Honouring The Ancestors

Many years ago, now, I had my first encounter with this concept of “ancestors”. I was standing in a circle of men, being guided to imagine my ancestral lineage stretching back behind me; a line of beings upon whose shoulders I stand.ancestor tree I liked the image. I was in the midst of an intense transformational experience so, even if I wasn’t actually able to, I imagined I could feel them – those shoulders behind me.

Whether I did or not, from that time onwards I couldn’t connect with any sense of ancestry. In similar ceremonial situations I would feel the absence of any comfort or presence, wondering thinly why that might be, and wishing for the next part of proceedings to begin.

Unexpectedly, a change began in April last year, when I visited the death place of my uncle Martin, in New Mexico, and conducted a ceremony in remembrance of him. I was joined by his son and, equally unexpectedly, given the blessing of my father. My primary lens for viewing myself and the human condition, up until that point, was through that of psychology. Having done lots of therapeutic work on the psychodynamics of my childhood, and come to some understanding of the pressures that formed my own patterns of thought, emotion and behaviour, I carried a fair degree of resentment towards my ancestors. I wouldn’t have termed it so, but in essence that’s what it was.

Emerson AncestorsAs I had come to understand and hold a more forgiving attitude towards my parents’ conditioning (that had then contributed to my own conditioning) I had transferred that hurt, anger and distrust towards those that hurt them. Not a very enlightened view! But the best I could manage at the time.

The process of healing is a long one. It involved, firstly, developing compassion for myself, despite the profoundly self-destructive, shame-inducing behaviours I had developed. Gaining insight into the psychological wounds I had sustained over the course of my life was instrumental. The hatred and anger that I felt towards myself was initially redirected towards those who had (in the most part unwittingly and unintentionally) inculcated those feelings in the first place. But as I developed compassion for them the resentment was shunted up another generation, and so on. It had got stuck at the level of those who were no longer here, whose humanity I was less able to perceive.

But a remarkable thing happened after the ceremony for Martin. He visited me in a dream and I felt reassured of both his supportive presence and the fulfillment of his own path, despite the terrible circumstances surrounding his death. A few days later, in the dirt of the rim overlooking De Chelley canyon in Arizona, sacred to the Dine Nation, I found a necklace with a silver wing.

Martin's message
Martin’s message

At the end of the ceremony I had left a necklace that was precious to me, as an offering. On seeing this one, with such an apt symbol, a surge of joy from being recognized and related to rose up within me. It remains around my neck as a reminder of Martin’s presence.

The next time I encountered an explicit instruction to connect with the ancestors was in the first week of the Becoming Indigenous course, with Bill Plotkin and Geneen Marie Haugen. Usually at this moment, as I imagined my ancestors stretching out behind me, I would experience a split from felt sense to intellectually-driven imagination – the willful creation of a mental picture for the purposes of the exercise – neither embodied nor authentic. But being a committed perfectionist I wouldn’t dream of letting my actual experience get in the way of how I believed it ‘should’ be!! But this time a choice presented itself in my mind. I could either go on with the exercise as usual – an exercise in imagination. Or I could stay focused at the point that the emotional connection drops away – on my immediate ancestors. I chose the latter.

tree ancestorsI was unable to continue the exercise as instructed. An image of my grandfather’s haunted face formed in my mind’s eye. It was painful and distressing to see. Resisting the impulse to look away I slowly began to allow the emotional spill of his perceived presence to enter my body. There was a lot of pain – dread, horror, confusion, fear. It was challenging to stay with but I felt a sense of pressing importance to ‘honour’ his presence by remaining emotionally open and available.

Over the course of the next few days this mysterious exchange between us unfolded. My job was simply to hold myself open to the feelings that his perceived presence stirred within me. My feelings moved from fear and disgust to a weighty compassion for his suffering, and an understanding of where his difficulties arose. It seemed that he needed appreciation, care, psychic holding and healing every bit as much as I do! And that in doing this for him I was doing it for both of us.

copy-of-ancestors-posing-for-posterityMy bitterness for the failures that I perceived in his personhood were dissolved in a growing awareness of the challenges he had been facing. They turned to huge appreciation for not only passing on his many gifts to my father but also for simply surviving full-stop. It is hard to explain without sounding like a crazed Romantic, but I honestly feel like I know and love him now. I feel such a tenderness towards him and gratitude for his gentle, kind and playful mind.

