Friday, October 12, 2012
Talk to your ancestors
A simple ancestor altar. From left to right, my father, my mother, sister Karen with sister Deborah and me, the baby. (I love being held in the arms of the ancestors.) At the right is my dog, Jake. The objects represent ancestors of spirit, animal and stone. This is where I talk to my ancestors.
Throughout human history, from the north pole to the south pole, in every culture I know about, we have talked to our beloved ancestors. We honor our lineages, we remember those who came before us, those who brought us into this world. In every culture I know about, there is a custom that addresses the need for contact with those who are no longer physically alive. Whether it happens in ritual, or during prayer, while visiting the grave or burial mound, while on our knees beside the bed with palms pressed together, whether aloud or in our minds or in our dreams, we human beings have always talked to those who came before. We tell our stories, ask for advice. We honor the memory of our ancestors. It is an essential part of being human.
The fact that we don't do this in my society at this moment in time is one of the reasons we as a culture are so spiritually impoverished. We buy more and more stuff, hoping to fill the internal void that should be replete with faith, awe, reverence, and mystery. Stuff will never fill that void! But we keep trying.
Now please don't ask me to prove to you that the ancestors are listening. I can't. No one has ever been able to prove it, and if someone does, well, I for one will be very surprised. Can you prove to me that love is "real?" Of course you can't, but you feel it - at least I hope you feel love. Good lord.
Talking to the ancestors is not a science, it is an art, perhaps one of the most sincere of all the arts. If you feel self conscious, you wouldn't be the first, nor will you be the last. Opening the heart to the incomprehensible is an act of valour. It takes courage. It's the proverbial leap of faith, hence challenging, but not that daunting, because it's a leap humans have been taking since the dawn of our species. In my society, we tend to forget we are the freaks, we are the anomaly, dismissing the ancestors as we do. Cultural hubris, in my society, knows no bounds. We hunger for connection but are too rational to allow ourselves the beauty of our old rituals. The rational mind can not feed the soul. Hence, we go shopping.
It won't hurt anyone if you try, will it? It can be our little secret. I won't tell, I promise. Find a time/space in which you're comfortable, grounded, and willing. Think of an ancestor you loved and who loved you, "beyond all reason" as one of my friends says. Then talk, just as you would have with these beloved people before they passed away. Talk out loud or just in your mind and heart. Say what you wish you had while they were still here. You can say anything - why not?
Most people discover it's a lot easier than they thought, once they get started. I'm not surprised. Human beings have been talking to their ancestors for aeons, literally for a hundred thousand years, probably longer. It's like riding a bike, even if you have never tried.
Talking to the ancestors is healing to body, mind and spirit. Also, don't dismiss the possibility that something very wise might come to you in the midst of the conversation. It has been known to happen!
May you feel the mysterious and comforting sense of connection with the generations that preceded you and the ones yet to come. We are part of a chain of generations; we are part of the human family. Knowing that helps everything. Believe me. Shalom.