Connecting with Ancestors

My cousin sometimes sees my Lolo, who passed in 2001, attempting to fix his old TV.  Lolo, who, in life they say, was somewhere on the spectrum between collector and hoarder, still has a pile of junk behind their house and a penchant to manage it post-mortem! On those occasions, the seer calmly tells the spirit of Lolo not to mind the broken TV and be on his way.

My very first visit to the Philippines in 2006, my Tito told me that Lolo was seen the night before, sitting in a plastic chair waiting for me. My Lolo, who, in life they say, would regularly pull out the old photograph of me and my sister and proudly tell visitors about his granddaughters in far off Canada.

These stories are food for my soul, and have helped me to feel my way in the Philippines as a balikbayan and a foreigner, both.

Four years ago, after having lived in the Philippines for more than a year, I felt a deep need for healing. I never got to meet my Lolo and Lola. People around me seemed much more adept at accessing the spirit world and I sought I way in.  I got in touch with somebody in the Manila area the way most of us modern folks do, via the internet.

Olive, came over to my house and helped me through an intuitive healing session where I was brought into contact with my higher self. In the session my higher self (who has a name and an appearance; I will call her she although she appears neither male nor female) helped me gather my spirit team to heal the bonds/my connections to my mother, father, sister and my significant other at that time (whom I was going through a separation of paths with after many years together). She then opened up lines of communication between me and my ancestral line. I felt them come into my space and vision. I felt intense vibration in the body. I trusted that it was my Lola who communicated that she’s proud of me, that she wants to forgive my mother. This connection helped me to feel welcome, that my ancestors are glad for me. However, the thing with my mother, the connection that was broken between them felt beyond me also somehow, that this healing is not really mine to do.

The whole experience was important for me, and still, years later, raises questions without answers. The 3rd Babaylan Conference held in Coast Salish September 23-25 stirred this memory of connecting with ancestors and awakened the question of lineage, the question of authenticity. One way into this question might be yoga teacher Gary Kraftsow’s insights into the etymology of svadhyaya, a core yogic principle, one of the niyamas (observances) in Patanjali’s yoga sutras. One definition of svadhyaya is self-inquiry/self-analysis/self-awareness and is often manifested through meditation and contemplative practice.  In Hinduism, however, svadhyaya is a technical term which means to read or recite the mantras and sacred texts passed onto you through your family line.

This fact of broken lineage, broken knowledge systems and practices makes me sad and angry (colonialism!)  But still svadhyaya is accessible to us when we come honestly to our inquiry, when we ask without knowing the answer.  We can use svadhyaya to bring about deep healing, to actualize our potential and realize our true nature.

I feel grateful that there was someone to help guide me into an experience with ancestors that day four years ago. Olive was there with me even though I did not know her lineage… and maybe she herself does not know it! I received many other messages during the session, including that I have a role and history in ritual, something which I have cultivated through my yoga practice and teaching.

Looking back now, especially in light of the Babaylan Conference, I feel strongly that healing comes in multiple forms and multiple realms. Some of this is  gifted from spirit. Much of it though arises within us as questions and we find paths as a result of seeking.

My mom and her nanay, who passed in 1994, had issues between them that have not yet been resolved. So much of my journey back home to the Philippines is the result of following many deep questions about my mom, who migrated to so-called Canada, first Cree territory in Winnipeg, later in Saskatoon where I grew up and eventually settling in Ojibwe territory in Toronto where she still lives. My mom’s migration was, in a way, unlike many other Filipinos. All her family remained in the Philippines and the contact between them was intermittent and distant at best. My mom perhaps needed me to bridge the immense feeling of distance and help cultivate forgiveness for hurts intended and unintended. I know little about those hurts and yet today there has been a measure of healing. I have close ties with some family and my mom’s communication is much stronger, especially with her older brother. But I know it goes much deeper. The social, political and historical hurts are woven into our bloodlines and are our inheritance.

Another story: my Lolo and Lola met on a horse-drawn carriage (kalesa) in Malate, a bustling part of Manila in the 1940s. My Lolo was from Tabaco, Albay, a migrant worker from a poor farming family. He was a manual labourer for the major road project now known as Roxas Boulevard that hugs Manila Bay. My Lola was homegrown from Malate, a city girl, whose fishing roots in Bulacan were already a generation removed. My Lolo, they say, touched her breasts in the kalesa.  And as was the custom in those days, marriage was the answer.

The sacred canoe ceremony that opened the conference shook me to the core. Encounter is a powerful moment. The simplicity of asking permission and granting consent. The gravity of asking permission and granting consent. This ritual which has been left aside in our modern world is both the least and the most of what we give each other. This is the manifestation of kapwa, to share space with awareness of all that has been and all that is.

My relationship to family has been wounded by acts of non-consent. Our relationship to our ancestral line, to our land and sea, to our wind, to our fire, to our space, all this has been deeply wounded by acts of non-consent.

Today, as a spiritual and political practice, we strive to acknowledge the hurts, intended and unintended. We strive towards right relationship. Some of this might look like ritual, story-telling, contemplation, protest, travel, research and so on… I’m grateful for conferences like this one that hold space to ask permission and grant consent across all kinds of relationships, seen and unseen. Sometimes we don’t know what needs to be asked until we make that sacred space!



I went to buy pandesal this morning and on my way back I noticed that we have a pineapple!

