Why Ancestral Work Helps Me Process Climate-Change-Related Grief

5 Reasons Why Ancestral Work is Preparing Me for Climate Change

“We are the ancestors of the future, and what we do now will have an impact.”

—Yeye Luisah Teish

We are all ancestors-in-training; when we leave this life, we become ancestors to future generations. With our world in the state that it is, we have an even greater duty to act in consideration and service of future generations.

Much of our world is beginning to suffer from the impacts of climate change and environmental injustice, and the detrimental effects will be felt for generations to come. The science of epigenetics has revealed what shamans and Indigenous healers have known for centuries: that unhealed trauma is passed down from generation to generation.

By exploring our ancestral history, we can begin to separate the stories and belief systems we’ve inherited from those we consciously choose to live by in this lifetime. From there, we can develop ancestral reverence rituals and practices that will not only honor those who came before but prepare us to become ancestors-in-training so that we may make the impact we so deeply desire in the world, now and for those who come after us.

My sacred relationship to my ancestors began during my first visit to the island of Guam, the homeland of my Chamorro ancestors. I was a young boy, escorted by my father. First, we visited our sacred grounds at a cemetery to pay our respect. Then, I remember visiting an abandoned house. My father said a prayer, and when we entered, I felt as though I was being picked up and held. It was the first spiritual experience of my life, but I had no language to understand it.

Over time, I deepened my knowledge of and connection to my ancestors by returning to Guam and learning and researching our history. When I returned from Guam in the summer of 2015, I began exploring Holotropic Breathwork, a powerful, spiritually oriented approach to self-exploration and healing that focuses on entering non-ordinary states of consciousness to seek healing and wisdom. This is achieved via a natural, non-addictive method for physical and emotional catharsis of stress and prior trauma. For two years I would regularly have transpersonal experiences during breathwork sessions, which eventually led to a reconnection with my ancestors. This initially began during one specific session, with the sensation of both my hands being held in such a reassuring way that it could only be my grandparents.

And now, my ancestral work has helped me to grieve.

The current mass extinction of much of our Earth's biodiversity has evoked a form of grief within me that I've not experienced before. When confronted with loss, it’s only natural to grieve, whether it’s the loss is of a loved one or of our vision for our future. Grief helps contextualize the pain, fear, and mourning of what we no longer have. We all grieve in different ways; our experience with grief is often informed and influenced by our heritage, upbringing, and community.

For me, my experience with grief is enriched and deepened by ancestral healing and ritual.

For Chamorros, my primary ancestral heritage, we hold animistic beliefs that our recently deceased loved ones transition to ancestors after one year. We wear red to remind our recent dead that we wish to remain bound to this reality; adults do so for three months, while children, especially those who were particularly close to the recently dead, will wear red for up to a year.

Sprouting from my first experience in Guam, my personal practice has evolved to become almost entirely ancestor reverence and ritual based. I have an ancestral altar that I regularly commune with, and I hold ritual ceremonies during new/full moons as well as during equinoxes and solstices. My practice also includes medicine journeys, primarily ketamine that is legally administered by a licensed psychiatrist, as well as other sacred plant medicine journeys while communing with nature and worshipping in the redwoods of Northern California.

These practices teach me about acknowledging not only my own ancestors but the ancestors of the land I am on. By 1900 the indigenous population in the Americas declined by more than 80%, and by as much as 98% in some areas.  Every place I’ve called home has been on unceded, settled, colonized land of Native, Indigenous, and First Nations people—the Utes & Cheyenne of Colorado; Crow, Flathead, Cheyenne of Montana; Lenape and Wappinger of New York; and now Muwekma Ohlone land in the San Francisco Bay Area.

If I am to be in right relationship with my Chamorro ancestors who’ve resisted Spanish, Japanese, and American colonization for nearly four centuries, then I must consider my responsibilities to the people and land, both here and elsewhere. And my responsibility to to stand in solidarity with Native, Indigenous, and First Nations people, and their sovereignty, politics, land claims, landscapes, cultural heritage, and lives. And to actively disrupt institutions, practices, and all structures of oppression that reproduce ongoing colonial relations of violence and power.

If you’re grieving the loss of time, hope, potential, loved ones, or something else entirely, ancestral work could benefit you. When we call on ancestors for support, we can move through life with more wisdom, grit, and courage to face difficulty and uncertainty.

A recent interview with Daniel Foor, Ph.D supports this topic well:

“How do we make our heart the shape of the world and feel the agony of what’s happening, but not drown in it? Because it’s actually indulgent to drown in it...because if we really care as deeply as we claim to, the response is more ideally “What’s my role? How can I be useful?” The challenge is not to isolate, {but} to stay in relationship...how do we live sustainably, year after year, in those conditions, and joyfully even?”

Once we recognize that our responsibilities are not only to our immediate human family, but to all living beings, and not just those alive now but for generations to come, we understand that healing our own ancestral and cultural wounds and taking action are imperative for the survival of the future of life on earth.

Together we will take action and address the root causes of climate change by changing the system – but first, we have to do the work within ourselves and at the community level.  

Are you interested in exploring and deepening your relationship with your ancestors?

In support of ancestral healing, I offer one-on-one ancestral coaching sessions to support clients in connecting, developing, and deepening their relationships with their well and loving ancestors, so that they may enjoy and embody the full gifts and blessings of their lineages.

I’d be honored to connect with you.