alert long enough to hear the darkness between them as well.
Even if I had forgotten how to talk with my dead, the dead have not forgotten how to speak to their living. That means that as I heal my connection to my own ancestors, I am also healing my access to the wisdom that sustained them when they were alive. Mine is a path of listening to my dead and giving the healthy, supportive ancestors who did things like I seek to do them a place in my kitchen.
Even if the culture I was born into had forgotten how to learn from forests, rivers, and ecosystems, the stones, the sea and the spirit world have not forgotten how to teach humans better ways of being in tune with their presence. Mine is a path of touching bark with love, slipping into waves, and soaking the sun into my heart through the palms of my hands.
All of these, and many more things like them, are needed to do what I do. As I practice every day to be better at being who I am, I try to keep in mind that stories are very powerful. A story that says I do not have a “real” spirituality if I do not have a holy book or an elder to teach me is a powerful weapon. I can choose to pick it up and aim it at myself, or I could choose another story.
I choose instead a story that tells me everything I need to know to be the best human person I can be is already in my body, in my dreams, in the voices of my ancestors, and in the Land, Sea and Sky around me. In this story, I already know how to be what I need to be. I only have to remember the details. It might not be easy, but it will be deeply meaningful. I will also have plenty of help doing it that will aid me in staying on track should I find myself stuck in my own bias, trauma responses, personal fears, ego or wishful thinking. I only need to be willing to show up every day and do my best at listening.
You can see me in two rivers
As they dance into each other
Becoming one again
My touch is found
At your edges in a dream
When you are slipping into water
You can hear me in a flower
Turning towards the morning sun
To speak a voice outside of time
My taste lives in the dance
Where you jump into tomorrow
So that today is so much sweeter
You can find my scent inside an image
Of two hands upraised in song
Where a breath becomes the sky
I am what has no memory
Because all of it is now
I am what connects you
To the start of the beginning
Call me, if you will
My name is
A calendar can be many things. It can tell me when to go to school, when to eat dinner, when to go to school, and a myriad of other mundane things. There is value in all of those things, but they are not the only things a calendar can do. A calendar can also be about currents and tides, about when is the right time and about the best moment to begin new things.
I know from my historical research that the inhabitants of ancient Crete who have inspired my spiritual practice so much were deeply connected to the rhythms of the sea and stars. Images of sea life are everywhere on the utensils and murals they left behind. Some of the structures they built have stellar alignments. It appears that knowing about what was happening in the sea and in the night sky were important enough to them that they made art and monuments bearing visual connections to these two areas of interest that are so durable they continue to exist, 4,000 years later.
Though I practice a spirituality that has its roots in that time, I am living here and now. I did not grow up with generations of ancestors who all knew how to be in tune with the currents of the sea and the night sky. For a long time, this was a great concern for me. I felt that I would be forever disconnected from those streams of wisdom that were so important to the past.
As it turns out, the stars are still here, and so is the sea. They are both still as powerful, awe-inspiring, and capable of teaching a willing pupil as they were all those years ago, back when the first sailors learned that it is not a good idea to put their boats into the water until the winds have changed in the spring and the stars are aligned to guide a passage to foreign lands.
Even though I do not have a boat to row out to where the winds can catch a sail, I do have a lot in common with those far-away mariners. I am a business person who seeks to provide for my family while remaining honorable and in tune with the ecosystem that sustains me. The tools of my trade are slightly different than theirs where, but I can still benefit from taking a moment to honor the beginning of the season where I do most of my work, and to seek a blessing on the objects and actions that bring me a good living.
If you are doing the same on this day, I offer you this blessing:
Blessing of the Ships
May the winds be kind to your fleet.
May the sun be ever a guide.
May the stars be with you at night.
