EDITORIAL: Dead and Alive: Being with Ancestors

Editor’s Note: As we were completing final edits for her article, Azul Thomé woke up one morning with a clear instruction from the deep: to ask me to make a space for the Message of Water in this publication. Yes, I said to her, yes, we will publish it in this issue. The message ends with a warning that we humans have five years as a species to wake up; Azul received this message from Water five years ago.

Our editorial conversation began with Azul reading the message.

My dear child, do not worry about me, Water. I recover quickly with the song of our birds, the love of trees, with movement, moments of rest and the prayers moving around our Earth. I regain balance with your heartfelt tears, your remembered songs added to the ones of so many now. Do not focus your energy on ‘Saving me’. Something way more profound is taking place right now, listen and observe! 

All of us, Soil, Water, Plants, Air, Animals and all Ancestors are Calling you Humans to Us so we can Save your species. We know and have known for a while that you do not have much time left if you do not wake up to your birthright Belonging to Earth and come Home soon, real real soon. We keep dying, we keep Giving Away our Lives to shake you up from a deep and very long amnesia. Once you can allow the truth and quality of such Love to permeate through your traumatized being and desolate soul you will wake up from a lifetime of anesthesia to your immense grief and capacity for Love.
When you create containers of sacred beauty that opens your Heart to what Love truly is then you will realize with a massive Sob that you were loved all along, always have been and forever by all of Us who you think You are Saving!

You have five years as a species to Wake up, Mature and Remember in your bones that you belong to Life.

Sharon: The water beings, all the beings, are calling us to them, that’s what we’re being told. That in itself is astounding. That is really where I am every day all the time. And reading your pieces—oh my god—the threads everywhere, and such integrity. All the while I was writing I kept thinking, thank God there’s a place where what I’ve experienced over the last six or eight months has a home in this journal. I don’t know what I would have done with it otherwise.

Redwing: Between the pandemic and a good friend of mine who died suddenly two weeks ago and friends struggling around me I’ve been in a bit of existential crisis. Reading your work has inspired me to go back to the trees, to the earth that taught me so much for the thirty-five years I lived on the land. Having gone through cancer twice and working with people who are sick and dying all the time, I’m in that world but looking at it totally differently—what has meaning? What’s important? And so grateful for all of the words you’ve put into the world that help me go deeper with this.

Miriam: Obviously I’m in a raw state of grief over my daughter’s death. Writing this piece helped me so I’m grateful. I’m grieving and grateful, and from the other writings I gather that’s where some of you are, too.

And I want to say that even as there are fields of healing everywhere there are also fields of tremendous unlit darkness that are now pervading the world: places where people have completely forgotten their humanity and connection to everything. Those dark fields are very present for me given my heritage. Redwing you try and bring a tremendous light into the death process but there are other forces at work that are reminiscent of the pre-Nazi period but very globalized. Just to stay sane in this world is an accomplishment. It’s one of the things I feel with all of you: gratitude for people who are awake.

Melissa: I remember recently coming across the phrase that water is our oldest consciousness. That it had consciousness before anything else. I love that idea because consciousness is… everything. I think grief is something all of us are experiencing in many different ways. It’s there in all the poets I selected for this issue.

I lost my mother in November, a huge loss for me, an earthquake in my life. One thing I’ve been interested in as a writer is dying versus death—what happens on this side of the line—so Redwing’s piece was really impactful for me. I so appreciate the work you do and how you wrote about it. I recently heard a writer say, “grief unfolds” and I looked the word up because when I hear “unfold” I think of laundry or a letter. When you unfold something you see a bigger picture, but also there are things hidden in the folds. Much of the work in this issue was opening more folds up to see that grief feels really bad, but also that love is on the other side of it.

Marcia: It’s incredible synchronicity that I just had this art show “Above/Below” and Lise was on the mailing list since we knew each other as kids growing up in Chicago. When I read all of your work I didn’t have words for how many intersections there were. And the message from Water—”containers of sacred beauty” is the reason I make art. “Remember in your bones” is profound instruction. Whale bones weep oil for years after they die, which is very hard for me to get my head around.

Azul: It took me months to share the message from Water. That ancestral terror of women sharing things they hear from other beings and being tortured for it. So it’s very healing for me to be with you at the end of the five years with this message. And I think that listening to all of you my heart has grown another ring like a tree. It’s a bit what happened while I was reading your words. I wrote to Lise almost immediately saying, “We need to make a book.” This is just too potent medicine.

