Tami Simon: Welcome to Insights at the Edge, produced by Sounds True. My name is Tami Simon. I’m the founder of Sounds True, and I’d love to take a moment to introduce you to the new Sounds True Foundation. The Sounds True Foundation is dedicated to creating a wiser and kinder world by making transformational education widely available. We want everyone to have access to transformational tools, such as mindfulness, emotional awareness, and self-compassion, regardless of financial, social, or physical challenges. The Sounds True Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to providing these transformational tools to communities in need, including at-risk youth, prisoners, veterans, and those in developing countries. If you’d like to learn more or feel inspired to become a supporter, please visit SoundsTrueFoundation.org.
You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is Becca Piastrelli. Becca is a writer, speaker, ancestral folk medicine keeper, and women’s group facilitator. She’s a leader in women’s empowerment and earth wisdom, teaching women how to cultivate a sense of belonging through her online and international retreats, her blog, and her Belonging podcast. Becca connects with thousands of women from her home in Northern California. And with Sounds True, Becca Piastrelli has released a new book, it’s called Root and Ritual: Timeless Ways to Connect to Land, Lineage, Community, and the Self.
At just 36 years old, Becca has a whole lot of wisdom about the journey of moving from what she calls a sense of feeling severed—the great severing that we’ve experienced culturally from our sense of being embodied, connected to the land, connected to our ancestry, connected to a sense of community, connected to our own body as nature—moving from that great severing to a sense of feeling rooted, rooted in who we are, where we are, and who we’re with; and how we can follow the thread of what we long for to arrive in that rooting. Here’s my conversation with the wise young person, Becca Piastrelli.
Becca, by way of introduction, can you share with the Sounds True audience a little bit about you, the personal journey that brought you to write Root and Ritual?
Becca Piastrelli: Sure. I think the word that captures the existential ache that has been a through-line of my life so far, my 36 years on this planet, has been a sense of not belonging. And not just not belonging in like a friend, group, or community—although that’s certainly presented itself at an early age, but not feeling like I belonged in my body, not feeling like I belonged in the natural world, feeling separate from the trees and the plants, and even scared of them, and being descended from people who are not native to this land I live on. Feeling like I didn’t know where I belonged, on what land, on what soil, in what body, in what community. And so when I could finally name that, it took me on a journey of reclaiming my belonging, which I believe is a lifelong journey. I’m not here today to say, “I belong,” I think it’s never linear, it’s often spiralic.
But I’ve realized there are ways we can look back to how our ancestors, no matter what your ancestral portfolio is, the way our ancestors lived as a way to soothe ourself in this eremocene, or age of loneliness, as it’s being called by many great thinkers, of how so many of us feel severed and so many of us feel untethered from a sense of rootedness. So, this book is an offering that comes from my journey for folks who resonate with that same feeling.
TS: And you start the book by talking about loneliness.
TS: And you refer to it as a hole, the hole of loneliness. Hole as in H-O-L-E. And that image, I thought, was powerful. I wonder if you can just speak to that for a moment?
BP: Yes. Well, in my research for this book, and in general, the history of the term loneliness—loneliness is actually a very recent chronic experience of humanity that was only really spoken of in literature in the last several, like the last 150 years. So that got me thinking about why that is, which looks to the history of severing humanity from the natural world, which then put us into cities and then put us into … And then we had the creation of cars, so we weren’t meeting on the streets, which then had us in this nuclear family, primarily, most of us in this single-family-dwelling situation where we aren’t really speaking to our neighbors. And most of us are connecting with each other through technology.
So this hole that I have felt in my life really feels like something has been taken away from us as humans, as interrelational beings, communal beings, that I think we need to look at to move forward.
TS: And I think what’s interesting is—I think a lot of times when people tune in to their own loneliness, they think, “Oh, there’s something about me. I’m … whatever. I’m too this, I’m too that, I am isolated.” It’s me, me, me, me, me. And really what you’re pointing to is that there’s a greater systemic context that we need to look at even to understand and appreciate our loneliness in a context. So I think really in many ways, Root and Ritual helps us understand that greater context, and how we can connect to our rootedness.
And you divide the book into four sections—Land, Lineage, Community, and Self—and how we can find our belonging or rootedness in each one of these areas. And I want to briefly touch on all four areas. And we’ll start with finding our belonging, our sense of belonging, in terms of our relationship to land. Tell me the journey you took to find a sense of connectivity, rootedness, in land where you live.
BP: Well, I am not someone who grew up with the crinkly-eyed grandmother with the accent from the homelands, who took me out into the forest after a rain to show me which mushrooms weren’t poisonous and which part of the plant to pick in order to be medicinally nourished for that time of year. I grew up in suburban California in tract housing, watching television in the 80s and 90s, eating processed food, fearing the sting of a bee and the poison of a mushroom, and went to the mall and did all that stuff.