May the dolphins come gently to your bow
May the swallows go softly at dawn
May you return as well as you are now
I live in a literate culture. Now, even more than ever, communication takes place through the 2-dimensional mediums of text and image. Video chat has taken the place of face-to-face meetings in many contexts, texting has replaced hours of phone calls and I have comment threads instead of conversations with several people at once. I don’t feel a need to bemoan these changes, but I do feel a need to observe them. What I see when I do that is a decreasing level of importance placed on the location of the person’s body who is engaged in communication through one of these mediums. What I do with my feet while texting seems to have little direct impact on how the recipient of the message will respond, for example.
If I look below and behind the cultural overtones of these 2-D practices, I start to see something else. What is in that space doesn’t demand attention like a YouTube video does, so it is easy to overlook. There, down under the assumption that the rest of my body doesn’t matter when my face is on video chat, lies the question that is the title of this post. I found it floating over to me one day while I was doing my regular meditation on connecting with sunlight. I stand with my eyes closed and carefully orient my face towards the sun, based on the sensation of light and warmth alone. Then I stand in that sensation for at least three breaths before stepping forward into whatever the next action is. It was a day with a schedule, and I felt like taking time with the sunlight might help me sort it out a bit better. As the rays landed on my forehead and palms, there the question was, expecting an answer.
As a practitioner of a revivalist spirituality that seeks to connect with some very old practices that originated long before culture was carried out primarily in 2-D mediums, I spend a lot of time looking at artifacts from thousands of years ago and thinking about world views. I often wonder about what sort of underlying ways of seeing guided the people who painted the symbols that have fascinated me for so long. What did it feel like to be the potter who painted my favorite octopus vase? How did the person who applied the red to mark the center of a flower on a mural decide when and what to eat? What did a parent who lived near a beach that is now under the sea choose to do when a child came running over to them with a found seashell? Rather than tales of wars and power, I feel that it is the combined thread of what is behind these little decisions that most fully describes a culture.
On more than one occasion, someone has said to me, or in my presence, that we can’t know anything about the past until we find a primary, written source that explains it to us. To me, this appears to be a statement that is really about translation. It seems to encode the idea that the past cannot be meaningful unless it is translated into today’s preferred method of communication. When someone makes a variant of that statement, I hear a comment that has more to do with a contemporary person’s abilities and limits in terms of how they receive information than at does with understanding the past. Conversely, I could also be missing the point completely. Perhaps we can’t know anything for certain unless it is written down.
Is knowing something for certain the most important thing? Could it be that the primacy of the concept of knowing something for certain on an intellectual level is relatively recent, and might not have had the same meaning to the people who lived in the past that we ascribe to it now? What appears to me in this case is a different question. What does the tangible inheritance we do have from the past tell us? Put another way, how does the language of 3-dimensional shape and form used by the ancient Minoans communicate? I claim them as my spiritual ancestors, so what can I learn from the way they organized space? It seems possible to me that the spaces they created, which endured across many generations held meaning for them that I could access some version of by relating to a space with a similar shape. This is the way dances and gestures retain meaning as they are passed down. It is a common way for cultures with strong oral elements pass along meaning in many ways. At its most basic, it is how children learn to communicate, by doing something they have seen someone else do.
I can’t read an account of something that happened thousands of years ago on an island across the world form where I live. Instead of focusing on the absence of that experience, I can do what my daughter does all the time. I can look at what happened, then do it to the best of my ability. Then I can pay attention to the results and decide if I want to do something like that again in hopes of getting similar results. Rather than waiting for a written history, I can look at the art and artifacts. I can dive into their wealth of visual and symbolic information to see what I can learn by doing.
It is not possible to read text written by people alive when the art was created that explains what is happening in a mural on the wall of a former temple like it is in a museum today that focuses on contemporary art. It is absolutely possible for me to hold my body in the ways the subjects of the mural hold their bodies, or to make art that uses the shapes and symbols they used. If I can let go of the need for an intellectual explanation of what I am doing until after the fact, different possibilities can emerge. As I do this, I can entertain the possibility that the reason we don’t have title cards for the Minoan murals could be that the people who painted them didn’t feel they were needed. Perhaps they had other priorities that included other ways of knowing things that didn’t require textual verification and support.
