As European Americans, Healing Our Relationship with the Ancestors

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by Kaia Svien

The course described here, “As European Americans, Healing Our Relationship with the Ancestors: moving towards personal and collective wholeness” is rooted in the powerful state of consciousness, Deep Time. Most of the transformative practices, the Initiations we have developed, are drawn directly from the Work That Reconnects or inspired in form and vision by those teachings.

Niky Duxbury and I, Kaia Svien, co-facilitators of this course, trust this article will serve as inspiration to bring forth more ways to assist European Americans (EAs) in reclaiming our ancient roots and multiple states of consciousness so that we may fully and authentically participate with friends and colleagues of color in bringing an end to white supremacy. Contact info: [email protected], [email protected]

Hallowe’en approaches as red and gold leaves fall from the trees outside, Earth resting after the Harvest, grounds lying fallow. As a European American who has learned how to enter Deep Time, I often go in search of the frayed threads and crushed fragments of my people’s indigenous wisdom. Hallowe’en, the most sacred day of the year for me, is a day of reunification for those who have passed on with those of us currently embodied. Today, for adults, the sacred acts of this holy day have been relegated to handing out sugar; for many children, especially those of color, it has morphed into a frightening event to be avoided. The undergirding experience for me is a centuries-old aching in my heart: “Moana” and “Roadkill” are pounding on the door that is meant to receive the Ancestors on this holy night.

On All Hallows’ Eve, my forebears decorated the path to their home with squashes just harvested, dared to let the hearthfire go out this one time of the year, put out some of their best food in welcome, and waited in the darkness for relatives who had passed on to arrive and visit. Stories from the embodied folk were shared and advice and wisdom given back by those who had lived before. It was an opportunity for amends to be made. The next day, carrying a torch to the Commons, my folks would celebrate the descent into darkness and return to the light of this holy time. Together with neighbors, they’d plunge the torch into the village fire that had been carefully tended all night and head home to rekindle their hearthfire that would warm them and cook their meals through the coming winter.

It’s been seven centuries or more since relentless massacres took out my European forebears who lived in the rich realm of indigenous wisdom.

It’s been seven centuries or more since relentless massacres took out my European forebears who lived in the rich realm of indigenous wisdom. Mothers were sometimes condemned as witches because of testimony extracted in law courts from their children as young as eight. Safety for the people lay in forgetting the old ways and keeping one’s distance from those who would not. The dances, songs, and festivals passed on by the generations became essentially shells of the indigenous wisdom they once held; plant medicines fared better. The erasure of the old ways has been so complete that we cannot fit the UN definition of “indigenous” because there are no communities that still live in indigenous wisdom or speak in original tongues.

We were prey to the white supremacy that glorified consumerism, separation, individualism and the ongoing inhumane treatment of others.

As European immigrants arrived in North America, they exchanged what did remain of their traditions for “whiteness.” This forced trade provided European Americans (EAs) with the economic and social safety of assimilation and the security of some niche, even a low one, in the hierarchy of colonizers. To secure such a niche, many of them participated actively in slavery, genocide and/or settling lands already inhabited by others. These reprehensible acts, repeated in various ways through generations, severed most of our immigrant ancestors from experiencing a human connection with the people they oppressed. The resulting spiritual emptiness was further amplified by the assimilation policies that reduced us EAs to anonymous workers. Bearing conscious and unconscious memories of the devastation we’d caused others, and stripped of our own cultural identity- our past, our people, our stories, our traditions, we were prey to the white supremacy that glorified consumerism, separation, individualism and the ongoing inhumane treatment of others. These patterns continue to inhabit us in current times.

Today‘s enormous challenges demand that we EAs awaken rapidly to the realities of oppression and inequities. The resulting immeasurable opportunities for us all to come together in a unity never possible before are visible now. For those of us of European descent, there is much internal healing to do so that we can truly stand in alliance with the liberation movements of today, led by people of color, that guide us into unity consciousness.

For one kind of transformation, we EAs need to figure out –conceptually, emotionally, viscerally and spiritually — how to find and remove the blinders that privilege has given us so that we can see viable ways to go forward as kin to people of color. Many fine minds and hearts are dedicating themselves to this multilayered project.

