I feel like a struck chord this morning, vibrating with the echoes of the past as they collide with the present and shift my movement into the future. It was a year ago today that I plunged my hands into the ashes of the body of my sister, and they slipped through my fingers at sea. A year ago that an initiation descended upon me, the continuation of a process that had begun in a vision now made manifest.
I now find my own life in ashes; what remains after having endured the most difficult year of my life. One can’t hold onto ashes… they are too easily picked up by the wind, slip through the fingers, are too easily gone never to be seen again, whisked off to dissolve back into the world.
The fires have stripped away my resistance and my fear, have reduced my attachments to the life I thought I wanted to something that will blow away at the slightest breath of will. In the space that remains I am finding the vulnerability to open my heart to the love of the Great Mother in ways that I have never known. It is giving me the confidence to step off the ledge and fall into the great unknown, to open to the ecstasy of Her love and to find Her within myself. To take myself as my own Lover.
I’m taking the leap into a new vision for my life. I’ve survived the trifecta of life tragedies this year – Death, Disability, Divorce – and the loss of my housing. There’s a new page on my blog explaining more about what is to come next to support my survival as I take this leap. I hope you will read it and offer whatever support you can.
This experience is designed to help you unlock the grief that is being held in your body, trapped behind the barrier that says accessing the depths of our grief is not acceptable. It is written in response to the question “how do I access my grief?”. I use a variation of this in my grief ceremonies.
Gather your tissues and a shawl, scarf, or blanket. Have some music or a tool of sound ready. Find a quiet, dark place or somewhere you feel safe. You may want to do this with a friend present – having someone witness our grief can be profoundly healing – but it is not necessary. Meet yourself wherever you are, with whatever limitations you have. The most important thing is to just be in this moment with your grief.
Start breathing deeply but do not force your breath, let it come naturally. As you breathe, think about what you are grieving. It could be anything, one thing or many things. Grief is complex, it does not fall neatly into boxes. Think about what you are grieving, let the memories come to you. As you start to think about it, notice the feelings that arise. Notice the sensations in your body.
Now, ask your grief, those sensations, what they want. Let the answer come naturally – it too may be a sensation or feeling.
If it starts to feel like too much, or if you start to feel resistance, tell yourself that this is only for this moment. That after this exercise, you can return to your normal activities, but for now you are going to do this, even if it is only pretend.
Continue breathing into those feelings, and into the places in your body that are experiencing a sensation. Perhaps there is a tightness in your throat? A heaviness in your chest? A clenching in your gut? Really focus on those sensations, feel them, and let them rise.
Let yourself make a sound. It can be any sound. Maybe it is a chuckle, or a sob, or a soft moan or a single word or phrase. Give yourself permission to give a sound to your grief. If nothing comes out right away, fake it and make any sound. Have you ever started laughing and then found yourself sobbing? The process will unlock itself.
Do not censor yourself. Let whatever sound needs to come out, come out. Keep feeling into the sensations in your body and the memories of your grief.
As you reach deeper and unravel the cords of grief that have been tangled in you, a different sound may come to you. A wail or a keening or a great screaming cry. It may sound or feel animalistic. Do not be afraid of this sound. Let it rise from you, let it take over for a few moments and escape, taking with it the tangled cords that have kept you bound.
Give yourself time to cry, or scream, or just feel the sensations in your body. Put on some music or start drumming, and let your body move as freely as you are able. Find joy in your movement, do not let it cause you pain. If you have pleasant memories of the person you are grieving, think about those. Visualize a positive outcome for the thing that you are grieving. Visualize healing for yourself.
Once you’re ready, end the movement and sound and start breathing slowly and deeply. Wrap yourself in your shawl, and hug yourself (or have a friend hold you). Sing to yourself if you like. Thank your grief for the lessons it has given you, and thank yourself for giving yourself this time. When you are ready, make yourself something to eat and drink and give a prayer of gratitude to these things too. Do something to take care of yourself, and reach out to a friend. You may be tempted to analyze the experience, but please let your physical and emotional self be with the experience for now. You may like to journal about it later.
You may find that you are unable to go into your grief the first time you give yourself permission, or you may feel like you have much more grieving to do after this. Both of those experiences are valid. Keep trying. Continue to give yourself permission to grieve. Reach out to others for support. You can do this. It is as natural and normal as breathing, and loving.
The man placed a line of gray ash from the sacred firepit upon my forehead, above the bright sindoor red bindi he had marked me with in Kali’s temple. I felt a shudder of energy release memories of past and future; a layer of old self replaced by a new layer of meaning. There was fire behind my eyes, gray of ash and red of blood. In that instant the gravity of the experience I had just received in the temple, the shrines I had visited marking patterns of a deeper mystery, began to transform me.
