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(This article is one of a 5-part series written in the spring of 2017 for a spirituality and social work class.)
When I center myself, my body falls back into myself, into my aches and pains, but also into my hopes, my connections, my Will. When I center myself, I connect to the land, to my ancestors, to my spirit helpers, to the legacy I want to leave behind when I move on to the next world. When I center myself, I notice myself, I notice the world outside the scope of my wounding, into a vision of what is and all its brimming potential. When I center myself, I am giving myself time, and kindness, and care.
When I center myself, it also reminds me of how, outside these moments, I am disconnected from my body, from the land, from food. It is a lifelong struggle, fraught with agony that allopathic doctors will try to describe using colonial terms like “depression”, “eating disorder”, “(un)healthy immigrant syndrome”, “body dysmorphia”, “pre-diabetic”, “irritable bowel syndrome”, “gluten sensitivity”, “lactose intolerance”, and on and on and on. I am exhausted with these names they call me that cement the poison in my body instead of celebrating my resistance and resilience.
Hanh (2000) writes that “each morsel of food is an ambassador from the cosmos” (p. 7) and hooks (2009) feels connected to her ancestors when she “can put a meal on the table of food” that she grew (p. 39). Part of my spiritual practice at this moment is learning how to grow plants, to speak to plant spirits, and know their story. My healer/teacher, who I will call Ate Agila, has advised me to stick to foods from my homeland. My spirit helpers, specifically the Owl, explained to me that any being taken as “food” for two-leggeds/humans is part of a bawi (debt/spiritual connection) that was honoured in a ritual of exchange and sacrifice. Foods outside of my homeland, I may not have paid the price for, or my ancestors may not have made the appropriate exchange/deal. This makes a certain sense when you look at the foods I am allergic to, or have become increasingly more allergic to as the years pass. We had water buffalo, not cows. We definitely did not drink cow’s milk, my ancestors. We had no wheat or corn– we ate rice. I still can eat eggs from chickens, who are descended from red jungle fowls, a being originating from my part of the world, perhaps from our ancient sacred being, the Sarimanok itself. For chicken in our dialects are called “manok”.
I do not spend enough time with the earth, this I know. I attempt to repair some of the relationship by having an altar to the elements, with shells and rocks from this land and from my homeland. I give offerings to it regularly, as well as to the animals I’ve killed myself (chickens and a pig). But I want to be able to grow food that I can make a meal of. I want to be able to eat miracles, not my terror and sorrow and pain.
It is a brutal, vicious circle of feeling disconnected from the rhythms of the earth and the relationality of my people, that drives my body to strife and despair, which is soothed by a mindless consumption, which brings on more pain, which disconnects me further from my body and from the land, which pushes me to eat more…
This reminds me of when Simpson (2014) wrote of the “hyperindividualism that negates relationality” in the colonial education system of Canada (p. 9). Though I would never dare to presume that my decolonization journey as a Bikol person in the diaspora on Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee (and Wyandot) lands are equivalent to the indigenous resurgence of Anishinaabeg, I still feel the weight of colonial and settler colonial systems on myself and my people. I am implicated in coloniality, benefiting in one context while oppressed in another. Thus, for me to restore a relationship with my body, I must restore my relationship with food, and for me to restore that relationship, I must restore my relationship to the land, and thus, the caretakers and stewards of the land. I have been blessed in this life for having teachers/Elders of Turtle Island that are Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Mikmaw, Sauk-Fox, and Cherokee– Two Spirit people who have welcomed me in ceremony and adopted me to certain rituals and responsibilities. […] I hope to continue good relations, by supporting the work of the Haudenosaunee at the Six Nations Reserve. I plan to give semaa to those there that are building an Earth Ship. My visions and dreams have told me that this is where my path leads, to working with the Earth for the good of Two Spirit and Trans/Queer Black People and People of Colour.
Simpson (2014) asserts that “the land must once again become the pedagogy” (p. 14), and I spend time listening to the Earth and asking her what she wants. She wants me to acknowledge the sovereignty of her caretakers. To mourn all the pain she is enduring. To not let my connection to her be severed, weak as it is. In a vision, the ghost of the land spirits my great-grandparents in Bikol had harmed came to me, and asked me to make amends by pledging myself to the revitalization of the Earth, by being a Warrior and a Guide. So I have accepted, if the curse on my ancestral line is meant to be broken, it would be in this way my family can make amends. I am researching local conservation efforts, cleaning up waste whenever I can, and calling on my relations, like my father and my chosen family who are gardeners, to assist me in reconnecting. I hope to at least grow a mint plant from a seed this summer. In another vision, my great-grandmother Lola Colo (Sabrina Oppiana Estrella), asked me to grow herbs and make them into oils, to follow in her footsteps as a healer. She tells me that it’s not just the sacred nature of the coconut that makes the oil, or the herbs that I grow myself, or the fire that heats them together, but the prayers to each being, and the prayers of love that must be said when the beings are applied to a human’s skin, asking these different agents of creation to repair, restore, and heal. For “when we love the earth, we are are about to love ourselves more fully. I believe this. The ancestors taught me so” (hooks, 2009, p. 34).
Hanh, T. N. (2000). Mindful eating. In The path of emancipation (pp. 7-8). Berkeley: Parallax Press.
hooks, b. (2009). Touching the earth. In Belonging: A culture of place (pp. 34-40). New York: Routledge.
Simpson, L. B. (2014). Land as pedagogy: Nishnaabeg intelligence and rebellious transformation. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 3(3).
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