My Story: Reconnecting with My Spiritual Roots for My Mental Health

By Saniya Ghanoui —

MF describes their process of rekindling their spiritual roots and the significance it played in their mental health journey.

This is an audio recording only.


OBOS Today: I wonder if you could talk about how that experience was, reconnecting with your culture later in life, I think you said in your mid-30s, and how that came about.

MF: In the chronology of my life, again you’re Mormon, went to Stanford, did a bunch of academic programs, I actually did an internship with the National Institute of Health at the National Institute of Neurology Disorders and Stroke. And then living in the San Francisco Bay Area, that was then the upcoming tech boom, in 2008 when the housing crisis came, um—

As a non-traditional student who had taken time away from Stanford, I found myself trying to find a job, internship, this and temporary work, to survive in the Bay Area, and so there was a lot of physical movement that I had undertaken, and really did not feel at any way centered or grounded. That’s when I tried to attempt to find a centering space, with the Jungian Institute, with my psychotherapist, with my counselors.

And finally, as an adult, after going through intense addiction to alcohol in my 20s, as a queer, non-binary person living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I always didn’t feel that there’s a space for me that I belong to, and so it was my returning home, my physical return home, that also reignited my spiritual return home. And I could say that probably, one of the first instances where I was awakened to this need was assisting my fellow Native American Stanford friend, who happens to be Northern Cheyenne, and in their culture, they are required to do four pilgrimages to their sacred mountain throughout their lifetime. And I was in the midst of addiction, and I was invited as a guest to cook food for their entire camp, which range anywhere from 10 to 30 people, for over a course of four days. And when I found the physical space to be with fellow Native American people, I found that that reawakened my need to return to my own traditional ways of spirituality.

So, as for the Navajo, and this is public information that I can share, as the Navajo, you have a set of tools. In the Maori language, the word for knowledge is “basket” or “kete,” so in my sort of basket that I created for myself as an adult includes corn pollen, which is a very sacred item, it’s how we pray. There are very specific protocols that we use. Growing up, I never had these tools on my own. There was the gifting of sweet grass, and also burning of cedar, that I used at regular intervals. And as an adult, I found that these items, by imbuing them with more significance, I add more weight in my life. And the more that I regularly practiced and used and had access to these resources, which is next in the land being my spiritual place of significance, I found that these aided me in my journey to wellness more than the medication, and— for example, I was just as involved, more than with checking with my probation officer, more than going to AA meetings. That’s because there was this energy of harvesting these items myself, to connecting people who knew the spiritual significance of these items, to incorporating these practices in my everyday life.