City of the Dead, Ceremonial Healing

Ancient Tribal Traditions Survive in Modern Festivities
shot

For eons we humans have called on our ancestors in times of trouble, and that need still exists today. Making peace with the past is essential for making peace in the present and the future. The expression of grief is often considered one of the highest forms of prayer, because the act of grieving acknowledges our deep love and gratitude for the blessing of life itself.

It is commonly believed that violence and anger are the result of unexpressed sorrow and grief. Celebrating life in a ceremonial way creates a safe place for the whole community to grieve together. Each one of us has been touched and shaped by others who are no longer here. October is a time for ghouls, ghosts, trick-or-treaters and candy, but there is something much spiritually deeper and ancient than what we see on the surface of these modern festivities.

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 8.37.48 AM

It is our responsibility to keep the memory and wisdom of our ancestors alive in our own lives, to forgive the past while embracing the present moment. In a society that focuses on accomplishments and being busy all of the time, the courage to embrace each other in the vulnerable realm of our emotions and feelings is priceless. We will pass from this life some day, and taking time to remember that can inspire us to live with love and compassion for all who share this life with us.

Imagine more than 50,000 people of all ages including children, parents and grandparents pulling floats honoring their ancestors wearing La Catrina whiteface alongside drummers, stilt walkers, and samba dancers parading through the city streets. It happens every year in Tucson, Arizona. This year marks The 28th Annual All Souls Procession and there is nothing quite like it anywhere in the world.

A giant urn is wheeled through the crowd collecting the prayers, wishes, and dreams of each participant as it passes. At the end of the procession the urn is hoisted high above the crowd in preparation of a grand finale filled with fire and spectacle. It is ceremony in an ancient but contemporary form, a creative expression of community that is so important yet often missing in our modern world.

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 8.41.02 AM

The giant burning urn may conjure thoughts of the popular Burning Man Festival, but there is a profound difference. The All Souls Procession is a free, cross-generational, sober event that is integrated into an urban center with cultural roots that go back for millennia. Incorporating elements of contemporary Day of The Dead like sugar skulls, marigolds, and elaborate shrines lit by candles, the weekend is filled with meaningful events, performances, and an invitation for all to participate.

Precolonial Mesoamericans were deeply rooted in a cultural heritage dating over 3,000 years. One ritualistic observance was ancestor reverence which included both honoring and making offerings or sacrifices to one’s ancestors. It was believed that during this time, the dead visited their still-living relatives and that communication was possible between the living and deceased. According to Mesoamerican tradition, the realm of the dead was not frightening, but serene. The deceased rested peacefully until it was time to visit the living. Precolonial civilizations described death and life as continuous interwoven aspects of the human experience. Instead of feared, death and the dead were welcomed and celebrated. Upon arriving in present day central Mexico over 500 years ago, Catholic Spanish conquistadors desired not only territory and resources, but also spiritual control of the people they conquered. Spanish conquistadors labeled native rituals as sacrilegious and led violent attempts to indoctrinate early indigenous civilizations into Catholicism. -Wikipedia

Tucson is an ancient place surrounded by the majesty of the Sonoran Desert and many diverse communities. Arizona is filled with vibrant Native American culture from The Apache to Hopi, Navajo, Yaqui, Tohono O’odham and many others. Tucson sits at the cross-roads between north and south with a rich history of Spanish Missions, outlaws, and cowboys. These natural and historical elements are blended together under the direction of Nadia Hagen, Paul Weir, through the non-profit organization, Many Mouths One Stomach and powered by an army of local volunteers who are all dedicated to making sure that each year is better than the previous.

All Souls workshops span the whole month of October and culminate on November 4, and 5. Saturday at Armory Park is The Procession of Little Angels, where kids paint their own angel wings and sugar skulls while watching performances from Stories That Soar and Tucson Circus Arts followed by a sunset Lantern Procession around the park.  Sunday is the All Souls Procession and Finale with floats, bands and big crews assembling at 4 p.m. for the procession. This year also brings the premiere of Many Bones One Heart, a documentary film about the procession by Leslie Ann Epperson.