Perhaps this kind of contact, resolution and relationship is available to everyone? I suspect so. As I explore the practices taught to us on the Becoming Indigenous course it is spreading into different ancestral lines. It seems to be a question of attuning sensibilities towards it. The indigenous cultures we learnt of exist in constant communication with ancestry, and to them the idea of not being in an ongoing dance of related-ness is baffling and absurd. I will share some of the beautiful ceremonies that I’ve been trying out (and that have been so vividly enriching my life) next time.

Until then, peace of a thousand prayers be upon you.

On the Remarkable Potential of Grief

I’m glad to say that all is not sorrowful. I have just celebrated my dear older sister’s 40th birthday. There was merriment as we luxuriated and romped around our old family home. Doggerel verse was declaimed in her name, songs were sung, and coastal walks were claimed. My newborn nephew Rowan was there also – a gurgling, ham-fisted delight! Ah – the passage of time..

And now 2016 is here. Stretching invitingly before us. There is much for me to be thankful for, excited about and engaged with. This is set to be the year we find our home in Devon, launch our new retreat business, and translate some of the learning of these last years, studies and travels into a tangible experience of benefit for others. Scary and delicious! Who knows what will actualize? All I know is that it’s time to step up and into the next phase of life. And it’s a whole lot easier to do that when you’ve got some fine listening to soothe you along the way.. Here’s Ryley Walker’s live rendition of On The Banks of The Old Kishwaukee should you want some as we delve into the uncomfortable territory of grief..

There were certain pivotal moments in the Becoming Indigenous course during which grief shifted from the fringes of my awareness into centre stage. Our teachers had a beautiful range of different responses to the horrors of where we find ourselves, and the enormity of what we face. Some deeply proactive – Louis Fox (film), Atossa Soltani (activism) and Drew Dellinger (poetry) spreading information, educating and activating. Some more ceremonial: Pat Macabe, Loretta Afraid of Bear Cook, Linda Lorimer and Carolyn Hillier, bringing rich lineage of how to engage with the worlds behind the veil. And some more focused on using the grief as a means to finding soul purpose: Bill Plotkin, Colin Campbell, Lucy Hinton and Tim Mac Macartney. All engaging generously and inspiringly with their gifts to help heed the call.

One of the practices we undertook in our amazing introduction to indigeneity was an overnight 24 hour fast and wild vigil.Tree-of-Life-Meditation Time almost stood still, measured only by the imperceptible movement of the moon, which, over the course of the hours, arced in luminous post-fullness across the blackened sky. My mind ranged impatiently, exhaustedly, listlessly, illuminatedly over that vast expanse of moments. I returned with many gifts: in the midst of that vast silence a meeting with a busily bungling badger, face to face; sight of the fluid, fleeting slink of fox across dusked fields; dragon, in my dreaming.

But, nestled amidst the vigil trove, was a less welcome awareness. Despite being in the depths of the Dartington Estate, over the course of the entire night I encountered only three wild creatures. I had anticipated the sound-stirrings of unnamable life throughout the night – rustles, twig-cracks, flutterings that would set my heart alight with wild imagining. I was met with devastating silence. I can count the number of owl hoots I heard on one hand. And the refrain “Where are my animal brothers and sisters? Where have they gone?” has haunted me since.

Surrendering to this loss is the only way I know.images-3 Taking all the actions that will support the emergence of a different future, yes, but surrendering to the oceanic sadness that sits just beneath the urgent doing, the desperate distracting, even the artful activist-ing, feels like an interesting and fertile way through.

