Lineage has been an abstraction to me most of my life. But that began to change several years ago when I learned of — and felt — the connection to my blood and spiritual ancestor Isaac Luria, a 16th century Kabbalah master, through our respective work.* Lineage became even more tangible in a far more immediate way when, in November 2011, I saw the first picture (ultrasound image) of my first grandchild.
Truth is, we humans have many lineages, many layers of lineage — those of our blood in this and other lifetimes; those of spiritual teachers or other kindred souls unrelated by blood; those of tribal or cultural progenitors. Celtic shaman RJ Stewart writes of the “prime parents who live within the land for seven generations…[and may] lead the way to the Original Man and Woman…[who] are not of this world…” (Power Within the Land).
We have ancestors we don’t ordinarily think of as ancestors (if we think of them at all!) because that layer of lineage is far more elemental — literally: the first atom of the element carbon is the ancestor of all carbon-based life.
And…ultimately…all that exists, arising from the same primordial soup some untold billions of years ago, shares a much debated common ancestor, often called God but known by other language; I prefer to call this ancestor, simply, The Unknowable.**
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Having many layers of lineage means having many layers of inheritance. Clearly, there is more to the story than genetics.
For discussion’s sake, let’s look at humans. Classically, our genetic inheritance has been viewed as (physical) body based, transpersonal only in the sense that genetic material is transmitted biologically from one generation to another. Certain patterns or tendencies play out in families over multiple generations, with the occasional genetic aberration or surprise (for example, unknown paternity, or expression of recessive traits so old as to be “lost” or “hidden”). Nevertheless, how traits are passed along follows a tried-and-true set of rules. Or does it? More recently, research suggests genes can be switched on and off, raising questions about the nature of triggers and implying a more complicated story.
The story gets even more complicated when we take into account that we are more than our physical bodies. We are awareness — energy! Unbounded by those 3rd-dimensional concepts time and space, energy is transpersonal in the fullest sense of the word. Less dense than matter, energy also is more mutable. Even so, deeply entrained energy patterns can be difficult, even impossible, to clear and may be passed down the line in startling ways with startling outcomes, as the following two experience-based stories illustrate.
(1) The energy of emotions: A mother held sorrow in her lungs, which were weakened by the extreme cold of her environment, poor nutrition, and life situation. That sorrow never healed and was passed down to a grandson, who didn’t know what to do with it and (as men often do) turned sorrow into anger, which he held in his liver. Both energies (sorrow and anger) were then passed to one of his daughters, who held them in her body until they were finally recognized and cleared in midlife. The energies were not held inert, however, acting on the daughter as if they were her own. In her book Hands of Life, energy healer Julie Motz writes about “ghost organs” — that is, how we carry organ-specific knowledge of our parents’ bodies inside us and how that plays out in terms of our own illness and healing. It’s not a big leap to extend that dynamic beyond parent-child to others within a given family line.
(2) The energy of attachments: An energetic entity or force — an attachment — entered a family line centuries ago, its source and purpose unknown. It may have become trapped in the energy inheritance of the lineage, unable to free itself; it may have become lost or confused, unaware of its true circumstances; or it may have been the product of the black arts — not all beings are benign. Whatever its origins, as the attachment was passed down the line, it wreaked havoc, causing patterns of physical and mental illness, suicide, and other trauma in successive generations. It was encountered unexpectedly during a healing session and cleared despite its vehement resistance. Not all attachments can be cleared without additional harm, including death, to their human host.
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Finally, some of us carry as lineages the energy patterns that link us to violence — all forms of abuse, repression, psychic attack, genocide, enslavement, torture, totalitarianism, war. We carry these patterns as individuals and families; as communities and regions and nation-states; as ethnic and political and religious groups. Whatever the debate about nature or nurture or a combination of the two, violence does tend to pass down the line, however that line is characterized, and it is difficult to create a shift when tens of thousands of people are involved — difficult but not impossible, as we’ve seen recently beginning with the 2011 “Arab Spring.” But within the much smaller unit of the family, violence stops when someone finally says Enough! No more! This lineage ends here. Some lineages are inevitable by virtue of blood or custom, others invaluable as vessels of cultural or artistic identity, but some reach their signature moment when they reach the end of the line.
*For more on my connection to Isaac Luria and on ancestors in general, including the Earth’s Deep Ancestors, see The Shards.
**For a stunning visual interpretation of the complexity of lineage, see the recent movie The Tree of Life. Despite its flaws, the movie is worth watching especially for its first half.