“I am convinced that pilgrimage is still a bona fide spirit-renewing ritual. But I also believe in pilgrimage as a powerful metaphor for any journey with the purpose of finding something that matters deeply to the traveler. With a deepening of focus, keen preparation, attention to the path below our feet, and respect for the destination at hand, it is possible to transform, even the most ordinary journey into a sacred journey, a pilgrimage.” ~ Phil Cousineau
This journey to my ancestral lands was a pilgrimage. My journey back home is a pilgrimage. It is a circle. A spiral. A journey of finding and bringing back medicine, along with a few wild stories and souvenirs. It was a journey that will shape who I am and who I become. A journey to reweave myself back into deeper and wider networks of my relations. A journey back to Self, although it remains unclear who that self is anymore! I feel like an ancient newborn with tender skin, all vulnerable, raw and stitched together again with stones and landscapes, caves and castles, farmlands and perogies and all the living relatives I was blessed to meet. Family reunions after over a century! Give thanks.
For my last night and sunset in Poland, I made my way to the Vistula River to give my final offerings of gratitude. Right there, bobbing at the shore, was a boat with a traveling wizard on a horse at the helm – the perfect place to bring some closure to this magical journey. I sat at the river and prayed, speaking out loud my thanks for each person I met, each stalactite I admired, each feeling that arose, each insight or connection I made, each gasp of wonder, each waft of memory and every sacred flowing tear. I named all that I could, knowing there was infinitely more, visible and hidden, with a small herbal offering and a whisper. After the sun dropped over the horizon, I also went to say goodbye, please and thank you to the Wawel Dragon, Smok Wawelski, asking for a little extra love, ease and dragon magic to guide the way home. Right when I put my salt offering upon his tail, he breathed fire and then it began to rain.
Ha! Be careful what you ask for. Ask a dragon for help and you will be sure to get a response, but perhaps not the one you intended. After 18 weary hours of travel across time and space, I landed back home to the majestic oak trees of California to wake up with a soft fire beginning in my throat. I tested negative for COVID two days in a row so I assumed I might be catching a little cold after a fall weather front hit Poland, and then, of course, there was the very very long flight. I went to a clinic for an official test and the results came back: POSITIVE for the vid.
OK. Pause. Deep breath. Take it in. Pivot. Serious Pivot.
All the plans to land back home, visit and reconnect with my people – canceled. Plans to hang for a week with my roomies – denied. Plans to move into a new home and start back to work – hold your horses. I think there is a saying, if you want to make a dragon laugh, tell them your plans!
I found a nearby Airbnb to hole up, isolate, rest and recover – to basically slow my roll and lay my ass down. My body is still catching up from across the sea. I think there are parts of my spirit still dangling down in those Moravian caves, a part of my grieving heart that I left broken in the grasses of Auschwitz, a part of my soul that is still floating down the rivers of my homelands. Rather than keep moving on to the next, the ancestors wanted me to slow all the way down. Stop. Rest. Purge. Burn. Reflect. Integrate. Catch up on shows 😉 Get existential.
Where is home anyway? It has been a shifting terrain much of my life, having lived in over 30 addresses and multiple countries, always finding and making sweet homes along the way. I will be moving October 1st to a new address once more – 3673 High St. Oakland, CA 94619. Write it down, please – in pencil! I’m not sure how long I will be there as my life is still in flux but for now, for this next year or two at least, I will be living with and near dear friends in the Laurel and making Sanctuary, with lots of gatherings, dinner parties, potlucks, meetings, evening fires, game nights, long walks, yoga sessions, gardening, and dance jams – all of the things of beloved community and home. It has a wonderful backyard – and y’all know how I love to throw a good party!!! So mark your calendars too – for a soon but yet-to-be-determined date for you to come, bless our home and release your wiggle…
For now, however, I find myself in a liminal space between homes, between lives, between a journey and a homecoming. The dragon-fire scorched my throat as the virus overtook my body. I could only surrender. Go down, down, down into the underworld of muscle ache, fever, sore throat, mucus, fatigue and brainfog. Down I went. And yet, a tether to the surface kept me coming back home to the ten thousand kindnesses that were coming my way with offers and drop-offs of soups, Chinese herbs, epsom salts, teas, kombucha, food, phone calls, texts and friendship. I feel held, even though we each gotta suffer this one in isolation. Thank you, friends, for your deep care.
“What if the healing of the world utterly depends on the ten-thousand invisible kindnesses we offer simply and quietly throughout the pilgrimage of each human life?” ~ Wayne Muller
And so while I rest and mend, I practice what Pablo Neruda calls a “burning patience.” I will return to it all soon enough. The move will happen. Work will soon be in full force. I will get to visit and see you all again!!!