Bayo Akomolefe, our poetic philosopher-psychotherapist-teacher, whose infectious humour and intelligence crackle in his words, facilitated an exercise that dissolved my sense of blame, guilt, rage, and righteousness over the destruction we are reaping on our world. The systems, the peoples, the nations, the individuals morphed into each other, leaving only love standing. The love that “bears all things”. “The times are urgent…”, he is fond of saying, “…we must slow down”. For how can a solution that springs from the consciousness that created the problem, solve a crisis as complex as the one we are facing? I found, to my surprise and delight, that the sense of disruption to my usual rationale and the significant discomfort that ensued, then harmonized into a sense of greater possibility not lead by logic alone. Through the acknowledgement of and emotional immersion into my own inability to solve this problem, suddenly room for something else was possible.

The price for creating a space within ourselves for an emergent possibility is the letting go of certainty, absolutes, binaries. That means experiencing VULNERABILITY. If we’re not holding a fixed cognitive position we can feel what’s there, what’s so often denied in our everyday attempts to navigate life in a culture that over-values logic, achievement, the material and the illusion of safety this creates. The cost of that illusion is now becoming apparent – the illusion is shattering.. See Bayo’s brilliant talk at Dartington to get a richer flavour of what I mean.

As a result of this I am now engaged in working to support the movement into culturally-sanctioned expressions of grief. As Francis Weller so insightfully explains, without witnessing grief remains dry. In the past tribal societies had their grieving rituals – every week if not more often. It was never meant to be a solo experience! In this validated acknowledgement of the profound losses that our very existence ensures, we are given a catalytic container in which our grief can transform, fulfilling Rumi’s assertion that “Tears water the garden of your soul”.5-stages-of-grief

I often think of Dylan Thomas’ incandescent injunction “Rage, rage against the dying of the day” as the culturally sanctioned response to loss. Despite recognising the defiant strength and yearning I always feel a sadness when I hear them because I experience them as a further discouragement to revealing the softer, deeper, more potentially transformative emotion of sadness that rests untapped beneath reactive anger.

So I am now part of a Grief Composting Circle. It’s a community initiative to enable all those who want to touch and transform their grief – to allow it to be witnessed as it is, in relation to whatever it comes from. It’s a true priviledge to be a part of it. It will be offered monthly and we’ll see where it goes. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/events/815165645258604/

We are drawing from the work of Joanna Macy, Francis Weller, Stephen Jenkinson, Sobonfu and more. Francis Weller gives an extraordinarily clear-sighted, elegant explanation of the place of grief in our contemporary culture illustrating why it can be so difficult to successfully grieve, and the consequences of this on ourselves and our world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaI-4c92Mqo  It’s not too long and truly worth coming back to if you don’t have time to watch it now.

images-2May we each find our optimal pathways through that which must be felt, and create the conditions for others to do the same, so that we can make the shift that must be made. And recognise that it might not go in a neat, straight line!

Following the Sun

In many ways this trip Helena and I are on is an exercise in faith. Not faith in a particular God or Deity, but in the process of life’s desire to unfold and experience itself. In the ultimate safety of trusting its call. If we are all miniscule but valued agents of this almighty unfoldment maybe our own deepest desires can lead us into the richest experiences of all?

In celebration of that theme I’ve just completed uploading a DJ mix to Mixcloud. You can listen to it by clicking below:  https://www.mixcloud.com/freddyfever/follow-the-sun/

Click above to Follow the Sun
Click above to Follow the Sun

It’s a soulful and, of course, cheeky celebration of following your cross-continental dreams.

I’m always drawn West. The direction of the setting sun. It seems the industrious, the ordered, (at least in the UK and the new colonised nations) align with the eastern portions of continents – London vs Bristol, New York vs San Fran, Sydney vs Perth, Toronto vs Vancouver… There seems to me something wilder, something more magical about the West. In England the ancients knew it, studding the western lands with stone circles and ceremonial sites. I’m so excited about moving to Devon and embedding myself into that land, if it will take me.

yellowstone buff
Bison, rivers, geysers, meadowlands, trees of Yellowstone

But for now we have been holding a longitudinal line along the eastern edge of the Rockies. We’ve made it all the way up to Alberta, Canada, via Colorado and Montana – the land of the Big Sky as they call it.. Yellowstone was a revelation. 2.2 million acres of protected wilderness and surely one of the most gloriously diverse and beautiful, as well as bountiful (we saw bald eagles, bison, bears – black and grizzly – elk, chipmunks, marmots, woodpeckers, owls, blue mountain Jays, moose) natural areas in the world. Plus they have actual cowboys.

