Last week my mother would have been 83 years old had she lived past her 49th birthday. Some years, I ask "what if?" Other years I remember. This year it was a little of both.
Since I began this journey of healing, I have often thought: if only I knew then what I know now - I could have helped her suffer less, lived longer. But, now is now. Then - which we try so hard to get back and not let go - cannot be changed, only our relationship to it.
My mother and grandmother taught me this nearly 20 years ago when they became one of the events that initiated my belief in the phenomena happening to me.
On this day, I was relaxing. Just listening to the cars pass by, enjoying the solitude of having the house to myself. For no reason I can explain, I bent my head back on the pillow to look across the hall.
What did I see? My mother and grandmother walking into the bedroom, my mother in her nurse's uniform, and my grandmother in one of her shin-length cotton frocks and her big straw hat.
They looked at me with so much love and my mother told me all was forgiven. I had been a child doing what children do.
They took my hands, pulled my arms up and over my head, and traced a symbol into the inside of my palms over and over again. Then they made me stand up and traced the symbol over my body. They walked out of the room, never taking their eyes off me.
I remember feeling relieved: my mother knew that I loved her. I cried for a long time. Afterward, I drew the symbol so I would not forget it.
Fast forward several years later.
I am completing my Reiki Master I training. During the initiation, the Master doing the work finishes the process and I wait to be directed towards my seat. Instead, I feel him grab my arms again, lift them up, and start again.
Afterward, he explains that he was told to give me another symbol, one he has never seen or heard of before. However, he was clear that Spirit had told him to do this. He offered to draw the symbol for me so I could have it.
When he finishes the drawing, I smile and tell him that I know the symbol and that years ago my mother and grandmother had given it to me in a waking vision.
Although, even at this writing, I do not know what the symbol means, it was clear then as it is now that my Ancestors had initiated a process in one realm that was - is always - confirmed in this realm.
What was also clear: I did not need to be afraid. What was unseen would eventually reveal itself if I allowed it to do so.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
... the Ancestors said: Keep it real and immediate.
I will return later to the series of unexplainable events that made me stop asking and start believing, knowing, accepting, and doing.
But for today, just for today, I'll tell you about yesterday.
It is my practice during meditation to ask the Ancestors to "show me the way". And they have: resources and responses arrive the day after I have asked for guidance. This has revealed to me the power of our connection and the urgency of what needs to be done and how.
Halfway through my meditation last night, I heard something fall in my office. I noted it and continued sitting until it was time to end.
When I checked my office, I discovered that three books had fallen off a bottom shelf. Although I had been cleaning earlier in the day, these had not been situated in a way that would cause them to topple.
• Jambalaya: The Natural Woman's Book. (Luisah Teish, 1985). The first African-centered healing book about the Orisas and Ancestors I ever bought, and one of the earliest published on the subject. Iya Teish was the first African-based practitioner I had ever met, and the first person to ask me to write the story of how I got my head. That is, to write the story of how I chose my destiny. She was also someone who spoke openly about the need for women to have community to save their lives and the lives of their children.
• Saints, Sinners, Saviors: Strong Black Women in African American Literature (Trudier Harris, 2001). A book I only discovered two years ago. I used it as the model for a course in which I researched women as cultural healers and community workers.
• Mother's Underground - Issue: The Womb (1992). The title says it all. This was one of the first magazines that published my writing.
If one had fallen, it may have meant something. However, I might have easily just returned the book to the shelf. However, three falling at the same time, all connected to beginnings and births?
What do I do when something like this happens? I accept that it is another response to my petition. Because I am working on answering the question "Where will you go next?", I know that these three texts are the answer. Because I have a history with them and the people associated with them, I can choose to delve into them in a myriad of ways to get a fuller meaning. For example: Are the writers models or mentors?
So, instead of putting them on the shelf, I have put them on my desk. They have no hidden codes except what I interpret from cover to cover, and within the contexts of the questions I am asking, the paths I am pursuing, and the project on which I am working.
If they had been tarot cards or divination shells, the reading would go something like this: Return to the origins of your initiation into this work. You are about to give birth to your ideas. Community will be present. You must work hard to create and maintain all that you have. Remember: walk the path of your African Ancestors. The High Priestess, Mother, Healer are with you. Remember why you chose to be born here.
Friday, March 8, 2013
"Tell them Arroyo sent you."
This is part of the message the Ancestors gave me when I arrived at the tip of Brazil, February 11, 1999. A 17-day sailing trip from Barbados during which I was silent most of the way. Retracing Middle Passage Routes for six weeks will do that to you. The words came in Portuguese, a language I did not speak at the time. In fact, when I returned to the United States, I called the Brazilian consulate to ask someone to translate what I had written in my journal.
In its entirety, the message was a mandate for me to remember the chains that bind us and to help others heal what had wounded them. "Us" being sentient beings. To accomplish this, I would have to excavate what was hidden under the skin, in dreams, in a smile, or a slight turn of a head. And, in turn, those working with me would have to look at what had been found and decide what to keep, let go, throw away, or reconstitute. Together we would have to decide how to create what was important this moment in time and space to do so.
