It occurs to me that in family tree hunting we sometimes forget the most important things: story. After all these years I have to ask myself, someone trained to live in the present, why going back so far to people who lived before me, who perhaps share some remote traces of my DNA, matters. What is it that draws me to them, and arguably them to me? What makes them eternal in my mind, and connects me to their story? And why does the mystery of what we do not know tantalize us so, so that we never give up wanting to know more?
Funny enough, I am also trained through my hypnosis practice to study and explore past lives – I mean mine, not someone else’s – what some would call reincarnation. You may not believe in such a thing, and it may go against your spiritual or religious beliefs – or perhaps you believe we are here for a good time, not a long time, and that’s it – dust to dust. End of story.
Then why the insatiable curiosity? Whether it be past lives through our ancestors or past lives through our own subconscious or “superconscious” (higher) mind or cellular DNA memory, what links us all together and makes the past come alive – makes US come alive with questions, with desires, with feelings? Why do we cry when we hear about a hardship our ancestors suffered, or a good story ending in triumph or reconciliation? It seems I am asking more questions than offering suggestions, but give me a moment.
These questions answer themselves. The fact is, we do want to know. Not everyone, to be sure. Some people may rightly feel that to look back is to get lost in the past. And some may simply not want to hear what might trouble them in the present. But those who do ask, have a burning desire to know not just for the sake of a good story, but because it tells them something about themselves. It answers the question: Who Am I? and Why am I here?
If we can look at our lives or the lives of others in retrospect, we see patterns, shapes, stories. We see parallels. We see PURPOSE. And we see PROMISE. We understand that hardship and suffering can be followed by breakthroughs, and that even death does not stop life from continuing on – we are evidence of that.
Our past stories are collective. What a prominent psychologist, Carl Jung called “the collective unconscious”. Everything that has ever happened to anyone, and all its apparent meanings, is held there – along with all the wisdom and “knowings” that sometimes cannot be explained by our current, more limited thinking. These pieces, these stories have a common source, a common thread through human history, through human consciousness. It doesn’t matter the time or the place – we find ourselves in its reflection.
Once a year I follow the popular American TV show (now on TLC) “Who Do You Think You Are?” – featuring prominent Americans (mostly celebs) who want to discover something about their ancestry, and the origins of their family. Notice, the show title is not, “Who Do You Think They Are?” but rather “Who Do You Think YOU Are.” Because their tears, their AHAs, their curiosity, and their sense of compassion and forgiveness is not only about their ancestors – it reaches across time and teaches them something about themselves – and even goes so far as to heal their own sense of self, history, story.
We all have a personal destiny, and we want to know that not only will we survive, but that our story will teach those who follow us – it will outlive us – extend us – “eternalize” us.
The truth is, we are already eternal. But while we are sloshing around here on earth trying to make a living, learning lessons and putting up with the hardships and trials, heartbreaks and breakthroughs – it helps to know that someone will be staring back at us through time and saying, “Wow! I’m really glad so and so lived… How brave he/she was, how honest, how strong, how compassionate… I want to be more like that.”
When we look back, we want to emulate the best we see, and forgive the worst. Because when we can do that, we become the greater part of history, we become an extension of it, fulfilling its ultimate purpose – not only to tell a good story, but to teach how to live a good life. And so we become the living proof of what it means to us, what it offers us, and to our kids and grandchildren. We are its living, breathing, connections that link past present and future in one eternal loop.
And even as audience, witnessing someone else’s history, we see ourselves – beyond family blood barriers, beyond time itself. We can identify meaning and purpose without any regard to dates and names. Those provide the colour and fabric, the identity so to speak. But the picture is worth more than its parts. One human family struggling to live – and learning to really LIVE – one lesson, one story, one life at a time.