Late in his life Albert Einstein wrote in a letter to a friend that time is "a stubbornly persistent illusion." Indeed it is hard to think of any facet of our lives that seems more real than the linear nature of time, the forward arrow that rules our lives.
And yet modern physics, indigenous science, and our own supraconscious experiences tell us that our experience of time is false, illusory, and limited by our human senses.
To be embodied is to have enormous confines put on our perception and our ability to sense reality. Science tells us that we can only see a tiny part of the color spectrum and can only hear within a certain small range of sound. We know that our human brains must and do filter out most of the information coming at us (in his book The Doors of Perception Aldous Huxley called this phenomenon the "reducing valve" of human consciousness), and that what we understand with our senses to be true is but a tiny sliver of the vastness of being.
So it is no wonder that we give so much weight to the experience of past, present, and future, and so much finality to the happenings in our lives and in the lives of our ancetors.
What's past is past, right?
Except that, as my favorite quote from my favorite novelist says so beautifully and succinctly...
In many indigenous languages there is no past tense; everything is understood as happening in the "historical now."
In her brilliant book Jung and the Ancestors Sandra Easter writes:
"Fred Gustafson, a Jungian analyst who has been studying Lakota for years, shared with me that in the Lakota language the past is implied in phrases like 'a long time ago' or 'yesterday.' In the English language we would say, 'Many years ago our people were killed at Wounded Knee.' In Lakota- 'Many years ago our people are being killed at Wounded Knee.' Yesterday is still happening today."
Shifting your thoughts of what has happened from a framework of past to a framework of present brings about a realization of the deep interconnection between events and people that are seemingly separated by long stretches of time.
We see that everything is ever-happening.
An example of how this paradigm shift can be applied to some of my own ancestral stories:
Many years ago my great-grandparents are burying their six week old son in a driving rain that is causing the grave to keep falling in on itself as they dig.
Many years ago my teenage grandmother is throwing her abusive father against the refrigerator and telling him to never touch her or her sisters again.
Many years ago my dad is taking the first drink of whiskey that will lead to a severe and lifelong addiction. (Many more years ago his father and his father and his father are doing the same).
Reframing these past events in this way reminds me of their continuing resonance in my present life.
The conscious mind lives firmly embedded in the forward flow of time, but the unconscious is not tethered to this illusion. This is why our dreams, psychedelic experiences, and imaginal wanderings take us into realms that are timeless or where time is fractured or irrelevant.
Jung wrote, "There is no trouble with time in the unconscious. Part of our psyche is not in time and not in space. They are only an illusion, time and space, and so in a certain part of our psyche time does not exist at all."
At a soul level the psyche "participates in a form of existence beyond space and time, and thus partakes in what is inadequately and symbolically described as eternity."
Eternity. It's a concept I was obsessed with as a child. Anyone who grew up Christian was told that, if they were good enough, they would get to live forever. I would lay in bed as a very young child and think about forever. And it terrified me.
This deep existential fear of eternity persisted until I read Eckhart Tolle's book The Power of Now in my early 20's, and the following line stopped me cold-
"Eternity is not endless time. It is timelessness."
And in the realm of timelessness is where our ancestors live, and where our wider, higher, deeper selves live too. We dwell there, with them, together.
And we feel them and hear from them in the only way our minds, limited by being embodied in human form and embedded in physical time and space, can- through dreams, synchronicities, physical and emotional symptoms, creative urges, and peak/mystical experiences.
This stubbornly persistent illusion of time affects not only our conception of past events, but our health and well being in the present. When we (usually unconsciously) buy into the modern belief and value system that says time is a commodity and the past is irrelevant and the interior worlds of dream and myth and creativity are irrational, we subjugate that which gives us vitality and a deep connection to the cosmos and insight into our soul's purpose.
The wounding caused by this repression expresses itself in symptoms of physical, emotional, and mental ill health. Especially among women, for we stifle the very nature of our cyclically-based bodies when we try to conform to patriarchal, capitalist, linear-time belief systems and work ethics.
In a recent episode of the Starseed Survival Podcast, host Erin Rivera Merriman interviews artist, writer, and teacher Lara Vesta. Both women live with health conditions that have grown exponentially more frequent in our society in recent years, and the two talk about their experiences with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, respectively. These two afflictions affect mostly women and fall along a spectrum of ailments in which unexplainable pain and/or exhaustion serve to keep a person frequently in bed, drawn inward, and having no choice but to withdraw from the frenetic pace of modern life and s l o w d o w n.
During the interview Lara said something that caused me to pull over and write it down- “I become symptomatic when I am not able to disregard linear time.”
Though the underlying cause of these afflictions is mysterious and likely stems from many factors, what I hear over and over again from women is that their symptoms are alleviated when they are able to (forced to, really) drop the masculine, outward-driven, production-oriented ways of being that have dominated our culture for so long (and have given rise to environmental destruction, social injustice, misogyny, and so much more along the way) and honor their own internal rhythms, their own inner voice, their own creativity and soul work.
As social structures and powerful institutions crumble all around us and it becomes clearer and clearer that a major shift in consciousness is taking place, I see that the most stubborn illusion of all is one of the most important ones to dismantle-
We must all learn to see through the fallacy of linear time and endeavor to reacquaint our innermost selves with the true ground of being- the great cosmic home of the ancestors, the dreamtime, and the source of all creativity. Women, some forced to by their physical symptoms, many guided to as they give birth to and grow the next generations of future ancestors, are leading this shift in consciousness.
The approaching season has long been held as the most liminal of the year. To employ an overused but extremely beautiful phrase- the veils are thin right now. Many folks experience the season between Samhain and the Winter Solstice (or Halloween and Xmas) as a sort of portal time, and it is wise to use these darkening days to pay special attention to synchronicities, symptoms, and dreams as messages from the ancestors not bound by time, and to engage in ritual work as an invitation and a thank you to them.
In these ways we reach through time to one another.
Some links & resources:
My blog post To Know Yourself, Know Your Ancestors (with the same Raymond Douillet painting and Joanna Newsom quote because I will use them both forever and ever)
My Ancestral Communion: Redwood + Mugwort Herbal Body Oil, perfect for grounding into fall and the season of the dead
Lara Vesta's upcoming donation based (!) online class Ancestral Connection: Re-Weaving Legacy
The Starseed Survival Podcast episode mentioned above
Sandra Easter's book Jung and the Ancestors (my favorite book on the spiritual/psychical/archetypal dimension of ancestral work; it is much broader than just Jung's inestimable contributions to humanity, with a large focus on native North American traditions and the intergenerational legacy of colonization)
In related news- My and Milla Prince's upcoming Ancestral Herbalism class at Kitkitdizzi in Nevada City on 11/4 has sold out, but we will be teaching a very similar class in May in Colorado at the Good Medicine Confluence (and will probably do a related Instagram Live some time around- but probably not on- 11/4 so follow me there if you're into that!)
"To be an ancestor you do not need to be dead, but you do need to know the dead– that is, the invisible world and how and where it touches the living.”
Be a good ancestor.