I want to share something that happened to me yesterday because I don’t know who else to share it with. I meditate now twice a day in this wheel I’ve made of stones and first I call my allies— animals and rivers and mycelia—and I see them all there and then I go into meditation. But what happened yesterday, they said, “It’s enough of you looking at us…We’re coming in.” And they all came in. And I just felt one after the other—what it’s like to be a tree, a river, a raven, a mycelium—like I’ve never done before. I don’t know what these tears are about… it’s a bit of fear and knowing that something is profoundly changing in my life right now. There’s a fear of loneliness in it. It’s like seeing the sacred mountain; you won’t forget it. They came in and said, “Enough Separation.” There was a beautiful line in Sharon’s piece—I read it I don’t know how many times, watering it like a seed: ”All one place, one life being lived, no separation.”

Melissa: Science is teaching us that we share DNA with most of the mammals and even plants on earth. So how could we not feel what something else feels? That vision—“Quit looking at us—we’re coming in” makes physical sense.

Redwing: I want to say how auspicious it is that we are meeting just before the ten Days of Awe in the Jewish tradition between the New Year and Yom Kippur. In tradition, to purify yourself before the holiday you immerse fully in water covering every inch of your naked body because water is the closest thing to God. So I’m just imagining all of us in this circle immersing. This in itself is an amazing ceremony.

Lise: I totally feel that. Just this morning I reread the commentary to Deena Metzger’s dream of darkness as a field of being, which is in this issue. We really are in a field right now so I want to read you this part of it. “The dream implies darkness or other states of mind are or create energetic fields that immerse us or we are immersed in them. …Everything in the Field in that specific moment is of the Field—so that writers, texts, darkness, remain themselves while they are also of each other.”

Also, darkness as generative is a common thread throughout this issue. It’s there in Marcia’s images, and most especially in Azul’s and Miriam’s writings. Azul, in the ritual you create for your friend Polly after her death, you imagine her being sung and drummed back Home “where the contract with ancestors can be rewritten with gold thread spun from Dark Matter.” And Miriam you describe yourself in a vision of Grandmother Spider “dropping through the Black Door to absolute dark.” Where you land is in “the Deathless place”—“where an absolute acceptance of the unbearable somehow yields a sense of deathlessness.” The light there, you write, is “mysteriously ecstatic.” This threw me back to what you wrote, Azul, about extinction.

Azul: Yes, it was an access to something else than death. It still is a mystery because I haven’t had a chance to talk about it that much. I could see that what was happening in this world was creating a new space in our psyche that was not death. So… what is it? So then I thought, it’s time to make a sacred temple for extinction that is not a Life Cairn. A Life Cairn is very hard. There’s this paradox: every time you visit her you need to bring another stone and each stone represents another species that has gone extinct. So it’s quite hard. I just wondered if there is some temple for the souls of these beings that isn’t all about death. In my cosmology there is rebirth—I’m part Lebanese. You come back and there’s a cycle. What tore me apart was that the songs were gone… I can feel it still. The songs were gone, they would never return and the cloth we were all connected to was thinning, thinning. There’s the old myth of this grandmother who keeps making this beautiful tapestry. For years I was just spinning like a madwoman thinking we need to keep spinning, that’s all.

Miriam: Yes, in my book of poems, The Heroin Addict’s Mother, which came out literally a week before Anna died, there’s a poem “Orbweaver.” In the last stanza the spider says, weave close the nest with all your strength, repair the broken thread—but if beyond repair, let it dissolve… a tear will not undo the web. I really feel what you’re saying about the dismemberment. I don’t want to lightwash how unbearable it all is and at the same time I want to honor the fact that there is no light so bright as that which shines from the darkness (from the Zohar). But it’s not as if one cancels out the other.

Sharon: Azul, what you said about the cycle in your cosmology brought me somewhere. I was thinking about what happened to the oak trees. They not only were killed, they were hauled off to places where they would dry alone—not in a forest where they could give back any of their nutrients—and sawed up into something else. The cycle was so disrupted. It isn’t just that they were killed. It’s the disruption that got to me more than anything. They weren’t allowed to complete the cycle. I think there’s something extremely potent in feeling that. It’s a different kind of death. I’m still carrying that.

Redwing: I’m feeling how much death is an individual experience. But extinction is when the songs are gone. Whether it’s the songs of the trees to each other, the whales singing to each other or tribes carrying on their songs. What connects me most to my ancestors on both the Jewish and the Celtic sides is our music. When we lose those songs—that’s what extinction is to me.

Marcia: For me to get up every morning and go through my day I go back to this idea of containers of sacred beauty.

Lise: Sharon can you talk about what happened to you as you were holding the Grandfather Oak? For me that was a moment of sacred beauty.

Sharon: Yes. When I put my hands on the ancient oak and I felt his rising grief, the sound and the howl and the vibration entered me. A little like what happened to you Azul: “We’re coming in.” And I have not been the same. Because the energy of the grief of the oak was almost like it was covering the earth and it said, “This is what you need to know.” I had this completely embodied experience. My hands were on the trunk and on the roots and I thought what am I doing? Then I saw a scene of me in physics lab in college being told, “Put this together so a circuit can run through.” As I saw that I thought, “My god a circuit is being completed.” In that physical connect was the restoration of the primal connection that most of us have lost.

