I had an advisor in undergrad tell me not to bother applying to graduate school (at the time I wanted a Ph.D in Sociology) because I wouldn’t get in due to my poor writing skills and because I wasn’t smart enough. Four years later I got in to NYU for my Master’s degree. It took four years for me to get over what he said to me senior year.
Jade was the first person who made me feel like I actually had something to offer with my writing skills. She did make me her personal editor throughout her college years—a job I gladly took on because I’d do anything for my niece. We would joke about how I would walk across the stage with her at graduation because her grades were also my grades since I edited all her papers! LOL! Losing her is a pain unimaginable. I had to do something with the grief. So I listened to the voice that told me to apply for the Ph.D program at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) for East-West Psychology. I had one week to get it all together. I’ve never written an autobiographical statement that flowed as easily as this one. My bestie said it needed no edits. I give thanks to Jade and the rest of the ancestor gang gang gang for moving my fingers across the keyboard to so eloquently put down the thoughts in my head and getting me accepted for the Fall of 2019. Ya girl about to be a Doctor!
"Titi, call me back it's an emergency." Hello?
"Titi, Nana died" ... who?
"Nana" ... Who?
"Jade" ... WHAT?
A wave of confusion rushed over me —Jade, my niece, Nana was dead. I understood who she meant from the first time she said her name but there was a disconnect between what my ears were taking in and what my brain and heart could process.
And so began my first encounter with death guided by my deep spiritual practice as an Ifa priestess combined with my practices of yoga, meditation and pranayama.
Deep breath in, Minerva, deep breath out. Stay grounded, it's time to elevate her spirit in the ancestral realm — and my work began.
I have been cultivating a seed in my thoughts; you could even call it a vision or a prayer for how I want to shift our current paradigm surrounding death, funerals and rituals around the transition of Spirit from our realm to the other. My niece's death was the catalyst in pushing forth the seed from my thoughts into applying for the PhD Program at CIIS.
Let's start at the beginning, shall we? There are three things in my life that have always been a constant: a quest for Spirituality, a thirst for education and a commitment to family/community. As a child I was creative, loved to read, played
teacher with my stuffed animals. I was curious about God and Spirit and explored different churches, paths and practices — thankfully my mother supported my inquisitive nature and encouraged me to explore. While my love for family runs deep, that love extends to my community and I always knew no matter what career choice I made, it had to be in service to my community.
I went from wanting to be a lawyer, judge, teacher, child psychologist, trying the Peace Corps, to deciding that the best career path would be to utilize my strong organizational, leadership and management skills with a non-profit organization with programming aligned with my morals and integrity. That's how I ended up with the International Rescue Committee for seven years of my professional career; first as their Refugee Youth Program Manager and then as their International Health Unit Manager. I organized after work and on weekends with grassroots feminist organizations. I thought I had my entire life figured out. I applied for a PhD program at Columbia University, Sociology in Education. I applied for a yearlong fellowship. I was making strides in becoming the person I thought I was suppose to be, until one day it all came crashing down. After making it to the final rounds of both programs, I got denied on the same day— devastated doesn't even do justice to how I felt. And in that moment, I completely surrendered. I laid in bed and spoke to the universe: ok universe, obviously I had it all wrong, I know you always got my back so now I'm surrendering control, you show me where my true alignment belongs.
That summer I decided to enroll in yoga teacher training and upon its completion I would quit my job, leave my apartment and begin what I called "healing my ancestral wounds." I would spend time with my only living grandparent, my grandmother in Florida and then I would travel to the lands of my mother, Puerto Rico and the lands of my father, Dominican Republic to understand myself better by understanding my ancestors and my lineage.
It was not as pretty as "eat, pray, love", in fact I met my darkness for the first time, head on and it was not easy. But the promise I made to myself grounded me to stay, sit, embrace, cultivate maitri and heal. If I was going to use the tools of yoga philosophy to create spaces and experiences for my community to heal, I needed to experience them first.
I moved to the bay area almost six years ago, in a continued search of a deeper meaning of who I was spiritually and to align myself to my dharmic path. The philosophy and practices of yoga opened up the doorway. Meditation gave me the tools and space to explore the path but it was finding Ifa that gave me my sense of home and purpose.
As I grew in my role as a yoga teacher, I continued to learn the secrets of earth- based medicine and living. I became a certified Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor and am a priestess of Oya in Ifa. I started Roots Healing to cultivate spaces that combine
these medicines for the liberation of my communities from engrained and systemic oppression and for spiritual elevation.
Over time as my practice of ancestral reverence deepened, so has my yearning to spread its wisdom. The last nine months I have spent in white, as part of a yearlong ceremony called iyaworaje in Ifa and during this time I have developed a desire to shift our cultural awareness of death, the ancestral realms and our relationship to it. Wanting to honor our dead but uplifting their spirits, holding celebratory ceremonies instead of depressing gatherings; aching to hold space for the living left with grief in a way that infuses the teachings of Yoga, Ayurveda, Ifa and other earth medicine.
My life story is uniquely mine and yet part of a larger fabric of consciousness that ties us all together. Each chapter was leading me to this moment once again, realigning and combining my gifts to be of the greatest service to my community— because none of us are free until all of us are free.