my ancestors surround me
like walls of a canyon
their ideas drift over me
like breezes at sunset
we gather sticks
and make settlements
what we do is only partly
and partly continuation
down through the chromosomes
my baby sleeps behind me
stirring in the night
for the touch
that lets her continue
she is arranging
in her small form the furniture
and windows of her home
it will be a lot like mine
it will be a lot like theirs
– “Ancestors” poem by Harvey Ellis (edited to be a female baby)
I’ve been working with a book called The Path of Practice by Bri. Maya Tiwari to help myself align more to the natural rhythms of myself as a woman, connected to the earth and moon, to the seasons, and to the cosmos. One of the practices Tiwari recommends is to explore your ancestral heritage and learn about yourself and your relationship to those who went before. Since I feel most connected to my matrilineal line, I thought I would start there, with my mom’s mom, “Gammy.”
There are some interesting synchronicities that lead to a deeper exploration of this material now. My husband’s mom just passed away, and as an Interfaith Minister, I offered to help them put a Memorial Service together. I started with my Minister’s Manual and the Memorial Service I wrote as part of my seminary training, and found the service I had written for Gammy! It brought back many memories just as I was reading Tiwari’s book. As I was reading and making notes for myself, I remembered that not only did I have this collage, but also a beautiful photo album filled with stories about Gammy’s life that mom had given me for a recent birthday, almost as if I had been being prepared for this exploration.
* * *
I grew up hearing that I resembled my mom’s side of the family, and my sister resembled my dad’s. I never minded resembling the Tuck side in looks, as I always thought mom was pretty, but I wasn’t so sure I wanted to carry forth the opinionated and intense—some would say fanatic—energy that Gammy embodied. Turns out mom later found out that she was the wild, extreme one in her family, a role that then passed down to me in the matrilineal lineage…
As the collage portrays, Gammy’s bloodline included some percentage Native American (Cherokee or maybe Sioux), so I may have as much as 1/16 Native American blood in me, or much less…no-one seems to know for sure how far back that union took place. I like the idea of having some heritage that is much more deeply connected to the earth and her rhythms than the culture I grew up in. I like to think that connection is guiding me on this exploration as I deepen my awareness of my place within the natural rhythms of the earth.
As I reflect on the relationship between Gammy, mom and me, I see the many similarities as well as the ways my individual soul may be trying to bring my matrilineal line back into balance.
* * *
I come from a line of women who love to eat sweet things—Gammy ate so many that she ended up with diabetes in her old age, I had a binge eating disorder for many years, and mom has always tried to be careful not to overeat sweets. I remember how surprised I was to find out that mom and I both had the same taboo sweet treat: Oreos! Nowadays, sweet food isn’t calling me as much, but it makes me wonder what ancestral pattern was carried through to me that made us need to try to find the sweetness of life through treats instead of in our daily living?
What occurs immediately is the legacy I carry of being overly busy—until recently, too busy to savor and enjoy my life, which is where I am now finding that sweetness in abundance. This is a problem mom has complained about for years, commenting that I follow in her footsteps. Having learned more about Gammy’s life with nine children on a farm during the Great Depression, with very few amenities, I realize that she, too, must have been very busy.
However, Gammy was also known for indulging in pleasure, something I am still learning to embrace! Mom says she belonged to five book clubs, spending their sparse money on that instead of a flush toilet! She was also always willing to stop what she was doing and have fun. She never passed up a chance to turn a jump rope for any one of her nine kids, and she enjoyed jokes, and laughed, and really enjoyed her life. The best story I remember was when a bunch of the kids were home for Thanksgiving dinner with their friends. One of the boys asked Gammy to pass the butter and she picked it up and tossed it down the table!! The kids were pretty shocked, but all went on as normal, catching the butter, and not saying anything!
Gammy was also ahead of her time in her thinking about sex. She felt women had the right to be pleasured and in the mood before having sex with their husbands, and I imagine she practiced this, too! I also remember mom telling me that sex between two people who love each other is a beautiful and loving connection. I’m afraid my personality type combined with my teenage years of born-again Christianity got in the way of inheriting such an easy-going, forthright approach!
