"You exist as a consequence of people seven generations ago who were willing to proceed as if a day would come when you and yours would be in the world and they’d be long gone, and you somehow picked up an ember of that and safeguarded it until it caught a spark. And maybe that turned into your life’s work, but you can’t claim to be the author of it. You’re on the receiving end, and your job is to have the humility of a broken-down jalopy. So you’re not going to make a lot of claims for yourself, but you can say you have a sneaking suspicion this has been around before, and you’re a part of some kind of tradition. All of this could come from being a faithful witness to your days, to the corner of the world in which you were granted life."
Let me tell you about my ‘poverty’. The poverty that most of us were born into. By the time I was born into it, it was so normalized that it wasn’t perceived anymore as poverty; in fact perhaps it was disguised as modernity, progress and even wealth, ironically.
My poverty looks like this:
My poverty begins with language: it begins with me writing this text in English rather than my native language, Turkish.
I was not born in a village, not even extended community.
I did not grow up eating food grown from my garden.
My mother could only breastfeed me for 40 days and then she had to go back to work.
I did not grow up listening to folk songs or stories or poems of and about the place and peoples I come from.
I know nothing about my ancestors beyond my great grandparents: who they were, where they came from, how they lived, what work they carried in the world, what sustained them.
I was not initiated into womanhood or adulthood through any rites of passages; I was not taught any rituals by grandmothers or grandfathers.
Even though I occasionally visited country side and ran around gardens in my neighborhood, I did not grow up with the forest and flowing streams, wildflowers and howling of the wind over the prairies, the "enchanted" world and animate Earth. This I had to remember at the age of 30.
When I was growing up, no one asked what my calling is in life, what makes my heart sing; nobody gave me feedback about or appreciated my gifts, I had to do it on my own. (This is never completely true, we have a whole World guiding us of course but you know what I mean)
My female body and womanhood was shamed and oppressed from childhood. From an early age I internalized that sexuality and pleasure was shameful and sinful.
My grandmother who raised me and meant the world to me, passed away and I found out about her death after her funeral because my parents weren’t able to tell me the news not to trouble me.
Not to trouble me, not to trouble me?
This is the epitome of a culture, not afraid of dying but afraid of truly living, I would say.
This is heartbreaking poverty. Consequently I was devastated and deeply troubled, not because she passed but because I couldn't be there to say goodbye to her.
Having recently attended my second year of study with Stephen Jenkinson, as a scholar of Orphan Wisdom School, I am – for the first time in my life – deeply facing/recognizing the poverty of our times, the inevitable cultural famine we are born into as peoples and the subsequent starvation caused by that. Most of us alive in the world today are truly poverty stricken people as we were born into the kind of unequivocal poverty that none of our ancestors have had to endure before. Beneath the very shiny layer of convenience and material wealth lies ever-so-cunning and dangerous absence of “human making” texture which we were never wrapped around with; the consistent and growing hunger, even starvation, which makes us perceive everything as food to be consumed.
I always thought that we as peoples, indigenous to some place, need to remember and reclaim our roots, our local wisdom, what the people of the place we belong to have figured out already for thousands of years. I despaired over lost practices, like endangered species disappear never to come back again. But now I entertain a different possibility:
Perhaps it is not in the reclaiming of our roots and ancestry but being available and being willing to be reclaimed by those who have been patiently waiting for our return.
Perhaps it is not that our ancestors and songs and stories and rituals that disappeared, it is us who abandoned them;
it is us who disappeared from this "being made human" realm.
Perhaps the the ancestors, the songs, the stories, the rituals are not forgotten, they are right here and now, alive and well. It is us who forgot and in our forgetting "got lost".
Perhaps it is our willingness and making ourselves available
through deep listening, our hands' labor,
our grief stricken hearts' laments and tears,
raising our heads above white-lit screens to meet
and be intimate with the troubles and poverty of our times
to be re-membered and re-claimed by the old ones, wise ones, patient ones, compassionate ones, our own.
And not just the ancestors but the whole animate World.
I remember how my knees were shaking at the gates of Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries in Nepal earlier this year. An unbroken lineage of over two thousand years, a magnificent upholding, I could feel its power and enchantment. I could also feel the friction and heartbreak in myself, that this is not my own, not of my lineage, at least not in this life time.
So when the enchanting mysteries are not there so visibly, palpably in the streets and neighborhoods I was raised, bereft of any sense of deep time or cosmology, how do I not wander into the mysteries of the world but rather stay put patiently to be revealed some kind of old magic of the place I come from?
This is a question I am sitting with now.
Here I am, in Iceland, learning about deep ancestry in a small village in Westfjords from a Canadian elder.
Last night I was listening to singing of Hindu and Buddhist mantras in a health food store in Reykjavik - I thought to myself surely it doesn't get more absurd than that - and I was contemplating what kind of a crazy world we live in. The delight and pride of being part of a cross-pollination of cultures across the world for quite some time now, suddenly turns upside down on its head and makes me wonder whether the cause of it all is this existential homelessness most of us feel.
But then again, who would I have become if I hadn't taken those wanderings & wonderings into the mysteries of the world?
Writer, Teacher, Mythologist Martin Shaw talks about how to tune our ears to hear myths and how certain cultures are just Three Days Deep to loosing it all and plugging back into the worlds story.