Several things have emerged for me so far from this direction of inquiry. The first is that their buildings show that they took care to orient them in specific ways that connected to astronomical occurrences. I have had the opportunity to do some of this in my own life, on a very small scale. I don’t have the ability to build anything approaching the scale of a Minoan temple. I do have the opportunity to build a version of something much smaller. It is a little feature that is most often overlooked by discussions of the past, but it is what is what I can do here and now. Through the process of building and living with this purposeful alignment and arrangement of materials in space, I have learned a great deal from the lived experience it brings about.
An important part of this for me has been a deeper awareness of the presence of light. Through the process of learning about how to build something that will meet the brilliance emanating from a celestial body at a particular angle at a particular time, I have also been learning about what it is necessary to do with my body to bring that moment about. I have been learning what is needed to allow me to move fairly large stones into the locations they need to be in for that to happen. I needed to learn which muscles and which angles to use in the lifting and pushing. I needed to learn which chants to sing and which drum beats to play that would allow me to get to a state where such lifting could be done safely. I had to learn all kinds of things about how stones behave and how sand forms into shapes.
The process included what it feels like to have accomplished a physical feat that I didn’t know I could carry out until I needed to do it. At the end of the building, I was able to look at a photograph of a small structure that is 4,000 years and say “I know how that can be built” because I had just finished doing it. An important distinction to make here is that I don’t claim to know how the people who changed the shape of the physical world in a particular place did it or even why they did it. Instead, I am interested in knowing who to get a similar result in my time and place in my personal rearranging of the physical. I am like the child who looks at what someone older than I am did and tries it out to see if it gets results I want to repeat.
So far, those results have mostly been about listening. I have been learning what it feels like to stand on a stone that I placed so that it can let me know when the light will be in just the right place for me to be there with it. I have been hearing what the sound of bear feet walking a pattern based on voluntary limits is like to make. I have found the need to gain all kinds of skills related to keeping rocks clean that I didn’t know existed. There are also other things that have no words, but that are in my hands, my joints, and in my muscle memories of what I did when I manufactured tools out of pieces of my construction materials, then realized they would have been undetectable to an archeologist because they had not been changed in any way, only chosen. All of these moments are small and personal at the same time as large and connective. They don’t make me better than anyone else to have experienced them, but they do make me better at being myself than I was before I participated in them. Through them, I learned of new capacities that I did not know I could possess.
There is a difference in the feeling that comes from completing a building project that has the goal of providing shelter and one that has the goal of providing an opportunity to align with sunlight. It is similar in some ways to the difference between writing a technical manual and writing a poem. The same medium produces two very different results. Each goal has its own set of circumstances that it brings about and its own set of teachings to share with the people involved.
My experience was one of slow magic that was carried out in silence simply because words would not be useful in accomplishing it. I was doing it unaided by other humans. All of the calculations were spatial. Most of them were based on relationships between objects. Using letters, words or numbers would have complicated things.
Slow magic like I experienced in the building doesn’t translate well into anything written either, because it happens in the same 3-dimensional space that my body occupies. I could take photos of it, or get on video chat to discuss it, but I could not actually share with another person the embodied feeling of standing there, with my feet on a stone and my forehead receiving the sunlight. I could talk about it with someone else, but not truly share it. To do that, they would have to be and move in space with me.
As I stood there, being surprised by the question, I found myself doing my best to give the response the question seemed to require. This was to honor the question’s source, the stones under my feet, the air in my lungs, my body, its source, the light, its origin point, the water that makes my blood flow, where it comes from, and everything all of that is connected to.
In attempting to do that, I am doing my best at honoring life by practicing the magic of presence. If the ways they chose to organize space are any indication, the people who lived on Crete during the Bronze Age and before were consummate master of the same type of magic. They were very good at arranging physical space in particular ways. Maybe it doesn’t matter that I can’t read their thoughts on their experiences. Perhaps the fact that I am doing this here and now is a way to step into a dance that can be both beautiful and satisfying. The same has been be true for me with the smaller actions, like pouring a libation or being present for a sunrise or offering a listening ear. Perhaps it is joining the dance that matters most, even more than understanding it. What do you honor by your presence?
