How could I ever begin to express this experience that cracked me open and revealed to me what I sought to see in myself, but was afraid to. This weekend a community of powerful healers, cultural bearers and spiritual leaders held a mirror to my spirit and helped me behold the truth of the being I have been walking in and want to walk in fully as in this world. The Center of Babaylan Studies has grown me from afar for 5 years now and has humbled my spirit time and time again by showing me who I am and calling me to rise in my fullest, truest self whenever I felt I could not, or was afraid to.
So much to share as I return to New York, that was unveiled and emerged from within me these past 3 days through exchange with individuals and witnessing of transformation reflective of my own, surrounding me and holding me.
Day 1- Opening My Loob to All of Creation:
I arrived in Ohio, with ease and with an open heart, awaiting the greeting of community and of nature. At the airport I saw a group of Pinay and immediately felt tremendous joy of arrival. 5 of us sat waiting for our ride to the Burr Oak Lodge and as hours passed we realized that although hours had passed and our ride had still not arrived, with moments divine, this one was meant to begin our connections with each other. Tess, the elder of the 5, with a fire about her being, one that burst with joyful light and sharing vivid stories of family with free flowing energy, (despite her irritation after being at the airport since midnight). She laughed so much, she was so full in her presenc, but had an ease about her flame. Christine, a healer who centered her life serving queer communities through sacred practices from the Amazon, even her smile was healing- her energy felt grounding and I was so moved by her inquisitive engaging presence. Melissa, a writer of her families histories and her own, so profound in her connection to culture and the written word, wife of a navy man seeking deepening of self and story- her energy was warm and welcoming in connection and her excitement in our stories in exchange with hers was so filling. Christina, a professor and media artist who shared her family history and the intensity of life experiences- she struck me immediately as courageous and confident and with energy that reflected a fullness in spirit and life lived. Soon joining us was Carmen, who arrived with a declaration of her just receiving her PhD, a theologian and a faith worker, she was joy bursting out of every pore, welcoming us all to be joyous in community. We sat and talked story anticipating our arrival to connect with the rest of the group.
We were picked up by a friend of Mamerto- Tindongan- a Mumbaki and shamanistic wood carver from the Ifugao tribes, who lives and builds in Ohio a host to our group and a teacher to our community- Koole, who was a student at Ohio State, hailing from Illinois. He was seeking to connect and learn of spiritual awakening and healing of the whole self. He met Mamerto by fate, as the most profound relationships often begin. In the middle of our travels a police officer pulled us over, with the initial question of “Where are you all coming from and where are you all going?” He then proceeded to ask for his license and social security number, “Why do you need my social security sir?” Koole inquired in which the officer responded “The state of Ohio requires that if you are an out of state driver you provide your social for security purposes.” He received a ticket and a deepens conversation on racism in the United States was initiated. In the midst of this Koole spoke of a notion that was such truth to me, he said “What we need to do, is have all the people of color return back to their homelands.” I interpreted this as us all needing to go back to where we come from, and see what this country would be made of then. It is dependent on our service and the move we have to do to create an awakening is to say we don’t want to serve what does not serve us anymore. The first of the many deepening conversations that would come to be in the next 3 days.
When we arrived at Burr Oak Lodge the Booth Family welcomed us in music and immediately I was moved. We met the core group of elders in the CfBS community. Familiar faces brought me such happiness Leny, Grace, Mamerto, Diyan and Nicanor and new meetings, exchanging spirits filled the air. Lizae who I later would learn was my assigned elder for the trip said to me “You aura is beautiful, so nice to meet you.” I had arrived home to a community I always long for.
We gathered to eat warm home cooked filipino food, one of many meals that would nourish our stomachs and souls in our time together. And then we headed to the main lodge to begin the sharing of knowledge and spiritual inquiry and enlightenment.
I chose to walk the 20 minute hike with Grace Lasala a nurse practitioner who works with indigenous communities and integrates alternative practices of healing with western medicine. We spoke about up bringing and our life’s work and what we want to see in change and growth and understanding of self and others for the future. The trees listened to our conversation and we watched the sun setting as we arrived to the main lodge.
To open, we filled our sacred altar with items that were connected deeply to our beings. My offering was my malong that has lifted the stories of community in my Journey of finding my self for the past 5 years and a blank journal for future creations.
Our first keynote Albert E. Alejo fondly known to us as Paring Bert spoke to us of Loob- the Inner Self, and helped me to connect to this deeper then ever.
He began with the Lullaby.
“The lullaby” he said, “is the primordial experience of none violence.” Music to bring dreams, to lull sleep, to implant in our children inspiration of dreams for a future that will be ours as it will be theirs. He invited us to contemplate our dreams and its connection to our humanity.
The Loob he explained, is a whole web of meaningful relationships. Generating cultural energies that build community. That help us see our inner self is one with all else. A welcoming, an inner being with hospitality- a relational self open to self of others. But further still he spoke of the Loob in connection to not just other people, but of all of creation.
Using the song of the Bahay Kubo as metaphor he said, “The interior of the Bahay kubo is like the inner self, the home in self, but if you open the windows the outside is also a part of your inner being. The plants outside, the mountain it’s part of your loob. We are part of this universe. We are connected, do not keep it out.” He called to us to see this deep connectivity.
He helped me open my eyes further to how the Loob is a whole web of meaningful relationships. Where do I feel my hurt when someone is hurt outside of me? Especially when they are precious to you. If we see the land as part of this, the way indigenous peoples are tied to the land. They are deeply attached to the land. And their love for their land is such that they can offer their lives for the sake of ancestral heritage. Loob is connectivity. Even to see a video or see a picture, we can be moved, the connection is there.
Paring said, “Like the islands seem separate on the surface, but if you look deeper you see how connected they are, deep to the bottom of the ocean.” Connectivity, of all beings. And he helped me to understand that as Kapwa is seeing ourselves in the other, Loob tells us to see further that we are one with all of creation.
He spoke of the call we have to return to the motherland, “You feel you want to go back because you loob is in the land, in the relational connectivity. There is a string pulling you back.” With tears in his eyes in urgency he said, “don’t cut that string. Don’t say you have lost your identity. It is energy. We multiple identities and you do not have to leave energy to produce new energy, from within. Let it flow, let it overflow…
The memory of energy is everywhere and it speaks to your loob storing energy in the body, thats why it brings you to dance when the gong is played. Our culture is not lost, it is in the land, the trees, the ocean, the sound and when we connect to it we see it is within.
When you think you are at rock bottom, naked, depleted of your energy this is when a new energy emerges from within you. New dances emerge, new feelings, the past created possibility for the future. We want to learn their dreams, because in the past they were dreaming of their future. We are part of the dreaming of the future of the past.”
Ringing in my ears were the voices of my Journey of a Brown Girl sisters speaking in unison at this moment, a quotation from the closing piece to the first Act of our collective performance “I am the dream my ancestors dreamed would free them.”
I inhaled in gratitude, connecting with Paring in this way and I exhaled deeply, in affirmation.
We closed the evening with a couple of us at bonfire talking stories and staying up until almost 2 in the morning. Laughing together and feeling right where we needed to be.