Before leaving the southwest we nipped (an understatement if ever there was one – an interstate drive is pretty much equivalent to crossing half our country!) across the New Mexican  borderline to Arizona from because the Grand Canyon was calling us. It is incomprehensibly, INSANELY huge. It actually defied my perceptual abilites to process the vastness of it as we stood looking out across a canyon that is at times 16 miles wide and a mile deep.

It's not small..
It’s not small..

I visited it a number of years ago on a short, sweet Mustang ride from Phoenix to San Francisco but because we (My friend Max and I) were in a rush (Halloween in Vegas, anyone?!) I didn’t get to spend any time with it beyond a brief hike below the rim. Consequently it didn’t make much of an impact on me. This time we allowed enough time to let its magnitude register. It was less than a week after holding the ceremony for Martin. There were unexpressed feelings bubbling up, and as I wandered along its almighty rim the canyon seemed to be boring a hole deep into my heart. These words came out (please forgive the spacing – another computer thing I’d love to know how to figure out!):

Torn open by the chisel-topped rivers of Time

Exposing near all of this ag’d Earth’s creation

The red, the rubble, the strata

The multiple layers of history’s data

The intricate carving of weakness in rock

It’s depth defying perception;

Her form is carving a hole in my heart,

Prising open its tiny secrets.

Tears are stinging my awe-opened eyes

As I witness God’s almighty treatise.

“I can do THIS. I am so big

That you can’t understand my true nature.

Instead, look on my carvings and weep.

Let your heart, not your mind, ascertain her.

The heart is the organ that sees with true sight

Your heart, ever silently beating.

Allow it to open its door to true sight

Allow it to depth-charge your feelings.

To do this you’ll have to unblock all the veins

That have clogged up with Life’s many mishaps.

So allow all the tears, and the hurt, and the hate

To be carried away by My waters.

I’ll chisel a canyon so deep in your heart

That you’ll know the true depths of your being,

And all of your pain will be carried away

Until you see as I’m seeing.

Imperfect perfection, human and real,

Embodied and here in duality –

Walking the tightrope of being in form

And holding a Spirit form-ality.

So Soar away on this bright Earth today

Witness the wonder…..weep hard.

Every emotion will whisper its part

In the great song of freedom, at last.

Not my photos, obviously. The stars really were amazing!
Not my photos, obviously. The stars really were amazing though!

Embracing the Unknown

Musical accompaniment if you so desire! Noah and the Whale’s L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fbGUEelmzxo

So here we are in Guatemala, deep in cacao country. I’ve just finished a week’s introduction to Permaculture, a wonderfully practical path to creating a sustainable future for humanity. Our vision for the next chapter of our lives when we return home is taking shape, thanks to the inspiring people, philosophies and elements around us. I will share more about this in time but for now I want to contextualise this adventure. It seems strange to go back in time for my second post. But to go forwards, on this occasion, requires going back to the beginning…

It was a massive struggle to leave the security of my life in Bristol behind. It’s one thing to go travelling when you’re 18, or 27, quite another when you’re 37! in the run up to leaving fears about our future plagued me and doubts danced ever closer, so much so that I seriously considered cancelling the trip a month or so before we left. I wrote the following the night I left home and arrived in Mexico City, sitting in the blue, sleepless glow of the tablet screen, having leapt but not yet landed:

In the course of the last month I have willingly undergone the task of dismantling the apparatus and infrastructure of my life. As designs for living go, it was a pretty good one- newly married, living in a city of beauty, generosity, alternative edge, abundant creativity, and grit, with a great quality of life, a balance of meaningful self-employed and charitable work, and a gaggle of kind and incorrigible friends. Why would I, as my mother so aptly put it, “do this to myself?”

