In February of this year I experienced a transformative time while immersed in an ancestral healing retreat. It was 5 days of soul immersion, ritual, circle, community, and nature to heal ancestral trauma and access the gifts of blood lineage.
I acknowledge the sacredness of what is revealed during ceremonial space. I have received the blessings of my ancestors to share these following few aspects of my time with them.
Over the 5 days I was mainly focused on tending to my father’s lineage, as I had never known either of my now deceased grandparent’s or the extended family history well and there was a lot to “catch up on” with them.
It is said that when we first open the door to our ancestors it is usually the ancestral wound that is the first guest. My table was metaphorically set and I felt ready, with an odd sense of pragmatism, alongside an inner calm knowing and the support from unseen realms.
I was clearly guided to be a channel for the entire energetic field of both my father’s mother and father’s father line – from German/Swiss Mennonite background. It is a history fraught with religious and ethnic persecution, fleeing and forced migration since the 1500’s. It was also a history marked by strong values of community, song/music, pacifism and faith.
Also energetically coalesced within the last two generations of my father's father side, was the persecution my grandfather faced as a teenager at the hands of the Bolshevik Communist Revolution when him, his sister and parents (my great-grandparents) barely made it out of Grossweide, Ukraine with their lives, forced to leave everything abruptly to emigrate to Canada in 1924.
As I entered into ritual space, I was shown the profound grief of my family within the past 500 years. It was as if my body were a map, with historical geographical migration and familial illness/despair being projected into my body, muscles and bones to tell the story of the lineages - to be witnessed, expressed, and healed.
My experience then transformed into the embodied gifts of the lineage, rooted in music, faith and service – cornerstones of a Mennonite tradition and way of being. I stood strong and proud in these. And it has since left a tangible impression on my own experience of identity.
I am deeply grateful for the highly intuitive gift of music in my life and now understand the long line of musical heritage that I come from. It is in my very bones. Music is one way I honor my ancestral roots.
Later, on one of my nature walks, my grandmother came to me and led me to a sapling tree which was green at its base and yet brown on the upper half of its branches. It took my breath away. There was my patrilineal family tree – ancestral heritage once forgotten, turning brown and brittle.
Grandma made it clear that I was painting my family tree green again by devoting attention, honour and care to them. I heeded her guidance by tending to and breathing life back into those dry brittle branches – the forgotten ancestors, stories, wisdom and gifts of my ethnic heritage. This is an ongoing process and relationship of discovery.
That evening I made Mennonite borscht soup for the first time, and headed back to my family tree sapling to offer it a meal and gratitude.
The spirits of the land played a vital role in my time connecting with my ancestors during those 5 days, and they continue to do so. In the past when I have invoked healing on behalf of my lineage, usually through dance, the vision of Raven has appeared to carry the message back through my ancestral lines reassuring them that their experiences have been acknowledged and released.
The Raven showed up many times during those 5 days. On the last day, I headed on to the land for a final ceremony to declare my invitation for ongoing ancestral support and to confirm what I gained from our time together – that the connection, healing and transmission of gifts were received.
I was led to a small dead looking shrub up on a rock ridge at the forest edge. My first response was “really? In front of this dead shrub”? So I sat down, and as soon as I did, a lone Raven flew in and perched on a tree directly in front of me, about 50 meters away. “Ok – I hear you, let’s get started then”.
I used a cedar branch as a paint brush, and started ‘painting’ the dead-looking shrub green again, noticing fresh green shoots at its base. I proceeded with my ceremony, under the gaze of the Raven. Once I completed my invocation and invitation, the Raven flew off, taking the message back through my lineage. I cried tears of gratitude and awe.
Life is just waiting to live through each of us in its fullest vibrant capacity. Being in active relationship with my ancestors has affirmed and transformed how life is flowing through me now.
My ongoing relationship with them has in fact, shifted my life course, giving me both the courage and clarity to move fully towards my soul gifts in this life. And, it continues to transform how it is flowing through them as well, as I continue the healing work and honouring of their legacies.
We all have ancestors who are just waiting to offer their gifts and support. And, they are also waiting to receive the healing they may need in order for them to be uplifted to a place where they can best offer those gifts. It can be a beautiful mutually healing relationship.
I have learned that one of the most powerful gifts that I can give to my heritage is my dedication to live my life most fully, healing inherited trauma, naming and embracing the gifts of my lineage, and allowing my ancestors to be an active part within my soul’s calling and vitality.
For this, I am deeply grateful.
