notes, impressions, and ritual structures by ANTERO ALLI
Orientation gathering and dinner. Participants shared their reasons for being in this lab or, at the very least, why they thought they were there. Though our motives varied, all seemed united by a common thread of respect for the influence family has had, and continues to have, on our lives. The ten of us also spoke of the various geomantic properties of the bio-regions we were raised in and/or spent significant time in (over four years). Jonathan F. talked of growing up in the Arizona deserts, with its wild pigs, snakes, scorpions, killer heat waves and water scarcity. We learned of Sylvi's small town upbringing in backwards Mississippi (her words); the humidity, the daily sameness. Then, there was my own early life in the winter blizzardlands of Helsinki (Finland) and Toronto, before eventually migrating further southwest to the virtually weatherless Los Angeles. Several others told of being raised around heavy urban sectors (Trenton NJ; Pittsburgh PA) dense suburban tracts (San Fernando Valley) and rural farmlands (Sonoma County). Then, there were quasi-nomadic stories of being moved around a lot as kids. We hail from diverse climates and topographies, all of which continue living in us -- in our cells, our memories and emotions. I suggested that everyone start collecting artifacts, letters, photos, from their families and store them in an "ancestors' box" that we'd dip into throughout this lab.
First ritual night. Though participating in most of the warm-up, I chose to remain outside the ritual circle tonight to get an overview of this group and to monitor the commitment levels in the all-important physical warm-up (which went very well). After the warm-up cycles and some peripheral jogging using the earth's energy, I suggested the group polarity of Mother/Father: the existing conditions of M/F and all that belongs to M/F. The group engaged this polarity with little resistance, as if a hunger for these essences was being satiated. After a second-wind warm-up cycle, the space was drawn and quartered for the next ritual: a quaternity of Mother, Father, Child and Ancestors (with Mother opposing Father and, Child opposing Ancestors). The Ancestors' area was left vague and undefined to respect that mystery. Once this second ritual was underway, I suggested a shift of focus from "reacting" to these forces to "serving" them, as in, serving their expression rather than continuing to just react to them. This shift, from reacting to serving, proved surprising to some participants who later (in the group circle) voiced their revelations. This fourfold ritual structure also seemed potent enough to merit future use in this lab. Tonight, both rituals were illuminated by a single candle flickering inside a lantern at the center of the space. My overview assessment of this group is that we are ready to do this lab.
Dinner gathering . Tonight, there is less socializing and everyone seems to eat their food either faster or, they just eat less; I can't tell. I show FEARS, a short film I recently completed using Rilke's poem, FEARS. This opens up a Pandora's box of childhood fear stories in the group; some fears were actually thrills while others, sheer horror. These stories are as diverse as our various backgrounds and are too many to mention here. I share my early fear of old men who owned property. I recall the old man in the house on the hill surrounded by a labyrinth of bushes that me and my friends played in. This old man would walk down the hill into this maze and shake his big stick at us and shout swear words; always a big thrill. After telling our stories, we placed several relics from our ancestors boxes into the center of the room (where I had lit a candle). We then prostrate ourselves in prayer around our makeshift altar and pray to the ancestors; we pray to see what would happen.
Several of us report strong impressions of unity with ancestral images and energies; cellular, biological, genetic. I experience two distinct levels in the human and the impersonal. I am impressed by this undying sense that ancestors are human beings with insecurities, fears, weaknesses and strengths just like me; not mythologized phantoms. A sobering revelation; embarrassing in that good way. The other impression delivered a powerful felt-sense of my physical body as a single yet connected link in a chain of bodies that had lived and died before me. What I have assumed to be "my life" turns out to be sustained by biological processes existing for centuries before I was born; a humbling, empowering knowledge. Several others express trouble praying "to the ancestors", inferring that they could only pray to God, not people. I find this assumption at odds with my belief that people and God are indivisible. Fascinating; I would not have been aware of this belief (as a belief) without this dissent. Different scenes for different genes...
Ritual night. Tonight, I began my full engagement as participant. As everyone arrived and found their transition into ritual space, I lit a candle near the east wall and designated that area as an alter for the group's ancestor relics. I turned all the lights off. We all stood in No-Form with our backs to the west wall, facing the darkened ritual space (designated as simply "the ancestors' space") and began our gradual approach to the alter. Here, my prayers somehow summoned the word "perseverance", a word that took on new meaning as a facet of my ancestral code. As a Finn, I knew deep-down that winters could be very hard in Finland; if you do not persevere, you don't survive. Something pristine about this spirit of perseverance; crystalline, almost. I felt like I had to let go of whatever was unable to persevere. Per-severe. Pretty severe.
