It's been about 5 years since I first came across the term "babaylan" and the work of Leny Strobel. I found both soon after making contact with FilAm prose and poetry artists - I was looking for a piece of my heritage that resonated with what I'd learned from studying the indigenous practices of Europe, the Americas, and Australia. I remember being worried that after almost 500 years of colonization, there was little information about pre-Spanish spiritual practices in what we know commonly as the Philippines, let alone any current practitioners of those systems.
Throughout my search, Leny has been a touchstone, a mentor who does not give easy, concrete, this-is-the-way-it-is answers. Rather she has been a person I could count on to help me form my own questions then provide the resources and contacts to find my own answers. A deeply spiritual woman, Leny is also an excellent academic who struggles between the tacit and the explicit, the intuitive and the logical, and who most of all, is willing to share that struggle with others, thereby creating a community through her blog, events, and travels with students. Until this past weekend, Leny was a person on the other side of the internet, a woman shaped of pixels on the screen who's able to reach into the heart of another by revealing her own heart. If that's not the definition of kapwa - the self in other - I don't know what is.
The First International Babaylan Conference was her brainchild and it flourished under her leadership, but like the rest of her work, it came about because of the community she created, the core planning group of women with the vision, skills, and dedication to turn a small corner of the Sonoma State University into a sacred place where FilAms and Filipinos could blink away the grime of not quite fitting in anywhere, could shed the cloak of nearly-passing-in-order-to-survive, and raise their open palms to the sky to say Tao Po! I am a human being, as I am now, as I was, as my ancestors were, as we all shall be.
When I came back from the California the first question my friends and family ask is the expected "How was the conference?" And there's only one way to describe it. Before the conference, the different parts of myself and my previous experiences were like the jumbled tumblers inside a combination lock. From the moment I stepped into my suite and joined a small group of women who I would live with the next few nights, a tumbler would turn and fall into place. Then another. Then another. A song would be sung. Thunk. A passing prayer whispered. Thunk. A term, a chant, and passing conversation. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Pieces fell into place that I thought were forever separated because of time and circumstance. Instead I learned that I just needed a reflection in someone else's experience to affirm all that I'd known before. I stopped second guessing myself. I stopped feeling outside my own culture. I stopped holding back "just in case" it wasn't safe to be myself.
And the lock just kept turning. Two pieces at the very end fell into place, two pieces I didn't think would be even up for discussion. But there on Sunday afternoon and then late into Sunday evening - thunk, thunk. It's natural to think that if the metaphor is a lock, then something was opened, but that's not quite the sensation. It's more a feeling of being whole. After all the labyrinthine travels of the past 10-15-20 years where I would come close enough to understanding but never completely Becoming the understanding, finally, it's all there. I'm all there. Here.
So what's next? Well, besides diving back into this blog, I need to plant a tree. Preferably a cedar tree, perhaps as part of a larger reclamation project. Perfect timing considering Earth Day tomorrow. And I need to touch the sea, to let the local spirits know there was a healing offering made in California on their behalf yesterday.