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The House of the Ancestors
An excerpt from the book House of the Ancestors
Some months into our connection I dreamt I was in a large empty house alone. Perhaps I should call it a building, as it had several floors and extended in size beyond what I knew. I was on what was perhaps the second floor, or as it is known in Britain, the first floor. The room I was in was not brightly lit and although dark with age, was in no way a ruin or damaged. I was standing looking at a hole in the floor. I knew my ancestors had lived in the area or rooms below me, and I was trying to see if I could bring any object from there up to where I was. To do this I was swinging a rope or wire around through the hole. But I made no connection with anything and gave up. Then I realised I had the key to the door of the rooms below and went down to enter the apartments.
The door was of very solid construction but easily opened with the key. It led into a large area with much the same feeling as the floor above – old and empty but not ruined.
Then suddenly, as if he were a caretaker or butler, Lurch, the character in the TV series in which he plays Frankenstein’s monster, stepped out from the shadows. I observed him without feeling any anxiety, and noticed he had a large kitchen knife in his belt. I asked him why he needed such a knife, thinking that perhaps he might threaten me with it. He said that there was a large puma that sometimes jumped out on you unexpectedly from the shadows, and you needed a knife to protect yourself. Having said that he handed me such a knife, knowing somehow that I had come to explore this house of my ancestors. The suggestion in handing me the knife was that I killed the puma if it leapt on me. Then he and I started to walk into the shadowy areas of the house to begin my search.
We had only gone about ten yards into the dim space stretching before us when a very large puma leapt on me. As I felt its impact on my chest I held it firmly in my arms and realised that I had no intention to kill or hurt it. Its head was close to my face, and with surprise and love I could see that, although it had the face of a big cat, it was the face of Dakota. The puma was, I saw, her beautiful and wild sexual love for me, and an embodiment of her spirit self ready to share the journey into the house of the ancestors. So I put Puma down, and Lurch, Puma and I walked together into the darkness.
During the day following the dream I spoke with Dakota, telling her the dream. She has strong links with the Native American traditions. But what I had not previously known, and she then told me, was that the puma is her totem animal.
During the next days, weeks and months, I began a conscious search of the House of the Ancestors. I did this by identifying as fully as I could with the images and environments in the dream; by literally imagining myself within the form and or being of the person, creature or structure, and allowing feelings, associations and insights to arise.
I always find I penetrate much more deeply into that inner ocean if I make the exploration with a friend who is supportive and not disturbed by what I express. In fact my first entrance into the house of the ancestors dream was incredibly emotional. I was visiting my friend David, who I was helping to do some maintenance on his house. So after we had finished work for the day I asked him if he would give me some time while I explored the dream.
What arose is too long to report in detail but I will summarise.
When I identified with the house it took a while to really experience it as a living process rather than simply an intellectual interpretation. But when I did become the structure and experienced the extent of the house, I realised it as my body. But it was not my body as I had been taught to see it through my training as a nurse. I did not experience it simply as a biological process, or a physiological machine. I experienced it as an incredibly ancient thing, carrying or incorporating in its form and functions lessons of life gathered over millions of years of human and animal evolution. I felt that it holds within its darkness – the presently unconscious areas developed and lived in the past – enormous amounts of information or memories. We fail to be aware of these because our attention is so fixed on the world outside of us. But of course, even there, if we look carefully, we can see we are the result, our culture and language are the result, of the events and lives stretching back into the ancient past.
The great house of my dream, as I felt its atmosphere and quality, as I gave it attention and allowed what was sensed within to become more fully conscious, I knew to be not only the impersonal past out of which my present identity had been formed, but also the very personal links with my ancestors. As I met this I felt some anxiety because there are so many unknowns in such a huge place. But I wanted to become aware of the real dimensions of myself. And it must be understood that I use the word ancestors in a wider sense than referring just to my physical predecessors. But this will become clear as the exploration unfolds.
The hole in the floor was simple to grasp. Most of my adult life had been given to attempting, in many different ways, to gain entrance to and explore what is generally known today as the unconscious. I don’t mean by this Freud’s view of the unconscious as repressed infantile trauma and adult sexual drives. I mean any and every aspect of oneself that has not as yet been made conscious. And that includes not only trauma, but also talents or potentials not yet claimed; buried creative insights; the hidden and mysterious processes of the body and mind; the problem solving processes of the non-rational mind; awareness of the deep core of our being; and an awareness of the Odyssey our being has made to reach this moment, this condition, now!
So the hole depicted glimpses I had gained of the influence of my ancestors in my life of today. The glimpse had arisen through my lifelong delving into the unconscious. But the hole is not the real door to the ancestral life, just a way of seeing it exists.
A previous dream depicts this in another way. In the dream I was crossing the rooftops of houses and came to one that I recognised as a home I had once lived in. There was a hole in the roof and I could see into a room that had being sealed off. It contained things I had once owned, but had lost and forgotten when the room was sealed off. So I decided I must sometime enter the room to see what was relevant and useful in my present circumstances.