After the physical warm-up, everyone prepared their warm-up areas as "private temples" for the personal polarity of Mother/Father. My Mother space expressed martyrdom, while my Father space expressed fighting (boxing). Both were extreme, pure and abstract and, completely at odds with each other. After exhausting their separate agendas -- the martyr sobbing herself dry, the fighter collapsing -- they eventually fall into each other's arms. Ain't love grand ? Next up was a group polarity: Whatever Is Family/Whatever Is Not Family. Another piece of the code emerges for me in the Family side: "we take pride in loving our children and this is how we persevere." This restores my faith in basic goodness. Soon, I rediscover an aspect of my identity in the family. After venturing over to the "Not Family" side, I become enraptured by an ever-expanding consciousness incited by life beyond the gene pool. My genetic role acts out like some frontier scout, exploring the outer limits of what had, perhaps, never been experienced by previous family members. And with this, an internal assurance of knowing my connection with family is always there inside me with all its familiarity, comfort, love and boredom.
Dinner gathering. Standard Time resumes (clocks set back) and the group staggers in at differing stages. By the time we're all here, there's such a rolling cacophony of party chaos that I almost forget this is a lab and start imbibing too much wine. I realize as much after muttering something to Jane about never having prayed drunk before. Needless to say, nobody prayed; at least, not formally. Instead, I ask everyone what they've discovered over our two ritual lab nights as a chief obstacle or resistance. (Earlier on, I sensed frustration surfacing in the group and this was a good time to address it.) After listening carefully to each story, I offered specific suggestions towards a more direct experience of their resistance, as energy, as a resource to be tapped. Given the specificity of my feedback, I am curious to know if and how it will, or will not, be applied in Tuesday's ritual lab. Doubts emerge. Will my words be taken seriously ? I know that sometimes specific can be effective; other times, too defined.
Tuesday 30 October
Ritual lab. After the group enters No-Form, we all step into the candle-flickering ancestors' space. Stopped in my tracks and unable to absorb anything -- no experience -- nothing happens. As I yield to inaction, an impulse arises to respond to the space, to respond to and for the ancestors. As I continue responding, my energy escalates. As this intensity gathers momentum, I direct its force into service to the ancestors space. What develops in me is a sense of protectiveness (my own or the ancestors', I don't know) and then, I find myself stalking the outer periphery of the room, its borders, like a sentry might guard a fortress, or treasure; that was my job. As long as the borders were secured, my purpose there was fulfilled. This guardianship ritual marks my transition into the warm-up and my personal polarity of Grandfather/Grandmother. Here, I discover and imbibe gentle emanations of mercy (grandma) and electrical jolts of severity (grandpa) that develop in me and give rise to the Stoic (grandpa) and the Martyr (grandma) who eventually crystallize as two statues facing each other in a garden of dead leaves.
After the personal polarities, we all convene in the No-Form corridor for the group polarity of Parental Conditioning/Innate Being (who we are before parental conditioning). Much of this complex experience proves too large or too valuable for words. What I can say is this: parental conditioning acts on my innate being as a structuring force critical for the manifestation of this being in the out-there world; a kind of bootcamp training for the soul. Also, I discovered something about my sense of humor. If I was able to stay connected with innate nature while moving throughout the parental conditioning, I could laugh it off even while obeying the strictest of orders. It was extremely funny doing everything I was told. How weird is that ? On the side of innate being, the experience confirmed in me a profound inner strength and an innocence born from wisdom (not ignorance). Both sides of this dynamic polarity were clearly in cahoots with each other, serving a larger purpose of preparing and testing the incarnating soul for planetary life. This polarity proved profound for others, as well. (I was pleased to hear many of my Sunday night suggestions were applied to good results). I feel the empowering results of this ritual will stay with me as long as I stay in touch with innate being.
Dinner Time! Everyone but Heather H. arrives (she phoned in absent from the CA/NV border while driving back from her daughter's wedding). Within minutes, it seems, we're all sitting in a circle chowing down with nary a word. After dinner, I ask if and how anyone's relation to their ancestors or family has changed or picked up since the lab started. A snowballing momentum of family stories rolls throughout the circle (save for Tom E., who remains pensively silent). My story. Between my mother working two jobs and my merciful grandmother cooking our meals, my childhood was fueled by a deep faith in invisible benevolences. With mom's absence and grandma's discreet cleaning and cooking, an unseen yet always felt spirit of basic goodness pervaded our home. Deep down I also knew that even though my mother was not around so much, the results of her work provided me and my brother with the freedom we so enjoyed. Besides, I was usually having too much fun playing in the streets with neighborhood kids to feel anxious over not knowing where my mom was or what she was doing. I can see now how these childhood experiences have formed a foundation of faith that has supported my life ever since, a faith that requires constant renewal yet a faith that persists and at times, persists against all odds.
