Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bela Terra: Gifts from the Earth

zucchini and other delicious things from our garden

A while ago, I asked the question: what is the link between the ancestors and the earth?

There is the obvious: most of us bury our dead in the earth. Even in coffins, their essence can leak out into the earth. In fact, the history of death, burials, cemeteries around the world is a lesson in the creation of sanitation laws, health guidelines, and corporate development for the living and the dead.

Recently I heard something very interesting: so many unfulfilled dreams are in cemeteries, buried with the dead. So, there is also the not so obvious: the energy that emanates from the ancestors - their dreams, desires, and wants, unfulfilled or satisfied - is the energy we walk on and in every day. It comes up through our feet, which represent our paths in life. We are, therefore, never separate from our dead or they from us.

If you have ever visited Arlington Cemetery, you know what I am talking about. One must walk over the dead to get to the dead. It is humbling, frightening, overwhelming, sacred, and profane all at the same time. When I have visited there, I want to run so as not to linger so long in one place. Yet, I want to walk slowly to not disturb, to honor, to read the headstones. I want to listen to what is being whispered through the dirt and grass, the trees.

Brings a different understanding of why it behooves us to care for our living elderly, care for the ancestors, and care for the dead and their spaces. Gives a different understanding to why we must live fully and not die after a half-lived or un-lived life, and why we must not leave our dead behind. This last is another discussion that would bring us to the current violences all over the world.

I think of these things often, and especially during the spring and summer. During the first season we plant. The second season we reap. And, our reaping from our personal home garden has been glorious this year so far: collard greens, kale, chard, lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, onions, garlic. Corn and cucumbers to arrive soon.

And the yellow zucchini. It was the yellow zucchini that made me write this post. A few days ago, we removed the first and only one so far from its vine. One day we steamed half, a few days later, we roasted the other half along with some chicken wings. (Sorry: Only after we had eaten did I think I should have taken a picture).

All I can tell you is that when I bit into a chunk, down to the skin, my first thought was that I was so grateful for the man whose gift of honoring the ancestors through the land had produced this singular and beautiful feast. I thanked the ancestors. And, then I wondered at its sweetness, so unexpected. It was startlingly vibrant just like its flower. Until last year, I had never seen a zucchini flower, did not know it had one on a vine. But, the flower in half or full bloom is so worth observing.

What ancestral energy is flowing through the land where we are? The history here makes me shudder when I think about it. Yet, the ability to connect to that energy, shift its vibrational force, and harvest abundance and gratitude instead of scarcity and fear each time is a gift that cannot be seen outside the cycle of life that includes the ancestors.

There is so much more to think about as the summer continues. What will I discover with each new collard leaf, or rosemary stem? What will I discover with each yellow tomato or the cucumbers? I am waiting for the cucumbers. Two are hanging, almost ready to be welcomed to the table.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Arroyo Healing Network: July 8 New Moon Meditation

During this New Moon meditation, Spirit asked me: What is surrender and what does it mean to surrender? Surrender is often interpreted in terms of loss and victory. While this may be true in many situations, I am choosing to view it differently for this purpose.

As you may remember, the question that Spirit asked me during the February 2013 Full Moon meditation was "What does it mean to be free"?

The questions seem to go hand-in-hand, though I'm not sure in what order and if that order is the same each time.

I have been thinking a lot about surrender during this cleanse. Most of you know that I am ordered and diligent about my schedule and getting things done on time, if ahead of time. However, you may have noticed that I have kept rather quiet, not even posting comments or blog entries.

Why: I have been allowing myself to surrender to doing "nothing". And it has been good.

At some point, I realized that the schedule I had made was not going to be kept. I didn't want to keep it. I also realized that I could not. What I needed: more space to breathe and to allow my thoughts to settle after an intensive teaching year. More space in my office. More of everything that is not confining. More laughter with my Beloved and my sister-friends. So, I did what one of my favorite cards advises: I settled for more… of everything.

Mercury Retrograde is often a good and productive time for me to communicate, travel, and get things done. This has been a busy period for me with new projects and speaking in depth to many of you. As we near the end of the cleanse, however, I feel myself becoming quiet. Still. As I was cooking today, I basked in the sun coming through the window and the absolute glorious silence of no cars passing on the street for an extended period of time. I couldn't even find a thought until I made one.

It was so wonderful to take a few hours to cook a simple dish. Something that could have been done in one hour took me two hours because I wanted to chop the onions finely and watch them sauté. I wanted to shred the chicken instead of cut it. I wanted to make a curry paste from scratch, slice mangoes and yellow tomatoes from the garden. Make lemonade. Yum.

Too often we "stick to it" or rush through it. Either way we don't give ourselves enough time to contemplate what our mind, body, heart, and spirit are telling us: if we just allow a few more minutes, days, weeks, months - years even - to rest or think on something, our struggle to complete whatever it is can be reduced to almost nothing. The extra time we take could prevent us from making a mistake or help us make a better decision. Timing is everything and the information we need may not be quite ready for us to access it - or maybe we are not ready.