This plant has been around the house for the last 3 years, and has been guarding the front wall due to its spiky character.  Last night we noticed the leaves were drooping and I thought perhaps it needs a bigger pot…

Turns out it’s a pineapple.

Exciting times!


Bamboo heart- Part 1

I have a dream of meditating on the second floor of a bamboo house, waltzing down irregular bamboo stairs, the sun filtering through an open window at the witching hour.

This week Pancho and I have been following this bamboo dream house by meeting with my friend and former colleague Engr. Eric Raymundo.

In 2014, I began to explore the potentials of bamboo while working in Bantayan Island where bamboo proliferates along the roadside.  After typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the wind had visibly ripped down most of the flora.  Bamboo was first to recover.  It is resilient, loves water and can handle periods of dry spell.  It matures in 3-4 years.  It is a versatile material, useful as poles for construction, furniture and crafts, as a textile, as pulp and paper, and for yummy bamboo shoots!

In essence, bamboo is a wood replacement and more!  And given the Philippines’ unfortunate forest predicament (see figure 1), bamboo is the wood of the future.  As a grass, it is rapidly renewing!

However, there are currently some major roadblocks to fully utilizing this amazing grass.  As Eric explained, kawayan tinik, our abundant local species, is commonly regarded as an inferior material due to its size and the thorns that surround the pole.

Yes our kawayan tinik is slimmer than the more famous varieties like giant bamboo, but no less strong, according to Eric.

He believes that if properly harvested and preserved, our local bamboo could be used as a primary building material for residential construction. Concrete necessitates quarrying, a wasteful process with consequences for human health, agriculture, tourism and disaster management.  In addition, concrete houses are too hot for our tropical environment, and adding air conditioning means more power generation required.

As Pancho explained, bamboo design and construction is not even in the Philippine architecture curriculum!  While bamboo construction is visible across the country- it is considered ‘impermanent’ construction.

Under the Philippine building code, architects are liable for their design for 15 years, thus the material must not have defects within this time period.  Bamboo commonly last only 1-4 years in the Philippines, before needing to be replaced.  Therefore, it is not officially regarded as a construction material despite the obvious market preference for bamboo because of its affordability!

In part 2- we’ll go into some ideas for sustainable bamboo harvesting and preservation that might just extend the life of a bamboo pole!


Conversion from Rice Fields

Conversion and transition, similar in meaning and yet embodying completely different approaches to change.

I’m in Bulacan, gazing at the landscape as we drive from the mega city to the peri-urban fringe. Every two weeks I come here to Pancho’s childhood home, where he grew up surrounded by rice fields. Now, his home is surrounded by warehouses. Land conversion. But why? Isn’t rice production priority? It should be in a country where the staple is rice but unfortunately the Philippines is still a net importer of rice. And despite laws that prohibit the conversion of irrigated or irrigable fields, conversions for warehouses and real estate are commonplace.

How it happens: the application for conversion is filed, there is a ‘public’ consultation, where the public is represented by municipal councilors. the deal is approved.

Sometimes the application says conversion from rice to mangoes but when they start planting concrete no one lifts a finger or takes anyone to court.

The real kicker is that the conversion doesn’t simply delete a field- it actually re-organizes the whole town and its environment. Rice fields are IN FACT important waterways and water recharge areas. The new warehouses create waterways inside their compounds but fail to create a whole system approach that acknowledges how water moves outside their gates.

Pancho’s parents, now nearing 80 years old, regularly suffer through waist-high water when it rains since the warehouses have taken over the town. The floor has been raised three feet, so now when you wash dishes at the sink you have the choice to kneel or stoop.

Precious water becomes a burden, something to suffer through and manage in case of flood.

As the country suffers through drought due to El Nino, and activists clamor for bigas hindi bala (rice not bullets) it comes clear that the conversion of rice lands, drought and flooding all have root in a political process that robs us of the decisions that matter most.

How might community-based transition re-work and refute this fast and reckless conversion?

Mustasa Salad

In the Philippines, there isn’t really a culture of salad.  Friends sometimes joke that the only salads here are fruit and macaroni!  However, I have been making a salad with mustard greens on a weekly basis for a while now.

It’s easy to grow in the garden, even in the lowlands of Manila!  But if I don’t have any in the backyard, I go to the Kamuning Market and pick out the smallest, freshest leaves.   And mix it together with avocado, snap peas, bell peppers, singkamas, tomatoes, cucumber or whatever else I have on hand.  Then I mix with an oil, calamansi and honey dressing.  The key really is to mix well-  use your hand and massage the oil into the greens to cut the ‘wasabi’ effect.  Its a spicy green but with a good oil like virgin coconut oil or olive oil, it softens to just the right kick.

Sometimes, I use bicol express (a specialty condiment made with shrimp paste, coconut milk and spicy chilies).  Or try it with mangoes for a little sweetness.


Why Grow?

Manila is a vibrant, insane and real city.  It can be a struggle to find green spaces to rest the eye and calm the mind.  I started gardening here when I moved into a big house with outside space in 2013.  Gardening is constant and pleasurable work.  It is a respite and a privilege to have a patch of green amid the concrete.  My garden is not perfect and sometimes things die of neglect.  Gardening is a process of manifestation, of reconciling growth with decay.  Growing food is a dream of mine, only marginally manifested, you could say…

This section of the blog tracks my garden, my neighbours’ gardens, land and farmer issues, and the budding community of farmer-eaters in Manila.