First Ritual of the Night. Standing in No-Form with our backs to the Ancestors' Space, we gradually step backwards and I am struck by an immediate sense of strangeness. All memories of unity or sympathy with ancestors dissolve and in its place, a distinct feeling of not belonging. I do not want to be here yet there is no escape; no exit from a place I don't want to inhabit. Very uncomfortable. I pace around the periphery and then, try to pose as someone who "belongs" there; I even stand in a corner thinking nobody sees me. Ah! That's what's so strange! It feels as if Big Brother is watching, as if every move I make is being monitored by some omnipresent entities that I have called "ancestors". Very uncomfortable. I take solace at the ancestors' altar and see the photograph of my (now dead) father smiling, holding baby Antero. I bend down to pray, sending him my apology for being a deserter from the Finnish army (a true story too involved to tell here). Feeling his, albeit reluctant, forgiveness, I rise from this prayer and re-enter the Ancestors' Space. The strangeness is gone. Nobody is watching me anymore. I suddenly feel like "one of the crew" and walk about with arms outstretched, embracing the space before me. A sense of grace and peace surrounds and pervades. Unity restored (and atonement realized).
Sunday 11 November
Happy Birthday, Antero. Tom E. brings party hats and silent tweeters; a chain reaction of birthday wishes domino towards me. I'm 49 today; seven sevens, half a century minus a year; the final year of my forties. This year, this number 49, feels dramatic. As it has turned out so far, every ten years my life has passed through an initiatic portal. Migrating to the USA from Canada at 10, starting over on my own in the S.F. Bay Area at 20, starting over on my own in Boulder CO at 30, starting over at 40 after the death of daughter, Zoe. Is there a pattern here ? Will life start over, still again, at 50 ? If so, is there anything I can do to prepare ?
I ask everyone how family and ancestors has, or has not, picked up steam in their lives since this lab began. The usually quiet Nick W. speaks at length of renewed and deepening communications with both mother and father, as well as, how family values now inform his decision-making processes more than before. His experience brings him a greater sense of internal stability. I tell Nick and the group how my own awareness of family/ancestors amplifies a state of free-floating anxiety. You see, I know my immediate family in dissolution, as a continual dissolving, with its bounty of groundlessness and uncertainty, which I naturally respond to with feelings of anxiety. Yet I find myself relating to this anxiety poetically, as if it were a creative state. Though uncertainty breeds anxiety, it also expresses a flexibility and openness to change. These days, I am working the force of this anxiety into writing story and dialogue between characters whose differing responses to anxiety propel their fates; a screenplay that I plan to make into my next movie, HYSTERIA.
I ask the group to share examples of how rebellion manifested in their lives while living at home with their families. Everyone's stories are personal and forthright. I am pleased with their candor which conveys to me a readiness to instigate more individuation in the Tuesday night ritual work...a phase of distinguishing oneself from the enveloping complexes innate to family and ancestral memory. A time to rediscover one's own voice, one's own vision, amidst the clamor of the clan. Seems like this group soup needs a pinch of salt to bring out its unique flavors, lest we blend too soon and homogenize.
Tuesday 13 November
First ritual. The floorspace is designated to the Ancestors and its center -- illuminated by five candles forming a diamond shape (NWSE and C) -- to "infinite ancestral hub". From No-Form, I step into the larger surrounding area and am impressed by how vertically charged everything is. I sense an unending chain of religious (Lutheran) devotion linking generations of Finns. I am walking around inside a very large church. I cautiously enter the ancestral diamond hub when suddenly, all these Christian images combust and I am freefalling inside a Lappi/Mongolian shaman wormhole (the only way to describe it). Fierce animal images, maybe spirits or demons, flash before my eyes; a tuva-type hunting chant spontaneously erupts in my throat. I hold its power briefly before exiting the hub. The surrounding area feels tame in comparison yet still related. I return to No-Form.
