Fire is my dearest friend and confidant these days. I lay with my toes touching the gas fireplace, breathing warmth up into my body. I huddle beside this small fire each morning. Gazing into it, I welcome my old ancestor fire and my body settles into a flow of being with the gently moving flames. Thoughts slow and mellow. What is unimportant falls away almost instantly. I look back at my years of meditation…years of watching thoughts, lovingly dragging the attention back to the focus point like a puppy that you are training to pee in a certain spot (one of Pema Chodron’s instructions). It seems like a lot of effort, all those gymnastics that meditators can get into about what to do with the natural evolutionary impulse to think, when being with the elements is effortless…so enjoyable, so human, so connecting!
In weeks (or is it years now?) of heartbreaking news that may leave many empaths struggling to breathe, fire re-weaves my body into remembrance. I google “are humans the only species that torture each other?” I find out that we are not alone, though we know how to scale and are definitely the most complicated. Meerkats, even dolphins shock me… who knew! The ocean holds my body as I release an image of torture into it, along with my question WHY? that I know will go unanswered.
In my meditation tenure people used to talk about this notion of being with to refer to keeping one’s attention on difficult experiences. Being with pain, being with discomfort, being with sorrow, anxiety, whatever came up was part of the practice on the meditation cushion. Being aware of one’s body and mind as uncomfortable emotions arise is a valuable thing to do, but without enough juice without some kind of deeper nourishment, it can run us ragged, especially in times of compassion fatigue. Engaging the interconnected powers in the web of life is what makes the human system resilient enough to be with a lot of grizzly moments. Co-regulating the nervous system with the various powers of elements, plants, animals, ancestors, guides, and people within the oneness of all things creates balance. We stabilize each other.
As the days quickened toward the new year of my ancestors (Samhain), they offered a gentle message on repeat:
“This is the time for the healers of the world to be thunderously resilient. Watch out for the things that undermine your resilience. This is not the time to play with those.”
I heeded their message the way I bought a vehicle with 4WD when my grandmother came in a dream and told me she really wanted me to have 4WD. At the time I felt that she was preemptively saving my life. I feel similarly about this message.
Scott and I talk about kids today and how fragile they seem, how the pain of a breakup can land them on antidepressants, how it seems on trend to medicate rites of passage away from them. We talk about our own tiny human and wonder how we can foster resilience in her precious body-mind-soul. We decide to camp more, do a day a week of forest school, and keep tracking how as parents in a culture that has abandoned all traditional rights of passage and spiritual initiation, fostering resiliency will fall in our wheelhouse. It’s a necessity for the world that she will be growing into.
When I am awake in the middle of the night after reading news before bed I sit with ancestor fire again. I stare into the flame and call upon the cellular memory of my own ancestors who balanced themselves this same way. Eventually I hear them.
“Feel your feelings and get to work,”
they say with the collective straightforwardness of people who lived at different times in human history and have seen some shit.
For those whose hearts are devoted to service here on earth, what keeps you going, stable, and flexible?
What are the patterns, platforms, and dalliances that undermine your resilience? What are those old weavings that keep you from showing up with your soft eyes and ferocious love? Now is not the time for perfection, but for love. Perhaps to feel our feelings and get to work. May we show up again and again, resoundingly resilient and deeply supported by all of life.
Practice: Co-regulating with the element that calls you
Find a quiet space. Breathe into your body and ask:
“Which element nurtures my nervous system now?” or “Is there an element you long for?”
Sense or listen for a response. For many people this comes as an instant knowing.
Seek out that element and turn your outer senses toward it: how does it sound, taste, smell, feel, and look?
Turn your inner senses toward it, perhaps through a cellular listening, an open hearted sensing/feeling, a closed eye gaze.
Breathe with and be with the element. Find your rhythm together.
An example: When air is the element that calls me, I go up to a hilltop near my house and feel the wind. I turn my body different directions so it can touch my skin. I feel it pressing on my back and cheeks. I thank the wind and I sit up there, I perk up my inner hearing and feel my heart open. I breathe. I am being with the wind. I stay for as long as I need until I feel restored.
In Person Workshop
Registration is open and filling up! Inner-wilderness guide, trained storyteller, and creative writer Brooke Arnold-Rochette and I created a space to draw out your muse and nourish your relationship with writing. Join us for an earth anchored, spirit infused dive into the heart of your creativity.
Shenoah Taylor’s “Song to help the flow of life”
The Ancestral Connection circles I am hosting on zoom this fall have been beautiful. Click the image to learn more or sign up for the December 9 circle.
Take Back The Magic by Perdita Finn: Usually I read 4 books at a time and it takes me forever. This one was a delicious ride through ancestral connection and I couldn’t put it down.
For those interested in an academic analysis of the religious roots of the Israel/Palestine situation, this thesis by Stephanie Claire Mitchell at Portland State University looks at it through the lens of religious history and conflict resolution.
Where Does It Hurt? A Guided Meditation for Grief Over Injustice from the Pedagogy Lab at The Center for Black, Brown, and Queer+ Studies
How to Maintain Hope in an Age of Catastrophe by Masha Gessen: Robert Jay Lifton on what seventy years of studying both the victims and the perpetrators of horror has taught him.
I leave you, dear ones, with a blessing:
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.
~Excerpt from Beannacht / Blessing by John O’Donohue