If I go back further, I can see that I did want to climb in the trees, and I was interested in the way the ants moved on the sidewalk. But for the most part, it was a calling back to the natural world that happened to me in my 20s after I did the thing I did, the corporate climb-the-ladder, do-the-city thing, and still felt that hole, that ache.
And what called to me was like from farmers’ markets, and wild flowers on the side of the highway, and a real visual dream, like a daydream, of the way our ancestors once knew the ways of the land and could make medicine and help birth children and could make the soup from memory and had an ease in their bodies with the changing of the seasons and the waxing and waning of the moon. And I realized I did not feel that and I wanted to feel that. So it really was a calling back and just following my curiosity, teaching myself how to garden and learning about medicinal edible plants and just going step-by-step.
TS: In Root and Ritual, one of the things you write about is pursuing this question, “Find out whose land you occupy.” I thought that was really interesting. I’d never really thought about it. So first of all, explain that, and then we’ll talk about it some.
BP: Yeah. So part of this process of returning to our roots is acknowledging the history of how we are where we are today. Wherever you’re listening from, the land you live on is most likely not the land your great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents called home. And I think a really important part of returning to a sense of belonging, reclaiming who we are, is acknowledging the parts of history that maybe don’t feel so savory or are uncomfortable, filled with grief.
And so, one of those is the fact that those of us living in North America, or Turtle Island, are living on lands that other people, native people to this land, Indigenous people—it’s their original home. And so there’s a real movement now happening to know and name the people whose lands you live on, ceded or unceded.
So, I’m coming to you today from the lands of the Coast Miwok people who are still here today. And I think that brings a level of—it’s humbling, and it’s also connecting you to the bones that are buried beneath the soil, and helping bring a deeper connection to where you are, instead of this colonial concept of building on top, claiming ownership, just curating land to your desire. There’s a different energy there, one of reciprocity.
TS: Now, you live just north of San Francisco, and yet you gave voice and named a different way of acknowledging the land that you live on. How does that different way acknowledging the Indigenous people who lived on that land before you, how does that actually change things? How do you take that information and make it palpable, real? How does it change you?
BP: Well, I believe that many of us are living in this fog of colonization, whiteness, capitalism, where we can often just forget the history of these lands we live on, and how we got here, which is contributing to our sense of loneliness, which is contributing to our sense of unbelonging. And so, to name in honoring the land that you are standing on and the people who are the original stewards, tenders to this land, it’s actually shifting you from a passive way of being into a more active, engaged way of being, if you’re remembering whose land this originally was. Like, are you going to look at your garden differently? Are you going to look at your neighbors differently? I think it engages the nervous system in a deeper way.
I think so many of us need to humble ourselves to the natural living world, one that we are a part of. This whole concept of the term “nature” being a colonial concept that separates us. You go out into nature, well, we are of nature. That’s an Indegenous concept. Because Miwok, whose lands I live on, know that to this day. I’ve forgotten it though because of a lot of reasons, and it just was erased. But I can reclaim it enough through this simple act of naming, and other activities I share in the book.
TS: I’m going to press on this a little bit, if it’s OK?
TS: Because I was on your website, and you offer a link where you can go to that link, and you can type in your address, and you can find out which tribal people were on that land before you. So I typed in my home address, and I learned that the Arapaho and Cheyenne Indegenous people lived in this area where my home is in Boulder, Colorado. But I’m not exactly sure what to do with that information, just to be honest with you. I took it in, but I don’t know if I’ve yet been changed by it, really. And so, that’s why I’m pressing a little bit, because I want to go to the—your book is called Root and Ritual. I want to get to the root of this, because I feel like there’s something there that I haven’t quite gotten to yet.
BP: Yes. I appreciate your honesty with that, because you’re probably not alone. So, what I would encourage you to do with that information is to then look into, are these people still there today? Is there a tribal council? Is there a website for the tribe? Are their elders still gathering? Is there a way you can offer reparations, whether financially or with your time, that can engage you more deeply with these people who—some people will look up the names of the tribes of their lands, and they are gone. And I’m going to guess that they’re not gone, where you live. And then maybe you can learn about the treaties, the treaties that either gave them or took away their land. And that can give you more of a context, instead of just—naming is that first step, right?
Knowing the name is one thing. Then being able to speak to the suffering, the joy, their traditions. Can you know the names of the—what did they name each full moon? What do they eat? Maybe they can teach you about what native foods you can eat, maybe you can learn what a traditional meal is. It just opens up this pathway to connect more deeply with them and their ancestors who—you are a guest, basically, on that land. And then it can help you connect more deeply to Arapaho, Cheyenne land. I mean, Boulder is such a beautiful place. Like, what are the native foods there? What are the sacred trees? Where are the sacred sites where their ancestors are buried? That can only bring a deeper sense of connection to where you live.
