Satiating spiritual starvation
I, like almost all of us, am an orphan.
I’m not a biological orphan, but an ancestral orphan. While I can trace my bloodlines back to France and Scotland/Ireland (a luxury many don’t have) I don’t know where my root ancestral lands are. I don’t know the customs, healing herbs, or rituals and celebrations of the people whose blood I carry.
For most of us, our ancestral wisdom was not passed intact from generation to generation; our great great great grandparents words and visions and knowings of our bloodlines lie lost in the dirt along with their bones and ashes.
And so we are hungry. We yearn for something we feel but cannot understand. We are rootless and homeless spiritually, cut off from the ones who came before us. And especially in times like these, we need the ones who came before us wisdom and insights.
I’ve spent years studying the spiritual and healing traditions of my ancestors, but because of the burning times in Europe much is fragmented. This is true for most, though not all, ancestral traditions. We have lost so much. Some has been recreated through memory, dreams, visions and much borrowed. In our poverty we have looked elsewhere to find meaning, connection, and nourishment.
After studying and immersing myself in European shamanic practices and rituals as a young woman, I hit an impasse. While I now felt a connection with the earth and with my heritage in a visceral way, I knew in my bones that something was missing.
I couldn’t go to my grandmothers to ask their counsel; my maternal grandmother had died long before I was born, and my paternal grandmother was deeply French-Catholic. At the time I didn’t know how to pull the insights and gifts out of her religion; I just saw Christianity as the oppressor of my European shamanic roots. (Today I pray the rosary as a mystical goddess tradition, and again feel that connection to my Nana. But at the time I was young and hurt and rebellious and couldn’t separate the outer manifestation from the inner heart.)
So at the age of 26 I asked for guidance from the spirit world. I prayed for a mentor, a more intimate understanding of what I knew was missing in my being. While I deeply loved and respected my current mentors: Vicki Noble and Cerridwen Fallingstar, my hunger was only partially satisfied, and I yearned for something I had not yet tasted, but knew in my being.
And that prayer was answered in a dream.
What I was reaching out for was also reaching out for me.
In my dream I saw my next teacher. I had no idea where or how I would find him, but I knew that was the path forward. The week after my dream a friend walked into my office and exclaimed “You have to meet this man!”
And thus, don Miguel Ruiz was introduced into my life. (This was in the early 1990’s, before The Four Agreements were written, before millions of people in the world knew his name and writings.)
I immersed myself in Toltec wisdom as an apprentice of don Miguel. Here was a tradition not from my blood ancestors, but birthed and rooted in the continent I call home. Here was indigenous wisdom passed down through stories and teachings from generation to generation, somehow surviving the Spanish colonization of the land now called Mexico.
Meeting don Miguel and the community around him felt like a spiritual homecoming, a buffet of wholesome food that I knew could nourish me for my lifetime.
Today, I blend the wisdom and teachings of my European ancestors with the wisdom of my chosen spiritual family, the Ruizes. I am blessed beyond measure to be a carrier of these precious teachings.
With don Miguel’s blessings, and in deep love and connection with his lineage holders, his two sons don Miguel Jr and don Jose, we are building something new that is solidly founded in ancient wisdom. Grandmother Sarita, don Miguel’s mother and don Miguel and don Jose’s grandmother, was a curandera and healer that passed her knowledge on to her family, but told them: Make these your own. Do not let these teachings get stagnant; they must live inside of you and become your own. Do not teach as I taught, teach as you are.
And so we honor the ancestors, and we bless their teachings forward for our times.
We are all hungering. But please don’t let your spiritual hunger make you unconscious of history and place, grabbing haphazardly for whatever fills your belly for the moment without honoring the source or understanding the roots. You never really get satiated.
The way to find true nourishment is to connect with the place you are in and to honor and become intimate with the place your physical body currently lives. Honor the people who came before you: your bloodlines and where your people have traveled from as well as the ancestors of the land you now call home. Approach wisdom holders with love and respect, not from an entitled or grasping place.
Here are a few ways to connect from respect:
1. Learn the names of the ancestral people of the land you live on. Who were they, what happened to them? I’m currently in San Antonio, which was the home to the Payaya people, part of the Coahuiltecan band who have inhabited the Rio Grande valley area since 12,000 B.P. (Paleoindian stage) By the late 1700’s most of the Coahuitlecan had been killed by the Spanish through smallpox and slavery. Today there are around 1,000 Coahuiltecan descendants organized as the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation.
One you know a little about the ones who walked the land before you, build a simple altar or a shrine to honor them (use rocks, sticks, leaves…) If you can, research and donate to the local tribes/nations and support the rebuilding of their communities.
2. Spend time outside getting to know the trees, bushes, flowers, grasses, landscape, and animals of where you live. You are part of a beautifully woven ecosystem, whether you live in New York City or rural Alabama. How do you become a respectful and active, loving neighbor of the earth where you live?
3. Talk to your ancestors. Invite in your bloodline ancestors to be guides and support for you. You don’t have to know exactly who your ancestors are; they are connected to you through every cell in your body. You can start, “Hey ancestors, I need your help.”
Pray with your whole heart. And ask how you can serve them. Remember, you are the gift of their survival, and they are a gift of connection to you. (And for those of you who don’t like your parents or feel estranged from your family: go back further. There are always some helpful ancestors in your lineage, maybe from decades or centuries back.)
4. Become more mindful every day by creating your own simple rituals and practices. With the immense sense of disconnection and distraction so many of us experience, we need ways to bring ourselves into the present in a sacred, mindful way. This might be breathing deeply while you wash your hands, or waking up and creating your cup of coffee/tea in a slow, deliberate, loving way. Everything you do can become a way to connect.
May the new world that we build out of this pause of this pandemic be based in a reverence for those who came before us, an honoring of our ancestors, and creative rituals and practices that fill our hunger and so we are inspired to share the bounty.
Photo by my dear friend Day Schildkret of morningaltars.com; follow him!