I have been trying to see the way forward, looking for ways to understand where I should devote my energies. Ways to get ready for the future. This isn’t an easy task, because we are all in a situation that hasn’t occurred in our lifetime, or in our parents lifetime. A pandemic like this hasn’t been here since my oldest grandfather (now an ancestor) was only 1 year old. Nobody I can ask has experience with what I am facing right now. On my search for answers, I am finding an absence.
Much can be learned from the past, but in this case what I have learned from the research I have been doing on the 1918 Influenza epidemic leads to more questions than answers I can put into practice. The questions lead to ideologies instead of solutions, to inflexibility instead of innovation, and to priorities that certainly aren’t mine because I see what they would bring into my life.
Plenty of voices around me are telling me that if I give them some money or some of my time, they will tell me how to make it all go back to normal, how to return things to the way they were, how to stop worrying and focus on marketing, or how to forget what is happening and start binge-watching my choice of shows. Here again I end up looking at ideas of “normal” that don’t correspond to mine and a romanticization of a time that was actually the direct cause of this one, and not likely to contain its solution. The rose-colored glasses have thick lenses and are easy to come by. I choose not to accept a pair so that I can avoid stumbling as I take a step forward. As I look around at my memories of last year, and the years just before that, more questions arrive.
In my previous post on the Way of the Cornucopia I looked into some of what is behind these questions. Here I want to explore sources of advice and wisdom. To do that, we need to step out of the stream of voices and move at a different rate. We might very well have time to do that now, after all. Let’s close the social media, leave the Zoom meeting, turn off the computer, put away the smartphone, push the little button on the TV that leaves its vast screen black and empty. What do we have if we do that?
We have ourselves and all of the things that belong truly to us. We have all that is genuine and all that is difficult about who we are and what choices we have made so far in life. A lot of what is being said right now reads to me as what happens when people who don’t like what they see in the mirror area at a loss for how to distract themselves. In these times it is getting harder to confuse distraction with meaning.
We also have whatever spirituality or religion we may be a part of. When I say this I do not mean the power structures that can sometimes go with these words. I mean the observable impacts of our personal version of these things as we actually practice them. Attending a ritual is a cultural practice that includes many other people. What happens in our live afterwards is ours on a much deeper level.
For me, this includes an ongoing ancestor practice where I seek to heal the trans-generational trauma that has wreaked so much havoc in my life, and in the life of some of my blood relations. I am not unusual in having this to deal with. Most (maybe all) of us share some version of this experience. What is a little different about me in this case is that I have made the choice to acknowledge something that is deeply uncomfortable and make an effort to change it.
This might not at first appear to have much to do with my search for practical solutions to looking for the path forward here and now. Let’s look a little below the surface. In a nation that doesn’t even acknowledge its dead most of the time, much less mourn them or respect them, there is so much emptiness and confusion in the lives of the living. Doubt is a very effective tool for reinforcing the power structures of the highly privileged where I live, but it doesn’t help when faced with a decision in a pressure situation like this. Doubt may have helped you look suitably disenchanted as you held your drink with its artisanal ice cube at a party a couple years ago, but it won’t help you respond to the death of a family member or to prolonged isolation this month or today.
This is where my ancestors come in. I find that an ancestor practice can have profound effects on subtle levels in times like these. I am their living descendant, and they care a great deal about making sure that this is still the case. My practice is a useful source of wisdom because nobody has my back like my healthy and whole ancestors from times past when people had a better idea than I do how to navigate extreme uncertainty and challenges.
Many of them lived through catastrophic changes like the medieval Black Plague, the Late Bronze Age Collapse, the climate change at the end of the Ice Age, earthquakes, fires, wars, genocides, floods, plagues, and famines. All of us are descended from people who are in one or more of those categories. These people did things in those situations that worked, things that were useful, and things that helped them survive. If this wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t be here. They know how to keep on living and they are generally happy to share with the living.
By connecting with my ancestors through my ancestor healing practice, I am re-opening the reciprocal communication that has been part of every culture in every part of the planet if you go back far enough. Not everyone did it the same way, to be sure, but at some point all of us had ancestors who communicated with their ancestors. In many of the places where my people are from, the dead were at one time buried under the floors of the houses their living descendants occupied. This speaks to a worldview that had an active place in it for listening to the wisdom of ancestors who had survived.
Reconnecting with this ancient stream of energy is in many ways like releasing a river from behind a partially crumbling dam. Things aren’t going to be the same afterwards, but the change might very well be worth it in the long run. Pressure is released and the broader spectrum of life can head back towards complexity and diversity. With all the talk of “going back to normal,” did we forget that we can’t do that in this time, or in any time? We can only go forward into what happens next. The future doesn’t look like the past, no matter how much some of us want it to. I prefer to look for ways to make sure it has a place for me and my family in it.
My first answer to the pandemic was to suggest that we leave behind the military rhetoric of “fighting disease” in order to fill your life with the blessings of things that bring joy, meaning and wellness. This time around I am suggesting that we look for our ancestors who survived and who have wisdom to share so that we can do the same. They are here in our bones, in our dreams, and in the quiet places where we go to be alone. We can listen to them and learn to make better decisions this time around so that our descendants will still be here when we are ancestors, and theirs after them, for many more generations.
To conclude, I would like to share an image that came to me through my meditation on the joyous profusion of flowers in Minoan art. They are in borders, on pottery, painted growing wild, shown in gardens, and in people’s hair. I have come to see them as a symbol of the health benefits that can come through a stable and well ancestral connection. Flowers are the hope for a future where we can live and be well. We still feel an echo of this when someone leaves a handful of blooms on a grave.
A flower is what comes up from the earth and makes new things burst into now from the past so that the future can come to be. It is both beautiful and decidedly practical in the same way as an ancestor practice. Flowers are no light-weights. The image they have acquired more recently of being airheads is very much at odds with the roles they play in the world. They are ingenious tools plants use for survival. This survival is accomplished through a deep connection with the beauty and power of color, and it is based in the darkness inside the earth. They are living, hardworking symbols of the future. The future they strive towards is one filled with a sweet smells, butterflies and the sound of bees. It is the kind of future I would like to see because it has a place for people like me in it.
Next time you are taking your exercise walk, consider smelling the flowers. Hold the possibility in your mind that you have your own stream of ancestral wisdom available to you. Allow yourself to take in the scent and the color, and see where that goes.