Thursday, February 12, 2009

Traditions, New and Old

Mark and I have just returned from India, where we were part of the International Gathering of Elders. It was quite an amazing experience for many reasons, not the least of which is that is gave me a lot to ponder about the nature of heritage, culture and tradition.

In America, we are a country comprised of people whose ancestry is varied and diverse. Few of us can trace the family tree back more than a few generations and, overall, we have little connection to the countries from which our great, great grandparents originated. While we know ourselves to be, for example, of Italian, English and Dutch heritage, (or whatever combination is appropriate for each individual), these are just words that describe where our ancestors traveled from when they came here. We know very little about these cultures or their respective traditions. Let's face it - we're mutts! Most of our spiritual traditions are revivalist in nature and have little to do with where we actually came from.

In meeting people from all over the world, one of the things that Mark and I found interesting was the common thread that our traditions had been interrupted. Whether by war, displacement or persecution, nearly everyone could identify a break in their cultural lineage. Even our Native American friends spoke of the loss of heritage that happened when they were under siege. It seems nearly everyone who attended is still struggling to recover "the old ways." Some had gone to great lengths to research old folk tales, tattered books and still-standing villages to find a clue about how things used to be.

As I listened, it occurred to me that we might all be suffering from a need to "over-glorify" our ancestors in an effort to have solid roots. Yes, they left us a legacy. Yes, we benefit from the good they did. And (this is a very BIG "AND") - we are also left with their mistakes. It is our ancestors who "claimed territory", created hierarchies, marginalized one another, and drew invisible lines on a planet that had none, in order to define the differences between one "country" and another.

I am keenly aware that this "Gathering of Elders" was one in which many of the attendees were struggling to feel "legitimate." In a time where unity is a common theme amongst spiritual people, we spent a lot of our time in India making comparisons rather than experiencing the "One Tribe" conclave I had hoped for.

I loved the people I met from around the world and truly look forward to crossing paths with them in the future. This is not really about the people - its about authenticity. When we create a sacred circle, where do we place the elements? Do we place them where they actually are in our surrounding area or where we have been taught they should be? Do our symbols come from the world we share, or from history books and pictures of sacred sites? Who are the "ancestors" we call on?

What our ancestors did well is this: They listened to the Earth. She was the original teacher that ALL of our ancestors learned from. The word indigenous was used a lot at this gathering to identify who came from where. We are ALL indigenous, aren't we? Didn't we all come from Earth? Is there someone out there who is not from here? (If so, speak up now because we have lots of questions!)

The Earth taught our ancestors. The Universe was the classroom in which the 'traditions' were born. She will teach us in the same way, if we just listen. She has always been the teacher and she holds the lessons that are appropriate for this time.

So - what has this got to do with Spiritfire? EVERYTHING.

At Spiritfire, we are building new traditions that are based on our current life, not the life of the ancient ones. The ancestors are honored and recognized. They are called into the sacred space to inspire and guide, and yet, we are not tied to their ways. We are evolving, honoring one another, and allowing ourselves to be in the present moment, which is the only place we can be if we want to be inspired. At Spiritfire, the Earth Mother is present in each moment. The moon lights our path, and the stars dance with us. We are students of the entire Universe.

While I was in India, I found myself, over and over again, referring to Spiritfire and inviting people to share in this very unique experience. I handed out lots of postcards and am hopeful that some of the folks I spoke with will attend. I realized, as I was sharing, how very much I treasure the way we gather and what we do. I love the authenticity with which we meet each other. I love the depth of our sharing and the richness of our growth.

I feel very 'rooted" in this community, as it exists on the East Coast, in the Western States, and in other parts of the world we share. I feel the Mother as I dance the circle with you. I feel my heart as we connect eye-to-eye around the fire. And, as the energy rises through me, I become one with the stars and the moon and the entirely of All.

For this way, which is both as old as the dirt and as new as this very moment, I am deeply grateful.

1 comment:

Lisa B said...

"At Spiritfire, we are building new traditions that are based on our current life, not the life of the ancient ones... We are evolving, honoring one another, and allowing ourselves to be in the present moment, which is the only place we can be if we want to be inspired."

I love this, Ahriana. It is true that much of what we hold onto - whether cultural, religious, familial, institutional - is often dogmatic and anachronistic. The Universe is ever unfolding. Change seems to be the only constant. Once we recognize that all life is both symbiotic and emergent, it becomes easier to let go of attachments to the dogmatic and adopt a willingness to allow creative expression to work its magic. Even the Dalai Lama, who is fighting to preserve the Tibetan culture recently under attack by China, acknowledges the need to let go of traditions that were once vibrant but have lost their meaning in modern life. Spiritfire indeed embodies this fresh, emergent energy by allowing new traditions to evolve organically, while honoring the ancient in meaningful ways.