Second ritual. We all stand in No-Form around the periphery of the space, now designated as "family/ancestral soup". The center diamond area becomes "the diamond self", an area devoted to original nature, distinguishing us from family identity as individuals, unique in ourselves. Surrendering to the ancestral group soup, I feel spineless, owned by the soup. Helpless and too passive to change anything, I watch my body gyrate in a mechanical dance bouncing me about like some crazy wind-up toy. As if by accident, I slip into the diamond area and the mechanical apparatus breaks down. A strong lucidity surfaces, enveloping me in a deep calm. On re-entering the soup, I notice how safe I feel with this diamond self intact. With my role in family no longer passive and assigned, I create it out of my own diamond integrity. This new freedom and power feels almost too good to be true and I start doubting it. However, it is not the diamond self that doubts its power and freedom. It's family guilt. Family guilt doubts anything threatening its control, as it must. I laugh off the guilt and continue creating.
Third ritual. The entire space is re-designated as "the diamond self" (the candlelit altar area is where "offering to ancestors" might occur). From No-Form, I step into diamond self and absorb a shock. I am crushed by its immense freedom and crumble to the floor. Going by the previous ritual, this is not what I expected. On the floor, I choose to respond to this shock by serving, giving expression to, this freedom. At first, through very small movements that gradually develop their own ecstatic momentum. Soon, I am upright and dancing like a banshee, writhing and wriggling throughout the space, my entire body a spasm of joy erupting in perpetual self-discovery. After exhausting my physical energy, I approach the ancestors alter and offer up my thank and then, return to explore new ways to express this diamond self in movements, gestures, resonating sounds, overtones of joyous noise.
Sunday 18 November
Dinner Gathering. In tonight's meeting, we listen to a variety of family dramas in stories, recollections and those ancestor-based issues many of us have been confronting since last Tuesday night's ritual lab. I think maybe the exposure and immersion of that "diamond self" ritual (and its innate freedom), may have magnetized to surface consciousness certain underlying conflicts; forces of oppression or family guilt complexes threatened by the emergent autonomy of self.
Some of the group are growing more aware of specific parental conditionings they are entrenched in or mechanically acting out or victimized by. Many express genuine difficulty in facing these internal dramas. I suggest that a certain type of difficulty could mean something important is happening, especially if this difficulty involves facing conditions that are now unavoidable, inescapable and undeniable. I think difficulty gains significance when it forces us to confront self-denial and escapism, those buffers to self-acceptance and transformation. This "bearing up to existence" builds an internal strength, not based on ego but in the will to exist, the will to be. I ask everyone to identify their role in their drama, to find a personal polarity that somehow connects to this role and then, to bring this to the Tuesday night ritual. Jonathan F., confused, asks: "how can I know this role ?" I tell him this role seems to develop out of one's relationship with the drama, out of a knowledge of one's place in context to the whole.
Tuesday 20 November
Dramatic ritual night. After the physical warm-up and personal polarities, we all gather in the center of the space -- shoulder-to-shoulder -- standing in No-Form, facing the central lantern. At the outer periphery of the space, four candles flicker. To the north, the Father alter; to the south, the Mother alter; to the east, the Child alter and in the West, alter of the Ancestors. Gradually we step backward into No-Form, unfurling our ways around this temple, passing into the field of each alter, stopping to worship or grieve or sing or simply sit. At the Ancestors, I rage like an animal; I'm pissed off, don't know why and it feels good. I find serenity at Mother and thank her for that peace. At the Father, I find myself singing a wordless tribute to Arto. Over at the Child, I am clapping my hands, jumping up and down and, laughing. In between alters, I am moving, no floating, on No-Form's gentle cloud of Unknowing.
The second ritual uses the same structure: the quaternity of four ancestral archetypes. Except for one big difference: everything beyond No-Form is broken: Broken Father, Broken Mother, Broken Child and Broken Ancestors. The only unbroken area is No-Form. This is where the ritual gets really interesting. After being swirled around in the No-Form area, like some cosmic swizzle stick, I eventually visit all four corners and offer my body over to each, as a sacrifice, giving expression to the unique brokenness of each. Movements, emotions, sounds, gestures I have never known pass through me like so much oozing crackling splintering light substance. I hear sounds of wailing, raging and laughing all around me. The others are reacting to their own broken realities and also finding ways to let these forces pass through their bodies, voices, souls. I am realizing that it's a back-and-forth thing, this reacting to the brokenness and allowing its expression through us. There's more but nothing words can convey yet.
Dinner laugh riot. Tonight's gathering starts out typically enough with most everyone in the kitchen talking, eating and then, reconvening in the living room. Very soon thereafter, I don't know when or how, we all slip on this cosmic Marx Brothers banana peel and raucous hilarity breaks out. Sylvi, a chief perpetrator, cracks us up with her apallingly funny "evil pixie" routine. We're in stitches. Then, there's Jane DC's big fish stories, as well as, my own ridiculous antics. Outrageous, cathartic, entertaining. I think we were ready to blow off some steam.
