Sunday, November 27, 2011

how then shall i grieve?

this is a question posed to me by a young woman. it is a big question. pregnant. fecund. it takes courage to ask this. approaching Grief and asking it to be a teacher requires a readiness to have your  heart and that takes courage. so i am thankful for the question. here's what i ended up writing to her in a short note:

am glad you recognize where the grief is coming from and that you could sit with it. If we open the door to Grief, what is recognized as something very specific can lead to an awareness of other kinds of "losses" we must acknowledge and mourn. If you have a sitting practice/meditation practice or a movement practice like qi gong, sometimes that can be a source of comfort and balance. Sometimes we just need to let ourselves cry, no holding back of the tears. It would be preferable to have a witness to our tears but if that is not always possible, we can also do so in solitude knowing that Spirit hears us and is with us.

A week or so ago I felt something similar -- like something was sitting on my chest and although I wasn't thinking of anything sad at that time, I realized that emotion as grief. And then I remembered having had a powerful dream a few days before telling me that the heart needs to break open even more.

If you know of a ritual that releases your grief, it might be good to do. In 2008, one of the teachers I brought to the Phil with me died of a heart attack. I went into shock and grief for a year or more. I went to the ocean as often as I could and talked to the Ocean about my fear, sadness, guilt, loss. It is amazing how the Ocean did talk back to me and I felt reassured and listened to. I also took up qi gong quite intensely for a year and went for acupuncture treatments -- all to bring my spirit back and my strength.

Traumatic events need these rituals. I hope you have a community who can do this with you. 

what i also want to say about grief is that it is layered and it can't be rushed. in this culture where we don't have an intimate relationship with death (of any kind); we avoid grieving. instead we repress, we distract, we deny, we move on. all the wise folks i've read talk about this culture's inability to grieve well as one of the reasons why there is so much projection of what is repressed.  from the personal to the cultural to the civilizational trauma we experience as modern selves, we are consciously or unconsciously looking for a way to mend our grief, our sense of what's been lost.

grief speaks to our body as well. if we listen well, it will tell us what lies just beneath our anger, our confusion, our anxiety. perhaps it will speak to us of our need to find the space, time, and willingness to build a community that will allow us to create container for the release and healing of grief.

the deeper the grief, the greater the joy -- this is what i told a friend the other day. may it be for you.

Friday, November 25, 2011

a ritual with Noah

We decided to do something different this year. Sans company and just the four of us, I thought it would be good to introduce Noah to ritual. Well, he's already doing rituals everyday, we just normally don't call them that. This time, I wanted us to do something more formal around the theme of giving thanks.

I decorated the table with candle and a bouquet of lavender and sage and flowers from D's garden. Just before sitting down for the thanksgiving meal. we burnt some sage to invoke spirit and well being. I asked each of us to take turns completing the sentence "I can always count on..." and then we'd all say "Salamat Po!" Noah's first one was "I can always count on the Earth!" and his second was "I can always count on Nature!" We said in so many ways that we can always count on each other's love, we can always count on the blessings of the ancestors, we can always count on flowers to bloom, on the sun and moon to take their turns in the sky. I said that I could always count on Cal bringing me coffee in bed every morning as my daily blessing. We did this round so many times and each time a chorus of "Salamat Po!"

It was simple and elegant; we were carried in the cradle of this Beauty and Love for the rest of the day.

At one point, I asked Noah what was on his christmas wish list and he said "I'm thankful for what I already have." What a kid!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sonoma County, CA: Singgalot, The Tie that Binds

When the Sonoma County Museum notified the local Fil Am community that the exhibit will have its last stop in Sonoma County, it excited us tremendously. I have known of the Smithsonian traveling exhibit since it started making its rounds years earlier. I know some of the folks that put this project together and have had the curriculum project part of it presented at the Kapwa conference for K-12 educators at Sonoma State U in 2007. I knew it was making the rounds of the big cities -- San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, etc...I just didn't imagine that it would make it to our local museum.