* * *
She came roaring in a cloud of ash, bright flashing blade and lolling tongue. Slice, chop, red palms to hungry skulls, CRACK. Here, my child, You Are.
* * *
The boat was rocking so softly as I took my place on the very edge, toes just touching the surface of the water; green-gray that seemed to taste extra salty. Or perhaps that was the tears trapped on my tongue. I plunged my hand into the depths of the black container, pulling out a grasp of the ashen remains of my sister’s body. My hand began to tingle as energy spread across it and up my arm. With a silent prayer I stretched out my arm and released, the ashes falling from my hand and spreading in a cloud in the water. I looked at my hand – it no longer felt like my own. It felt lighter, possessed of something holy and yet weighted by a mass defying it’s size.
Again. Plunge into the plastic, a handful of grains and chips of bone, release. The boat jumped slightly as wind and wave shifted, and the ash blew back into my face. Forehead, nose, lips – the graininess of salt and ash, borne on a gentle caress of wind. Again I felt the shudder, and the energy in my hand surged through my body and blasted through my new layers of meaning as freshly healed skin tender to the touch of it. I felt my crown open as my vision doubled, tripled, became clearer.
Now you see.
I’ve been thinking a lot about initiation lately. The experiences I told you of here all happened within the span of about a month, this year. I’m also studying another initiatory tradition, and rolling that around has been an interesting exercise around my views on power and authority.
I’ve never really wanted initiation by a teacher (though I have craved the devotional relationship of student-teacher – but that is another post). The tradition I studied under the longest was non-initiatory, though I was given the blessing of self-initiation and acknowledgment as priestess.
But that isn’t to say I’ve never been initiated.
How could these experiences not be initiations? What if initiation is not only a single act, bestowed upon us by another supposedly (hopefully) with the support of the Gods? And what contextualization do we have for these experiences, let alone what support? I’ve struggled to feel comfortable discussing some of these experiences and to be taken seriously, and that struggle has really illuminated the places where initiation is tied to power and authority.
For me, being a priestess is who I am. It is how I walk in the world. It is in my actions and my way of being. It isn’t about holding power over others, dictating meaning or relationships with the Divine. It isn’t about being in service to any one or any thing either, though it is about being of service. It does mean an awful lot of work and sacrifice and looking at things that sometimes I would really just rather not.
It is going to the places unseen, doing the work that needs doing, and bringing it back out into the world. It is walking in cremation grounds, those places where people dare not go, and receiving the ashes.
“A healthy Priest makes all things sound.” Francesca DeGrandis
If I am a god, in relationship with other gods (embodied and not), then where do initiations come from? And if a God should deliver an initiation to me without an intermediary, how is that somehow ‘less valid’?
Ultimately for me, it comes down to the most important questions of all: how do you walk in the world? How are you of service? Do you live with integrity and accountability? Are you willing to show up and do the hard work? Will you thrust your hand into the ash and do what needs done?
If so, you have very likely undergone many of your own initiations, whether through the hands of another or the hands of the Gods.
May the waves of our grief
and the fires of our open hearts
rise and flow to remind us all
of the power that we contain.
Our bones are made of mountains
Our tears made of stars
With the contraction and expansion of every heart beat
Our bodies call to the grief and ecstasy of life
May we remember
in honor of all those who are forgotten
May we remember
in honor of the blood in the soil
and the beings that have been lost.
I actually wrote that over a week ago, before I really heard about the murder of Alton Sterling, followed by the murder of Philando Castile, and a number of other deaths of POC in the last few days that happen everyday.
It came after a night of devotion to Kali. It came after having another layer of maya ripped from my sight. I’ve been struggling to reorient myself since then, and have realized that nothing has felt stable in longer than I can remember.
Three weeks ago I wrote “I don’t know what’s next. We’ll see what the coming weeks and months bring, even if I am afraid to look.”
I keep diving into the current, hoping to pull out something profound and meaningful, something that will inspire to empowerment and action. But I gotta be honest: right now I’m not finding anything other than the ominous. And as I watch the protests surge across the country, fear and grief flowing through the people, I can’t help but feel that this is not the end.
Are you feeling it too? That sense of something being ripped open, of something below the surface that feels too dark, too deep?
I am breaking. The coils of grief have finally worked their way through my body, piercing me like roots pierce the earth, reaching for life.
The massacre of LGBT bodies on Saturday night, in my home state, hit me much harder than I thought it would.
I’m not straight. Personally (and this is very much a personal thing – I wholly and fully support individuals identifying however they choose), I have a real resistance to using terms to label myself (maybe that is a Queerness in itself?) but if I had to, I would identify as bi/pansexual and queer, though I currently am in a hetero marriage and to date the majority of my primary relationships have been hetero.