In that dream there is once more reference to a hole, and my looking through to realise that there are things from my past, from previous dwelling places, that I want to reclaim or investigate. It gives the very powerful suggestion that my present personality can reclaim things from its long past that will be useful in the life of today.
The key, I realised, were qualities that gave me the right to enter the dwelling place of my ancestors. It shows the ability to enter more fully into what had been glimpsed through the hole. These qualities or abilities were gained slowly over years in which I practised and learned the skills of entering the unconscious and dealing with what was found there. I tend to call this lucidity. I don’t mean just waking up in a dream, but the ability while awake to enter into a condition that allows what is existing unconsciously to be known.
I also realised, as I explored, what was suggested by the key. I saw it was forged out of confidence in moving around in the extraordinary realm of experience that is the unconscious. That confidence or sureness, allows penetration into oneself that anxiety or disbelief would prevent. Subtle ideas, beliefs, attitudes or opinions, are the very material or “world” that make up the top levels of our personal awareness.
Terminology is difficult here because I have to use the word awareness to represent the whole realm of self that includes what is conscious and what is unconscious. Using awareness in that sense for a while, I believe there is no real separation between what or who you are consciously and unconsciously. But there is a borderline, a doorway, between the two. Perhaps it would be better to call it a filter or tuning system as with radio or TV. If that didn’t exist you would have all the memories/signals from the unconscious bombarding consciousness at the same time.
The filter is controlled by what you fear, what you allow yourself to feel or experience, whether you instinctively pull away from pain, and what you believe or disbelieve. It usually is tuned quite without your awareness unless you start carefully observing what you repress, what you edit out of what plays in your consciousness. Over the years I have learned to work with the filter to allow more to flow through. But I think my ability is still rudimentary.
Nevertheless, using that key allowed me to enter more fully into a dimension of experience I had only glimpsed previously. So to state it clearly, the key depicted the abilities I had forged to work with what I have called the filter or tuning. I have learned to gradually manipulate my conscious attitudes, beliefs and fears, enough to allow more of myself to surface. And the door was that natural threshold between the conscious and the unconscious that we all have. Self-awareness, or what we call our identity or personality, is a very new and fragile thing in terms of evolution. The door or threshold that exists between this fragile personality and the unconscious protects us from being overwhelmed by what really is an awareness of reality.
Love, security and persistence in love, were also part of that key. Dakota had helped me cut the last few notches in that key and thereby enabled me to open the door to the house of the ancestors.
When I opened the door I was overwhelmed by such a huge awareness of what had been left me as an inheritance by my ancestors that I sobbed for many minutes. It wasn’t pain causing me to weep, but the intensity of what I experienced. The strength, persistence, ability to love, as imperfect as it was, the sharpness of mind, the ability to exist within a modern community, were all gifts hammered out of raw human material by my forebears, enabling me to take the few further steps in life that I have.
This is so important that I want to see if I can describe it more clearly. Recently I travelled to Namibia and stayed in the capital city Windhoek. Perhaps this is a simplification, but there are several tribal groups living together in that community. There is a dominant tribal group, a competing tribal group, and a group or tribe that were once the slaves of the now dominant tribal group. There is still enormous segregation within the community, and the old tribal feelings and views are still very much influencing them. So what I am saying about my ancestors is that they left me the heritage of being able to stand above those older patterns of behaviour. They had already dealt with many of those issues, and the gift they left me was that I could move on from there. That is an extraordinary gift, to find myself capable of thinking and moving in ways that are still very difficult for many people in the world today. I am capable of moving beyond some of the rigid forms of loving and working that my ancestors battled with and developed strategies to deal with.
For instance one thing was that my forebears lived for generations within a very rigid and in some ways punitive religious system. So one of the great gifts they left me was the ability to recognise the limitations of that system and stand beyond it. That wonderful gift was a heritage from my ancestors, along with the ability to work independently, to be creative, to learn easily, to integrate and cooperate with males or females, to be no longer a tribal being. Those are phenomenal gifts to have inherited. That was why I wept and felt such gratitude for having received so much.
Then stepping into the area beyond the door I met Lurch. In identifying with Lurch to explore what he depicted, and in watching what feelings and associations arose, I almost immediately knew Lurch to be, or to represent the guardian, the door keeper of this realm. I realised that as Lurch I am the Guardian of the Threshold. There can be no entrance into this realm unless the seeker passes me. And there are tests he or she must pass also.
As I experience these realisations I was once more amazed how our dreaming self uses images so carefully and precisely. And although I quickly got some insight into what part Lurch played in my growing awareness of what was a new realm of experience for me, it took longer to appreciate some aspects of his significance.
As a young man I had read about the Guardian of the Threshold in the writings of Rudolf Steiner and the Rosicrucian Order, where there is an initiation into the Guardian. It is a name given by western mystical traditions to a process active in what those traditions called the psychic world. Before you can enter that world you meet your past negative deeds. You meet and deal with pains and actions that still imprison you, or in some way are still unmet. In eastern traditions the Guardian is simply called karma.