Azul: Now I’m thinking of the situation in Lebanon and Extinction Rebellion. I keep hearing, “The least I can do is hold up the head of whatever being is dying to lie down with love and to say thank you.” With Lebanon dying—and Lebanon is dying—I spoke to some Lebanese documentary people and they were saying they refuse to accept it. But when there’s a refusal there’s no saying thank you. I’ve been very involved in Extinction Rebellion since the beginning and I’ve noticed the young people are really suffering. Most young people have no relationship to death, or grief. This poverty is what seems to be making them suffer the most. Not death. I feel clearer now that what I can do is go towards the grief with them, go towards the death. Teach them grief rituals.

Lise: The grief rituals are so beautifully limned in your piece: these specific instructions for how to be with our dead. Where else do we find this? And I’m struck by what the poet Sheryl Noethe writes about her mother: “I wrapped her in white linen blankets/carried her onto the long boat/ pushed it in the water and set it afire.” It’s almost identical to Azul’s ritual for Polly.

Sharon: For me in this poem the lines that really stood out were: “She became the women of every generation/ I could see them in her bones” … and then: “Lantern of evolution/ only available at the dying.” Something about the shift in figure/ground. Those that have gone but are here. In the dying there’s a lantern! That said a lot to me.

Marcia: There’s a beautiful line by the mystic Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore: “Death is not putting out the light; it’s extinguishing the lamp because the dawn has come.”

Miriam: I guess I’m the one who speaks for those who are not so blessed. I think of the millions who have died of COVID—lonely, cold, unaccompanied deaths in hospitals. I’ve been a doula to many deaths as well and my greatest fear was that Anna would die alone. Because I know the beauty of accompanied deaths. But throughout history billions and billions of humans and nonhumans have died brutal, unaccompanied deaths. And I’m always the one who says… what about that? There’s this doubleness for me. All the spiritual wisdom and illumination I’ve been given in my life and then this brutal fact of unredeemed death all over the world.

Melissa: Yes, I think it’s important to say that.

Redwing: I keep looking at this line “lantern of evolution/ only available at the dying.” That lantern is shining at that moment for the person who is dying—not for us. I’ve thought often about all the beings my sister was talking to in her last week of life who were not in the room. I think she would have been talking to them whether I was there or not. The lantern that was shining for her to allow those conversations was so potent.

I have a book of poetry called The Leaves of Buchenwald written by a cousin of mine, poems that were found written on pieces of toilet paper in the concentration camp where he died that somehow were saved. I guess I have to believe there was a lantern shining for him even in the midst of that.

Sharon: My daughter died of a heroin overdose—I was 3,000 miles away. Something just happened for me that changed my view of whether she died alone. In my piece I wrote she was “unaccompanied, unwitnessed and uncherished.” It has haunted me; I’ve even gone to visit the place and sat there. But something about the water speaking…suddenly I realized something. My daughter chose to overdose with ten bags of heroin at the lake she loved. She used to go there for peace and solace. She was not unaccompanied—if we are true to what we are saying right now. My daughter had the lake and the water and she made her peace and she left. So I honor that.

Kristin: With the oaks, I kept feeling that something was underway that far surpassed my ability to understand. Perhaps also on a timeline that was far beyond my ability to understand. When Azul was talking about holding the head of what is dying and saying thank you—that’s a very big piece of what was missing in the place I described in “Last of the Keystone Species”. What was most unbearable was that there were no humans there to witness what was going on. That said, I didn’t feel from the last oak who was presiding over all of this a sense of imminent internal collapse. There was just this… oakness… the standing and being present to; witnessing with this long, long, long vision. They’ve been able to hold epochs and just be… oak. It was very profound. And wolf, who was at the foot of the tree dreaming of his ancestors and his ancestral land: I wasn’t overcome by a sense of grief from him, but sensed he was connected to something that went so far back and so far forward… This is just a moment in the grand scheme of things, and what is mine to do is to try to be available for and present to it.

Redwing: And isn’t that the main teaching of all the spiritual traditions. Being here is it.

Kristin: And if I can just say, though we weren’t on the ground in their physical presence, I felt we were really with the oaks, and that was a huge learning for me. That I could truly be in a relationship with these beings who were 3,000 or more miles away, whom I had not physically laid eyes on or touched… Yet there was no question in my body that what was transpiring with them was real and the time/space continuum had nothing to do with it.

Miriam: Yes, that is very real to me. Time and space are conventions, tools that we use to try to navigate the mysteries of reality. There is tragedy, there is ecocide, there are unredeemed deaths. And there is the kind of redemptive work that you are all doing. To be able to hold both things is part of what I see as the struggle right now. Not to forget either one.

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