TS: And I can tell that one of the things that comes up, and I think it would come up for anybody as they journey and say, “OK, I’m going to go deeper, I’m going to go deeper into this.” There’s something that you write about, which is confronting the pain of colonization. The pain for some people may be the grief, the guilt, all of that, that whole constellation. What do you have to say that can be helpful to people as they make that part of the passage?
BP: Yeah. Can be very overwhelming to look at that, particularly if you are descended from folks who settled these lands, which a lot of us are. Not all of us are. And I speak to my journey in that process, because I share first how I do it, and then I invite you to join me with that. And I think, in general, our culture has lost the ability to grieve as ritual, and so I can tell you about ways to take action, to engage in reparations, and ways to be a better steward of this land, and to be a better ancestor, which I do.
And I think the first step here is to be able to be with that pain, right? Be with the pain of the attempted wiping out of Indegenous people. Be with the pain of the history of slavery on this land. Be with the pain of the extinction of species. Be with that pain and move it. I know you’ve had Joanna Macy on your podcast. She has a beautiful, beautiful practice of working with feeling the grief and moving the grief. And I think it’s hard and scary. And it doesn’t kill us, actually, it engages us more deeply. Right? We’re moving from this passive sort of freeze response into a place of taking action, because we are in a time with changing climate, with the moving of the culture, with our sense of loneliness and unbelonging, to need to be in action toward being better ancestors ourselves.
TS: Now in terms of finding our belonging with the land, you talk about the whole notion of practicing reciprocity right where you live, wherever the earth, the natural environment is. Right? Talk more about that, and how you do that.
BP: Well, I have to thank Robin Wall Kimmerer and Braiding Sweetgrass for really planting that seed of understanding reciprocity in my daily life, this idea of extractive mindset that so many of us were born with. It’s the water we’re swimming in, right? What is for me, what can I take, without this idea of exchange, the reciprocity of equal give-and-take. A way that creates more life for us in any way. And that is an Indegenous concept that our own ancestors also practiced, where, if we are harvesting from our garden, what are we giving in thanks? And they offer ideas like, is it a song? Is it blowing a kiss? Is it leaving a strand of hair?
I have a friend who her first harvest from her garden. She’s been waiting for those ripe tomatoes and those juicy fruits from her fruit tree, and she offers it back to the land. She does not put it in her mouth, she puts it in a basket and she leaves it for the squirrels, and for the deer, and for the land spirits that she recognizes, too, to enjoy. And so, I love the first harvest of offering, that feels really important. But I find that when I have an urge to pick a flower, I even have— I’ve learned this from going to Ireland and working with Celtic women who are participating in Celtic shamanic practices of herbalism, of asking the plant, “May I pick this flower?” And actually waiting for the plant to nod, “Yes.”
And part of us go, “That is crazy.” But that’s also a part of us that has been severed from this living world. Right? The part of us that is like, “What? It’s just a flower.” But engaging in reciprocity with just asking a flower, “May I pick you? You’re so beautiful, may I pick you?” That spreads to how are we going to treat each other, right? How does that create more community care in a time where that is really where we’re being called to move to, taking care of each other in these times? How is that going to impact the rest of our world when we move from, “What can I get from this?” to “How can I be in reciprocity with this?”
TS: Now, Becca, let’s make sure we’re talking to that person who lives in a high-rise in an urban environment and says, “Boulder, north of San Francisco, this is all sounding really great. But how am I going to be in a relationship of reciprocity where I live in my very urban concrete land?”
BP: Yeah, well the sun still rises and the moon still rises and trees are planted—but they are trees, no matter what. So, there is a way to do that. You can put your feet on the earth in the park on the corner, you can ask for permission from the flowers you’re tending on your stoop. I think there are ways. Like, even a city sits atop soil and the earth. Even if it’s paved over, it’s there. And what waters move beneath the surface of that concrete jungle? It’s always there.
And that’s also something that took me a while to realize. We’re outside of the living world. You know, the living is everywhere, and there are ways. Even if it’s just energetic, right? Asking permission, giving thanks to the setting sun, these are old ancestral Indegenous concepts we can bring wherever we are.
TS: Beautiful. Now, in this section of Root and Ritual we were talking about finding our belonging or rootedness with the land, you have a section about how we relate to our home, whatever our home is, and you write, “I’ve learned to sit with the soul of my home and listen to what it wants.” And I thought to myself, “Oh, OK, that’s interesting.”
And I’m married to a woman who is in relationship with the soul of our home, and she often talks to me about it. But I have to say, it’s still a little mysterious to me that what this means—the soul of our home, listening to it. So, help me understand what that means to you.