After the laugh riot, the group energy descends into an extended lull. I even suggest that maybe we're done and that everyone should go home. No reply. I ask everyone if they've noticed any significant changes in their dreams lately. Almost everyone reports increased dream activity which compels me to ask the group to bring a dream movement to ritual on Tuesday night. Then, Tom E. stirs things up by sharing a resentment around Sylvi and my mentioning Jonathan H.'s really loud and persistent burping during Tuesday night rituals. Tom E. thinks Sylvi and I are ganging up on Jonathan H. and then, wonders what the rules are. I tell Tom E. that I don't care if Jonathan H. burps. Sylvi expresses her disgust, calling the burps "crass" and "not sacred." I say the only real rule I see in this ritual work is the importance of developing integrity as individuals and that through that, a regard for the integrity of others might ensue.
Tuesday 27 November
Nick Walker (above). Tonight's ritual space is dedicated to "the ancestors of the ancestors". As I step into it, I am startled by the immediacy of embodiment. No time to absorb or respond or relate to anything. Instantaneous manifestation, like water turning into ice. The upper vertical area of the ritual space looms large with the presence of entities and soon, the entire room becomes an ampitheatre of souls long departed, completely at home as the dead. I am a piece of this; no difference. This piece that is me walks about in a super-charged stiffness. I pass by the photos and relics of the ancestors altar. These objects, and those they symbolize, feel like descendents, children of the older souls now watching over us all. What a different perspective this is! The ancestors as my children.
Back in No-Form, again, facing the ritual space that's now divided in two: the first half designated as dream; the second half, the ground, or earth, of the ancestors. Passing into the dream, I collapse to the floor and then gradually, begin rising through layers of dreamstuff, the songs of whales reverberating throughout my internal body cavities; stomach, diaphragm, lungs, throat, mouth, nose and brain. I step over into the ground of the ancestors and instantly (again! this immediacy) incarnate as this hot-blooded, Finnish pixie warrior full of vim, vigor & vinegar. I'm stomping about, clapping my hands hooting and howling like some damn fool possessed by devic sprites of the aurora borealis. A terrible glee!
Dinner. Tonight, I sense a major turning point in my own relation with this lab. I confess to the group that I have entered a kind of dark night of the soul, a nadir point, in this lab. I know this place. The familiar "dark night" symptoms are all there: low energy, confusion, disorientation. All the family-based immersion processes, and my own emotions around that, have resulted in over-saturation, this feeling of over-ripeness. Or, ripe enough to go to seed. I suggest that it is time for me, and I believe the group as a whole, to stop engaging so much process and start distilling from these impressions, more clarity and form, perhaps something we can take with us when this lab is over next week.
Also: up to now, the ancestors' ritual time (Tuesday nights) has been chiefly non-interactive. Along with this need to distill comes this sense that the group might be ripe for more interaction in the ritual space; more communication and less emoting. Fortunately, these perceptions are soon confirmed by the group. Unanimously. We are, indeed, ready to distill these essences and then, approach more group interaction from the product and results of that distillation. This should be interesting.
Heart of the Ancestors' ritual. Tonight, we witnessed a major fruition ritual, born from the fecundity of all our previous immersion processes. My experience, impressions and expressions are so vivid, ineffable and numerous that it feels pointless to attempt description. Instead, here's the ritual structure itself.
First, we eliminated the ancestors' altar; no photos, relics, icons or family fetishes. The temple space feels clean, free of spirits; the only entities here are the participants in this lab. After the physical warm-up, the room is divided in half by a No-Form corridor; "personal heart" on one side and "heart of the ancestors" on the other side. After enough immersion in both, we return to No-Form and then, jog around the space (to create a transition) and then, return to the No-Form corridor. The same heart polarity -- personal and ancestral -- is worked but this time, we enter with the intention of finding movements and sounds that best serve the heart of the realm we are in. We also allow interactions with each other through these movements and sounds. This goes on for awhile and then, we return to No-Form.
After another transition jog, we all take new No-Form positions at the outer periphery of the temple. From No-Form, the direction is to step into personal heart and walk a spiral path of the personal heart (counter-clockwise) towards the center of the space, which is designated as ancestors' heart. At some undetermined point along this spiral path to the center, the personal heart merges with the ancestral heart. We resonate sounds in this merging point. A procession unfolds, a rotating spiral of heart paths, cacaphonies and formations develop, erupt, encompass the group. The ancestors come home...a miraculous interaction of self-governing bodies choreographed by the heart.
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