Bristol Butterfly Grafitti
Bristol Butterfly Grafitti

I’ve had plenty of opportunity to think about that as I’ve been ploughing through the boxes in my attic, the bank accounts, the bills, mobile phone contracts (I find a special brand of rage is reserved within myself for “service” providers insisting on locking you into 24 month long contracts that require 24 hour phone calls to harvest the slightest scrap of information from, let alone make any actual changes to), drawing to an end with my valued clients, tearing myself away from my role and riotously enjoyable colleagues at the Southmead project, packing up our beloved preposterously pink house in Montpelier, and saying goodbye to all our friends in the city that has been my happy home for the last 4.5 years. What a wonderful time it’s been!

Of course I left too many of the logistics to the last minute and nearly caused myself a heart-attack. But chaotic disorganisation notwithstanding, change is hard. Because doing so requires effort – ample effort of the practical sort and, as it also turns out, of the mind.

I thought it would get easier as I got older to tolerate the uncertainties of change. But I suppose that as responsibilities increase – for a property, for a professional role, for a relationship, and the future possibility of a family – it is only to be expected that I should be looking more than ever for security. I have wondered whether this choice to travel is in fact worse than self-indulgent; perhaps it is positively irresponsible? Why would I throw away such a wonderful situation in Bristol for a job-prospect-less Devon-filled fantasy to return to? Yes, we’ll have fun. We might even grow a bit and have some funky ideas! But what then? If we’re to try to start a family surely this is the time for maximising security both in terms of work prospects and savings – which will of course be long-gone by the time we get back!

So, what really, given the stakes, are we doing this for? In honesty I underestimated, more than anything, the emotional challenge of this choice to uproot and cast ourselves to the wind. There have been periods of, frankly, terror, as well as lashings of self-recrimination for not planning and executing that which needed to be done more effectively. (One serious oversight was not organising a postal vote – we’re disenfranchised and unwittingly joining Russell Brand’s revolution! I admire his overall perspective but not his (lack of) methodology!)

Oddly enough it was only a few weeks ago that I really admitted to myself how precarious our position in quitting work, going travelling and relocating at the same time had made us. Only then could I properly engage with the pressing doubts and dark possibilities that were clamouring in my heart. Facing them, as is so often the case, has enabled me to see them for what they are and begin to sort the wheat of genuine insight from the chaff of fear-based conditioning that says “Life is about material security and conventional, linear progress alone…”

It is now two months since I wrote that. But I am so relieved that I did not allow “good sense” to prevail (I genuinely considered cancelling the trip, the move, everything! Luckily it was too late.) I don’t know how I’ll feel when I get back but I’m pretty sure that the experiences, insights and relationships that I’ve been blessed with, even up to this point, will go with me – cradled – to my grave. Because what is of ultimate importance in this precious life of ours cannot be measured in numbers, or security in material possessions or prospects alone.

In my experience there is a magic that, when given the opportunity, begins to weave itself through the fabric of our lives, aligning supply with demand, need with opportunity and, if we’re actively open, dreams with reality. I’ve experienced this humbling generosity before – when I asked for psychological help and received phenomenal support, when I moved to Australia and had a two year blast, when I moved back and opportunities just opened up, when I risked leaving London and a solid career path behind and struck out across the open countryside to Land’s End.

As the saying goes, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” In finding the courage to create one I’m experiencing that life loves an opening. It’s a simple principle that doesn’t compute in our heavy-handed, force-fuelled industrial growth society, but which can be observed occurring all around us in nature, nonetheless. Chop a tree down and the forest floor comes alive. Leave an empty parking lot alone and weeds wind their way up. Soon enough something edible will appear, at least for other life forms. The abundance that is the natural order of things is astonishing. Money doesn’t grow on trees. But, when you think about it, all the raw materials that generate “wealth” and sustain our crazy economy arise from the natural world.

