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

 

Trail of Tears, Immigration, and Healing of Nations

Author of well-known Medicine Cards and Choctaw Pipe-Carrier, David Carson, shares stories of hope and healing with historical roots and contemporary relevance.

From the Trail of Tears forced relocation of Native Americans to displaced Syrian or African refugees, the stories may differ but the wounds and opportunity to heal remain the same. Native Americans have a unique perspective historically, and a wisdom that can help us inform our current situation. Invasion, displacement, genocide have been with humanity forever. In the culture and in the land that surrounds us, even in our blood, all of history is alive within us. This includes the glory and the trauma of our individual and collective past. Healing this history requires looking within one’s self and perhaps taking a moment to hear the untold stories of our history.

“I wouldn’t be here without this history. So to rage against this history is to rage against myself…”   -David Carson

Today people are more willing to re-examine colonial attitudes and the ways these archaic belief structures are still playing out in the world today. Along with this has come a global discussion about our relationship to the land, and a scrutinizing of current political/economic systems. Indeed, we stand at the crossroads of a great opportunity for healing. In many tribes this time of healing has been spoken of in stories for generations.

 

In 1994 Alison “Tootie” Montana, a prominent Black Indian Chief from New Orleans, had a vision of bringing together many diverse tribes to celebrate their shared history. David Carson, Choctaw author of “Medicine Cards” and Kam Nightchase, a Lakota Pipe-Carrier, also shared a similar vision. Reverend David “Goat” Carson of New Orleans led the organizational effort to make this vision a reality at Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park. The gathering was called “Sacred Medicine Circle at High Noon” on Aug. 20, 1994, and a White Buffalo was born later that week. This is said to be a good omen of unity and healing between all tribes and nations.

Unity looks like an impossible dream today though with racial division, immigration, and refugee crises continuing to make top headlines. The lines dividing nations are always changing yet there are no borders in our blood or our common humanity.

Is citizenship or identifying with your own culture more important than recognizing the common humanity in other human beings?

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 2.27.36 PM

Only through making the inward journey can this story ever be healed. Remembering, honoring, and making peace with our personal and shared history is something that each of us can do to bring peace into the world. As you will see in the video below, David Carson knows this as well as anyone. His stories and understanding are unparalleled because he has lived them his whole life.

What happened to natives in America provides a good window to understand a universal struggle that is playing out all over the world today. After the Trail of Tears, when natives were forcefully marched off their ancestral lands and onto reservations, natives were required to register themselves on the Dawes Roll. This was an “official” government list of “card carrying” natives.

Some bands of Indians refused to be listed on the Dawes Rolls because they considered it an insult to have the government that abused them be the ones to make their heritage/citizenship “official” or not. These people had children and grandchildren who are still with us today, some assimilated and some continuing to keep their culture outside of the official “books”.

“Outside Indian Country most don’t realize that over the past 10 years, several thousand people have had their tribal citizenship status terminated. Most were not dismembered for wrongdoing or adopted by other Native nations. They were simply identified by their elected officials as allegedly no longer meeting revised citizenship criteria.” –Dismembering Natives: The Violence Done by Citizenship Fights

Citizenship is based on a set of man-made, ever-changing rules usually devised to serve a political or economic agenda. The end result can be devastating when these ideologies become internalized and a sense of belonging is lost. Externally this becomes wars, internally it can become self-hatred. We heal when we extend the welcome-mat, and allow ourselves and others to belong. We are connected by the good, bad, and ugly parts of this history. Connected it what’s most important.

David Carson speaks about healing the trauma from within by “taking the bitter with the sweet” and his wisdom is applicable to all of us no matter what culture we come from. Carson speaks of, “Coming into a new world that we don’t know how to describe… It has to do with light,  it has to do with self-understanding, it has to do with inner-dimensions.” He shares about the “snake of energy” that went from the northern to southern tip of the Americas and the heritage of Mound Builders.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” -Joseph Campbell

 

 

 

When we look to knowledgeable elders and explore our own historical struggles, we begin to see similar patterns emerge for every culture. The oppressors and the oppressed have changed roles on many occasions while the triumphs and suffering continue to be present with us today. Together we can resolve these wounds while deepening our sense of respect for other cultures as well as our selves. This is how new stories are created, this is how we can fulfill a dream of peace and unity, but it will take doing some work within. Deepening compassion for yourself will help you be compassionate for the struggles of others. Cast away your fear, ask questions, explore… only you can heal your history.

International Forgiveness Day, Time for Liberation

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. -Lewis B. Smedes

Usually when we hurt another person or ourselves it is unconscious, the act of forgiveness is always a conscious decision. The act of forgiveness allows unconscious actions to come into the light of awareness. 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 initiated by Desmond Tutu, and start by picking one person or incident and offering forgiveness. World Forgiveness Day is the first Sunday of August each year. This year it falls on August 2 and you can learn more here www.forgivenessday.org

“With each act of forgiveness, whether small or great, we move toward wholeness.” -Desmond & Mpho Tutu, The Book of Forgiving

Spiritual traditions around the world embrace the concept of forgiveness as a trait of virtue. Consider how many times your parents may have forgiven you in the time you were growing up? Making mistakes is part of our human journey, forgiveness allows the growing process to continue lovingly. It also alleviates guilt when we forgive ourself or others which allows us to open up and feel emotionally free of our past.

Ho’oponopono is an ancient Hawaiian forgiveness practice. Similar forgiveness practices were performed on islands throughout the South Pacific, including SamoaTahiti and New Zealand. The ceremony allows for everyone’s feelings to be acknowledged and ends with a feats that allows for a releasing of the past. The prayer is very simple, it consists of saying these words, “I’m sorry, I love you, please forgive me, I thank you.” How much could we heal just by taking the time to speak these words to our loved ones?

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 4.49.12 PM

Unify.org is well known for their popular Facebook Page with inspiring quotes and articles, but their strength is in organizing globally synchronized initiatives. Globally synchronized meditations focusing on different themes throughout the year as well as community actions are central to Unify’s mission. For International Forgiveness Day, Unify is inviting a global wave of forgiveness actions at 2pm in your timezone.

Post your stories of forgiveness here. You can also post to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook using the hashtag #forgive.
“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

The world is so divided right now. If each person took the initiative to clear old wounds through forgiveness, perhaps it would open larger doors of healing? I was deeply inspire to spend some time reading other peoples forgiveness stories (submitted anonymously at www.unify.org/forgive). I think you will be too! Hopefully you will be inspired to share your own forgiveness story and tell your friends. Join us this coming Sunday, August 2 for International Forgiveness Day at 2pm in your timezone as we make a wave of healing around the world.

Forgiveness image above by Jessica Key

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**