Perhaps what brought the Museum's attention to focus on the Fil Am community was the 2008  Remembering Our Manongs Project of the FANHS Sonoma County chapter. This important documentary did put our local FIlipino community on the map and created much needed visibility to our history locally and nationally.

Leaders of the local Filipino community came together to plan for the supplementary events and exhibits to Singgalot. Alexis Canillo, who has kept records of his father's sojourn to the US, offered these as part of the exhibit and so did other descendants of Manongs who have kept memorabilia.

The opening ceremony to Singgalot on November 18 carried our intentions to remember, to honor, to heal. We felt guided by our ancestors that this was an occasion to bring together the past and present, our memories and stories, to make visible what is often invisible, to acknowledge what is often taken for granted, and to manifest the beauty of being Filipino. The night before we gathered at the museum and created this intention via ritual of dance, music, and chanted prayers in Pomo, Kapampangan, Bicol, and Tagalog.

For the opening reception, we created a ritual and an altar that represented our Filipino indigenous spirituality because we wanted to signal that our history does not begin and end with colonialism and empire; that our Story is much larger than history and when we are able to uncover the ways in which we still carry our wholeness in spite of the wounds of history, then we are able to heal and live with dignity and grace.

About ten descendants of the Manong generation each brought to the altar a sacred object that represented the Manongs' connections to us in the present. Items included a fragrant azucena flower that comes from a Manong's garden; seashell from a Philippine beach, photographs of Manongs, a coconut shell, ancient beads, a certificate of military service, a news article about the Asuelo family, an apple and a bunch of flowers that represented the labor of the Manongs, a hand-made memento.

Manang Betty, one of our elders, offered a prayer of thanksgiving in English and Noemi offered its translation in Pilipino.

These offerings to the altar were then followed by a poetry and dance performance reflecting on history and the healing that we need. Alexis read his poem and then Holly followed with a dance symbolizing the Manong's work that included stoop labor -- the aching body that worked hard to tend to the earth, raise a community, and build a future.  As her body fell to the ground in exhaustion, the spirits of her ancestors came to her symbolized by a Kalinga dance from the northern Philippines and a Tiruray dance from the southern Philippines connecting the north to the south and creating a lineage of unity. The music faded and then there were only the rhythms of indigenous instruments -- bamboo tongatong from Kalinga and then the brass gongs from Mindanao.

We continued the celebration with kulintang music with no less than Master Danny Kalanduyan and his ensemble of master musicians and dancers. Jenny Bawer, Kalinga culture-bearer and Porling gave us the Banga dance. Lizae and Alexis gave us the Pangalay dance.

I felt my heart was full and my spirit was soaring. Alexis said it best afterwards: This is a project that needed a community. This project was supported not only by the folks who came from the Bay Area to support us (Thank you so much!), I felt the ancestral spirits moving about last night, all pleased and happy that we have come together to honor and remember them.
Days before this evening, I had a dream. In the dream, I was with a shaman and we were studying together. I stood up and told him that I needed to take a shower and so I stood up to go. He followed me and then he wanted to look over the shower door. I asked him what he was doing and he said: I want to see you naked. Aghast, I bonked him in the head and told him to go away. Later, as I reflected on this dream, this is the message that came to me:

I want to see your radiance, without the veil of timidity
I want to see your courage, without the mask of fear
I want to see your beauty, without the mask of vanity
I want to see you shine
Take off everything that covers

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Leslie Gray's talk at the 2011 Shamanic Conference online now.
Leslie is a shaman and a clinical psychologist and teaches at CIIS.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Meditating on the Global Recession

This essay is also now part of the Poets on the Global Recession archive here:

Ay, Ading! How do I begin to talk about the global recession?

Ah, for starters: this is the consequence of an economic concept conjured by the neoliberal assumptions of limitless economic hypergrowth and mobilized by the unholy trinity of the IMF, WB, and WTO whose failed policies have been put on steroids through structural adjustment programs imposed on the debtor countries. A circle of debt envelopes the global economy and no one is paying up. Decades ago there was a clamor to forgive the debts of the poorest countries in the world and only a handful got a reprieve. The engines of corporate capitalism and financial magicians thought that they could create something out of nothing, and now the house of cards that the global casino economy has become is crumbling.