The Grand Finale is hosted by Flam Chen, one of the nation’s oldest fire circus theatrical groups. Watch silk aerialists dangle from a crane above the urn which is lifted onto a scaffold while fire spinners, folklorico dancers, hauntingly beautiful music, and acrobatic stilt walkers fill the stage under the desert sky with city skyscrapers just a few blocks away. The urn, made of geometrical patterns, now filled with mementos collected during the procession is set ablaze. It lights up like a lantern warming the faces of onlookers setting their dreams and prayers free with a roar of cheers (and tears) from the crowd.

Local artist and photographer Stu Jenks has compiled some of the best photos of previous All Souls Processions into an Ibook called, It’s a Mystery, and all proceeds from the purchase of this visual odyssey go directly to supporting this free community event. Two other Ibooks were also created recently to help families bring depth and meaning to this season. The first book, Procession of Little Angels, is a scrap-book with photos and illustrations for children, the second is The All Souls Loteria, both by Nadia Hagen. Visit their donation page here and look for their Facebook page to see photos posted shortly after the event.

Wherever you may be in the days following Halloween this year, please take a moment to remember all those who have come before you and reflect on what it means to be alive.

ARTICLE PHOTOS BY EMILY ANN JONES

FEATURED IMAGE BY ADDIE MANNAN

 

Turning Grief Into Compassion & Personal Power

If we have the tools to navigate it in a constructive way, grief can liberate us from fear and help us cultivate a deep sense of compassion. This notion was completely foreign to me for the first half of my life during which time I would unconsciously let my grief become anger and project it at the world around me. We see this same reactive pattern every day in the news though we rarely take the time to dissect and understand it. Unresolved grief is the source of violence and illness, so let’s look at a more healthy approach to this universal human emotion.

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 7.57.22 AM

Grateful for grief?

The idea sounds ridiculous, especially when we are engulfed with darkness. Grief is every bit as powerful as love in it’s ability to shape our lives. We tend to shove it away, put a smile on it and pretend it isn’t there. Though sometimes we need to be “strong” in social situations, developing a close personal presence and relationship with grief will transform it. Just the simple mental switch of considering grief as a teacher can be profound.

I was first introduced to this concept while seeing Tibetan Monk, Palden Gyatso speak at a local event. He had spent years in a Chinese torture camp yet he was filled with love and forgiveness for his experiences. It made me think of all the minor things I have moped and complained about in my life. As I compared my struggles with his I couldn’t help but admire his strength. I realized that it was time for me to learn some new coping skills.

During this time I was introduced to Tonglen Meditation. As I began to open up to my own grief with these new coping tools, the gates blew wide open. Realizing how much I had been ruled by my own fear of grief, I began to enjoy letting myself cry. The practice of Tonglen Meditation made me aware of how often my choices were based on how to avoid grief. Despite our best efforts, grief is unavoidable.

I am not a Tonglen teacher, but there are plenty of good ones out there including Pema Chodron who has a wonderful audio-talk called Good Medicine. The basic concept is simple though… You sit quietly and breathe in all the fear, grief and pain happening in your life. You breathe it right into your heart and feel it with all your senses. When your lungs are full of air, it is time to exhale and let it all go while focusing on a deep and eternal peace. At the end of the exhale you begin to inhale grief again. In this cycle you allow yourself to be like a pump breathing in grief, and breathing out peace.

The other component is that you cultivate the ability to become the observer of this internal process that is universal to all humans. An intimate relationship with grief also allows one to feel connected in a profound way with everyone who has ever lived. It is strange to consider, but grief might be more common than even love…

Mayan Wisdom about Grief

Grief is most often associated with the loss of someone or something that we love. Martin Prechtel speaks of the Mayan wisdom that  considers grief as the highest form of praise. In the Mayan tradition, crying is seen as a form of prayer and tears actually feed our ancestors. When we can be present with our own grief we are less likely to project it in anger or violence onto others, we become compassionate warriors.

