We say in Hawaii, “I ulu no ka lala I ke kumu.”
The branches grow because of the trunk.
Without our ancestors we would not be here.
Dear Still Water Friends,
The above image is of a well-known American bonsai, Goshin, which means “protector of the spirit.” John Naka, father of American bonsai, was inspired by a forest shrine in Japan to create this in the late 1950’s. Each tree in the forest planting represents one of his grandchildren rooted in Californian soil. Over time the grouping grew from 7 to 11 trees mirroring the birth of new grandchildren.
In May and June, we celebrated Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Many of us bought cards for our mothers, grandmothers, aunts or a mother-like figure. The same with our fathers, grandfathers, and uncles. Some relatives are dead and you might have performed other rituals – remembering them, looking at pictures, or saying their name and telling stories.
Ancestors are big for all Hawaiians. In the 1980’s, my 4’10” Chinese Aunty Gladys took me to US the military Punchbowl Cemetery to visit Grampa’s grave. We gathered anthuriums, ti leaves and greens from her yard for Grampa and bought torch ginger & bird of paradise for color from the flower sellers on our way. She wanted long-lasting flowers that would hold up in wind and hot sun. At the gravesite, she talked to him as she arranged the flowers saying, “Grampa, I brought your granddaughter, Paula, here to visit you.” She placed a package of Wrigleys spearmint gum, his favorite. And told me a stories of him. Her attitude was respectful and light hearted.
When I was in Hawaii this February. I went by myself to gravesites of Grampa, Gramma, Aunty Gladys, Uncle Kwai and Older Cousin Becky – those who welcomed me and my family for years, told stories, and fed us food of their childhood. From my grandparents I received an open attitude towards life, hard work ethic and generosity, from Aunty Gladys a sense of everyday family rituals and devotion, from Uncle Kwai a quiet devotion and hard work. My cousin Becky was the next generation after the elders, college educated and confidant to my Grandmother. She could tell stories of Gramma and what Gramma would advise me at difficult time in my life.
Although my mother is also from Hawaii, her Chinese-Hawaiian-haole family is unlike my father’s. Hers is the side with instability and unexpressed love – mental illness, parents separated, restraining orders and children shuttled between multiple homes. Much is very broken though I’m close to certain cousins on that side. There are no pictures of 4 generations gathering for a grandparent’s birthday as there are on my father’s side.
When I was growing up and even now there is no emotional attachment in my immediate family. I thought this was the way things happen with every family. I returned to Hawaii in my 30’s married with children and sat with my grandmother when I learned differently. She waited until the second day when it was just she and I. We sat down at her kitchen table and she leaned towards me to ask, “So how are your Dad and Mom getting along?” Aha! What a revelation! Gramma really cared about my father and mother. So in some worlds, parents continue to care about their children after they’ve left the house, when they’re adults.
At 91 years old my mother lives alone in the house she’s been in for 53 years with no social connections. My younger brother has been in jail for 7 months for misdemeanors he committed because of his mental illness.
My small success with Mom came recently after visiting her monthly for 3 months and just being present. We were driving to her favorite yarn store which takes an hour. She had been reminiscing about her life in the same old negative way. I waited for a relaxed moment to ask gently, “Mom, what was a joyous time in your life?” She’d never talked about anything that she was grateful for or any positive times. It took her several minutes. Finally, she said, I guess it’s the times I spent with your father doing things.” Mom had not spoken of Dad since he died.
Thich Nhat Hanh wrote wrote in Calming the Fearful Mind,
You are the afterlife of your grandfather; you must have learned something over the past three generations. If you don’t have more compassion and understanding than he did, then you have not properly continued your grandfather. Because with compassion and understanding we can do better, we can cause less harm, and create more peace.
I invite you to think about your ancestors. Perhaps during your next walking meditation, you can take the hand of an ancestor, walk with them, and say, “Hello I’m glad you are walking with me.”
This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, our Dharma sharing will explore our relationships with our ancestors. What are the gifts that your ancestors gave you? When do you feel closest to them? What does it mean to you to have “more compassion and understanding to properly continue our ancestors”?
You are invited to join us.
And you may appreciate the excerpt below by Thich Nhat Hanh on reconciling with our ancestors.
The First Touching of the Earth – Reconciling with Our Ancestors
By Thich Nhat Hanh from Teachings on Love
This first Earth-Touching can be an important medicine for those who are angry at their parents or the past generations of their families. Everything you need for healing can be found within. Within you, you carry the life, blood, experience, wisdom, happiness, and sorrow of all your ancestors. You have their good health and vigor. If your great-grandfather lived to be ninety years old, you too can live that long. Why don’t you follow his example? It doesn’t make sense to say you’ll probably die young. When you touch the Earth, speak to your great-grandfather: “Great-grandfather, please help me live a long and healthy life like you.” When you link with your ancestors, you will release great stores of energy. You will be able to see their smiles and simple, healthy lifestyles. Their qualities are also in you, if you know how to bring them forth.
When you see the suffering and pain of your parents and grandparents, you know that this suffering is also present in you. Thanks to the influence of your spiritual family, you have learned to transform the pain of your parents, grandparents, and ancestors. If they were unable to accomplish certain things, you and your children can make a deep vow to fulfill those things. When you transform your own suffering, when you fulfill your own dreams, you end the suffering and fulfill the dreams of your ancestors and your descendants. You practice for all previous and future generations.
While touching the Earth, you touch all the energies of insight, love, and experience transmitted to you by your ancestors. You open yourself, not just through your mind but also through your body, to the seeds that are already in you, the energies of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity.
Sun, January 23
Columbia, MDEvening Practice at the Yoga Center of Columbia 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
|Mon, January 24||
Tue, January 25
Gaithersburg, MDEvening Practice at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Wed, January 26
Stevensville, MDEvening Practice in Stevensville, Maryland 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Silver Spring, MDSpanish-Speaking Practice at Silver Spring Library 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Thu, January 27
||Fri, January 28||Sat, January 29|