To Touch the Eternal
“Our ancestors connect us to the eternal realm, too. When we are in relationship with them we open to the Eternal within, the part of us that does not die. I discovered the ancestors' magic slowly, and only after great reluctance.”
The invisible world is trying to get our attention these days. I feel it in my dreams and in the dreams of others that I listen to each day. I hear it when I walk by the river or in the woods, finally quieting my mind.
By "invisible world," I mean the realms that live beyond us, which we sense but do not see. The mythologist Michael Meade calls it the Eternal. He says that humans need to "touch the Eternal" just to survive the burdens of time and the weight of daily life.
Especially now, when our world seems to have drifted off course, and so many once-revered pathways to the Eternal have been devalued in the West—like prayer, nature, poetry, and simple kindness—many of us are feeling lost.
Our ancestors connect us to the eternal realm, too. When we are in relationship with them we open to the Eternal within, the part of us that does not die. I discovered the ancestors' magic slowly, and only after great reluctance.
Why bother with the dead who are out of sight, whose lives are a tangle of their own making, a thing of the past? For the longest time I cared nothing about the fraught past of my relatives. The very word "ancestors" seemed archaic and irrelevant to me. It called to mind bone oracles and ornate sacrifices to the dead that had nothing to do with my life.
Then, in 2015, I fell into a class taught by Jill Purce, a British scholar who had developed a kind of ancestral healing done through family constellations. Jill brought a distinctly ceremonial element to the circle of 25 people who had assembled. She taught us unfamiliar Buddhist chants and the awkward steps of the Native American ghost dance. Yet, there I was, and what happened next bypassed my analytical mind completely.
The ancestors came alive for me that day. I was able to face and feel the pure heart of an abusive grandfather, whose mother had died giving birth to him, and I was able to cry the stopped-up tears of an outcast uncle whose abject loneliness had led him to end his own life. Reconnecting with these relatives and feeling their humanness—helped me to soften my heart and relinquish my rigid judgments toward others, and even myself.
More recently, I have had the immense joy of reuniting with my beloved cousin Menachem, who died of leukemia when we were both seven, and who has since become one of my ancestral guides. By relating to my ancestors, I feel I am entering the Eternal.
It is an immense privilege to share this work with others. Helping students to turn and face their ancestors, and honor the lives they lived, no matter how imperfect or short, is to share the invisible world, to enlarge our perspective on life, to touch the Eternal.
As our visible world quakes with climate disasters, gun violence, and tempestuous leaders, each of us must voice ourselves and take action to make our world whole. But a core component of social change is healing ourselves. Finding a path to the invisible realm is key to this self-healing. Whether our path is prayer, meditation, poetry, stillness in nature, or listening to our ancestors, the Eternal realm is knocking at our door. Why not open it?