Spiritual hunger: The story behind my quest

Ever since I was a child growing up under the spell of whiteness, I have felt the lack of a healthy cultural identity. My hunger for belonging and spiritual identity rooted in place, drove me to adopt practices from other cultures that at the time seemed more connected to the earth from my perspective.  

So I studied yoga and meditation, participated in native american pipe and sweat lodge ceremonies, joined many shabbat dinners and learned the songs of the moondance. These practices were an essential part of my healing journey for which I am deeply grateful. However, I often felt discomfort in practicing traditions that weren’t connected to my blood lineage. I wondered if I had permission to participate in these rituals and I still at times felt spiritually hungry and lost. 

One day I was in the southern California desert, celebrating shabbat with a jewish organization, surrounded by people I perceived as connecting to their spiritual ancestral roots. As the sun set over the mountains and the crowd sang in Hebrew, I tried to join in but couldn’t make a sound. My throat closed up and tears streamed down my face. I was overwhelmed with grief. I ran to the sacred fire where I collapsed onto the earth and cried for hours.

My ancestors came to me and said, “here you are singing in Hebrew, Sanskrit, Lakota and Spanish… meanwhile we are crying out for you to sing over our bones”. There I was, desperately seeking a place of belonging, reaching for so many traditions while ignoring my own roots. When I heard the voice of my ancestors, I pledged to learn how to honor them in their own language. 

So, I started asking my parents about their grandparents who emigrated to the United States from Europe. I looked through pictures. I looked at maps of my family's origins in Ireland and Sweden. I began taking gaelic singing lessons with an incredible teacher who specializes in sacred Irish songs. These songs began to quench my thirst, to fulfill my yearnings in a new way. 

In doing so, I began to recognize the deeper problem of how I had been trying to heal. In my desire for connection to earth-based spirituality, I couldn't see that my actions had hurtful impacts. I began to understand that I was often singing sacred songs without permission. That in the context of colonization, me singing these songs as a white European-descendant without acknowledging the harm done by Europeans to the peoples and cultures I was learning from was not a benign act. 

And not only that, but in my blind hunger my own ancestors were being ignored. I did not recognize them as a potential source of nourishment or guidance, and they were offended. I could not see that I come from a lineage that contains brilliance, wisdom and magic and that there is no need to take from others. I was taught that in order to be spiritual, it is ok to cherry pick practices from the traditions of the world.

It was as though I came to a dinner party starving and reaching for the food on other people’s plates. In my hunger I thought that the only way to meet my need was to take. In my blind entitlement I couldn’t see that I was the only person who had not brought a dish to share. I was never taught how to cook and I never thought of my own lineage as a source of nourishment. Tending to ancestors is a practice that my people abandoned or deemed unimportant long ago. I am going on this journey because I want to learn how to cook, how to tend. I want to show up to the collective dinner table well nourished with an incredible dish to share. 

I believe that those of us with european ancestry have deep wisdom in our bloodlines. However, many of our traditions have been lost, uncared for, or traded in for whiteness, causing us to look elsewhere and co-opt those of others. I believe that learning the songs and stories that come from my lineage, while being accountable to the harm that my ancestors have perpetrated, is crucial for me to access and share a cultural identity rooted in wholeness. I want to remember deep soul level nourishment. I want to be a good ancestor for the generations to come.