BP: Well, I’m going to bring in a pop culture reference here to this craze that’s happening with Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. And then she had a Netflix series where she came into homes and she helped them tidy up. And in the beginning of every episode, before she begins the tidying, she sits in the middle of the house, she puts her hands on the floor, and she thanks the house, and she asks permission to tidy it up. And every time the owners of the house start crying. And I thought, “Well, there is a woman who understands the soul of a home.”
It’s an animist concept, right? It’s an animist belief, which is also an ancestral Indegenous belief that everything around us is alive in some way. And if that’s true, how would we treat things if we knew that they were alive? So, sitting with the soul of a home can really help us shift our energy around feeling flat, or needing to change, or needing to keep up with the Joneses in some way to actually seeing our home as being in a relationship with it.
So, as someone who used to be embarrassed by the mess and wanted to curate my space to look like a magazine versus how it may feel to me, it has been a really important way for me, particularly after the last year and a half of being in my home during a pandemic, really sitting with, what does this home love? And it turns out it’s some toys on the floor, and soup bubbling on the stove, and candles on the mantel. And it’s just been a beautiful way for me to shift the energy that I know so many of us struggle with. Like, “Oh, my house isn’t feeling right.” It’s engaging with the home as if it had a soul.
TS: OK. So let’s talk to that person who says, “I want to try this. I want to give it a go. I want to hear what the soul of my home wants.” Can you help them get a little traction with this? I’ve never done this before, I’m just listening to my own ideas. I know I should clean that closet out. So, is that really the soul of my own talking?
BP: That’s a great question. I’m sure it’s different for every person, but my intuitive response is to get quiet. And maybe there’s some sort of meditation you can do with listening first, and then trusting what you hear, which can sometimes be hard. Like, did I make that up? Or is this really true? Is this what I want? This is a practice. If we’re coming from this great severing from all these concepts, it’s going to feel a little wobbly at times, but that’s what I would say: start with just getting silent, maybe lighting a candle, and just saying, “Hey, house, apartment, townhouse. What is it you need that I’m not giving you?” Maybe it’s clean the toilets, maybe it’s a few more plants. And just follow that thread, make a practice of doing it once a month and see what happens.
TS: It’s a powerful phrase you just used, this great severing of our root system, really.
BP: Yes. Yes, it’s like we’ve—when you pull up a carrot out of the ground, you can see how long that carrot is. That’s why I feel like so much of that has happened to us and our ancestors over just the last few hundred years. We’ve been uprooted in so many ways, not just through the naturalness that is human migration, but it’s our disconnection from our own bodies, from our own intuition, from our spirituality, from knowing and feeling connection to a tree. It’s deep and it’s wide, and it’s going to take time to reestablish our roots in the earth in a way that feels like, “OK, we’re doing this.”
TS: Now, in Root and Ritual, you start—the first section of the book is about our belonging with land and home. And then you move into the second section, belonging in terms of our lineage, and you’ve mentioned a few times ancestors and ancestry. So, I’d like to understand more what belonging in terms of lineage means to you, and the personal journey you have been on to reclaim your own sense of lineage.
BP: Well, that is very personal to every single human being. It’s a very personal story, and definitely brings in layers of privilege. I am descended from the continent of Europe, and so in that white privilege I have so much data I can access through ancestry websites, documentation, the DNA test. There’s so much genealogically I have access to that has been very helpful to me in rewriting the story of being, like, a cultureless white girl from Northern California.
And so in the book, I offer ways for people with various stories, including adoption, being of mixed race, not wanting to really go the genealogical route due to family trauma—it just not feeling like a yes. There are so many ways you can access. I mean, we have millions of ancestors, and all of them lived so that we could be alive today. And they all have stories. Some of them are pretty awful, and some of them are incredible. And so, I took the journey of rewriting the story that I am cultureless, I am bland, in order to really feel a deeper connection to who and where I come from. And it led me down all these pathways.
One of my chapters is talking about connecting to ancestors through food and folklore, very popular chapter in all my interviews so far, because food is quite emotional for us. And I talk about how I’m lucky enough to have gotten access to diary entries from my great-great-great-grandmother that were then transcribed and copied to find out about the life-changing lima bean soup, this lima bean soup that was given to my great-grandmother when she was six years old. And she had emigrated from Poland to New Orleans, lived in factory housing, working at six years old in a shrimp factory. The factory housing burned down, they were penniless on the streets, they were going to go drown themselves in the river.
And talking about community care, a woman recognized them, said, “Don’t do it,” brought them in. And what my great-great-grandmother could remember was the life-changing lima bean soup she was given. So, when I read that I thought, “Wow! The role of food in being the story of why I’m here today.” Because my great-grandmother had my grandmother, who had my father, who had me. That’s one pathway that took me on this journey.