We can not expect nations to act on this principle until enough individuals are able to embody it. We don’t want war so we need to cultivate peace within. Grief can be a teacher for the compassion that dissolves violence with love. Many people confuse control and power. Real strength and resilience comes from the personal power of being liberated from fear. I still grieve on occasion, but my fear and anger towards this world has quickly dissipated through these practices.


What if this perspective was part of the global story?

Palden Gyatso changed my world in a very short moment by challenging me to change the way I look at the tough parts in life. I had the pleasure of bringing him to the Hopi Mesas to meet elders and discuss ancient history the day after his talk. He laughed at me a lot as I continued to ask him about prophecy and earth changes.

He assured me over and over that if we are in the right place within our heart nothing can harm us. Coming from an individual who endured torture to speak of compassion and forgiveness, I knew I better listen to what he had to say. So if you are going through grief remember that it will pass. Welcome grief as a teacher and you will become a stronger, more resilient person when it does pass. Like everything, it will pass.

**Post originally appeared at UPLIFT**

Comics in the Classroom, Environmental Lessons Made Fun

Stories shape us, our beliefs and our culture. Those seeking to create a better world must engage in self-reflection and explore the narratives that guide our lives. As we recently learned from Robin Grille, the time and place where our brains are most susceptible to influence is during youth. Positive and conscious effort put towards the healthy education of children’s developing minds is perhaps one of the best things we can do to create a better future. In an age where technology and media is everywhere, many education models are often boring for students. They want to engage, they want learning to be entertaining, colorful, interactive and some educators are embracing these growing possibilities to enhance education with all sorts of media, including comic books.

Teaching through story is universal across cultures since the beginning of time. Indigenous people sat around the fire through the winter learning stories and oral histories. Sacred texts like The Bhagavad Gita teach moral lessons through parable. Folk music around the world bring wisdom through ballads about love, war, and loss. Today we obsess about heroes and villains through movies, television, novels, and comics.

I wrote a piece called Comics Instead of Textbooks a few years back when I first learned that schools in South Africa were having great success teaching about the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela through comic books. In it I write:

A few years back I read an inspiring book by Valerie Kirschenbaum called Goodbye Gutenberg: How a Bronx Teacher Defied 500 Years of Traditions and Launched an Astonishing Renaissance. Valerie’s students had the worst reading scores in her district, so she began making the text more visually pleasing for her students. Changing the colors and font of text, enlarging important words, using forward and reverse italics and incorporating design flow into the reading assignments. Her students reading scores rose to the top of the district in no time!

Since that time the field of transmedia, which is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies, has continued to erupt across the planet. There are endless opportunities to use this technology consciously to shape a new narrative that includes social justice, environmental stewardship, and cross-cultural respect. Graphic artist, Charlie LaGreca is one individual who is leading the charge.

In a recent project in collaboration with the CUNY Center for Urban Environmental Reform (CUER) and the Environmental Protection Agency, a comic book was created called Mayah’s Lot. Written by LaGreca and Rebecca Bratspies this story is about a young girl who plants a garden in a vacant city lot but then learns that they want to use the lot for storing toxic waste. The story follows her on her journey of organizing people to become active in protecting their community. It teaches students the importance of getting involved, and the process of making positive change in their neighborhood. In true transmedia style, the comic book is accompanied with lesson plans for a range of grade levels that work with Core Curriculum and a video (animated by Norman Dillon) which is suitable for classroom adoption. You can download the comic here.

I had the pleasure of working on a similar project with famed illustrators, Bret Blevins and native artist Ryan Huna Smith that teaches the importance of following your dreams and honoring the interconnectedness of all life in nature. The story, called Giggle Bubble Dreams also encourages children to add color to other peoples dreams thus fostering a sense of cooperation and creative expression. Indian Super Hero, Frybread Man, shares historical wisdom about the origin of frybread, the deep cultural resilience of indigenous people in North America, and the importance of eating healthy food.

