Plantcestors & Poetry: homeward healing between the worlds

*This writing was taken from my mid-journey newsletter. If you would like to join my mailing list, please do so here.*

This year has been dreams coming true. Seeds sprouting from under the earth, manifesting. My spirit has been my compass as I move along these ancestral landscapes with the intention to reconnect, honor, and re-member the original medicine of my ancestral region. The spiritual nature of my trip has asked me to listen closely to the wisdoms imbued along the way, leaning into the cues and synchronicities of the natural and inner worlds and reflections that move within and around me constantly. This is exactly the kind of listening and speaking required to build with the medicine of our plant relations too. So much of what I am learning and refining in the many iterations of my work is about just this: waking up my non-linear mind, my intuition, my attention to the signals of creation and life speaking consistently around me and learning how to fully trust and follow it. Decolonizing the way I know and the way I arrive to knowing. Uplifting the deep internal access to knowledge and medicine which is granted to me by my relationship with life itself. Sometimes it takes hours and days for an experience to stew into cohesive wisdom, and other times just fractions of moments- a burst of unexpected magic almost surreal in it’s explicitness. Often when I am living dreams, my night time dream life takes some sort of pause. Dreams come through my interactions with my day-to-day. And sometimes, they come through trusted mentors and friends ;). The Mysteries speak themselves in metaphor. Poetry and proverb- about as ancestral as it gets, and for good reason. Sacred “research” means living inside the poetry, being a poet living a poem. Bringing consciousness to what’s alive between all the lines and syllables of life and paying dues to the wisdom of it’s many pieces, relating and dancing with each other to make meaning and be beautiful.  This is where the medicine lives and what signals me towards it.

I am sure I will be integrating the wisdom of these journeys for a long time to come, understanding what it is that called me to each place, and the particular teaching of each one respectively. I am swimming right now in the subtle layer of what has transpired- the deep dwelling places that move as quietly as the far sea and the shapeshifting light of dusk. Integrating. Almost elusive in their depth and yet primordial somehow in their offering.  I am living these lessons still, learning the messages and receiving the blessings simply through being present for it and letting it take root inside me.

“Embodied research” is sacred research. It means that knowledge is collected and restored as much through process and experience as it is through the information that surfaces. It means that how the knowledge is uncovered is through the cultivation of relationship; I seek as a participant, a practitioner, a living piece of the place that surrounds me and all the memory it carries. An active engager, an embodied vessel, a daughter visiting home. It means waking up to these places again and for the first time, and waking them up to me with consciousness and intention, with eyes on all the dimensions and a receptive heart. It means really listening and really surrendering. Refining my discernment and investing in my trust. Sometimes it means un-following plans, rewiring agendas, or spiraling back for more. Sometimes it means making hard choices to refine the direction and possibility offered to me as I move forward to my ever clarifying purpose and goals. All of these things co-exist and discernment is key. The flow is always perfect when I listen, and sometimes it takes a few months to catch up to just how perfect it really has all been.

People have been incredibly kind to me. I have been traveling mostly alone, single and female, with my heavy tongued Arabic, my diaspora aesthetics and the deep resonance of purpose which directed me here. Diaspora is strange. It lends perspective through distance, depth through longing, and home through this ever reaching motion towards what others take for granted. It is the (b)ridge between worlds, the union of dualities. It is so damn queer somehow. And so parallel to that sacred state of in betweens where the mysteries surface, and the mending and alchemy occurs. Diaspora in all its longing and inside-out-ness is reflecting it’s medicine back to me constantly through my travels. Helping me to see who I am and see THRU who I am. Helping me to understand my place and the inbetween worlds that carry so much mystery. Through the stories of my diasporic kin who I meet along the way, from all our different origins and homes, and the wounds exposed to be healed by the perspective they lend especially in the climate of division and sectarianism which have taken so much from us in the SWANA region, I have been most sharply reminded of the healing which has called me to this work from the very first time I set foot on this journey over a decade ago. I have been reminded of the wound and within those reflecting it, the medicine as well, the possibility. We are all trying to return home somehow. My friend of Palestine’s diaspora here in Lebanon reminded me in a talk we had of this Mahmoud Darwish poem,

“I am from there. I am from here.
I am not there and I am not here.
I have two names, which meet and part,
and I have two languages.
I forget which of them I dream in.”

The weavers of worlds. Whole in duality. Bordered and borderless. Inside and out. Etheric and earthly. Multiple and whole. So much power within the pain of it, and so much truth in its longing and perspective. Even “home” transcends place and reaches into the worlds of in between, transfixing meaning and weaving poems into humanity. The ancestors are so present somehow in this all.