And so, in my encouragement to all of us going on our own journeys of ancestral connection, I say, it’s like a tangled web that we’re reweaving back together, and you sort of follow your curiosity in what’s presented to you, whether it’s through dreams, whether it’s through DNA results, whether it’s through genealogy, whether it’s through a connection to a plant or a star. There are so many ways for us to feel a connection to all that we came from to be here today.
TS: Now, Becca, I’m not that good at math or anything, but when you said we each have millions of ancestors, I had a moment I was trying to see the family tree and go back and—is that what you mean when you say we each have millions of ancestors?
BP: Yeah. Right. Because if two people come together and then they have a child, and just think it just splits and splits and splits and splits. If you do the math it’s—oh, yeah, it’s a lot.
TS: Now, you write in the book, “I want to encourage you to think beyond the last two or three generations, and connect to the mighty dead.” And that caught my attention, this idea of moving beyond just our great-grandparents were—and the mighty dead. Who are the mighty dead?
BP: Yes. This is a concept that I heard about many years ago to really speak to the nameless, faceless ones we come from. This is especially helpful for folks who do not want to go near any relatives, near ancestors, right? The last few generations. No, thank you. So, the mighty dead would be the nameless, faceless ones who lived so long ago, or maybe like aren’t even human. If you look at the evolution of ourselves and our DNA, it’s pretty wild, far-out stuff. Is it mushroom? Is it tree? Is it star? And that it can feel safer for a lot of people to connect in that deeper way. It’s conceptually pretty esoteric, and it’s also of deep comfort to many.
TS: Now, I’d like to know, personally, in terms of your own sense of belonging, outside of the lima bean soup, how all the research you’ve done, everything you’ve discovered, knowing your ancestry, how that’s changed you and affected you in terms of feeling more like you belong as a person.
BP: I think for me, there’s a comfort that comes from—I’m a very visual person. So oftentimes, when I’m feeling alone in my experience of the world, I remember that there are many who came before me. And they all have stories, whether I know them or I sense them or I don’t know them. I remember I was about to give birth to my child a little over a year ago, and I was feeling really scared of birth, and then I thought about all the birthing people of my lineage, probably millions, who have done that before. And in what circumstances did they give birth? In covered wagons, under trees, in hospitals, in homes? And there was a comfort in calling them to my side in my moment of real doubt and real discomfort and fear, to help me do something that I didn’t feel like I could do alone.
So, there’s something in—this is an ancestral Indegenous concept of the ever-happening. I talk about mythic time, ancestral time. In many Indegenous languages there is no past or future, everything is ever-happening. So, if everything is ever-happening, then I can call my ancestors, what can be known as the bright and well ones, right? The ones who are in a healthy way to come and support me in times when I need them. That has been the biggest and most recent impact to me that has felt near and dear.
TS: That’s a terrific example. Terrific example. And I can imagine whoever’s listening, thinking about whatever challenge they might be facing and thinking about how our millions of ancestors went through whatever challenge that might be, and how that could be a lot of support. That’s beautiful. Thank you.
Now, I know you’ve gone on an ancestral pilgrimage. And you write, “Physically being on ancestral lands creates a surge of rootedness.” So, I’d like to know more about that. Tell us the story of an ancestral pilgrimage that you went on, and what happened.
BP: Well, I mean, we’re talking in a time where travel is much more complicated than it used to be. But going back to a time when there was more of an ease in booking a plane ticket and going somewhere, again, in needing to rewrite my story of not belonging here, not belonging anywhere, and then doing the research to see, “Oh, there’s …” I have a general knowing of lands, not just like countries, but like bioregions, where my ancestors lived at a time.
I wanted to go there and made it a priority to go there. So one of them is Scotland. My maiden name is Guthrie, and that’s a Scottish name. And I went to the Highlands of Scotland, and went to the Hebrides, just a cropping of islands on the west coast of Scotland, and I went to the Isle of Skye. And I remember I was there and I felt compelled to go wild swimming. And it’s very cold in the waters there, lochs and lochans everywhere, peat-colored, just like the color of tea.
And I found a local guide to take me and my partner hiking to these remote lochs, where we would strip down and he would teach us how to breathe in cold water. And we would swim in these freshwater lochs just surrounded by wild sheep, highland cows, and the cloudy skies. And that experience in particular—it was also the summer solstice, so it was like the sun was never not down, and I remember being in these waters. I mean, I had learned how to breathe enough that I actually felt kind of warm in my body in these very—like 35 degree waters.
And I felt a sense of like, I am of these waters. These waters are in me. My ancestors drink these waters. These waters come from a sky over these lands. It just felt so moving to me and so comforting in a situation that you wouldn’t associate with comfortable, a situation you would associate with like, “Whoa, that was hardcore, Becca.” But actually, it just felt so sweet to me. And then we’d get out, we’d bundle up, we’d have a little bit of whiskey, and then we’d walk back.