Altar created by Niky Duxbury

Another essential transformation lies in our discerning how to reconnect with indigenous wisdom, the relationship to Earth as our mother, in the 21st century as EAs. We have unconsciously traded in multiple states of consciousness — comfort with using imagination, belief in the transmission of love through energy, Deep Time, ability to see our interbeing with all of life, among them — and become so one-dimensional that many of our sisters and brothers of color have trouble recognizing us as fully developed humans who resonate with the pulse of Earth as we move.

The insights of Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Ph.D, in the video, “La Cultura Cura” speak to this kind of crucial healing called for today for EAs. A paraphrase goes like this:…(White folks), you’re not from here….Where are you from? Do you understand the beauty of your cultural traditions?  No, you don’t!  But there is so much beauty there… And how will you connect with the beauty of mine if you don’t know yours?… The culture cures… Your culture is your medicine… that indigeneity is your medicine. If you’re not carrying your indigeneity with you, you’re vulnerable to get sick because someone else will tell you what your culture is….  When someone else tells you what your culture is, you start hurting others because you don’t have your true moral compass… When you have your medicine and we meet, we can mix medicines… (this is how we can) be really talking about a pluralistic, multiracial democracy.“

The course described here we co-facilitators offer as one of many ways to reweave EAs’ connection with indigenous wisdom. We chose to focus on our relationship with Ancestors for these reasons:

  1. To activate the potent dynamism around Ancestors that is arising in the collective of many peoples awakening today;
  2. To palpate the wounds that many EAs carry about the actions of our Ancestors in relationship to people of color and the dysfunctional family patterns that have been transmitted to us.
  3. To become able to authentically support the lively, liberating movements of POC that seek to undo white supremacy and the centuries-old systems of domination of people and earth that continue to brutalize and bring heartbreak to countless beings today.
  4. To vitalize the linkage of generations who have preceded us, sense our unique and temporary role of being the Embodied Ones and amplify our connection to and responsibility for Future Beings;
  5. To open up a channel for the European American collective that breaks up the separation consciousness that is the base of advanced capitalism;
  6. To repair broken lineage lines responsibly and consciously. As Daniel Pinchbeck reports, Mayans have spoken to him about how the lack of reverence EAs tend to have for our Ancestors, because of our unease with their earlier actions, shuts down communication with those whose DNA we carry, those who brought us to life and results in greater incidence of depression and anxiety among our current generation.

Here are two anecdotes from participants that amplify some of these reasons:

With my family truncated from their forebears by their arrival here from Ireland, I believed that any connection to them was impossible. I have come to understand that I don’t need to know the facts to feel into how it might have been for my paternal great-grandmother to see her young daughter head alone to America, never to return. My heart is being broken open daily, and I see this as a good thing.

Entering Deep Time, I conversed with my grandfather whom I’d shunned because of his actions in WW2. Together, we reconstructed the mantle of “Protector of my people” that he was so proud of, to be able to include my being a Protector, too, because I work for Peace. As a result, the channels to my forebears, closed by me in shame and anger, are open and deliver to me their fierce dedication to protection that I am expanding to include all humans and Earth and her other offspring.

We acknowledge that we have particular ancestral healing to do which may include specific forms of oppression and violence.

The course is grounded in the principles described in this paragraph and ensuing ones. The invitation crafted for participants helps us gather people of European descent who view themselves as actively awakening to social justice issues, to decolonization, to personal and familial healing, and to exploring the spiritual dynamics of their indigenous wisdom as called for by these times. The course is purposefully designed as a space for folks of European descent so that we can do the work that is ours to do to strengthen and make more vibrant and whole our alliance with our colleagues and friends of color.  We acknowledge that we have particular ancestral healing to do which may include specific forms of oppression and violence such as genocide and expropriation of land from Native Americans and the perpetuation of slavery over hundreds of years.

We continually bow to the vastness of reconstituting a channel of EA indigenous knowing.

We continually bow to the vastness of reconstituting a channel of EA indigenous knowing. As we set out on this kind of healing, we recognize that with our broken, misconstrued history there is much that remains invisible. We recognize that our very embeddedness of many generations in the dominant culture often misshapes our ability to easily and fully sense what was our ancient indigenous ground of being. We expect our grasp of this realm of being to be amplified and enhanced by what the participants and the group heartmind generate.

