Early December 2020, I participated in guiding a 24-hour global meditation event called One World Bearing Witness: One Humanity, Belonging to Earth. OWBW is an annual vigil organized by One World in Dialogue, Dr. Elizabeth Debold and Thomas Steininger.
Each 2-hour section started with guidance, reflection, or prayer by a leader from a different faith or of an indigenous community from around the world, including the Philippines, Argentina, India, Egypt, and more. Thomas Mendoza, a medicine man from Costa Rica encouraged us to honor the echo, and listen to the mountains speaking back. Louise Mara, a Mauri from New Zealand, led the group in identifying not by our given names only but by the names of the mountains, rivers, oceans, peoples that shaped our lives. Tiokasin Ghosthoese of Turtle Island (USA) invoked the mind of innocence that is attentive to things as they are. Grandmother Flodemayo of Nicaragua shared a prophetic dream involving the birth of a golden child — us.
“Hey, this sounds a bit out there, bro.”
I hear you. Whether mystic ecstatics are your thing or not, something else was happening. Held in the space of ceremony and ritual silence, something else was woven through the nearly two hundred square video Zoom windows, each lit by a unique angle that the rays of the (one only) sun hitting their unique location on a facet of Earth facing it. Some in light, some in dark. The mythic invocations from the speakers wove in and out of these needle-holes, archetypes strung in commonality. Lakhota, Spanish, Reo languages dyed the threads in their unique shades and tones.
As the Earth pivoted into the second half of its spin, after many have meditated through twelve full hours, I was invited to offer a few words to kick off the next round. I was inspired to speak about ancestry.
I read a powerful quote from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, one of the great modern-day leaders, founder of Jewish Renewal and Aleph Ordination Program in which I am a student:
“We must project ourselves into the experience or frame of mind of our ancestors. This is easier than it sounds, for in practice what we have to do is follow certain procedures or perform certain acts in the style our ancestors have used for thousands of years. When we do this (and let’s say we go back around 3,000 years to the time of Moses), we contact and, in some way, resurrect at least one hundred generations of ancestors behind us and within us. A hundred generations represent an immense mountain of human experience; the encounter creates a very real impact. If you view your ancestors as a pyramid — two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents, 2,048 great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents (eleven generations) — and if you tap the energy concentrated at the tip of the pyramid, which is your location, you can begin to make use of your birthright.” — Rabbi Zalman Shechter Shalom, (Or N. Rose. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: Essential Teachings (Modern Spiritual Masters),Orbis)
Plugging into the power of the ‘pyramid’ — the array of ancestors that manifest in each one at any given moment, and empower our ‘birthright’ — to what? to be alive? to be a part of God, the creative unfolding?
I then spoke of the time in 2019 I accompanied Lakhota Elder Violet Catches with a group of the Zen Peacemakers in a visit to the site of Bear Butte in South Dakota, Turtle Island — the location for vision quests and prayer, and one of the seven sacred sites that surround the Black Hills, referred to in Laxhota as Xe Sapa, ‘The Heart of All There Is.’ One non-native participant pointed at the Butte, a mountain rising up from the otherwise vast plain, its top hosting a single cloud. They asked, “What is this mountain made of?” Violet answered, “It is made of our ancestors.”
That statement stayed with me. The clarity of Violet’s connection to her pyramid of ancestors, which for her was one and the same as the connection to the land, not separate. This mountain — I placed my hand on my rising and falling chest as I breathe — is made of my ancestors.
Nonduality ‘posits’ that the Earth mountain, the somatic mountain, and the inner spiritual mountain — all are one. Deepening the connection to Reality through the Earth mountain, the geological one, is of dire importance at this time of climate collapse and indifference in its face. That is a worthy subject, and, the subject of this article, of cross-cultural ancestral peacebuilding, may be just another path towards rekindling that much-needed identity with Gaia.
I reflected on my appreciation of Karma, the infinite culmination of all reality, manifested in my sense of self at this moment, in this thought, this action, and speech. I wondered what if Karma and Ancestors are actually the same? Another way to speak of it is that the Earth mountain, the somatic mountain and the spiritual inner mountain are all made of ancestors, a personified, ‘relatable’ expression Karma.
A step further, what if every thought, every feeling, every word, and action, are in fact a karmic expression of our ancestors? Would every healing act, word or thought, be an ancestor that is being healed? How would such a view affect our life’s purpose concerning humanity and this planet?
One variation of Buddhist metta (loving-kindness) practice encourages the practitioner to assume that every single being is an incarnation of the practitioner's mother. Jewish teachings and liturgy conjure often Avot, Imahot and Banim, Forefathers, Foremothers, and their descendants (in an unfortunate highly gendered way). What if both simply use a humanoid ‘gateway’ in the form of an ‘ancestor’ into coming into greater intimacy with every piece of sensory and somatic experience with an inherent sense of belonging, empowerment, a fitting place in the One Great Pyramid? What if every doubt, fear, and hate are themselves expression ancestral expression, yearning for us to transform and heal? By transmuting a moment of jealously, embodying fully grief, outrage in my heart, perhaps I am also applying to my ancestors, to others’?
Zen Teacher Bernie Glassman spoke of Peacemaking as ‘making whole’ as translated from the Hebrew ‘Oseh Shalom’ — and that was related to bearing witness. I muse then on Ancestral Peacemaking — the effect of bearing witness across cultures — an inherent but unexplored element in all the bearing witness programs I have plunged into in Auschwitz, Sarajevo, and the Black Hills. How patches of cultures and their ancestral karmic energy that covers this planet infuse one another, graft one onto another, heal one another. The same way a body heals, a forest heals, currents intermingle. My ancestral collective, this body right here, has benefited from Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Native American grafting that resuscitated Jewish mysticism following the killing of master mystics in the holocaust. I am indebted to the nations of the world.
A Tapestry of Pyramids.
The Jewish prayer shawl has a blue thread, a reminder to connect to the Hebrew ancestors. Going beyond my own Pyramid, I now look at it and remember that my thread, this thread, is just one thread in a large, multi-layered tapestry of many forms and the formless.
By spooling each of my own unique threads towards me, coming into a relationship and embodiment of each strand of what I call my ‘identity’, the tapestry that is me, I assume the birthright of my own unique karma, lifted up by the pyramid of those before me. At the same time, the charge then may be to unspool the thread and weave it together with others, through the wisdom traditions that each of our ancestors passed down to us, and also through their stories, songs, food, dance, art, with those of others, into the Great Human Tapestry.