Lurch, as the Guardian I met, is partly a scary figure, but is a comic character too. So in my dream I meet the guardian, but I did not turn back through fear, or the pain of experiencing past tragic events. I passed into the house of the ancestors.
Later I realised that Lurch also embodies important aspects of the house. He is Frankenstein’s monstrous creation. As such he is created out of the dead bodies of many different people. That is a truly powerful image, showing that your present life is a weaving together of many people who have lived and died in the past.
Lurch also tested me in giving me the knife. Love is an important strength in the inward odyssey. If I had killed Puma I believe I would have been rejected from the house, and have had to learn that lesson. As it was, I neither felt fear, nor had any desire to kill, so the journey could begin. That wasn’t because I was squeaky clean, just that for years I had being clearing out the infant and childhood miseries that were like blockages in the way. I had worked hard to change old destructive patterns of behaviour. There was still a lot to do, but apparently I had done enough for Lurch to let me through.
I set about exploring the further realms of the house of the ancestors. I had explored the dream itself with David. But now I planned to continue walking into the darkness that confronted Lurch, Puma and me at the end of the dream. Suzanne was my listening friend this time.
I started by imagining myself standing in the shadows of the house with Puma and Lurch. Then we walked together into the darkness. The subjective images took on a life of their own and I saw we were walking in a large underground space like great catacombs. The light was dim but we could see our surroundings, and not very far into the cave like space was a tomb on our right. It had the form of a low wall about a foot high in an oblong, and the wall surrounded a long stone in the centre, which was roughly body shaped.
As we drew level with the tomb an enormous change occurred in me. Suddenly I became a woman. It was no longer imagination. I was now completely experiencing myself as a woman whose tomb we had approached. As such I was torn by an immense pain of loss. As my complete identification deepened my body curled up with the pain as I was torn by wretched crying. Suzanne told me my voice changed as I cried out again and again for release from the pain of losing all my children, my husband, even my parents. My hands were clawing my legs in an effort to express the misery, and I was screaming that I could not bear to live any longer with such pain. I cried out to God to take me, for there was nothing left for me to live for. “Why? Why did this happen to me? Why has everything I loved been taken from me?”
There was no response to these awful cries and tearing sobs. But slowly a shift began. It seemed to me as an observer witnessing this awful pain, that by entering this place the spirit of that woman had woken in me. But as she had died in such unresolved agony of loss, that is what was met when she awoke. But gradually she realised she was alive again in a new way. She began to recognise that I was holding her within me. Because I was not frightened of pain and emotions, the misery could play itself out in me. And because my understanding of what was happening flowed into her awareness, she slowly saw and felt her loss in a different way. In fact we were both realising she was experiencing resurrection, and that in turn meant there was no final death as believed by many. Therefore there was no loss as she had originally felt it.
At this point something truly incredible occurred. She and I both realised she was one of my past dwelling places. But for her the viewpoint was slightly different; for she saw me as a continuation of a life that she had failed to be a part of because of the awful pain of loss. It had kept her from flowing into what was her future as my life.
From my perspective she was one of the past dwelling places the spirit that was at the core of my present personality had lived in and as. She was not one of my past lives, because the personality that I am was unique and had not lived that woman’s life.
What Shaun had explained about the gradual loss of his personality, and its absorption into something more inclusive and connected with all life, illustrates this. If we give the name of spirit to what Shaun was absorbed into, and if we see that spirit dips into aspects of itself in the life of the body, and develops a unique personality, then we begin to grasp the relationship between the woman and myself.
Perhaps a clumsy analogy of this is to say an artist might paint many pictures. Each picture is unique. The artist learns from the work and difficulties in creating each picture, and can use what is learned in the next painting. But the next painting is not the reincarnation of the previous. The only link is through the artist.
Because I was gradually becoming aware of the spirit that had given me life, I was meeting the previous personalities, the previous life experiences and lessons my personality was shaped out of. The woman was a previous dwelling place of my spirit. To know her was to know more of my spirit and its eternal odyssey.
In knowing me the woman’s grief melted away, for in our meeting we both realised we gained existence out of an eternal spirit flowing into our lives. I could feel the change in her as she knew she was part of ongoing life here in the present, and the children and family she thought dead were also part of that river of lives.
It was a wonderful thing to witness and experience her resurrection. I could feel that she was a part of myself I had not known, a part of my potential I had not claimed. But the greatest feeling was of wonder that her life of the past could be resurrected into the present and given a new being, a new body, a new heaven and earth. This is a very moving thing to remember.
Looking back at this I feel that the term previous dwelling place really fits what I experienced. The woman’s personality and life events were where the spirit that lies behind my life had dwelt at one time. Remembering it meant that I was realising the continuum of experience that had, over ages, led to my present personal existence.
As I felt her integrating into my present life I asked her what she brought to me. I asked because I wondered what quality or ability this enormous experience brought to my present life. Her simple reply was, “A woman’s love.”
The dream of being on the rooftops and recognising a place I used to live, and the decision to see what had been wall that there, was, I believe, a very clear precursor of the experience. The pain of loss had been walled up, and needed to be felt and integrated – resurrected and given life.