In gratitude, I bow to all generations of my blood ancestors.
In gratitude, I bow to all generations of my spiritual ancestors.
5 Earth Touchings of Thich Nhat Hahn
Now the dead move through all of us still glowing…
What has been plaited cannot be unplaited…
And memory makes kings and queens of us.
He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.
Luke: 20: 38
This is the time of year where everything around us seems to be falling and dying. The days become shorter, darker, and colder. The calendar year is winding rapidly to an end. I have frequently found myself, in most years’ past, feeling very sad and emotionally down during these last months of the year. In more recent years, though, I notice that I am experiencing an increasingly comforting sense of the presence of my loved ones who have died. Perhaps this is just because I am aware of my own aging and the years of my life are flying by. Or perhaps I am just becoming more open and aware that those who have gone before me are still present in some unfathomable way. I feel this with both the human beings and the animals I have loved in my life.
Psychologist Carl Jung believed there is a collective unconscious which is a vast pool of ancestral memory within each of us, a deposit of ancestral experience, that comprises the psychic life of our ancestors all the way back to the earliest beginnings. He believed that nothing is lost, all of the stories, struggles, and wisdom are available to each of us, and that each of us is an unconscious carrier of this ancestral experience. Part of our journey is to bring this to consciousness in our lives.
I first encountered the “5 Earth Touchings” of Thich Nhat Hahn in the summer of 2018 at a retreat. In the 1st Earth Touching, we bow down, touching the earth, and acknowledge with gratitude all of our blood ancestors all the way back in time to the very beginning of existence, all of whom are still present within us, within our DNA, this very moment. When I practice this deeply, I “feel” a vast throng of ancestors behind me, within me, making me who I am at this moment in time, walking with me, encouraging me to keep on walking. It is a very profound and comforting feeling.
In the 2nd Earth Touching, we bow down, touching the earth, and acknowledge with gratitude all of our spiritual ancestors from the beginning of existence, who have left their spiritual marks upon us and have guided us to this particular place in our current spiritual journey. These spiritual ancestors might include spiritual leaders like Jesus, the Buddha, Thomas Merton, Francis of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingen, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and poets, artists, musicians, writers, and so many, many others that have brought spiritual enlightenment to our lives and living. When I practice this deeply, I know I would not be where I am today spiritually without the immense contributions of my own spiritual ancestors.
All Souls Day and All Saints Day encourage me bring to mind and acknowledge my blood and spiritual ancestors and how they have made me who I am at this very moment in time. Without my particular blood and spiritual ancestry, I would be a very different human being than I am now. For “the dead move through all of us still glowing,” and “[God] is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
(I attended a Caring Across Generations conference last week. In one of our activities, we were to answer a few questions using a word or two and were then given 5 minutes to write a poem using those words. Gordy and I had had to put down our 22 years old horse, who had been our first foal and stallion, a week earlier. I sat for most of the 5 minutes with no ideas on a poem, then all of a sudden this just poured out of nowhere onto the page. It linked my father-in-law, who died in 2007 and whom we had cared for in our home the last 5 months of his life, and our beloved Sonido. Even though neither Howard nor Sonido are blood ancestors to me, they are part of who I am, perhaps more as spiritual ancestors. They are both in my heart and soul and declared themselves as such that day.)
I am from a house on a hill
near a fragrant piney forest.
My regal stallion speaks as
my father-in-law approaches.
He, once a dairy farmer,
now unable to speak,
still walks, holding my hand,
to the barn to see the horses,
to smell fresh-cut hay.
I walk with him across the lawn,
now more like a father.