Plantcestors

Throughout my time, I have really been directed towards the importance of preserving and protecting our native plantcestors in this region, and have been honored to start learning from/with the folks around here who are doing work around seed saving, especially important in light of the recent destruction of Syria, which protected many many of our regional seeds and plant traditions. This fall, I will also start planting wild herbs in my garden to create a sanctuary garden for the species still with us as best as I am able to, from which I will be able to collect and share seeds from my garden as well as have at least one protected area in our village that I know will be safe from the damage of private development and can be a sanctuary for some of the local ecosystem’s participants. It will be a really intimate and lovely way to start deepening with the plantcestors of this land, as well as to make offering to the spirits of this land which have been so generous with me and my family for so long, despite the unfortunate negligence of many of our local village dwellers.

Along these lines, amongst the many gifts I’ve been granted by this journey so far, I have been sent home to Lebanon with some plantcestors which I would like to share with you all. These plantcestors are embodiments of the places I have been blessed to visit, carriers of their stories, agents of medicine and of memory that extends beyond this earth. Egypt in all its magic and mystery sent me home with beautiful Nefertum, known commonly as Egyptian Blue Lotus (Nymphaea Caerulea), a very important plantcestor in Phaoronic Egypt, aka. Khemet. In the cosmological stories of Khemet, Nefertum is the carrier of the Blue Lotus which he was born from and has gifted to humanity as medicine for the consciousness, body, and soul alike. Nefertum is the beautiful son/sun who carries the medicine of healing balms and aromatherapy. This lotus is a plantcestor considered to have medicine of divine origin and highly regarded for ceremonial and medicinal use in nearly every heiroglyph written on the walls of Egypt’s sacred sites. Sadly, it has been nearly extinct due to the over chlorination of the water ways in Egypt’s current days, but I was lucky to meet a special woman who is a practitioner of the ancestral ways of Khemet and has been looking for trusting homes to tend this important plantcestor for the elevation of our consciousness through the darkness and depth of mudd into the sacred light of day in this important time in humanity- to manifest ourselves in our highest of spirit and purpose, a plantcestor whose medicine speaks of re-membering who we are and awakening to the consciousness of Creation itself, and of course is a great blessing to me in my work of re-membering the ancestor’s original wisdoms and ways which this plantcestor so profoundly embodies.

Upon return from Khemet, I had the gift of spending a week on the tallest mountain top in Lebanon, where the most ancient cedar forest reserve dwells. I went to deepen with a traditional elder up there who I have been visiting the past 5 years. We would “charge” ourselves daily at the trunks of grandmother trees, and he would teach me about herbs and about nature, about spirit and the protocols that help us relate and deepen in the sacred walk of life with the medicine. He is a very special person who is unique to everyone I have been pleasured to meet in my past years of seeking, still deeply rooted in the indigenous traditional knowledge of this area and still living a life close to the plantcestors on that sacred mountain top he has lived on his whole life. It was very special to have more sustained time with him and the plantcestors and his family who so generously shared with me. This elder has also been responsible, per the instructions of his father and grandfather, for replanting thousands of new cedar trees to reforest a sacred area which has been exploited and diminished from years of over use. Cedars are sacred medicine, and he taught me that they are one of the most spiritual trees on the earth, embodying a very high vibration that can help to heal people’s spirits and consciousness profoundly through presence with these trees. He gifted me this baby cedar (Cedrus Libani) to plant at my home in Lebanon. Nefertum and Arze (arabic for Cedar) are working the vibrations of the neighborhood here :). I made lovely essences of both these medicines to share with my SWANA medicine circles so that we can deepen in our understanding and work with these special allies upon return to the diaspora as well. Per the understandings of Sumerian ancestors, the energy of Creation itself, Ea, dwelled in these cedar trees, where people would go to consult the spiritual world for answers and wisdom. The ancients of all this region, from Khemet to Sumer and beyond would come to this land of Canaan/Phoenicia especially to experience and harvest the cedar medicine of this land, to use it in their sacred temples and tombs, and to sail with it across seas to build with other ancients around the globe. One thing I love about these cedars are the lovely wild roses growing underneath them, imbued with cedar resin. I had the pleasure of harvesting some of them to tincture for medicine which surely will be a sweet treat to share.

And in Palestine, I learned about love. It was a dream for me to finally go to this place that is so close to home but made so far and unaccessible to me as a Lebanese-Arab. If not for the privilege of mobility (which should be a right) granted to me by my American passport, I would have not even been allowed to even attempt entry to this land where my own grandparents visited, lived, and worked freely. In Palestine, I made prayers for the ancestors and the liberation of our homes and people. My act of just being there felt like a small victory of resistance to me, and I took every chance to talk and connect with my Arab kin there, who seemed as uplifted by my ability to arrive there as a Lebanese-Arab person as I was. I was received like a sister and reminded consistently of how one we are as a people, of how false these borders which separate us are. To express to each other, by virtue of our physical presence on that land together, that we are still in each other’s hearts, that we have not forgotten each other, was a beautiful thing in all it’s humility and depth.

