The other night I put an offering to my ancestors in the recycling bin. It was a carefully written letter, accompanied by beautiful pictures of homes, asking for money to do a ceremony to honour and brighten their spirits.
This is not the usual way of things. But this week, as I re-entered the South, I see that the usual way of doing things is not always right.
I’m not denying the importance of tradition, discipline and consistency in whatever rituals we anchor ourselves in. Just that sometimes a little reinvention that is responsive to circumstance is required. Which brings me back to the recycling bin.
It was full moon night, traditionally a time to let go of things, offer up your baggage to the waning cycle that is about to begin. The irony of the full moon is that at the very peak of its power, its full magnificence with all the pull and influence it exerts also contains the seeds of its cyclical demise. From this point of fullness, it must decrease.
So here I am on full moon night, on the dark streets, looking for a spot to burn this letter. I’ve learnt a way of engaging the full moon’s energy that involves writing a letter with your requests and intentions, then burning it. This is tricky when you live on the third floor of a block of flats with no balcony. But this full moon, I really needed to make a move to get this ancestor offering out there.
So, clutching my envelope, I figured I could get away for 10 minutes from family life to burn it in the park. I wish! The river will take longer than 10 minutes. The gates to the churchyard are locked, and there are people walking their dogs in the park. Besides, something doesn’t feel right. I’m all edgy, and there’s an uneasy feeling rising up. Asking for a lot of money to do a big old ceremony that lasts a month feels very, very heavy. I think of those fairy tales where bargains are made for money and influence that result in terrible tragedy and loss in order to get the goods. I address the moon directly, “I don’t want anyone to get hurt for this money or this ceremony….ok?! And quite honestly I don’t even know if I want to do this ceremony!” speaking these words out loud, I identify a powerful agreement that causes great suffering. The agreement that I must do everything alone. That I must carry impossible burdens, even if they are destroying me. I don’t want anyone to get hurt for this money or this ceremony. This I realise includes me too.
So what do you want?
I do want that soul home. I do want to brighten my spirit for the benefit of all – Ancestors, descendants, everyone. That’s what I want.
That’s when I see the recycling bin, all green and ordinary in the moonlight. And it’s obvious what I must do. I put the letter in it like it’s a post box. And say a prayer that this dark ancestor energy be transformed; changed into something else that frees us all – ancestors and descendants.
I worry that I may have committed a terrible insult, but I know more that this was the correct ritual for right now. Ritual is responsive, not dogmatic, it emerges out of a human need for integrating experience and fostering a sense of solidarity. This means that in its bones, ritual is an adaptable force. It must be. To brighten the ancestor’s spirits and mine, we have to operate from a point that is light, grounded and transformative. I can think of no better analogy than being recycled. I hope that the ancestors will understand.
That night I had this dream. Not lucid, but vivid and as real as daylight.
My daughter and her friends ask me about giving birth as I am about to. Will it hurt? The pain helps you to give birth! I tell them. I lead them in saying a special song to help the baby come. As we finish, blood starts to drip out. You song is strong! I say to them. I draw 10 wombs surrounded by a heart of light on the ground. I feel contractions gathering but it’s not time yet. A passing nun, elderly and kind and gently powerful, with the face a of a Lama, stops to smile and asks if I’m ready to give birth yet. I really like her. Not quite yet, I reply, smiling.
Waking up the following morning I felt like something had cleared away. My inbox contained an email with some good advice regarding a problem I was having with my initiation practice from my mentor. Acting on this advice, I formed a circle of support around me. I am not in this alone. Yes, ultimately the responsibility for my transformation lies with me. In that sense, we are all alone. But life exists to give love, holding us when we need to be cradled through our processes. Inter-dependency and support are neither clinging nor possessive. They are a surrender to the connectedness of all things. As I sit in my labour, gathering help around me, I am glad to belong to it all.