Since 1999 I have been doing what the Ancestors told me to do, but there is more. Always more to do. This blog is to share some of the messages I have received since that day. However, it is also to discuss "the work" that needs to be done - and that gets done - in our communities, neighborhoods, families, classrooms, and our selves to heal the things that remain buried so deeply they do not wake us at night but seep into our lives surreptitiously until they become real, tangible, overwhelming. Like violence and illness, discontentment and anger. And fear.
Three times a year I contemplate these messages and the work from a different perspective when Mercury is retrograde. A perfect time to retreat, seek a haven from doing and relish in being. During this first retrograde of the year, however, I find myself actively doing and being, and finally coming to a consensus with my many selves about how to communicate this mandate, and the type of community that is needed to carry it out in all its many manifestations.
It is hard to believe that almost 15 years have gone by since I took up my pencil and began writing while we approached Fortaleza. It was the first time I had ever seen the huge white windmills that can be found almost every where now. It was the day we were close enough to the equator for me to calculate what time we would cross it.
I remember thinking: how long would the lead last on the paper (all the pens had stopped working) and what would I do with this information I couldn't even read.
Everything in its time.
So, what exactly does it mean to do what the Ancestors tell me to do? And, who are they any way?
In the simplest terms: The Ancestors are people no longer living. Most directly they are the people to whom we are biologically connected. However, they are also people with whom we have other connections. For example, non-blood "family" or extended family. If we are artists, we may consider the artists who cleared the path before us our ancestors as well.
For me, my Ancestors are a combination of all of the above. My biological ancestors speak the loudest and it is to them that I have specific obligations. It is they who give me mandates. Sometimes, I have to determine whose voice and mandate must be addressed first because occasionally everyone has something for me to do. Imagine that you are the youngest child at a family gathering and all the aunts and uncles are calling your name simultaneously.
However, I have also been blessed with the gift of being able to hear a larger group of ancestors, those who at the moment remain in a liminal space, who have been unable to reconnect to their living families, or who are unable to make the final transition.
|My husband and I at an outdoor ancestral shrine (Chicago 2007).|
Doing what the Ancestors tell me to do?
How do they sound? What do they say? Do I always do what they say?
I have been learning the answers to the first two questions (and others) for years now. And, just when I think I "got it", something changes. I had to develop an "Ancestral Lexicon" for myself comprised of dreams, messages from other people, guidance from elders, "signs", sounds, prayers, and good old common sense.
My biggest connections, however, are at my shrine and through dreams. In the former, I am able to connect with them via prayer and ritual. In the latter, they are able to connect with me when I, too, am in a liminal space. It helps when someone with whom I am familiar appears in person. Less to to guess.
Often, my ancestors will make themselves known to me as a confirmation about something I have been thinking or feeling.
Do I always do what they say? Yes. I learned early on that to do otherwise caused results I didn't want, and often chaos and pain that had the potential to carry over into another lifetime.
How do I know this is not my own "mind" speaking to me or my imagination? I used to ask myself this question, even developed a series of tests to prove that it was all me. However, a series of unexplainable events - phenomena - happened that made me stop asking and start believing, knowing, accepting, and doing.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Contemplate: “Free” and “Freedom”
During my Full Moon meditation (February 23), Spirit asked me: “What does it mean to be free”? “What do you mean by freedom?” For me, to be Free is to be without Fear.
to understand that
and that not being able to do the first leads to
Reaction instead of Action is what happens when we respond to fear. Reacting often comes from a place of frustration, ego, anxiety/anger – an immediate response when we have not developed the ability to stop mid-word, sentence, movement and breathe, think, ask for guidance in the moment.
Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that if we find ourselves about to argue with someone that we should breathe, stop, and simply say: I am unable to discuss this calmly at the moment, may we take a moment (or two, or an hour) and return to this issue when we are both able to discuss it.
This gives us the time to allow our breath to settle us and for us to enter a silence that may reveal ourselves (or the other person) in an unexpected way. Being able to act out of love and compassion towards ourselves, the other person, and the situation in which you find yourselves can lead to healing you could not have planned.
Each of us will understand "freedom" and being "free" in different ways depending on our backgrounds and where we are this moment in time. I came to understand these words in a profound way in 1994 when watching a news story on Rwanda by Jim Wooten. It was about young girl whose mother had to bury her on the "airport road" - a mass grave - as she was fleeing for her life. Afterwards, I could not stop hearing the little girl's voice.
It took me many months to stop running away (literally) from her voice and her story. However, what began as a terrifying experience for me - not nearly what it had been for her or her mother, ended in a poem in her voice so she, a young ancestor, would not be forgotten. Nor would her message: death and dying bring their own freedom and understanding of what it means to be free. She wanted to share this message with her mother and release her from the deep feeling of failure of responsibility that she must have felt.
She says in the poem's last stanza:
"No memory of me exists in this grave
of generations heaped upon another
without ceremony, without ritual.
But the sun doesn't burn my forehead
anymore and I am not hungry
although I long for the taste of her milk
I want to touch her and tell her,
Mama, this is what they mean by freedom."
Because releasing our expectations and fears often feel like dying, this message remains for me a lesson in letting go, becoming unattached to the outcome, and knowing to whom and to what I am responsible in the process of doing so.