I know what it is to be broken
Body parts packaged
Claimed by Medicine
That I would not
Move ankle, neck, wrist or knee
Again like I used to
Every movement in pain
Memories of what is no longer
These numbers are distracting
Can’t I do without counting?
Be without measure?
The tree is in shadow
A squirrel drops shells on my head
The sun arrives very small
Light on my fingers is warm
Light in my eyes makes me squint
Day is reaching the place
Where the tree branches spread
I hold in mid-step, facing the light
Or is it Twenty-one?
Arms have left Tired behind
Legs fluid and low
Garden flowers are beautiful
No pain as I turn
Arms over my head
A circle after circles
I come to a stop
A circle made
By learning feet
Above the roots
As walnuts fall
As ashes rain
A sky of orange
A plume of smoke
Are you OK?
My people safe
Their towns in flames
I breathe in
A piece of place
Made by fire
From trees I loved
Animals I knew
They couldn’t leave
No time to run
From my lungs
Into my blood
Part of me
My flesh now holds
What was a tree
What was a bird
What was the woods
I walk in a circle
By my shoes on soil
And my daughter’s steps
Ashes and dust
Talking of water
We can breathe today
We can move our limbs
It is good to be
Alive right now
I have been trying to see the way forward, looking for ways to understand where I should devote my energies. Ways to get ready for the future. This isn’t an easy task, because we are all in a situation that hasn’t occurred in our lifetime, or in our parents lifetime. A pandemic like this hasn’t been here since my oldest grandfather (now an ancestor) was only 1 year old. Nobody I can ask has experience with what I am facing right now. On my search for answers, I am finding an absence.
Much can be learned from the past, but in this case what I have learned from the research I have been doing on the 1918 Influenza epidemic leads to more questions than answers I can put into practice. The questions lead to ideologies instead of solutions, to inflexibility instead of innovation, and to priorities that certainly aren’t mine because I see what they would bring into my life.
Plenty of voices around me are telling me that if I give them some money or some of my time, they will tell me how to make it all go back to normal, how to return things to the way they were, how to stop worrying and focus on marketing, or how to forget what is happening and start binge-watching my choice of shows. Here again I end up looking at ideas of “normal” that don’t correspond to mine and a romanticization of a time that was actually the direct cause of this one, and not likely to contain its solution. The rose-colored glasses have thick lenses and are easy to come by. I choose not to accept a pair so that I can avoid stumbling as I take a step forward. As I look around at my memories of last year, and the years just before that, more questions arrive.
In my previous post on the Way of the Cornucopia I looked into some of what is behind these questions. Here I want to explore sources of advice and wisdom. To do that, we need to step out of the stream of voices and move at a different rate. We might very well have time to do that now, after all. Let’s close the social media, leave the Zoom meeting, turn off the computer, put away the smartphone, push the little button on the TV that leaves its vast screen black and empty. What do we have if we do that?
We have ourselves and all of the things that belong truly to us. We have all that is genuine and all that is difficult about who we are and what choices we have made so far in life. A lot of what is being said right now reads to me as what happens when people who don’t like what they see in the mirror area at a loss for how to distract themselves. In these times it is getting harder to confuse distraction with meaning.
We also have whatever spirituality or religion we may be a part of. When I say this I do not mean the power structures that can sometimes go with these words. I mean the observable impacts of our personal version of these things as we actually practice them. Attending a ritual is a cultural practice that includes many other people. What happens in our live afterwards is ours on a much deeper level.
For me, this includes an ongoing ancestor practice where I seek to heal the trans-generational trauma that has wreaked so much havoc in my life, and in the life of some of my blood relations. I am not unusual in having this to deal with. Most (maybe all) of us share some version of this experience. What is a little different about me in this case is that I have made the choice to acknowledge something that is deeply uncomfortable and make an effort to change it.