And all of a sudden, I was looking at like the bog cotton growing out of these highland cow pies. And I could just see this land with such an appreciation for its beauty. Not that I can’t do that on lands my ancestors are not from, but it just brought a soothing to my body to be like my … And I have very muscular legs. It’s the joke in my family, like, “Oh, those are Scottish legs for hiking the hills of the Highlands.” I was hiking the hills of the Highlands with these thighs, and thinking, “Well, here I’m doing it, just like the great-great-great-great-greats did it.” It brings a sense of soothing to the yearning of my heart.
TS: You mentioned your pregnancy and birth, and being a new mom. And I’m curious, as a new mom bringing your child into the world, if all the lineage work that you’ve done informed that process in some interesting way? Made you look at your child perhaps differently?
BP: Absolutely. I actually had quite a journey in conceiving. I had quite a bit of loss in trying to conceive a child. So, my daughter was very much consciously conceived. I know not everyone has that story. But it took many years to finally get her on Earth. And in that time, again, in calling upon the ancestors to birth her, I was calling my ancestors who had lost babies, which is a very common ancestral story. And at times feeling really, really just filled with grief.
Like, it was almost too much. My desire for a child was just almost too much to hold, and really calling upon ancestors and learning the stories of my ancestors who had experienced pregnancy loss and who had had successfully had children, and bringing them all together so that now I have this child who, after many years, was born right in the pandemic. And I thought, “Well, here’s some timing. We’re born right in the time where the land was burning around us.” And I thought, OK, so there’s got to be some sort of—I got mythic in a way for me, where I just think about the story of this ancestor I’ve created.
I mean, I remember I wrote her birth story in this book I got, and I just think now, this is an ancestral artifact that then, who will read this someday, if they’re lucky enough to? That I have that view now of being an ancestor and creating an ancestor for the future, that brings deeper meaning to the way our lives unfold.
TS: I want to talk, Becca, to that person who’s listening, who says, “Look, unlike Becca, there’s not a bunch of research I can do to find out what’s going on more than two or three generations back. I don’t have the information. I do feel a severing, I don’t feel connected to a cultural or geographic root system. And I really don’t know what to do about it. And it is a source of pain and loneliness for me, that I don’t have that information, and I don’t know how to get it.”
BP: Yeah. So, in the book I offer a myriad of ways to connect to who and what we come from. It’s not just who writes what. And one of the ways that I have found to be most helpful is dreamwork. I am trained in this concept of Indegenous dreaming, which is seeing the dream world as being just as valid as the waking world. And in fact, all of our ancestors used dreamwork as divination work, as a way to make meaning of what we’re experiencing.
And so oftentimes, when people come to me without that access and feeling really lost and unrooted, I ask them to go to their dreams. And I ask them to follow their curiosities. Is there a plant that’s calling to you? Is there a stone that’s calling to you? And can you speak to the mighty dead, the nameless, faceless ones that you don’t know where they lived in the world, or you don’t know their story? But can you ask for support from them and see what comes to you, whether it’s when you’re awake and journaling or whatever, or looking into the flames of a fire scrying, or if you’re dreaming? And to just follow it. Even if it feels like you’re pretending for a little bit, to just follow it and to see what comes of it, because that is valid as well.
TS: You said the word “scrying.” What does that mean? What does that mean?
BP: Scrying is a practice of divination by looking at an object. So the most common in pop culture we know is looking in a crystal ball.
TS: The tea leaves.
BP: The tea leaves. Right? But it can be making meaning of the shapes of a cloud. Right? Or looking at the way the wind blows through tree leaves, or looking into the flames of a fire. That’s my favorite one. I bring in these concepts in the book not to make them seem like magical, mystical, otherworldly things, but actually practices our ancestors made a part of their life to make meaning of what their experiences of life were.
TS: OK. I want to make sure we touch on the final two sections of Root and Ritual. You talk about finding our belonging through community. And you mentioned that you yourself think you felt for a long time—I don’t know if you used the word outsider, but that was the feeling that I had. You didn’t feel that you had necessarily a supportive community. How have you worked to generate a shift in that so that you belong in community?
BP: Yeah. Well, I can’t really say what I did before speaking to all the ways toxic relating, or unhealthy relating, were modeled for me growing up. I also had—I was in Girl Scouts and had these examples of like beautiful friendships and connections with my community. But I also saw betrayal, I experienced betrayal, I was one who betrayed. What was modeled for me with women in particular was like cattiness and untrustworthiness. And it took a real effort on my part to say, first of all, name what my desire was, which was I want to feel close kinship and trust with community members, particularly women’s, really wanting to feel sisterhood, as someone who didn’t have a sister.