Stories and creative media are not just for children, but conscious attention should be directed at developing stories that positively influence their psychological and emotional development. What kinds of stories are you drawn to, and what does that say about your own deeply held belief systems? Together we can support each other to develop new stories and dream of a better future for all. The next step is to take action for the things we truly believe are possible and manifest them. We have never had access to so many tools and technology to create a better world, let’s do it!

***This post originally appeared on UPLIFT Connect***

A Love That’s Louder Than Rage: the Beautiful Revolution

At first I thought… The most powerful thing that you can do for your people, your future, your land, your air, your water is to fight and die for what you believe in. But it’s not true… you have to LIVE for what you believe in.

So begins the wise words of 13-year old Sliammon Native Youth, Ta’Kaiya Blaney in a recent video (below) by Indigenous Rising. If you are like me then you will be moved to tears by hearing what she has to say after that in the video, but you’ll have to watch it to find out. I recently had the pleasure of talking with Ta’Kaiya about the video while delving into the changing face of social engagement that is bringing healing for our communities and the environment.

We have to live for what we believe in.

 

Often when we look at anger, heartache, grief, that is all that we see, but the deeper truth is that these are expressions of love, of awakening. Whether we are seeing these tough emotions in ourselves, or others it is never easy but it is imperative for growth. Ta’Kaiya speaks from the perspective of being native, but the sentiments are universal, spanning cultures, continents and time:

When I first started attending rallies that were protesting the actions of large companies, I saw a lot of rage with very little focus on solutions, on what’s next. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury to be diplomatic when you are being oppressed, but it is still always important to show love whenever you can. Communities are wounded and in disrepair and that is common to all of us. By representing love and inclusivity other people will feel less threatened which makes it easier to find commonality.

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 11.54.56 AM
Indigenous activists, Ta’kaiya Blaney and Kandi Mossett at The People’s Climate March in NYC.

I remember in the early days of the Idle No More Movement being awe-struck by seeing natives take to the streets and public places with drums, singing and dancing. It was beautiful, cultural, positive, and yet it was bringing attention to some very painful truths. In Idle No More, Hints of a Global Super-Movement I write about this emerging phenomena and close with a video of Ta’Kaiya speaking at a rally when she was only 11. Together we have seen so much growth and evolution since then, it is a very exciting time to participate in our unfolding future.

Velcrow Ripper has made enormous contributions with films like Scared Sacred, and Occupy Love that encourage us to bring a spiritual perspective to our work for positive planetary change. Takaiya mentioned a sentiment that many activists often hold, “Spirituality is not a bypass for being active about things that matter in the world.” We reflected together how powerful it is when activists embody love and spiritual practitioners take action. The result is an all-inclusive beautiful revolution, and exactly what we need right now on planet earth.

Last year at this time Ta’Kaiya collaborated with Unify on the World Water Day Campaign, #lovewater. The result was a very powerful video that ended up making the rounds on Upworthy, Huffington Post and many other outlets. Since this years #lovewater campaign is about to launch for World Water Day on March 22nd- a collaboration between UPLIFT, Unify and some other amazing partners-  I asked her how she felt about working with Unify:

Working with Unify evoked a hopeful spirit in me. (it was) A really beautiful exercise in representing love. I hope to work with them again.

Rage can become addictive and it is sometimes exactly what is needed but we are here to remind ourselves to go deeper. Ta’Kaiya is doing that through her music and writings on her website, and also through her conservation efforts with other youth at Salish Sea Youth. She is poetic even when talking informally on the phone:

Like a plant that disrupts the soil making room for the roots to grow we have a lot to live for. Don’t react to the negative, instead make it a platform for something beautiful. We have a wonderful future waiting for us, I wish to know that I participated in that change.

I think we’d all like to feel that! So the question is, “What is your contribution to the Beautiful Revolution?” There is a growing community of people who want to support you in rising to the occasion. You can start by watching this videos above, as I have made sure not to tell you everything in this article, and share this with your friends and networks. Together we are loving louder, and that is something that will become more beautiful as it continues to grow.