It is my contention that this abundance is available to us human animals as well. We have just received five weeks of it on the shores of lake Atitlan – friends, hummingbirds, chocolate, beauty in spades! Very sadly our time here is almost done. But where better to continue this instruction in abundance than the land of Freedom itself? A-merica here we come!

BLOG 1: Who Are You Not To Be?

Your esteemed author!
Your esteemed author!

So here it is, my first blog post. In the name of chronic-21st-century-information-overload, why? A case of severe “affluenza”? Mmmmm-hmm. I’m sitting here on my “sabbatical” (read marginally-required 5 month break from work / late honeymoon opportunity before relocating from Bristol, England to Devon, Narnia) on the edge of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala’s insanely mystical water well, ringed by mist-shrouded volcanic peaks, and I don’t, rightly, have anything else to do.

Why am I here again? Oh, yes, that’s right: Helena, my beautiful, alien wife (sometimes I seriously think we are a different species) wanted to schedule (that’s actually plan and enshrine, folks!) 5 whole weeks of our precious trip time around the “Americas” to go to one single location, without planning ANYTHING. To just “be”…. Deep breath. Focus on “respecting difference”. Focus on containing the rationalistic, achievement-oriented PANIC that is exploding in your mind, disguised as the ambitions and desires of a reasonable human being. Focus on doing anything that will not negate the deeply held and treasured wishes of the woman you purport to love…

You see it was ok for me to request for us to go on a ten day silent meditation retreat. That has a PURPOSE. It gets a big tick next to it on the spiritual to-do-list. It was ok for me to insist on going via New Mexico to visit the geographically hazy point on the high plains of the Pueblo-dwelling Native Americans where my uncle met his tragic and untimely death in 1973, thus altering the course of my father’s life forever. Not to mention my cousin’s. Or, subtly, those of my siblings and I. But for Helena to want to go to Guatemala to do NOTHING for a WHOLE MONTH…. Well, apart from anything it wasn’t my idea so how could such a preposterous suggestion have genuine value anyway?!! (We’ve been having couples therapy for a year now – it’s really helped me to expand my thinking to understand compromise, honestly..).

So, I just about managed to contain the mental zoo-break that was going off within, and here we are. In Guatemala. Doing nothing. It’s been a bumpy landing. But now… it’s truly glorious.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala from my window!

So back to the blog rationale. Seriously, WTF? I never read anyone else’s blog. I mean, who has time to read blogs anyway?! I could be studying, I could be learning Spanish, I could be volunteering, I could be “improving my mind” with fine literature, learning to cook properly. I could be doing ANYTHING. And I’m choosing to spend my time writing. “Sharing” my thoughts with the world. What for?

The answer is, in fact, simple. For myself.

Everything in me screams out “That’s selfish!” (Some strong cultural conditioning there – we Brits don’t descend to the level of self-expression!). Then, “Who’d want to read what you’ve got to say anyway?”. (Playing the self-denigrating, externally validating card there… An old favourite, but I’m onto it because what does it matter, really, if no one is interested?). And finally, “what if what you say hurts or alienates someone you love?” (Now that’s a big one and a very painful thought, which reveals both my sensitivity to, consideration of and dependence on the perceptions of others).

Like so many of us I feel scared to express that which may not be accepted. Sometimes that’s useful. Occasionally its essential – evolutionary-programming for societal survival in action! But so often I reject my own knowing in order to avoid creating imagined ripples, waves, or even wrecks! Ironically, that way, treasures that could blossom are lost, lying buried and unclaimed on the ocean floor of my unacknowledged being. I want to share my treasure, whatever that is. I am deeply grateful to anyone who’s willing to witness it. I suppose this is the curse of having my sun and moon in Leo – a great need to be “seen”! But perhaps there can be a positive outcome also, beyond my own selfish needs, to transcending the fear of authentically expressing oneself?

The words of Marianne Williamson are ringing reassuringly in my ears:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

That’s what I’m going for… If you want to, come along for the ride!

“Express Yourself” – Charles Watts & 103rd Street Rhythm Band