And the more I talked about it, the more people would say to me like, “Yeah, I was burned bad,” or, “No, I’m just not into that sort of thing.” And so, what I have been in the practice of, which has actually been kind of challenging but worthwhile, is being in healthy community settings, where I am both modeling and practicing with others. Witnessing, not trying to fix people, not trying to please people, and realizing it’s like an atrophied muscle that takes some building.
I find particularly, as people are coming back together with the pandemic waning, it’s happening for us again, where we feel a little socially awkward and nervous, and we’re afraid people are judging us, so we’re judging them. And community care is the way, like I said before. So, how can we be with conflict? Talk about that right now. Right? How can we be with differing opinion? How can we love each other and listen to each other and really be there for each other? That’s a practice I’ll be in for the rest of my life.
TS: You mentioned having a history where there was pain and betrayal in friendships. And one of the interesting parts of Root and Ritual in the section is you offer a ritual for letting go of all the ways you’ve been hurt in friendships. And I wonder if you can share that if people were like, “That’s my story, I’ve just been so hurt”?
BP: Yes. I’m sorry to everyone who has experienced that. I’m sorry you’ve been hurt. That’s really painful. And I think in order to call in that which you long for, which is healthy, safe community, you’ve got to really let go and release, not let go and forget, right? In honoring the ways you’ve been betrayed, whether by burying it in the earth, or burning it in a fire. Really that physical symbolizing, right? That ritualizing of, I want to end this suffering so that I can do a new way.
I truly had a pivot in my life where it was like, “Oh, I’m not going to just drink wine and talk crap about the friends who aren’t in the room, I’m going to bring a different energy into this room.” And I think ritual helps us completely shift, whether it’s maybe it’s not stopping to talk crap, or maybe it’s starting to lean in to trust, leaning in to vulnerability, and sharing the tenderest part of ourselves with each other, because that is actually what creates connection.
TS: It’s interesting you mentioned bury it, like write it on a sheet of paper, bury it, or burn the sheet of paper. Recently I participated in a ritual where I let go of some grievances by throwing sticks into a river. And you’d think like, “OK, pick up a bunch of sticks, throw them in the river.” And I myself was a little bit like, “OK. I’m going to try it.” But I found this very simple act, throwing sticks into a river and watching the river take the sticks, there was something powerful in the doing that wasn’t the same as just saying out loud, “I’m, …” So, I’d like to hear more why, if we bury it, burn it, or throw it in a river, what is happening that makes it more palpable, more effective?
BP: Well, it’s somatic. So, so many of us live in our heads, and that’s really been modeled for us by our culture. But when we bring a physicality, that’s what ritual really provides. It’s taking what is inside of us and bringing it exterior. And then the witnessing of it, whether it’s being witnessed by other people, by ourselves, by the trees, by the river, it’s a way to shift the energy. A lot of us are trying to think our way out of things, and that doesn’t usually work. That ritual has been around a long time, a long time, and it can be simple. Throwing of the sticks, it’s a movement of the body that makes us believe it is so.
TS: It’s true. I mean, going into your backyard and burying something. I mean …
BP: Oh, yeah. Give it to the earth, it’ll compost it into fuel for the worms and the roots and the waters. That feels good, right?
TS: Yes. All right. Let’s touch on the last section of Root and Ritual, which you say in some ways is the most important, belonging in terms of our very own self, belonging with our body and our self. And you talk a little bit that for you, the journey of accepting your body, feeling a sense of belonging inside your physical frame, was quite a journey, wasn’t just like presto magical. So share a little bit about that.
BP: Presto magical, nope, not that. Yeah. I was pretty aware of the ways in which my body did not fit into the ideal mold of the beauty-industrial complex pretty early. I have a daughter now, so I think that is pretty early. And that really took me on a wild ride with disordered eating and a lot of internalized shame and crying on the fitting room floor of Macy’s at the age of 13 and all these ways. I just felt bad and wrong for inhabiting my first home, right? This body that my soul resides in, this sacred thing. This is like the vehicle of my life that holds—it is a temple. And I’ve been told that, and it took me a long time to believe it. A lot of heartache and feeling bad and wrong.
There’s this phrase that I use in the book from my friend, Mara Glatzel, who’s also a Sounds True author of, “You Are Sacred Land.” And that really brought a connection point, which is another Indegenous concept of our body being the earth, and our earth being the body. It’s like, I would never do this in my beloved garden, why would I do this to my body, the way I think of it, the way I treat it?
So, I’m in no way on the other side of feeling fully presto magical in this space. I still feel very caught up at times, particularly being postpartum, with the ideals of the beauty industry. But there is a deeper understanding of me and nature being one, this concept of rewilding, that I ebb and flow with the cycles of the moon and the seasons. And that my body is going to expand and contract and move with the experiences of my life. That’s actually a big relief to the part of myself that has always wanted to change it or make it fit into some sort of mold, as if it is one static thing instead of a living, breathing creature.
