Authenticity, Awakening, gratitude, Women's Work

On how I found a way forward by honoring my ancestors

I am the eldest daughter, of the eldest daughter, of the eldest daughter of another eldest daughter.

And so it may not surprise you to learn that I am the keeper of both my maternal and paternal families’ past, keeper of the keepsakes, the objects that mean “family,” “tradition” and “memory” and even “love” have mostly all passed to me.

I have not always wanted or appreciated these items or the task of “keeping” them.

The responsibility of continuity, the weight of time, I didn’t want it.  So I pretended for many years that it didn’t matter, my long, winding Scottish/Welsh/Irish ancestry was not important, the family I was born into was irrelevant. I wanted to be modern, to look forward, to shed the outmoded traditions of the past.

In my desire to walk my path unencumbered by the weight of so many people, old ideas, old outmoded expectations, judgments, and memories – I forgot that there was love and strength flowing to me.

I forgot to be humble and honor the great trust that was being handed to me, I forgot what it meant to be the eldest daughter of the eldest daughter.

Over the years I packed up these items and the stories that went with them – stories of war and love, hardship and loss, and joy. I stored them safely away, agreed to hand them down to the next generation – perhaps unused, unappreciated, by me. Never brought into the light, the flame of memory, of love and continuity.

But I see things differently now.

The strength in the bone and love in the blood of this lineage, my lineage, it matters.

It deserves so much more than my offhand acknowledgment, my casual care.

And so does yours, your lineage matters…because you are here now, singing its future into being, it matters.

“When you proceed on your course, never forget you are not alone. You have friends and family, but you also have your ancestors. Your ancestors sing in your blood. Call to them. Their strength through the ages will come into you.” Patti Smith

I have called upon the deep ancestries of others, I have cherished and practiced the traditions of other tribes and I have found there profound healing and grounding and I have felt rise up in me a loving connection to this land I call home, the forests and fields and hills of the sweet piece of earth I live on now.

But the question was asked: what about your own ancestors?

Are they not the medicine of your bones, is your own being not also rooted in the long line of people from which you spring?

All the ones who came before you in order for you to exist now, as Shona.

Do not dwell only in the borrowed wisdom of another family, dwell also in the sacred ground of your own blood and bone.

And from that moment on, I was able – for the first time – to truly see and cherish my own ancestors. I was willing to root down in to the truth and the customs and the love that was theirs.

I can hear them singing in my veins now…they have suddenly come alive in me. The flame of love and gratitude and reverence has been lit.

What is the story you hold in your being that longs to be told?

Can you let yourself be the bridge, the arc, that binds the past to the present and the light of an unknown future?

Can you, through your own healing, through your own understanding of who you truly are, light the way for all those who came before you and for all those still to come?

Can you call on them in times of need, find yourself and your way forward by resting into the arms of the ancestors who carried you here?

I know now, that to find my way forward, I will need to sing the song of the earth – who is mother to us all, our most ancient ancestor, the song in my very body that is my ancestral past, and the song in my heart that is mine alone to sing, and is the future of my lineage.

We all hold that sacred, fragile and potent potential within us.

I am the eldest daughter, of the eldest daughter, of the eldest daughter of another eldest daughter… it is a burden I take up willingly now and with joy. It has become a privilege.

Blood of my blood and bone of my bone, deep river, bounding deer, black earth and ancient rock…bring us all together in all our divine diversity to live again in love…bring us back to the love that carries us forward forever.

xo Shona

 

 

Animals and Nature, Awakening, courage, freedom, gratitude, grief, Joy, Mystery and Magic

This is what happened when I burned all my journals

Several years ago, as I was leaving my corporate job and dismantling my former life in ways both sweeping and subtle, I felt drawn to look through the many, many journals I had filled over the years, that were lined up in neat rows on my bookcase.

Some were coiled note books, others were bound in pretty covers with ribbon place markers.  There were dozens of them.

As I leafed through them, I was shocked at the level of anger, vitriol, desperation and sadness that I found on the pages.  In many cases, I couldn’t even remember what it was that I had been so upset about, what situation or person or personal belief had inspired so many pages of furious writing.  Now forgotten.

And then the light came on.

These journals were full of pain, full of self-doubt, self-loathing and anger, full of the story of me trying to control the uncontrollable, railing against the way things were, wanting my life to be different, wanting me or my boss or my husband to be different. I didn’t want to hold this pain anymore, or to make room for it on my bookshelves or in my home or in my life.

Why, I asked myself, are these journals still on my shelf?

And so, one October afternoon, following a spontaneous urge, I gathered all these notebooks up. I had several boxes of them.  I lugged them to the car.  I took a lighter with me.  Without being absolutely certain where I was going to go, I drove them to a nearby conservation area and found a picnic spot with a fire pit.  Needless to say, there wasn’t another soul around on this cold, dreary October day, I had the park to myself.

I admit that I was half expecting the Journal Police to stop me, to say “Hey, we know what you’re up to, you can’t burn those journals, who do you think you are?  Everyone knows journaling is so important, you’re going to have to keep them, forever. No one can escape their past, lady.”