Gammy also felt the pull for deeper meaning through spirituality as I do. She spoke of past-lives and had an interesting theory about the soul that is actually very similar to the Diamond Approach path I follow. She felt the soul was like a many-faceted lantern, and each facet was a window into another person. She felt this explained why we feel connected to some people as soon as we meet them, as we are sharing the same soul. In the Diamond Approach each individual soul is the part of True Nature / God / Truth / the Divine embodied in a human being. And the diamond metaphor also feels related, as the diamond represents the many different facets of True Nature (Love, Joy, Will, etc.), some of which we have easier access to than others. Gammy believed that when she died, she was going to a good place and would be reincarnated—she even viewed death as another exciting part of life to learn about and enjoy!
Like mom and me, Gammy also loved beauty. She’d cry seeing a beautiful sunset and loved the fog lying low in the valleys. She also sketched, painted, and wrote whimsical poetry that celebrated her love and enjoyment of life. Beauty is imperative in my life—from the gardens, to collage and poetry, to music and singing, to color, texture, and the way a room is laid out—beauty soothes, delights, guides, and nourishes me.
We also share a love of dogs. Gammy had many—chihuahuas, dachshunds, st. bernards, and all manner of terriers! My life, thankfully, has been blessed by the sweet companionship of dogs, too—from Heidi the dachshund when I was a baby to Moppet the cocker-poo, to Bart the airedale terrier to Jake, Gammy’s toy poodle/terrier mix, to my own dogs Finnegan, a lab mix, and Teddybear, a lhasa apso, and many other dog friends in between!
Poverty has also influenced my life through Gammy, even though I have been lucky enough not to have to live through it myself. Having nine children, whose births overlapped the Great Depression, Gammy knew how to make ends meet through such practices as scraping out the last of the eggwhite from the shell and carefully using all left-overs. Mom was careful, too, passing this along to me. I can’t stand to waste food, always using a rubber spatula to get the last bit out, trying to get the most out of any meal, avoiding expensive items, and not wasting left-overs…
I wonder about my jaw—I have Gammy’s jaw, as does mom—the wide, square look of Native American ancestry. And this is also a key place that I hold tension. Is this related to unprocessed ancestral linkages? I wonder if I incarnated as an Enneagram type One to balance out mom and Gammy as Sevens. In Gammy, the Seven energy expressed as imbalanced pleasure-seeking, playing and joking around, as well as being outspoken, uninhibited, and crass at times. In mom, while there’s always a willingness to play and experiment and follow her curiosity, it’s more a matter of having her fingers in too many pots, not wanting to miss out on anything, being overly busy, and not able to rest.
Being a rigid, constricted, nothing-is-ever-right type One, has not been a very fun or relaxing way to live! So now my task is to learn to balance this One-Seven energy. Can I be responsible, conscientious and orderly, playful and happy, and enjoy my life all at the same time? It’s about sacred balance—perhaps my role is to find this, not just for myself, but for the ancestral lineage. To learn not to reject pleasure and the desire to take in and experience life, but to balance it with discernment, devotion, and right action. As Br. Stendl Rast says: to be “playfully serious and seriously playful,” enjoying a life-affirming life.
I see how my involvement in Laughter Yoga is related to this attempt to find balance! After experiencing a period of openness to Joy last year, I felt drawn to try Laughter Yoga. I’ve never been much of a laugher as an adult, being a rather serious and disciplined person. I did laugh socially, but not so much pure laughter just for the enjoyment of it, so Laughter Yoga was a stretch. I found I had so much fun being silly and playing and inviting a younger, less-inhibited, less self-conscious part of me to show up, that I decided to become a Laughter Yoga leader and create a club in St. Paul! This practice is about opening up to play, pleasure, and lightness, and breaking up my Oneish patterns of being serious, disciplined, and rigid, and I see now how it’s also about allowing access to my ancestral heritage through Gammy!