So, surrendering for me (this moment in time, today) is about knowing when to say yes to stillness and not moving forward in human time. There is a freedom that comes with that indeed: Releasing false expectations and fear that lead to frustration, ego, anxiety, anger, and reaction. This means that when it is time for me to take action I can do so clearly without second-guessing or floundering.

The New Moon brought me many new adventures, including babies as I take up a new role in my healing life as a birth and postpartum doula. The babies are teaching me every day. They arrive when they are ready, not when they are "due".  Because it is we on the outside who set the due date based on a series of observations that are nebulous. Yet, we have to prepare and plan for them as if we really know what they are going to do. In this way we are ready when they are ready. It is a wonderful task of listening to what can be seen and not seen, heard and not heard. Doing birth work requires me to constantly be a woman with an oxymoronic perspective: fluid schedule and birth plan are terms that come to mind.

I imagine the ancestors waiting to be born having some really good laughs as they choose when, to whom, and where they will be born. Every now and then they throw in a twist and arrive on the “due” date. Of course, we get happy and think how perfectly we worked it out. But really, it’s just the ancestors playing with us, giving us a break every now and then.

At this moment, then, I have come back to something I began to understand when I first became a priest: surrender can be a collaboration between myself and whatever I am resisting. In letting go of my resistance, I learn and see so much I had not seen or known before.

This has certainly been the case in me letting go of my schedule and allowing my mind to just observe all that I think was necessary and important. My Caribbean curried chicken salad with mangoes and raisins on a lovely bed of lettuce from the garden is testament to what can happen in extended moments of doing nothing supported by breathing unfettered by gasps or unconscious holding.

In the end, clarity, flavors and colors, and desire all surface and are exquisitely revealed and satisfied.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Doing What Needs To Be Done

This week marks the 14th anniversary of my initiation into the Egungun society. Honor and gratitude to Olodumare, my ancestors, and the orisas. Honor and gratitude to my Godmother and Godfather who brought me into this part of my life. Honor and gratitude to my "twin flame" for always burning brightly with me and for walking this path as well.

It also marks the 9th anniversary of the creation of my Sister-Healer community with three women who remind me every day why I am grateful I was born (again) this life in this place and time.

Earlier this week, they and my youngest godchild came to visit me from Chicago. It is a five-hour drive to see me, and they came for one night only. A long way, someone might say, just to stay a night, have some food, laugh, sing, heal, and pray. But, that was precisely the point: How far would you go to see family? 

Their visit was specifically to mark the creation of us. This was the 9th year since our meeting, the number of change and transformation, the proper time for us to acknowledge all that had happened in these nine years and all that was to come in the next nine. We recommitted our lives and paths to serving the Creator, the Ancestors, the Orisas, and each other. Most importantly, we gave thanks to them all for bringing us through Life and preparing us for more of Life. 

Me: I give thanks often for having the good sense to listen when my Ancestors speak.

I remember the day we came together. Trying to be the dutiful new priest, I was cleaning and preparing my ancestral shrine to commemorate my anniversary. The phone rang and I answered it because I had not yet started ritual. 

"Girl, we're down here at the beach. Why don't you come and join us?"

I politely declined and explained why.

Trying to be the dutiful priests that they were, they understood and politely said "another time". 
As soon as I hung up the phone, I heard a heavy voice say: "You fool. You better get on down to that beach. This can wait. Take care of what needs to be done". 

So... trying to be the dutiful new priest, I called the women back and told them what bus I'd be on.

The rest is herstory. We left the beach, piled into a tiny Honda, and headed towards the nearest grocery store. We bought whatever we could get with whatever we had in our pockets at the moment and returned to my place to prepare a feast. We ate on the floor looking out the windows at Lake Michigan.

What needed to be done that day? I needed to remember the living to keep balance. At the time, I didn't know that these women were ancestral workers themselves. We knew each other as poets. And, I needed to understand that serving the ancestors didn't always mean sitting in front of my shrine, doing ritual, sequestering myself.

In fact, since 1999 I have learned that being the dutiful ancestral priest often means tending to and teaching the living. The day I received that phone call, it certainly meant accepting an invitation to community that would teach me just as much as tending to my shrine would do.

I have kept this lesson dear to my heart not only because that day I gained such love and support, but also because it has taught me to think outside of ritual for ways I can honor my ancestors. The truth is, almost everything we do is ritual, and even the most mundane activity can be made sacred.

For example, I love (an understatement if you know the truth) to dance. But sometimes when I dance, I remember my godmother. I remember that her 70th birthday party started one mid-afternoon in Brooklyn and ended the next day. She loved to dance and we all danced - right out the door at 2 a.m. What better way to honor this woman who taught me what it was to be an elegant, graceful Black woman than to "shake a tail feather" when I desire, how I desire? 

Months ago, I had been given the message that I needed to do something big for my ancestors. So, I began planning days to clean, putting out my shrine, food to cook, time to pray. Then, the women said they were coming to visit. And I knew that "something big" meant once again opening up my living room to these beautiful, powerful, dutiful priests who were unafraid to shake more than a tail feather.

What else could I do but say yes, and remember that being a fool has its limitations.

Besides, every now and then we have to disrupt our own staid stories.