Today I turned 36; at 8:32 this morning to be exact.
I have chosen this day to be a quiet and reflective one – this is happening more and more lately. I am going through another significant soul initiation within my life path. I am being called to evolve further into my purpose and service in the world.
This is a time filled with both excitement and trepidation as I am being stretched into new ways of being. Or more accurately, as I am being stretched to become more explicit and expressed in the ways I am and have always been. Some things are clear; others, not so much. But, I trust. This year will be one of change, growth and things I cannot yet name.
I headed out early this morning into the light rain and into the forest for a solo “soulscape” walk – a time for visioning and communing with the landscape of my soul and nature. It was a time of personal ritual, insight, and acknowledging the gifts and support in my life, from both the seen and unseen worlds. It was a time to connect with my ancestors and the more-than-human world from which I draw so much strength and guidance. It was also a time of declaring my openness and willingness to embody what comes next from Spirit.
The forest, landscape, creatures and weather reflected back many things for me today. My soul reflected back many things for me today. Many of these insights still require holding and incubation.
However, I explored many new trails and terrain this morning. As I meandered through new territory, I was very much alive to all the different birdsong sounds, and texture of the mud on the ground, and the passing plants and honeysuckles. The colors were vibrant. The smell! Oh, I love the smell of wet forest. My body felt vibrant. I was even giddy and smiling much of the way. I felt curious. I felt magical and youthful.
I felt in love and ‘in conversation’ with the land around me.
Hours later, after meanders, meditation and ritual, I reached some of the larger well-trodden and familiar pathways that mark this area. Paths I had walked many times before. It took me about 15 minutes before I realized that I had totally lost all presence to the world around me. I couldn’t remember the intimate features of the path I had walked just 2 minutes earlier. In fact, I had got so caught up in thought that I walked right past the spot I intended to visit and didn’t even notice until much later!
And the message landed for me.
The well-worn paths that I have been traversing for some time are no longer enough to inspire my curiosity and presence. Yes, they are familiar and offer comfort. Yes, they are important paths, and will continue to be. However, it is time for me to take paths less trodden – those that require and inspire my full engagement, presence and vitality.
It is time to explore new and lesser known terrain that connects me more fully to the animate world and to the forces that inspire admiration, awe and giddiness.
This year – my 37th year on this planet as Shauna Janz - I am committed to taking those paths less trodden in my life; perhaps even forging a few new ones myself. I am committed to remaining as present as I can to the exquisiteness of life around me and within me.
We shall see where this may lead!
First, my heart goes out to all my cis/trans sisters who have ever faced violence at the hands of men – and we know that there are many more of us then we can fathom. And that makes my blood boil and my heart break. I am sending love and light to you, my dear ones.
We are facing challenging and gut-wrenching times. With the backdrop of the Jian Ghomeshi trials and the recent RooshV meet-ups, everywhere we go we are being faced explicitly with issues that have always been present, bubbling under the surface of our skin as we navigate a world wounded by patriarchy. Those bubbles are now becoming a seething riptide as waves of emotion and memory swell in our bodies at the wake of systemic violence against womxn.
We are angry. We have had enough. We are speaking out. We are writing out. We are connecting. We are expressing. We are healing. We are engaging.
And, it is very difficult. It brings up a lot, for many of us.
As we sit in our homes and see the news feeds, watch the un-folding of the trial, absorb all the responses – we are brought right back to experiences of being violated, abused, raped, assaulted, made to feel as objects, and made to feel unsafe. We are reminded of just how present womxn’s oppression is.
Underneath the myriad of my emotional responses, this most simply makes me so very sad.
I spent a few years as a trauma-informed facilitator and program developer at Bridges For Women, an organization supporting womxn affected by violence and abuse. I have seen the impacts of violence and fear, and I have seen the power of community and healing from those impacts. I have seen the incredible strength and tenacity of a womxn’s spirit. I have experienced these myself in my own healing from trauma.
From this place I offer these few touchstones to all my sisters through this time. May we find safety and love within ourselves as we stand in solidarity with each other and continue to speak and act out against violence against womxn.
1. Self-Soothe. When we have experienced trauma, regardless of how recent or long ago, it doesn’t take much for our bodies to be re-activated into a flight, fight or freeze response. The long-term impacts of violence can vary, however the most intrusive is the energy of fear. The feeling of not being safe. Even if it has been years since the traumatic event, a trigger can still elicit the SAME impacts on our body and brain in the present.