I frequented gay clubs in my youth in Florida. It is where I first learned that I could be comfortable in my then-gothy queerness, where I could just be me surrounded by people who also came there to be who they are. I’ve never been to Pulse, but I can imagine the atmosphere, the music, the queers in their beautiful black and brown and white bodies taking those moments by the hand and living them with full passion.
When I heard about the shooting on Sunday morning, I was getting ready to drive two hours to a meeting. All I thought was ‘I can’t do anything about this. I can only keep doing my Work.’ I got in the car, turned up the music, and pushed it aside.
Then someone else arrived at the meeting, visibly shaken by the events. And I thought ‘what the hell are we doing?’ We talked about it a little, and about the need for allies to protect Pride spaces this weekend. But there was a time when my first inclination – the very first thing that came to mind – would have been to hold some sacred space for us and those who died and those who mourn. Even if it was only woven into our meeting, at least a few moments to hold that space. But I didn’t, and I didn’t say anything.
And I realized I am usually the only person to suggest such a thing in the moment.
And so it was Monday when the visions started, the flashes of images and sound, voices and cries. Monday I started to feel the tear in the fabric of our world, as our collective grief tore away at our barriers, as those 49 souls left this earth long before they were supposed to. This Work is so hard, but bearing witness is necessary. I see you. I hear you. I hold this space for you. Take my hand and we will step across together.
But now, I am exhausted. Exhausted from carrying the grief of my sister for three months; feeling like I am ultimately carrying it alone. Combined with multiple layers of family and home based issues, and I feel sick. Broken. Questioning whether I can go on, whether it is even worth trying. Knowing that I can’t always be the strong one and that I’ve broken and put myself back together many times.
So I don’t know what’s next. We’ll see what the coming weeks and months bring, even if I am afraid to look.
And I want to be very clear that this is not a cry for help, nor do I want any advice or “well intentioned helpful comments.” I am sharing this because I believe in the power of sharing our process and vulnerability with each other. If this resonates with your experience, I would love to hear about it. If you would like to offer love and support, I will gladly accept, but “prayers” don’t get us very far in the long run. And if something about this angers or upsets you, please take that to your own process to consider and do not share it with me. Thank you for respecting this.
It was a week past Easter Sunday, a week that we had lived in the hospital, taking shifts from bedside to waiting room. Now the entire extended family crammed into the tiny room set aside for families to hold their tragedy, every hand clutching tissues or tiny Styrofoam cups of something warm, tasting tears. It must have been two dozen people, but the room was full to bursting with more than just physical bodies.
We were barely 19, my high school sweetheart and I. But here we were, deciding whether to remove his father from life support.
He had woken up on Easter Sunday with paralysis in one side of his face and arm. The day of resurrection, for this devoutly Christian family, was the last day anyone would see him rise. He’d been having some numbness in his arm, and was due to see a doctor the next day. Instead, his wife rushed him to the emergency room of the closest hospital – which, being in a poor ghetto, was also one of the most understaffed and under-equipped hospitals in the area.
He sat in the ER waiting room for hours before they finally admitted him. Hours, following the stroke. Hours which sealed his fate.
The first visit, he had some awareness of who we were. He reached with his fingers for his son’s hand, looked me in the eyes with a sad knowing plea.
The first seizure stole all that, and sent him to the tubes and the machines.
Mostly I remember the feel of the room, and the smell. It wasn’t a worldly smell – it was the smell of loss, of Death stalking near. Something that, once you recognize it, you can never forget. No hospital antiseptics can cover it up. No flower bouquets banish it.
I remember feeling so isolated and alone, with this huge family that I barely knew and had no clue how to be around. Extended family was foreign to me; something I’d never known and hadn’t really allowed myself to wish for. It seemed my only value was in the role of supportive girlfriend.
When we went home, I watched him seethe. I watched him eat his rage and pain, stuffing it deeper and deeper. I held my grief for his loss, and my loss. His father had always been so kind and accepting of me, as opposed to his devout mother who was at best wary of my presence. I cried alone in the closet so he wouldn’t know of my grief, and then would beg him to talk to me. I wrote. He drank. I eventually found acceptance. He found the silence of the eye of the storm.
Ultimately we never recovered. Our relationship ended 8 years later – many years later than it should have.
We don’t talk about this, in our culture. How do you bury a parent when you are barely an adult yourself? How do you cope, looking down the long hallway of adulthood, mourning the milestones that aren’t even here yet, that they won’t be at either? How do you carry the burden of grief on shoulders that have barely held life? How do you say goodbye when you can’t even accept that they are gone? How do you fill shoes that were never meant to be yours?