The global recession: what is in recess? what is an economic recession? are there other kinds of recessions? is depression the synonym of recession in psychological terms?

Recess was my favorite subject in elementary school. Wasn’t it yours, too? That’s when we got to play outside, eat our baon or buy merienda from the sari-sari store, notice the cute boys, etc. Recess is fun.

Now we take a fun word and turn it into recession and suddenly it becomes a word that stirs up fear. Well, our economic myth has always capitalized on our fears to keep the profits flowing for the stakeholders, so why not manufacture fear, yes? It sells.

And it’s all about selling and buying – this global economy. Everything is a commodity. What I eat, what I wear, where I live, what I watch to entertain myself --are all global products.

I refuse to be commodified so I defy the word global recession! This phrase that conjures the worst scenario—the bleakness that is about to engulf us if we do not turn around from the wrong course we’ve been on for five centuries—feels to me like beating a dead horse.

The drums that beat about the end of the American dream, their rhythms getting faster, induce a sense of panic.

But there is an antidote to this toxic story. Yes, I said it: the architects of the global corporate economy unleashed toxins on the planet and now we are faced with the unintended consequences of our flawed assumptions about limitless resources, about the belief in an inanimate earth, about the belief in the magic of positive thinking (thank you, Barbara Ehrenreich). If you build it they will come. Well, China has just built the largest shopping mall on the planet in Guangdong and nobody came. In fact, they built 500 of them—all of them still waiting for their middle class to arrive to shop.

Why do I always get sidetracked? Oh, as I was thinking/saying…what I mean by antidote is this: what if I were an indigenous person living in the Sierra Madre mountains of Colombia who escaped the conquistadors and managed to live undisturbed for five hundred years, and therefore, had no concepts like global recession or have never heard of the American dream? How would such persons interpret the changes that they were noticing in their environment? The mountains no longer filled with snow in the winter and so their rivers have run dry affecting their vegetation and ultimately, their very way of life? These are the Kogi people. They saw that their Mother was getting sick and they were worried that their younger brothers (the modern ones) were doing things to the earth that were causing the illness, so they came out of hiding and began to have conversations with visitors from the outside (like BBC, Wade Davis of National Geographic, and other environmental groups that have now “found” them).

What about the Amazonian elder that David Suzuki brought to Seattle? David thought that the indigenous elder would be impressed by the tall skyscrapers and marvel at the wonders of his world; instead the elder said: oh my, how can mother nature replace what’s been used up to build this?

What about the indigenous woman leader from a Mindanao tribe who exclaimed at a symposium with the Fulbright teachers I brought with me from California in 2008: Please allow us to express our beauty! We do not need your versions of development and progress!

What about the women of Ladakh who lament that their sons and daughters have gone to the city to get an education; who would till the fields and tend to the animals when they are gone? And the kids who have gone to the city and learned to speak English say now their lives are all about money. If I don’t make money, I am nothing. (in Schooling the World, a videodocumentary).

Do you see why I don’t like the word global recession? I do not buy into the theoretical construct behind the word. It’s true that what we are witnessing today are human-made consequences of overdevelopment, mis-use of resources, endless wars, not only military but also “war on drugs, war on terror, war on poverty,” etc.  Don’t even get me started on the concept of war.

Did you know that there is a connection between war and food? Ask Vandana Shiva ( That fertilizers that were used to make bombs used during World War 2 were later offered to industrial farmers?

I digress again. Back to global recession. So there is a recession if your assumption is that the global economy should stay on a linear growth path, or if the assumption is that the American lifestyle should go global because it is the best. We package it as “freedom” and seduce the world with commercials. It is the “end of history” theory rearing its head. Oh, if only we know of seven planets where we can migrate to.

