Today, I’m thinking about the ancestors.
First, because it is October, the month of Halloween (traditionally called Hallowmas or Samhain), of the Day of the Dead in Mexico, and the month my father died many moons ago. This month is said to be when the veils between the worlds of the living and the dead are the thinnest, so it is a time to honor those that have gone before us.
I believe one of the most healing things we can do is reconnect with the dead, and remember those we walk upon.
In a world that is fascinated by youth and obsessed with speed, we tend to cut ourselves off from both the wisdom and the pain of the deep past. (Not to mention all the ways we medicate, numb, or force down the pain of our personal past. But that is another writing, for another day.) For me, the deep past consists of two rivers: our beloved dead and those we walk upon.
Our beloved dead are all the family and friends and inspirational ones that have crossed to the other side. Parents, siblings, aunts and uncles along with your college sweetheart, your favorite art teacher, and your first dog are all a family of beings that still bless you with their love and support. Add in beings like Rosa Parks or Mother Teresa or any person, long ago or recently dead who inspired you, and that is a very big family cheering you on, sharing wisdom, and lighting your way.
And they are always just a breath away.
When remembered, the dead walk among us, reminding us of the preciousness of life and sharing their advice, guidance, and love. When we slow down and turn towards our beloved dead, a conversation can begin between worlds. It does not matter how long someone has been dead, whether you knew them or not, or how messed up they may have been in real life. Once someone has left their physical body they often connect with a depth of wisdom and clarity that they may have rarely touched while alive. And even if your ancestors only gave you one gift, the gift of your very life is incredibly precious.
How to talk to the dead? Open your heart. Be willing to listen. Remember that you are a part of a much, much longer river of life that stretches back in time and nourishes you still.
Besides our beloved dead there is a critical remembering that is much needed and mostly forgotten. This is the remembering of those we walk upon.
Those we walk upon are the beings who tended the earth that now sustains us.
There are parts of history that the predominant culture wants us to forget. I see this all the time in North America. We talk about the pioneers but rarely acknowledge the indigenous peoples.
Here are a couple of examples I’ve noticed recently:
Back East I saw signs that marked different towns, such as Montauk on Long Island: “Settled in 1648.” What that translates into: “Here white people choose to start history with the founding of a town named after the indigenous people they displaced.”
We celebrate Columbus Day, the day America was “discovered,” but ignore the deeper truth that America was already inhabited, not discovered but conquered. We rarely acknowledge the many hundreds of thousands of Native Americans who were killed or relocated or forced to assimilate.
Many of us are familiar with the atrocities of the Chinese against the peoples of Tibet. But how many of us recognize that our country was founded with the same atrocities against Native Americans and African slaves that were torn from their communities?
I’m not asking that we be guilty, or righteous, or ashamed. I’m asking that we be honest and look at who we are walking on. It is not our shame, but our honoring and respect and truth-telling, that will begin to mend the tear.
Here are the ways to honor both your beloved dead and the ones you walk upon:
1. Say thank you. Take a breathe and connect to your gratitude and love for the ancestors. Acknowledge the gifts you have received from those who came before you. Say thank you to your ancestors that traveled from distant lands to make sure their offspring had freedom; say thank you to your ancestors who survived slavery or rape or starvation. Say thank you. Extend that thank you out to the indigenous people of your current city, state, country.
2. Remember. Learn more about those who came before you, both your own ancestors and those who you walk upon. Talk to your family about their parents and siblings. Create an altar in gratitude to your ancestors. Educate yourself. Research who were the natives who walked before you? What language did they speak? How did they care for the earth?
3. Ask for guidance. Even if your parents are long dead or your sibling died when you were a child, the ancestors are listening and waiting. Start a conversation with your beloved dead. In your mind or out loud talk to them as if they were present, and you’ll be surprised at how they communicate with you. Ask for signs and guidance.
4. Grieve fully. As Martin Pretchel writes, “Grief expressed out loud for someone we have lost, or a country or home we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them. Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.” Don’t be afraid of your tears and grief. Let yourself weep, moan, cry, keen. Let grief wash you clean. See grief not as something to contain or hide, but a way to express your love for what has been lost.
5. Give back. Whenever you can, give praise and respect to the ancestors and those who you walk upon. In this way, you are re-weaving the tapestry together that includes all beings and experiences. Support Native American causes with your awareness or your donations. Expand your worldview to include not just the dominant culture’s perspective, but all perspectives.
Below are a few resources, including a beautiful Global Indigenous Wisdom Summit that is going on today for free via the Shift Network. It’s live on their Facebook page, so check it out.
Keep remembering, dear ones…
Global Indigenous Wisdom Library: https://indigenouswisdomsummit.com/library/8681#library
Declaration of Commitment to Indigenous Peoples: http://declarationofcommitment.com/
A People’s History of the United States: https://amzn.to/2ymzUOU
1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus: https://amzn.to/2IKrDsS