TS: What would you say to that person who hears what you’re saying, your body is sacred land, and part of them believes it, but part of them just still feels stuck in some kind of shame thing, and they don’t quite know how to get out of it?
BP: Oh, yeah. Well, I’d say find spaces where you can talk about it. Right? The shame likes to live in the darkness. Shame likes to live in the place where you don’t talk about it. So Brené Brown talks about, I think, the more we can have that experience of, “Oh, I’m feeling that as well,” I think we can lift the paralysis that shame does to us, particularly around body, which then creates these dark cycles of leaving our bodies, right? Dissociating, numbing, whatever practices we do to not feel that shame and not feel that pain.
I have found as a new mother to just be in spaces with other new mothers and talk about like, “My body feels different, and I’m kind of judging it today.” And having other folks in that space say, “Yeah, I know what you mean. Thank you for saying that.” That just lifts the shackles.
TS: Now, you use this phrase that I picked up on, I already mentioned it, because I found it really impacted me, “the great severing.” And then I thought to myself, well, OK, so here we are, we’re finding our roots now, your book’s called Root and Ritual, we’re finding the ways we’re rooted. Is there an image for you that occurs to you when you experience yourself as someone who is actually rooted in some ways, or an image that occurs to you for that?
BP: Yes. What a wonderful question. Absolutely. One of my practices in meditation is visualizing myself as a wise old oak tree. Like, my roots spread down into the soil and wide, and they’re nourished. And I can visualize my roots in the soil, and all the creatures and organisms that are fed in reciprocity beneath the soil, and a very strong, thick trunk, like a strong back, particularly someone with back pain, it’s like a strong healthy back, and then these beautiful leaves reaching out every which way up towards the sky. That, to me, feels like one who is rooted and wise.
TS: So you’re like a human tree?
BP: That’s what I want to be.
TS: Beautiful. One final question for you, Becca. Toward the end of the book you write that the journey of belonging can always be framed by asking ourselves, “What do I long for?” And letting the answer be witnessed by others. And I wanted to hear a little bit the part about being witnessed by others, and why that’s so important on the journey of belonging.
BP: Witnessing is key, and something I’ve realized I crave and fear at the same time. And it really comes from rites-of-passage theory, rites of passage being a natural transition in the way we are seen in our community. And this happens throughout our lives, no matter what our cultural identity is. So I recently went through one for being one without children to one with children. When one gets married, when some—now it can happen when buying a new home or getting a new job.
But in the three phases of a rite of passage, there’s pre-liminal, liminal, and post-liminal, or who you were before the entrance and the severing, from where you were before the transition, and then being reentered and witnessed by your community as changed. You’re seen as changed. This idea of being seen is proof that we are communal beings, whether you identify as an introvert or not. Being witnessed in what you long for, being witnessed in what you desire to be seen as, and do in your life.
I think particularly in this time, when we’re recognizing that things aren’t working, we’re lonely, we don’t feel a sense of belonging, we feel unrooted, bringing and inviting our community in to see us in our transformation, to see us in our reclaiming, is where we can settle into that, into a sense of reestablishing our roots.
TS: And even just asking ourselves this question: What do I long for? You can answer that at a lot of different levels. There’s kind of a surface level of something you might long for, and then there’s kind of the deepest longing inside of you. I wonder what you have to say about that.
BP: Oh, yeah, it’s a question we’ll be answering for as long as we’re privileged to be alive. Right? And is it, do you long to feel at ease in your body? Do you long to feel a sense of cultural identity? Do you long to feel that you know the plants, the land you live on, and they know you? Do you long to feel like you have community you can call upon and they can call upon you? All of these are true and valid. And it’s like the onion you just keep healing to go deeper and deeper, that I think takes us to a sense of wise eldership in our lives.
TS: And your book, Becca Piastrelli, is a beautiful guide. It’s a beautiful book to sit with to receive instructions and suggestions and possible rituals, recipes, all kinds of things. It’s chock-full. It’s, I think, a true resource for people on rooting ourselves and using ritual to do so. The book is called Root and Ritual: Timeless Ways to Connect to Land, Lineage, Community, and the Self. What an accomplishment for such a young person, really.
BP: Thank you so much. It’s definitely a dream realized, and very exciting to put out into the world.
TS: I’ve been talking with Becca Piastrelli, the author of the new book, Root and Ritual. Thanks so much for being with us.
Thank you for listening to Insights at the Edge. You can read a full transcript of today’s interview at SoundsTrue.com/podcast. And if you’re interested, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app. And also if you feel inspired, head to iTunes and leave Insights at the Edge a review. I love getting your feedback, being in connection with you, and learning how we can continue to evolve and improve our program. Working together, I believe, we can create a kinder and wiser world. SoundsTrue.com: waking up the world.