**Post originally appeared on UPLIFT Connect**

Align Self with Love

10422274_10101018826505797_6543253942347780185_nWhen I was a little girl I remember getting made fun of for my nose. Kids would say it was like a “ski jump”  (we lived in a ski town, so this made sense). For a long time I was self conscious about it, and grew up with that insecurity imbedded in my psyche. Even as an adult I refrained from sharing or celebrating images that showed my profile. I think part of the insecurity stemmed from popular media defining a norm of “beautiful” as something that my nose may have over quantified, falling just outside the “normal” specs and so giving kids some leverage for teasing.

Later, I began to realize how my nose is actually one of the strongest features inherited throughout my family lineage, particularly from my Mothers side, the Scheumanns. It’s my nose, actually, that reminds me most of my Grandparents. It reminds me of who I am and where I come from. A beautiful thing really, because its through them and this feature that I take each vital breath. 

To reach this understanding I first had an experience of debating with myself as to whether or not to post this picture on social media, because I was feeling this internalized insecurity. It felt silly, really, because who cares about how big or small my nose may be!? But the core of insecurities can sometimes run deep, and we need to pull them out from their root in order to dispel them. So I used the awkward moment as an opportunity for self examination.  I decided to explore the stories I had surrounding this insecurity. In doing so, I traced some interesting old beliefs and thought patterns that I have actually outgrown, and began to dissolve these illusive notions of beauty that came mostly from the mass media status quo. I even found humor in it all, and was able to laugh as I thought, ‘it really is like a ski jump! A perfect ski jump!’

We live in a world now where information travels faster than ever. In young people especially, I see many insecurities arise in the comparison of images, followers, and likes via the avenues of social media.  As we share glimpses of ourselves to the world via these channels, I challenge you to consider what insecurities may arise in the process of information sharing and selecting what we project to the world. By who’s standards are you selecting what to share, and perhaps defining your beauty?

In the end, this experience really taught me how these platforms for exchanging information and messages can be a very empowering, positive, and effective catalyst for change, if we choose to use it consciously.  I choose to share about the experience in my post on my Facebook page, exposing myself and “getting real” with my network. It felt great! Check your internal dialogue, is your SELF aligned with your LOVE when you post something? Are you pumping out projections of yourself to match a status quo, or to rep who you are from a deeper sense of self?

#alignwithlove

 

 

 

Violence is a Preventable Brain Disorder

‘Think of a world without war, a world of social justice,
a world of ecological sustainability.’

This is how Robin Grille starts his talk at TEDX Pittwater. Robin is a psychologist, author, educator and advocate for children who is not alone in his dream for a better world. For those interested, you will find that what he has to share is one of the most crucial keys to creating the future we aspire towards.

How do we unlock the peace code in the human brain and help it to find its’ full expression?

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 3.23.32 PMI had the pleasure of collaborating with Robin many years ago in promoting The Children’s Well-Being Manifesto, and his work continues to inspire great hope. For those in the UPLIFT community, the notion of creating a new story of healing is deeply entrenched and also backed by science as seen in the research of Bruce Lipton, PhD. We literally have the ability to change the world we live in by addressing our core belief systems. This logic can be applied to our deeply held beliefs that human-beings are wired for violence, which the science of epigenetics refutes completely. Human behavior is much more a product of our environment and conditioning than it is dictated by genes. This points directly to child-rearing practices, and the ways that it affects the developing brain.

Harsh, punitive, and cold environments along with chronic stress cause the brain to release a neurotoxin known as cortisol. Cortisol literally destroys brain cells in the area of the brain connected to emotional regulation and impulse control causing the prefrontal lobes to atrophy. Whereas, loving supportive connection in a safe environment causes the brain to secrete oxytocin which develops these centers and cultivates the capacity for empathy, which is the neurological foundation for peace. The conclusion is that Violence is a Preventable Brain Disorder.