For now, my sacred task is to float a while longer within this liminal COVID bubble (with some writing, shows and work calls sprinkled in). In this in-between space, this crack in time, I reflect on the essence of these past two months. What did I learn? How did I grow? How can I be of service now? What is the home that I want to create? These are living questions that I will ask myself again and again. Questions I will walk with. Questions I will live from and into.
I thought I would scribe a few feverish and foggy reflection nuggets for this journey blog, this written Altar of the Bones. My Top 10 for the road. They are some things I learned or unlearned along the way, some lessons I want to apply going forward and some that I deepened with practice. They are coming through as spirit directives for me to live by but you can take them or leave them as you will. Chew on them. Spit them out. Reshape them into new juicy morsels of your own! Here they are in no particular order:
Follow the call. There are inklings, tugs, longings, dreams, signs, intuitive murmurings – messages that come from the soul, from the realm of the ancestors and stars. They point the way. Sometimes they point back. Sometimes sideways. Sometimes they will take you for a spin, but follow those faint whispers, and listen to your body. Every time. ¡Adelante!
“And then it happens all at once and unexpectedly. That is how things happen, I suppose. You pack your bags and find yourself walking yourself home.” – Shannon Alder
Be present. This whole journey has been an unveiling, an unraveling, an unbecoming. A homecoming. An awakening and a return to the truth of my ever-so-fine divine self. It’s all right here, in presence. We really have nowhere to go, no final destination, it just keeps unfolding into more and more folds of Belonging, like finding God at the laundromat, laughing inside the spin cycle. We are always walking ourselves home.
“As I make my slow pilgrimage through the world, a certain sense of beautiful mystery seems to gather and grow.” ~ A. C. Benson
Slow down. Remember the wisdom and the burning patience of our deep time ancestors, of dripping stalactites that grow ten centimeters every ten thousand years. Pay attention to the details, to the cracks. You’ll find God there too. Walk mindfully upon this earth. Put down your phone. It is essential in these urgent times – for our relationships, our clear seeing, our wise choosing, our heart’s delight – for us to slooooow down, admire flowers, notice textures, revel in beauty, FEEL, and drink in the sensory world. Make deliberate choices about what you pay attention to – and how – because what you pay attention to grows!
“What we choose to love is very important, for what we love leads our eyes, ears, and hearts on a pilgrimage that shapes the texture of our lives.” ~ Wayne Muller
Pray with your feet. Walk with intention and attention. Lay prayer seeds down as you go. Prayers for healing, blessing, leaving, arriving. Prayers for presence. Prayers for justice. Prayers of gratitude. Prayers to give praise. The sacred lives inside our walk to the corner store, in the small bones of our feet that hold us upright, in the earth below, and the ten thousand gestures of kindness we make along the way. Prayer is a verb, something we do to remember and become the Holy.
All that you touch
All that you Change,
The only lasting truth is Change.
God Is Change.
God is Power—
And yet, God is Pliable—
God exists to be Shaped.
God is Change.
– EarthSeed, “The Book of the Living”, Octavia Butler
Trust. Everything that arises is a part of the journey. Accept it all just as it is – reality, people, yourself, the pain, this waking dream of life. Doesn’t mean we are resigned. Every experience can offer us an opportunity for healing, growth and evolution, if we choose it. We can (and must) take action to shape the future, but action that is grounded in a clear recognition of what is so. All of our past traumas will surface at some point, or again and again in repetitive cycles through the generations, until we accept it is there and turn toward it with love. Punto. So work with what emerges, love it and shape change, as needed. We are all sculptors and we are all clay, a co-evolving process, emerging works-in-progress, and we got spinning galaxies moving through us! So trust.
All of our ancestors have something to teach us. In any of those stories you can find a gift. History is long, wide and deep and all of us have ancestors we can be absolutely proud of, all of us have ancestors that have raided and killed and raped and burned. All of us have ancestors who participated in the subjugation of others and all of us have ancestors who stood up for their neighbors and took risks. That is true of every single one of us. You will find every possible story in your own family tree. Whatever you’re afraid of encountering, it’s there. And whatever you are praying you will encounter, it’s there. I believe that every lineage holds points of pride. The fact is that if we go looking, we will find their humanity. If you go looking in dreadful heritages you will find people to love and cherish. Somewhere behind every atrocious, despicable act is the story of a wound. We can work with it in many ways.”– Aurora Levins Morales, Herstories Project
Water the roots. From the dawn of civilization until now, there have been 400 generations of humans. We each have 400 generations of human ancestors! If we start going back just 20 generations, it starts to branch out exponentially pretty quickly – in just 20 generations, each of us has about one million ancestors! Everything that is possible lives within every one of our lineages. We can turn toward our ancestors to grapple with the harms and be accountable for what we have inherited. Balance the books. We can also turn toward our ancestors to love them, learn from them. Both are needed. On this journey, I discovered I have ancestors that resisted, ancestors that were executed, ancestors sent to Siberian gulags, ancestors that were complicit, ancestors that harmed and ancestors who farmed (lots of those!), ancestors who fled and ancestors who planted seeds at home. We contain multitudes. Our tributaries flow wide and deep. We literally are our ancestors’ dreams. We can heal our lineage, backward and forward. It just takes a willingness to turn back, turn toward, bear witness, feel. Find ways to work with it. Our roots ground and give us life. Simple facts, if we water our roots, we grow! and as the Climate Justice movement says, “It takes roots to weather the storm.”