And this last few months of learning to rest, savor, and relax are also related to breaking up this pattern. More and more, I find pleasure in not doing anything, in simply being with myself, in seeing the beauty around me, in appreciating life. I feel so much gratefulness for this shift in my orientation—again, imbibing the lessons of my ancestry and my line of growth in the healthier side of type Seven.
I have decided to take a new middle name to represent this heritage. Mom originally wanted to name me after Gammy’s younger sister, Khyva, but my more conventional dad nixed naming me Kimberly Khyva Taylor (Katy is my nickname). It’s too bad as it would have been very appropriate! Khyva was a performing violin player, and I have been the only one in the extended Tuck clan to actively pursue music through singing professionally. Another interesting connection is that during my seminary training, when we did a meditation on taking a spiritual name, I received the name [kiva]. Researching the meaning of the word, I found that a kiva is an underground room used for spiritual ceremonies by certain Native American tribes. I was unwittingly connecting not only to my matrilineal, but also to my Native American, heritage, in this name! It is also amazingly synchronous to be connected with this now when we are learning about the Citadel in our Diamond Approach Work. The Citadel is experienced as a solid, stone-like structure that supports and provides shelter on the Path as we learn to live in alignment with our current realization of the Truth. I never felt connected to or liked my middle name, Kay—now I know why!
This exploration helps me to understand more deeply that I am not just Kimberly, aka Katy, Taylor, an individual doing her spiritual work. I am also part of this genetic and psycho-spiritual lineage. Who I am now continues to be informed and guided by those who have gone before me. I can learn from this heritage that lives on through me. I can embrace the gifts of my ancestors and find balance in the way I embody this lineage in the world. By incorporating Khyva’s name into my own, I more formally link myself to my matrilineal line. In so doing, I feel more connected to the earth-boundedness of being a human, born of a mother who was born of a mother…as part of this earth. I, too, am part of this rhythm of birth and life and death, intimately intertwined with those who have gone before and will come after me.
When I finished this collage on Thanksgiving Day 2009, it inspired me to also finish the collage in which I was exploring my pain around not having my own child. I saw the relationship very clearly—in not having my own child, I don’t get to continue my bloodline. What came before and created me will not get passed down by me through my physical flesh and blood. It will have to be in some other form. I hope that I can be a psycho-spiritual ancestor for some other woman as she discovers her connection to herself and the earth.
How do you see yourself connected to your ancestors? Are you aware of the heritage your life is carrying forward and / or trying to heal?
4 thoughts on “ancestors”
Lovely thoughtful essay, Katy. I wish I had known your Gammy. I did meet her, but only briefly. She was a woman ahead of her time.
I think I connect with my native american ancestors in my love of nature and the earth. I wish I had more time to appreciate and meditate on this. (Not much time for myself lately, and maybe for long time past. Is that the 2 in me)?! I tend to think we women inherit more from our mtdna that impacts our bodies and our lives, but of course there are all the other ancestors also. Genalogy being one of my “manias” I love learning who they were and the times in which they lived. That is easy for me to get “lost” doing. I have to really work to live in the moment!
thanks for taking the time to read this, aunt salley! another thing you did for me–i hope you can take this as inspiration to find a way to add some you-time into your life! (and yes, it does sound like the Two in you.) i always think of you connected to the earth, too. it’s fun we both have some Native American lineage, by different branches of our family trees!
what do you see as the stronger inheritance from your matrilineal lineage? how does that show up in your life?
I have been engrossed in reading the ancestral entry on your blog. It is truly fascinating and real and inspiring. You will be–probably already are–a mother spirit to other young women. What a journey you are on; I love the way you have explored your mother and her mother’s passages, inclinations and other attributes, and taken them apart to view yourself and finding out what passed down and what did not. Great work, Katy.
I “envy” your accessibility to your ancestry through photos and oral stories. How lucky to have your parents still alive and there to give you answers. The last time I saw my parents I taped their stories from their childhoods and older. You may want to do the same. Storytelling is holy, and their lives’ histories are bound in a time forever gone once they die. This is very exciting.
Go well as you learn to relax and feel blessed in non-doing–Wu Wei.
Love and many blessings,