In his talk (below) Robin Grille also explores the fascinating historical and cultural roots of our story of violence along with a 7-step plan to re-write the code and create a peaceful planet where we are less violent to each other and towards our environment. In a recent uplift blog post titled, How to Stop the 6th Mass Extinction Bruce Lipton states:

…the realization that we can change the whole story right now. We don’t need to try to fight the old story. We simply need to walk outside the old story and build a new story. People will leave the old story when they see a new story working.  Every individual who changes their own story, is changing the vibrational environment within which we live.  We can have the spontaneous remission of the planet’s ills and we can change the environment by just changing who we are.

Clearly we are living in a potent time where science and spirituality give us the tools to change our ways of creating and interacting with the world around us. Please make some time in your day to watch this enlightening talk and share the inspiration with your networks. More importantly, make the effort to help that single-parent in your community and open your heart to embrace the children in your life with love, connection, support, and safety!

***Post Originally Appeared at Uplift Connect***

Global Meditation Celebrates World Spirit Day on December 21

It’s as if humanity has fallen into a great amnesia, forgetting our connection to the land, to each other, to the future and to the past. Organizers of The Unify Global Meditation at 3:03 pm PST on December 21 invite everyone to remember. Filmmaker, Frank Darier Baziere, has created a powerful short video (below) that inspires a beautiful vision of something that is often overlooked and hard to describe, spirit.

The Global Coherence Initiative along with The Heartmath Institute, and The Global Consciousness Project at Princeton have been studying the effects of synchronized meditation and social harmony for many years. Is it possible that A Moment Shared Around the World can actually cause lasting changes in our society? Many people seem to believe so.

Even though we have abused and harmed our environment, nature has kept this essence alive in order for us to one day remember. Join the spirit of the wind, the spirit of the water, the spirit of the earth, the spirit of the infinite energy of the universe. Today you can take action in your life and become the living example of spirit. Remember who you are. Remember where you came from. On December 21, 2014, remember  WE are SPIRIT.

The solstice reminds us of our connection to the dance of the planets and seasons it is a time for family and gathering to to celebrate and give thanks. Across the planet people are waking from this Forgotten Chapter to create a reality that honors our shared connection with all of life. Learn more about World Spirit Day and this growing global community by visiting Unify online.

 

Key to Freedom, World Forgiveness Day

Forgiving others does not fix their mistakes, we forgive them to release ourselves from the heavy burden of holding grudges and carrying bitterness in our heart. It accomplishes something even greater than that, it allows us each the space to let go of past mistakes while helping to cultivate a deeper sense of compassion for ourselves (and others). Take The Forgiveness Challenge, and start by picking one person or incident and offering forgiveness. World Forgiveness Day is August 3, you can learn more here www.forgivenessday.org

Post your stories of forgiveness here. You can also post to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook using the hashtag #forgiveone.
“Forgiveness is an inherent virtue of being human, a prerequisite for a healthy human society and a central component to every religion. To forgive is to liberate ones self from the bondage of blame and recrimination. When we forgive, the trauma heals. Forgiveness transmutes poison into medicine. We lament the wars and conflicts across the globe yet what about the battles in our own lives? The battles inside each of us?” -Jonathan Human

I Speak For The Spirit of Water & Those Who Have No Voice

#lovewater Ta'Kaiya

“I can see clearly through the sentimental veil of childhood memories, the voices of my Elders that taught me about the water as a sacred being… I am here to tell you not to forget… that the human race is a dynamic of diversity, and in the end it does not matter who you are, your race, religion, or your wealth… for we all drink from the same world wide well. There is beauty in every drop of water and when water  flows TOGETHER… it is POWERFUL… WE ARE WATER, and together we create change.”
Ta’Kaiya Blaney, 12-year-old Sliammon First Nation from B.C., Canada.

Everyone, Everywhere, Together! Unify
Global Synchronized Prayer/Meditation/Ceremony March 22 #lovewater