This might not at first appear to have much to do with my search for practical solutions to looking for the path forward here and now. Let’s look a little below the surface. In a nation that doesn’t even acknowledge its dead most of the time, much less mourn them or respect them, there is so much emptiness and confusion in the lives of the living. Doubt is a very effective tool for reinforcing the power structures of the highly privileged where I live, but it doesn’t help when faced with a decision in a pressure situation like this. Doubt may have helped you look suitably disenchanted as you held your drink with its artisanal ice cube at a party a couple years ago, but it won’t help you respond to the death of a family member or to prolonged isolation this month or today.
This is where my ancestors come in. I find that an ancestor practice can have profound effects on subtle levels in times like these. I am their living descendant, and they care a great deal about making sure that this is still the case. My practice is a useful source of wisdom because nobody has my back like my healthy and whole ancestors from times past when people had a better idea than I do how to navigate extreme uncertainty and challenges.
Many of them lived through catastrophic changes like the medieval Black Plague, the Late Bronze Age Collapse, the climate change at the end of the Ice Age, earthquakes, fires, wars, genocides, floods, plagues, and famines. All of us are descended from people who are in one or more of those categories. These people did things in those situations that worked, things that were useful, and things that helped them survive. If this wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t be here. They know how to keep on living and they are generally happy to share with the living.
By connecting with my ancestors through my ancestor healing practice, I am re-opening the reciprocal communication that has been part of every culture in every part of the planet if you go back far enough. Not everyone did it the same way, to be sure, but at some point all of us had ancestors who communicated with their ancestors. In many of the places where my people are from, the dead were at one time buried under the floors of the houses their living descendants occupied. This speaks to a worldview that had an active place in it for listening to the wisdom of ancestors who had survived.
Reconnecting with this ancient stream of energy is in many ways like releasing a river from behind a partially crumbling dam. Things aren’t going to be the same afterwards, but the change might very well be worth it in the long run. Pressure is released and the broader spectrum of life can head back towards complexity and diversity. With all the talk of “going back to normal,” did we forget that we can’t do that in this time, or in any time? We can only go forward into what happens next. The future doesn’t look like the past, no matter how much some of us want it to. I prefer to look for ways to make sure it has a place for me and my family in it.
My first answer to the pandemic was to suggest that we leave behind the military rhetoric of “fighting disease” in order to fill your life with the blessings of things that bring joy, meaning and wellness. This time around I am suggesting that we look for our ancestors who survived and who have wisdom to share so that we can do the same. They are here in our bones, in our dreams, and in the quiet places where we go to be alone. We can listen to them and learn to make better decisions this time around so that our descendants will still be here when we are ancestors, and theirs after them, for many more generations.
To conclude, I would like to share an image that came to me through my meditation on the joyous profusion of flowers in Minoan art. They are in borders, on pottery, painted growing wild, shown in gardens, and in people’s hair. I have come to see them as a symbol of the health benefits that can come through a stable and well ancestral connection. Flowers are the hope for a future where we can live and be well. We still feel an echo of this when someone leaves a handful of blooms on a grave.
A flower is what comes up from the earth and makes new things burst into now from the past so that the future can come to be. It is both beautiful and decidedly practical in the same way as an ancestor practice. Flowers are no light-weights. The image they have acquired more recently of being airheads is very much at odds with the roles they play in the world. They are ingenious tools plants use for survival. This survival is accomplished through a deep connection with the beauty and power of color, and it is based in the darkness inside the earth. They are living, hardworking symbols of the future. The future they strive towards is one filled with a sweet smells, butterflies and the sound of bees. It is the kind of future I would like to see because it has a place for people like me in it.
Next time you are taking your exercise walk, consider smelling the flowers. Hold the possibility in your mind that you have your own stream of ancestral wisdom available to you. Allow yourself to take in the scent and the color, and see where that goes.
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