We already know that we are almost out of solutions. Bailouts didn’t work. International accords don’t work especially when powerful countries like the U.S. refuse to sign protocols and agreements—whether it’s curbing carbon emissions (the Kyoto protocol) or making a stand against racial apartheid (at the Durban conference on Racism).  We already know that tax cuts for the wealthy have not created jobs (it did, however, make plenty of profits that are stashed away in Swiss banks and off-shore banks, for the wealthy). Inconvenient truth, as Al Gore calls it.

So yes, we are in the midst of an economic recession. But this simply means that we have exhausted the limits of the modernist story. It is time to revisit other stories that can disentangle us from the ravages of modernity.

Decolonization is not just for the post-colonial subject anymore. Decolonizing from the modern narratives of self that disassociated us from a participatory sense of place is the work of every modern self that has been colonized by the myth of the masterful bounded self that is separate from nature and non-human creatures and the spirit realms.

In a way, we are all relatives of the economic hit men of the past. Those economic hit men who have now confessed to their sins of selling the economic model and gospel of free trade to developing countries (e.g., John Perkins, David Korten) are calling for a different kind of story—The Great Turning, Revolution from the Heart of Nature, Another World is Possible, and more recently, Occupy Wall Street – these themes are the mantras of our time.

The onus is on us—those of who us in the U.S. We are the belly of the beast. China, India, Latin America and the rest of the world are all mimicking us now. They will become modern and surpass the U.S. consumption and materialism. They will buy stuff until they are sated and realize that they are still dissatisfied. We know. We’ve been there.

I’ve always intuited that the U.S. will turn to its spiritual resources when the hubris of materialism finally catches up with us. When we wake up and acknowledge the shadows of history that we have denied or repressed, we will search for ways to grieve and heal.

That is why I believe in Poets in the same way that I don’t believe in the global recession. This global recession can actually be good for the soul, you know? Maybe we will learn how to become more human. Kapwa we call it. Kagandahang Loob – our inner gem/sacred self.  Maybe there is still time to get to know the Earth as our relative.

There is still time to learn how to reclaim our animist senses so that we may see each other and all our relatives through the eye of the Sacred.

There is still time to embody what we know in our heads so that when that knowledge descends into our cells, it transforms us. Our fears are transformed.

The rage and anger that we see all around us are projections of that repressed fear. Fear is nothing but unreleased grief.

I want to be a Poet of Grief. I long to learn the language that releases this grief. I long to learn how to do rituals without words…only the movement of the body. I long to learn how to slow dance into this new awareness. I long to feel more deeply the sacred embrace of the Earth on my small body until a word like global recession withdraws its fangs and is alchemized into a meditation about the beauty of a different Story that is much more ancient than the modern one. One that sits well with my body and soul.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Notes from Pedagogies of Crossing

Sacred energies require embodied beings and all things to come into sentience.
There is no absolute transcendence, and if there were, there would be no intervention in and no relationship with the material, the quotidian, the very bodies thru which divinity breathes life. (293)

Cosmological systems house memory and such memory was necessary to distill the psychic traumas produced under grotesque conditions of slavery.
Recalcitrance masked an unacknowledged yearning for Spirit. (294)
To know self thru Spirit, to become open to the movement of Spirit in order to wrestle with the movement of history....

Feminisms as secularized category

Epistemic frameworks - part of analytic challenge in considering spiritual dimensions of work

Sacred as tradition - as extreme alterity, not yet modern - subsumed to European cosmos...pejoratively

To know the body is to know it is a medium of the divine, living purpose exceeding the imperatives of plantation (capitalism, modernity) 297

Body praxis requires us to remember ther source and practice. Body as site of memory.

Body as encasement of Soul, medium of spirit, repository of a consciousness that derives from a source residing elsewhere. Another ceremonial ritual making.

Spiritual expertise of a community to decode Sacred Knowledge

Sacred becomes a way of embodying the remembering of self - that is not habitually individuated nor unwittingly secularized