So with this voice in my head, I felt like I was being furtive somehow, sneaking away, or (quite literally) breaking out of the jail of my past. I was determined that I was not bringing this past into my future, I would claw my way to freedom if I had to.

I piled a bunch of the notebooks into the fire pit and taking a deep breath, I lit them on fire.  They ignited quickly, and I felt an intense rush of emotion while they burned, something like grief, and at the same time also like joy, like liberation, and absolutely like a great weight was being lifted from me.

I felt that maybe I should pray, or dance around the fire pit singing, but I felt exposed, vulnerable and somehow lonely, so I did neither. I knew this was an offering, a sacred offering – and I cried.

In the moment when my grief abated and I could feel something like gratitude for the urge to burn these books rising up in me, as I stood there, feeding the fire with more and more notebooks, watching them burn and smoke, a single crow flew overhead.

It felt as though she was looking right at me. She saw the fire, she saw the notebooks burning.

This black crow was the only witness to my old life, my former way of being, going up in flames. 

The only one who saw what it meant for me to sacrifice the old so I could claim the future. I realized then that I wasn’t alone, that by her presence she implied that my offering was seen and received with love.

And because I saw the moment when the crow saw me, it was as though my higher self was acknowledging this liminal moment, when out of love and compassion for myself I burned away the old and chose to be reborn, to start anew and follow with hope the new life I saw glimmering on the horizon.

I sat for a while next to the smoldering ashes of my journals, poking at the charred metal coils of the notebooks with a stick…it was all gone, all gloriously gone; all record of the pain, the outmoded habits, the old stories about who I was supposed to be and how my life was supposed to look, had all been transmuted to ash, a sacred offering to the future.

Burned. Cleansed. Free.

I can see now, looking back, that that was a turning point in my life. I started a new journey then, I started walking my way back home, and in many ways writing my way back home.

I vowed then that I would never keep another journal like that and I never have.  Instead, because the urge to write is in my bones, I try to write my way towards the light and not into the spiraling darkness, that having walked through the flames I would offer my humble stories to you, who may also be arising new like a phoenix from the ashes of your old life.

May you know you are not alone.

May we all be reborn in the fire, and may there be a winged one to witness it with love.

xo Shona

 

 

 

Animals and Nature, Awakening, freedom, Joy, Mindfulness and Meditation, Mystery and Magic

This is why I walk barefoot in the woods

Today on my walk I did something different.

At the start of the trail, I took off my arch-supporting runners and my sweat-wicking, odour-controlling socks and walked barefoot through the woods.

I had to really concentrate on where I was going, to really look at the dirt of the path, the rocks, find the patches of still tender green grass on the side, avoid the roots and mud.

The difference to walking with shoes was both dramatic and subtle.

Because I could feel every part of the path with my feet, and I had to slow down, it was as if I was seeing this forest and this trail for the first time.

It felt…different…because for the first time the soles of my feet were greeting this landscape. And when I paused, I could sense a subtle change in the way this forest, this beautiful piece of nature reached out to me; no longer disconnected by the insulating rubber barrier of my runners, I felt recognized and yet at the same time undetectable, almost invisible.

As if I had become part of the forest,

a rock on the path,

a fly in the air,

the dancing leaves on the tree.

Birds seemed to startle at my quiet barefoot approach in ways I hadn’t noticed when I walked (probably faster and more stridently) in my shoes.  I had to slow down.  The bugs, the squirrels, the blackbird all got a good look at me.

Near the end of the path I was slow and quiet enough to notice a pitter-patter on the long grasses and low bushes next to me.  The sky was blue, cloudless, and I could see that it wasn’t raining…so I peered closer…and discovered that it was in fact raining caterpillars, from a nest high in the tree above.  I laughed, for this felt like a perfect ending to my barefoot roaming, the fuzzy brown tent caterpillars, in their cozy fall sweaters, free falling and dreaming of flying again, with white wings in the autumn breeze.

I share this because all of my barefoot walks, but especially this one, continue to show me how nature is not for me, it is part of me and more importantly I am part of it.

I am learning to listen when it calls, to walk the forest paths barefoot when I can, so I can slow down, so I can be found again. The forest tells me I belong here, just as I am.

Her dirt is still between my toes, and on my heels, now on my kitchen floor, I feel young and alive and somehow free.  I have found the way home, it’s right outside my door, it’s right outside your door.

My bare foot prints in the dirt are an invitation answered, a longing understood and redeemed, a deliberate stepping into the great cathedral.

Won’t you join me in the woods?

Walk barefoot in the fields, by the river.

Let yourself be found.

 

 

 

Awakening, freedom, Joy, Mindfulness and Meditation

Wake up in the morning and laugh

I have often marveled at the intense emotions that are waiting for me immediately upon waking.  Over the winter, I would find myself waking up feeling angry or at least very irritated.  “You just woke up,” I would tell myself, “how on earth can you be angry already!?”

Sometimes my anger would dissipate in the shower or as I brushed my teeth, but often I carried it with me into the morning, and it would affect my interactions with my husband and my children as they went off to school and certainly it affected my approach to my day.

