Tending our Ancestral Roots
In mid-October I had the honor of participating in the US Systemic Constellations Conference in Bellevue, WA. As we approach Samhain, the Celtic holiday that initiates the dark half of the year and honors our ancestors, I am reflecting on my experiences at the Conference. Family Constellations work, individually and in groups, is a wonderful way of bringing to visibility unseen stories and wounds from our lineages, for the purpose of acknowledging, witnessing, and healing.
On Saturday afternoon, Eimear O’Neill and Belvie Rooks led a workshop titled “Sisters of the H/earth: Irish and African-American; Honoring the Ancestral Call.” They vividly brought to life stories of their ancestors. Africans who were forcibly removed from their homes and brought to the Americas in the worst of conditions to begin their lives as slaves. Scots-Irish people on whom the British perfected their methods of colonization hundreds of years before venturing to Africa. The intersections and interrelationships of these two groups in the early days of the United States, when many Scots-Irish descendants, seeking to establish themselves economically after escaping from oppression, poverty and starvation in their native lands, participated in enforcing the horrors of slavery and in brutally taking the land from the indigenous peoples who had lived freely and abundantly on it for thousands of years.
Belvie recounted an early conversation with Eimear in which she asked, “What were the wounds of your ancestors that they could do to my people what they did?” This question reverberates in my soul.
Until those of us of European ancestry face this question, we will continue, consciously and unconsciously, to act out our ancestors’ trauma in this land, with us as perpetrators, colonizers, those who take what is not ours to take. One road to healing is to remember, to the extent we can, our ancestors’ journeys here. Why did they leave their native lands? What impelled them to take the long, arduous and dangerous journeys they took? What beloved people, places, languages, traditions, spiritual practices, treasured possessions did they leave behind? What happened to those who stayed? How did all of them, those who left and those who stayed, deal with their intense grief?
We had the opportunity to explore these questions in a workshop led by Lisa Iversen the next day, “Tending the Soil: The Facilitator’s Relationship with Reconciliation in America’s Soul.” The workshop powerfully evoked the feelings, stories, connections and disconnections of our ancestors. Many of us have internalized our family patterns of looking away from these truths out of blind loyalty to those who suffered. For those of you who would like to experience this work, please check out the workshop series with Lisa and Kate Regan, “An Embodied Conversation with the Internalized Colonizer.” planned for winter/spring 2014. I also highly recommend Lisa’s book Ancestral Blueprints: Revealing Invisible Truths in America’s Soul to any of you who have not yet read it.
I find it timely that Congress is once again considering passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Almost all of us in the US are immigrants or at least partly descended from immigrants, though many of European descent don’t want to acknowledge this fact. To acknowledge it is to begin to face what the immigrants – our ancestors – experienced on their arrival and what they did, and what we are still doing, to replicate or resist the patterns of domination to which our ancestors were subjected, here and in their native lands.
This Samhain, I want to honor my ancestors’ journey, to tend their and my roots, and in doing so, enhance my ability to live and grow in a harmonious and just way with others on this soil that has become our shared home.