Growing up, every year at the end of May and the beginning of November I would go with my mother to the cemetery to freshen up the graves of my paternal grandparents and other relatives on my father’s side. People I had never met.
As we tided the plot and refreshed the plants and flowers, my mother told me stories about John and Lil (as she called my grandparents) and Aunt Bea who wasn’t really an aunt but very much family. There is nothing that particularly sticks out to me now. Just typical stories about beloved family members who I never got to meet that left me aching and feeling a bit left out. Although I wouldn’t have had those words at that time.
Later in life, I would realize that these cemetery visits coincided with Memorial Day (the last Monday of May) and Remembrance Day (11 November). None of my family members fought in or died in a war, so there wasn’t any military motivation to the task. I think it was probably just a good time of year to visit the graves and make sure they are clean and pretty.
Fast forward and several years later I would live in Japan and Mexico, two cultures with strong traditions of reverence for ancestors. Ancestors are a natural part of life, taking an interest in our well-being, like the extension of love and care that family members have for one another. Just like athletes might find emotional support in imagining a crowd cheering as they practice, in my experience, Japanese and Mexican people also draw a sense of support in the same way by connecting with their ancestors. This tradition also invites us to think of ourselves as ancestors to future generations and to live in ways that inspire and support future generations.
biological, social and spiritual ancestors
My father died suddenly of a heart attack when I was 26 and living in Japan, and I was 31 and living in Mexico when my mother passed away. Being far away as I was and owing to some other circumstances, I didn’t go home for my father’s services.
Already familiar with Buddhist altars honoring the ancestors in my friends’ homes, I went to a shop and bought some simple and essential pieces to create an altar in the memory of my father and began my own rituals and habits that I carry on today.
With time, my maternal grandparents and my mother joined my father, but it would be years before my ancestor practices reached past the generations I knew and extended to future generations.
This summer I realized that my connection to future generations was not as strong as to the past, and I wondered too, what that meant for my true sense of hope. I don’t feel too despairing and depressed, but it is work not to. So I thought strengthening those connections, particularly to the future might be an interesting personal journey.
One thing I did was to adapt mindful walking to include conversations with these energies, particularly when crossing a bridge or passing through a wooded area. And the beach is a particularly powerful spot for connection too. I have a greeting ritual and then I repeatedly ask “What do I need to know, what do I need to do?” All the while I follow my breath and concentrate on the questions and the world around me to see if I pick up any messages, signals or energy.
dinosaurs, birds, and past, present future
One lovely message I received was not too worry about what I perceived of as a “lack” of connection to the future generations, or anything. In fact, viewing the world through the lens of scarcity is a simple trick the power-holders use to generate feelings of inadequacy within us, and to try better to capture those thoughts and give them love so they convert into something helpful. Abundance is a much more powerful mindset.
Tic, tic! Message received.
Birds, explained these helping spirits, are actually nature’s expression of the past, present and future. Birds evolved from dinosaurs, and birds are here today and will be tomorrow. My personal work is welcome and I could simply expand my attention to the bird world to honor the ancestors and future generations. Not only did this make perfect sense, it also felt really right.
And if it’s not, what does it hurt to believe it is true? Daily nature connection, including talking to the birds, representatives of the ancestors and future generations, helps me to remember I am not alone in the struggle for a better world, and so much good, amazing work has come before me.
What happens the next time you talk to a bird? Or what rituals and practices do you have to help you make through the day-to-day with a genuine peace of mind? As always thank you for reading and may we all go gently and powerfully forward.