While I realize that there are all kinds of reasons why I might wake up angry, and that my subconscious could well have been dreaming its way through my anger issues as I slept, I still had to deal with this emotion and come to terms with it in the light of day.

So I fell back on meditation, on the principles of peace and Zen to guide me and I found this quote:

Let me give you a wonderful Zen practice. Wake up in the morning…look in the mirror, and laugh at yourself.
~ Bernie Glassman Roshi

As I read it I did laugh, and I realized how seriously I was taking my life and my anger and that this wasn’t really serving me.

While the anger just needed to be felt, it was what I was thinking about my anger that was the problem. I was…getting angry at my anger. I was taking it so seriously, and I wasn’t accepting that it was there, that sometimes you just wake up mad. And as I stomped through my days trying to deny it, I was just strengthening the grip of the emotion I wanted to be released from.

Laughing at myself in the morning has been oddly liberating.  At first I would look in the mirror and start off with a few “ha-has” and even that made me so aware of how serious I was.  And you have to laugh at yourself laughing at yourself in the mirror because it’s somehow so delightfully ridiculous.

This practice really highlighted how I had forgotten to be joyful (after all, this was a new day, a fresh start) and how I was strangling the fun out of my life.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE THIS ARTICLE ON THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF LAUGHTER: LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE AND THIS FREE MINI COURSE: 30 DAYS TO GREATER CALM

I knew just how seriously I was taking my one, beautiful life because at first when I started laughing in the morning I would sometimes cry, which was also a cathartic release of my anger and a sign to me of how long I had been letting my tension around anger build up. It was such a relief to let it go.

So…if you’ve ever woken up mad, sad, irritated, or even full of joy, I can wholeheartedly recommend looking in the mirror and laughing at yourself.

It is one of the fastest routes to joy I have ever found.

xo Shona

This article was originally published in April 2019 at A Life in Progress. 

 

 

Awakening, courage, gratitude, Joy

How gratitude rises out of the ashes of grief — every time.

Gratitude continues to show up in my life in unexpected and sustaining ways.  This is how it carried me through a difficult chapter of my life, and how it continues to hold me in all the dark moments that have followed.

My father passed away almost 5 years ago at the great age of 84. I think he would agree that he lived a beautiful life, to which he brought his immense energy, enthusiasm and heart.

At the hospital, where he slowly died over the course of nine days, I lived in a dream, like I was walking through water and drowning in tears.   It took time to accept what was actually happening.  And as it slowly dawned on us all that this was it, I would walk the grounds outside the hospital.

It was during those walks that I found something unexpected — a feeling of deep and compelling gratitude.

As my father lay dying, gratitude wrapped its arms around me and carried me through those dark days of his dying, as it still carries me now.

And I knew even then exactly what I was grateful for.

For all the love he gave me, for all the ways he encouraged and supported me, for all the time he spent with me, for all the things he taught me.

For the way he lived his life, for the way he was dying with love pouring out of his tired eyes, still my dad.

I was also grateful because we were blessed to have a room in that hospital with a view of the foothills and mountains, which he loved.  We were blessed to have access to competent and compassionate nurses and doctors, we were blessed to have family and friends around us.

His final days were filled with love and abundance – we were so blessed and so grateful.

Gratitude carries me now through moments when one of his favorite songs will play on the radio and I am blinded by tears – and I recognize that what pours through me is grief AND gratitude…and even joy.

And the gratitude always points the way to peace.

It calms me.

I am grateful for the song, and for the tears, as it reminds me of all that was — all that was so beautiful, and wonderful, and all that still remains, that is also wonderful – the memories, the qualities of his that I know I carry in me, that I see in my own children, his grandchildren. It reminds me that love goes on – in so many ways.

And this somehow gives me hope.

That maybe grief and loss and suffering have a larger meaning.

That in this liminal moment where the two meet and live side by side – grief and gratitude – is the passage through, is the doorway into a greater world, a bigger heart, a more compassionate journey.

Where you learn that your heart won’t break but finds the capacity to heal. 

Where you learn that your heart is wider and deeper than you ever thought, and can contain the grief and gratitude at once…to allow you to be overflowing with sadness and love and thankfulness at the same time…to know your heart truly is full in a way that only loss can show you.

My grief, when aligned with gratitude, brings me to joy.  One cannot exist without the other, and while I may have once understood this as a platitude for the bereaved, I have now truly felt the joy born of loss come alive in my heart.

That if I may say, as painful as it was to watch my strong father slowly diminish in a hospital bed in Calgary, I felt then and still do feel this great joy in having had him in my life.  This deep joy for all the moments when I knew I was a beloved daughter, that this terrible grief flowing through me can only exist because the joy and the love also exists.

Grief and loss are the price of that love and joy – and so with gratitude I pay the price over and over again.

And this is the truth and the gift of gratitude born of grief: it is all things, it is the twisting, rolling, wrapping up of every strong emotion, it wants to move through you like a wave, like a howl, like a dove – it is a song of love and loss as old as the earth.  It is the wound and the healing of the wound…it is the singer and the song…it is the meaning of why we are alive.

It is why our grief and suffering has a meaning.

It is the meaning.

It is strength broken by strength and still strong.

Shona