I felt that every Arab who can try to go there, should. That this is a small but significant act of love and resistance which unifies and uplifts us. That this is an act of re-membering worth engaging. While Egypt was the inspiring spirit of magic, Palestine was like the sustaining nourishment of love, the heart of the Arab SWANA world.  Pulsing with an unconditioned kindness, responsibility, and care for each other as people of this land, I was so often taken under the protective eye and support of strangers, often times young men who in other contexts may be the most burdensome and annoying threat to me traveling solo as a woman. There was such home and familiar there. Connecting to the spirit of kinship, of care, of nourishment through sister/brotherhood, despite all that has been taken and demolished was simple yet profound medicine. I made prayers in M3alool, the demolished village of my dear friend Nayrouz, where we honored and acknowledged the ancestors and their children still living in exile. I made journeys to the land where my own family once sought refuge in exile, seeking the springs and rivers that my Uncle Hana described to me in the Upper Galilee region. I went to sacred places where prophets were born and killed and resurrected, and I honored each step with the privilege that so many people of my own family and region do not have- to enter this ancestral land which is so sacred, so close, even visible with our own eyes, yet still intangible to us thanks to the colonization and settlement of the state of Israel. I spoke to traditional herbalists and ate knafeh in the old city of Nablus, washed in the turkish baths with the women, and reconnected with old and new friends of heart.  (*I will be making a post with more pictures and details on these parts of my time in Palestine soon to share more with you all…*)

I guess it is only perfect that the plantcestral work which especially found me there was about the restoration and rehabilitation of our native heirloom seeds. Vivien Sansour, the visionary of the incredible Palestinian Heirloom Seed Library, shared with me these seeds of a native eggplant variety to bring back to Lebanon, where I will offer most of these seeds to the growing seed bank of the Syria and Lebanon seed saving project which is just now growing. The seeds are where all the memory, all the potential, all the possibilities live and get born from. They are where that cosmic imprint first gets manifested into a physical form for us to grow from. Palestine sent me home with the seeds of nourishment- food- that are cultivated from love, from lineage, from home by all means necessary. Love is, afterall, the deepest medicine and the most ultimate liberator.  I will be working to collect native herbal seeds from Lebanon this fall to share with these networks forward so that we can all together ensure the integrity and biodiversity of our quickly changing environments under the overdevelopment of capitalism, colonization, and the desecration of war throughout our region. It was a great honor to learn and experience this special time in Palestine, where I look forward to hopefully returning again some time to deepen with the village grandmothers around their plant wisdom and the farmers tending these original heirloom seeds.

In Jordan, I had the opportunity to meet with Rami Sajdi. He has been working with the Bedouin communities to learn, document, and preserve Bedouin ethnobotanicaly and traditional wisdom for many years. He was a wealth of knowledge, and shared many bits and pieces of knowledge and information through our short evening together. At the end of the evening, his wife came to offer me and my friend some SWANA plants they acquired from their travels in Yemen, a place I would have loved to go if it were not for the political instability of this time. She offered some tobacco to my friend, and these roots to me. She did not remember the name of the medicine, but told me that it was a women’s medicine and is used for helping women to ween from breastfeeding. The smell is sweet, and it immediately reminded me of Kaff Mariam/the Rose of Jericho which is another SWANA medicine that is used for women and pregnancy in the region. It turns out these plantcestors are in fact related. After chatting with them about the many different ways to learn about plantcestors through building relationship with them in our bodies, these plants were gifted to us as allies to dream and build with in these upcoming weeks. It is a sweet gift to have a piece of Yemen where I cannot quite reach myself to work with and re-member in this way. And I am looking forward to doing some more disciplined dream work with this plantcestor in the coming weeks.

Now I am back in Lebanon enjoying some time with my parents and family before I leave for the next round of research travels on August 24th.  The integration time, I find, is as crucial as the movement itself, and the sea has been a beautiful meeting place for my daily visits with my family who is gathered from all parts of the country and the diaspora alike.

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The map above marks the next 3 destinations on my Homeward Healing journey. I will start my journey in Armenia with the company of two lovely Armenian cultural workers who are also exploring ancestry in our SWANA lineages, Kamee Abrahamian and Lee Boudakian, creators of Kalik and Dear Armen. It will be my first time taking an ancestral re-membrance journey with company since my amazing trip through modern day Turkey with my dear sister of soul, Emel Orhun, back in 2012.  When I met with Kamee and Lee over Skype recently, the spirits were speaking so strong and I was full of goosebumps for most of our chat. I know it will be a great co-creation of energies for us to make some part of this journey together through their/our ancestral lands. I will end my Armenia trip in the south, where I will cross the border into Iran for more ancestral journeying, and then end in the southern coast of Iran known for its Afro-Iranian communities where I am hoping to cross the gulf to Oman, which will complete every country I had hoped to visit through this journey! Who knows, perhaps one of the sailors down on the coast will take me to Muscat instead of hopping on a plane, and maybe they will have some ancient wisdom about star navigation, like my Phoenician ancestors did ;). I hope in Oman I can find some groves of Frankincense and Myrrh trees to build with, and will experience being in the Arab Gulf for my very first time.

Thank you all for joining me on my journey. Looking forward to sharing more with you soon.

Layla K. Feghali

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