“And the white hoop has a medicine wheel and a sacred power to take care of, if they remember. And we need them to remember.” – Apela Colorado, Recovering Indigenous Mind
Tend the wounds. We need to tend all the wounds, but I am going to say a few words specifically about the wound of Whiteness, as it was one of the primary wounds I went to my ancestral homelands to heal. According to Native elders and prophecy, the white hoop people of European ancestry were given the sacred element of fire. With our own profound traumas, we (speaking now to my White people) have lost connection to that medicine and our responsibility to tend it in a good way. We have used that firepower in service of war, greed, colonization, slavery, genocide, gulags and even now, teetering on ecocide, we keep burning gunpowder and oil.
This journey has shown me the profound trauma of colonization for European people, especially settler colonists in the US, that needs to be tended and mended so that we can stand in the fire of these times in life-affirming ways. Whiteness is a lie. A construct. Something that was designed to divide. To forget. To cut people off from the roots, in exchange for privilege and power in this country. I didn’t fully realize how close to the bone was the wound until I experienced the felt sense of erased histories and places coming back online. A feeling of coming back to life. Like regaining the use of frozen limbs after they had gone to sleep for a long long time. Like growing new flesh on my bones. Like river ice melting and flowing again.
I also feel that sacred rage of fire burn hotter in my belly about what was erased and put in its place – these lies of supremacy and separation. We are in times of drought. Wildfires are burning everywhere. May we, beloved white-bodied people, direct our fire to unlearn and dismantle the myth of white supremacy in our own family lines, in our own bodies, in our workplaces and communities, in our sanghas and supermarkets, in our gyms and schools, in our food ways and health care systems – in all the ways! I pray we roll up our sleeves together and stand with full-throated agency, power and solidarity for our collective healing and liberation. For our ancestors and future generations. For Black lives. For Indigenous leadership and sovereignty. For land back. For abolition. For all peoples to be valued and to thrive. May we drink from the truth rivers of history and lineage, long and deep. We can heal these wounds, wade into these waters and take care of the sacred fire we were entrusted to protect. Perhaps fire-breathing dragons can show us the way!
“In the face of impermanence and death, it takes courage to love the things of this world and to believe that praising them is our noblest calling.”― Joanna Macy
Make offerings. Offer your love. Give it freely and often. Make altars of beauty with that which is given or found. Offer your breath, your hair, herbs, a poem, a love note, a song, a stone, a single tear. We can be in dialogue with the living world and with our ancestors. Talk to your aunties. Sing to your great-grandparents. Tell the river, the trees, the moss, the bees, that they are seen, appreciated, loved! All relationships are nurtured by acts of reciprocity. We have been socialized by dominant society to take. Within an extractive economy, we extract. Let us make a practice of taking less, giving back more and breathing life into the Spirit realm with our honey words of praise.
“To be alive in this beautiful, self-organizing universe — to participate in the dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it — is a wonder beyond words.”― Joanna Macy
Relationship is everything. We are wired as biological, social and relational kin. We don’t exist outside of relationship. This whole journey was for me to deepen in relationship with place, with the lands, histories, traditions, languages and ways of my ancestors. And I found them! Alive and well in the mossy gravestones and fertile soils. In the lichen and caves. In the beating hearts and hugs of relatives descended from those who stayed. Through this reweaving of family lines, across oceans of migration and time, i remembered this: “everything is everywhere, all at once!” Everything is hitched to everything else! Without each other, we die. And if we’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell to survive the mess we’ve created out of forgetting, it will be through remembering that everything is connected. That we belong to each other. So nurture your relationships, people. This is it. Hold on tight to each other’s hands. We are all we’ve got. It’s what makes it all matter.
Love harder. That’s all.
So while this may not be the end of my journey, nor my ramblings, I am coming to an end of this particular journey’s ramblings. Whew! What a long, strange trip it has been. There is so much more to say but I’m tired now and I will be harvesting the gifts of this journey for a lifetime. I don’t know what this next chapter will hold, but I’m diving in with my heart ready, steady and cracked open. God is Change! And in change, I trust. Because I am home again, here and now, with you. Thank you for joining me on the ride.
“The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.”― Joanna Macy