Here is a helpful analogy. If a lion is chasing after a gazelle, the gazelle is activated into a flight response. Its survival is dependent on that response. Question: while this chase is happening, would that gazelle decide to stop and take a sip of water at the nearby watering hole mid-chase? Hell no!
Well, while we are scrolling through news-feeds and headlines, and taking in all the details of the trial and stories, we can be activated into fear – fight, flight or freeze. We become the gazelle, even in our own living rooms when there is no ‘real’ lion chasing us anymore. It may appear we are just sitting and watching or reading the news, but our bodies have taken off. We are swept up in rage, fright, panic, fear. We become un-tethered from our center of power; from our grounding.
It is important to continually remind our bodies that we are safe. How? Take a pause at that local watering hole.
In other words – take deep breaths. Sip warm tea. Stretch your body. Take a bath. Meditate on your breath. Practice emotional freedom technique and tapping points to calm the nervous system. Do all those self-soothing things to remind your body and brain that you are safe. Check out these simple yet powerful embodied practices for self-soothing.
It is not enough to just “tell ourselves we are safe” because this is not a dialogue with our rational mind. This is a conversation with our physiology, and that means the language needs to go through our body. Self-soothe your body. Which brings me to:
2. Movement. Fear has a powerful grip that stagnates, immobilizes, paralyzes and limits our movement and vitality. Stay moving! Whether this be through dance, yoga, tai-chi, running or going to the gym – keep your body moving regularly. Especially helpful are those activities that get you out of your mind and into your body.
I have been dancing. A lot! I mean, every night, in my living room, I have made it a practice to dance out whatever energy may have been activated within me during my day. Doesn’t matter if I can name it or not. In fact, I don’t even try. And, it may not even be my own – I may be dancing on behalf of the pain for my sisters. I just focus on my body and move – whatever my body leads me to do. I trust the physiological conversation that takes place without my rational mind interjecting.
3. Dosing. In therapy terms, this is called titration or pendulation – the ability to manage our energy so as not to become too activated. We need to dip in to our responses of grief and rage, and we also need to dip out of it and to cultivate relief (self-soothing!).
Dosing can become difficult when we are being bombarded by newsprint, computer screens, and TV screens. We don’t have control over what media will cover or when, or how the events will take shape – which means we can be at the whims be being activated at any point.
We need to give ourselves a break from it. It is all too easy to become intoxicated by it all, driven to keep reading more, to scroll the comments, to watch each update – to become hypnotized and passively consumed by all the information, perspectives and bullshit. This can feed our rage and fear…we become more and more un-tethered from our center and sense of safety.
Make a choice about when and for how long you will engage with the news. And then, take a break. You have this choice - this power - always.
4. Support. Our individual responses may be entirely personal and unique, but healing and support is always relational. Who is your tribe? Call up your bestie. Get together with compassionate and understanding friends regularly. Express your grief, your rage. Be witnessed by others in your pain, confusion and anger. Seek healing support, energy medicine, a counsellor. Be in community – seek connection. Call on your unseen team. Gather the support from your ancestors. Call on the cosmos. Cuddle your beloved pet.
You are not alone. Ask for help. Reach out. Connection is vital.
5. Choosing Love. It can be easy to get wrapped up in anger, hate, and fear. These emotions are demanding and consuming and we may find ourselves becoming overly focused on all the shit. Just so much shit.
Actively choose love, and keep choosing love. There are a lot of hurt people out there, and hurt people hurt people. Keep choosing love. Surround yourself with light, with good loving people, hug those near and dear to you. Find laughter. Find lightness. Look for beauty. Listen for beauty. Dose.
This doesn’t mean that we are denying the reality of the very real oppression and misogyny that is pervasive in our society. It does mean that we are choosing to stay in the energy of love. We are choosing to stay in the energy of vitality, connection and open-heartedness despite the pain and violence.
6. Action. Tethered in this place of love, we can then act. We can be motivated to continue acting to be in service of a better future for our mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters and future generations. This will look many different ways for each of us. We need all of our voices and contributions – more than ever. Write, educate, support, engage, protest, create. And love.
Shauna Janz, MA is a passionate speaker, writer, educator, and musician. She engages audiences with her ability to create connective experiences that inspire empathy, insight and both personal and trans-personal awareness - never without a sprinkle of humor and laughter.
Sacred Grief - Shauna Janz
550-2950 Douglas Street
Victoria BC V8T 4N4
(Upper level, above Lifestyles Market)