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.
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.
I had the pleasure of speaking at a recent gathering of folks brought together to explore public forms of collective grief and rage – two of the most powerful forms of love.
The following is an excerpt from my speech - I share my personal story as to why this type of healing justice is important to me, and to anyone feeling the pain and anguish at the injustices happening in our world...
I am a descendant of northern European ancestors; I want to start off by acknowledging the generations of grief experienced by indigenous folks. I want to acknowledge that this is un-ceded Coast Salish territory that we live on, this land that we connect with, draw beauty from, and experience joy and grief within. I also want to acknowledge the ongoing resistance and anti-colonial work that indigenous people and their allies are fighting hard for, every day.
I believe that we cannot speak of grief and rage for environmental and social injustice without acknowledging and learning how to meaningfully support the anti-colonial movement - how to become more aware of our own social location as descendants of settlers who colonized.
This means actively engaging in learning opportunities to better understand my place within privilege and power, and how to be meaningful allies to those who are marginalized and oppressed.
There are many reasons that draw me to be involved in this collective.
I have been working in the field of grief education and healing for over 8 years now. This is my passion and vocation - creating more collective spaces in our communities to gain a healthy understanding of grief and to learn holistic strategies for health and healing. I believe it is through our shared experiences of pain and loss, and by providing spaces to share and connect about these things, that we can nourish a deep sense of well-being - physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, both as individuals and as a collective global community.
I have come to know, through my work with others and my personal experiences, the truth that grief speaks: that my grief, is your grief, is our grief. We all draw from the same cup of sorrows, whether it is releasing tears for our personal lives or for our communities. This cup of sorrows needs to be tended to and emptied regularly, so we can remain open-hearted and present to our selves, each other and our world.
Joanna Macy, an activist and well-known writer on systems theory and deep ecology, believes that it is not until we own and honour the despair we feel for our world that we can then come to a new way of seeing – that we can then come to a deeper motivation to be effective change agents. She says there is nothing more dangerous in our present day society as the deadening of our response – the deadening of our heart and minds to what is happening in our world. I couldn’t agree more.
On that note, I want to share personal story with you, which is perhaps the strongest pull for me to be a part of a collective exploring grief and rage together.
7 years ago, I was graduating from my Master’s program at the University of Victoria. I was in a very critical studies program looking at health and social systems. The program attracted mature students, many activists, social services front-line workers, environmental workers and others. Many were individuals who are actively working to support some of the most marginalized people in our own community here in Victoria.
I had spent the last 2 years learning from and working alongside world-renowned Canadian feminist sociologist Dorothy Smith – talk about a kickass mentor!
This is a woman that earned her PhD in Sociology in the late 60’s from University of California, Berkeley. During this time, she had started seeing that the world around her was created through male-dominated social relationships – ones that were based on power, and ones that were making women’s lives invisible and silenced. She spoke to the objective social, economic and political relations that were shaping and determining women's oppression. Through this critical lens, she devised her own methodology (Institutional Ethnography) to critically look at social relationships within institutions and systems. It is a powerful approach to make visible how systems oppress and marginalize minority groups.
As you can imagine, my eyes were opened widely during those graduate years to a landscape of systemic oppression and injustice that had not been visible to me before, because of my own privilege and lack of opportunity to learn such a critical stance.
The thing was, when I left that program, and the community of students, social activists, and professors that I had connected with often, I didn’t realize how much they had been a container for me and my grief and outrage. The program had offered a constructive way to engage and act through my grief.
So here I was, suddenly unsupported, without community, in my continued increasing awareness of the social, environmental and political injustices that were happening in the world around me. I remember watching the documentary Food Inc. that had been released that year in 2009, along with another documentary called Earthlings.
I have always been a highly sensitive and empathetic creature however this was the tipping point for me.
My heart cracked wide open. I couldn’t stop the flood gates of global despair and suffering that crashed over me. I would wake up in immense despair, with images flashing through me of global destruction, violence, suffering, and environmental degradation. I had somehow hit a taproot into our earth and collective humanity, and became intimate with her suffering.
I became immobilized, and overwhelmed in my pain for the world. I felt powerless. I sank lower and lower. I became very depressed, and hyper focused on only the shitty things happening in our world.
This was one of the darkest periods in my life – a time that I now affectionately call my period of “Global Despair”. Not that it has ever ended. My heart has been cracked open ever since.
But I have been learning how to carry this pain differently. I have been learning how to harness this sensitivity to global suffering in a meaningful and life-affirming way - a more empowering way.
We don’t grieve what we don’t love. And I am in love with our living world and all life.
Hence the community grief work that I am deeply committed to. I see grief as one of the powerful ways we come to experience our interdepedence with all beings, human and other than human. And a way we can become deeply motivated to act in service of our world.
A significant source of strength and resilience has been community. Sharing my grief and pain within a community of others has been a deeply healing balm for the anguished cries in my soul.
Allowing the vulnerability of having my heart break open in a circle of 15 to 30 other people, and being witnessed and held in that pain, rather than be alone in my kitchen (which still happens too!), is profoundly healing.
As Francis Weller teaches, grief needs both containment and release. We need others to provide a safe container for us so we can release our grief and have it transformed.
We cannot provide both containment and release for ourselves, by ourselves. Yet we live in a dominant western society that is quick to stigmatize and pathologize grief as an individual problem. This thinking keeps us immobilized. In all of our ancestral histories, grief was always done in community. It was never done in isolation. We need community to provide the safe and loving container, so that we can release our grief, and allow it to transform into renewed vitality.
I strongly believe that grief in and of itself IS an act of protest.
We are living in a consumer driven capitalist society that is continuously imploring us to numb out to what is occurring around us. We are living in a societal system that works to lull us into some great amnesia – through oppressive systems and individualizing ideologies - so that we forget our divine right to sovereignty, justice and freedom. We are living in a society that wants us to forget the divinity of our earth and our profound interconnection.
Damn rights this deserves our grief! This deserves our rage!
I use to say: well who am I to be so affected? Who am I to speak up? But I have come to learn, the real question is: who am I NOT to feel this? Who are WE not to speak up, to act out?
We believe in the power of community to bring healing, inspiration and vitality to each other. By coming together to continuously empty our communal cup of sorrows, grief and rage, we can be motivated to continue acting for positive meaningful change.
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.