Aware of the constriction and “turning away from” that shame generates, we move towards healing by accepting the painful generational circumstances we know about, looking straight at the behaviors, adding historical and cultural information to the situation, entering Deep Time to communicate with relatives about current day ramifications of their actions, generating compassion for our collective humanness and, as a result, clarifying the responsibility we can and will take today.

Healing on both the collective level of opening the channel to the Ancestors and the personal familial level amplify and inform each other. Woven with them is the recognition that the global crises we are experiencing are rooted in a spiritual struggle between the frenzied, dying separation consciousness and the re-emerging unitive consciousness, always present in indigenous wisdom. The ongoing intersectionality of these themes illuminates previously unseen parts of each other.

In accord with our Ancestors, we explore and receive teachings by experiencing them through the body and a variety of senses, aware that overuse of the thinking mind flattens our grasp of life. In these Initiations, we raise many states of consciousness, reclaiming them and increasing our ease and comfort with them. We know that these states often come cloaked in shame as a means of the dominant culture to keep us from developing them. As an example, many of us were carefully taught around age six or so to repress “pretending”– the portal to imagination and vision—in favor of “reality.”

These are the Initiations we invoke:

  1. WTR’s Harvesting the Gifts of the Ancestors —  opening up to the multitude of human ancestors who have preceded us,  sensing some of their challenges and their ability to survive and   bring us into life.
  2. WTR’s Milling – honoring the potential in participants to rise to both the course’s challenges and the gifts on a collective and a personal level.
  3. Bearing Witness to the Flourishing and the Severance of our Indigenous Wisdom and to the centuries of Unprocessed Grief.
  4. Making Genograms to Trace Familial Patterns of Pain articulating loss birthed compassion that made visible options for responding full-heartedly today.
  5. Opening to Uprootedness — a heart journey with immigrant ancestors who, often driven to this continent because of repression, violence, and/or hunger, suffered the traumatic loss of their family and cultural foundations/ties.
  6. Exploring the Collective Experience of EAs’ Relationship to oppressing others –a truth-telling that focuses our attention on the losses of previous inhabitants of these lands.
  7. Birthing Oneself – grounding as a multidimensional, awake Embodied One and claiming the gifts and lineage teachings passed on to us for use in these turbulent times.

From participants:

Now that I have used Deep Time to imagine that I harvested on the land my family knew in Norway, I can find my granddaughter’s great-great-grandmother in the tomato and peach that baby is eating. I understand the importance of caring for each other and our environment. It really is all we have.

I understand the importance of caring for each other and our environment.

Learning that funerals were often held for the young German-Russians in my family who fled to this land to avoid conscription into the Russian army, I ken why endings, leavings, are so extraordinarily painful for me. And, having finally faced into that pain, I can perceive the power and beauty in each opportunity I have to build something new and healing.

Knowing in my heart, not only my head now, about our separation from indigenous wisdom, I can finally understand why many “white” people cling aggressively to the few traditions they have left and so find change and inclusion of others to be very challenging to their sense of identity.

In these troubled, heart-wrenching times when I am confused about what to do, I remember this wisdom that came to me: “When we nourish ourselves, we send nourishment and healing to our ancestors.  When we nourish ourselves, we send nourishment and strength to our descendants.” Recalling this, I become clearer, emotionally and physically healthier, which leads me to apply my energies for social justice in a more compassionate and effective way.

In sum, participants are able to reach back for the long-missing material and states of consciousness that are their cultural birthright. In doing so, they continue to liberate themselves from the separation consciousness that has become the unconscious home base for so many of us EAs. There is an emerging ability to dwell in Deep Time, expanded and deepened by the presence of those who have gone before and those who will come after. Our hope is that this discussion may give birth to similar courses that open up other states of consciousness through which ancient wisdom can flow to and through us.


Kaia Svien and Niky Duxbury

Kaia Svien, M.S., is a meditation instructor, spiritual mentor, lifelong activist, (and former adjunct professor in the Holistic Health Studies Master’s Program at St Catherine University.) A cultural change agent, she has studied with the Work That Reconnects over many years. Kaia blends ancient story, deep listening and inner journeying to engage community spirit in shifting consciousness in service of the collective.

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