As the leaves change and the early morning sun gilds everything in gold, we find ourselves turning our thoughts more and more towards magic, the liminal, and our ancestors. Holy days like Dia de los Muertos, Samhain, and All Saints and All Soul’s Day have grown in popularity, and more and more soulful seekers find ways of remembering.
Remembering what? Remembering our dead loved ones. Remembering our ancestors of spirit – influential people who touched our lives in a number of ways. And perhaps most of all, remembering our true selves.
For that is one of the primary reasons why we remember our ancestors, why we call them back to the land of the living through feasts, memory and celebration. Their presence reminds us of our lineage – who we really are and where we really come from. The presence of our ancestors reminds us too that we are not alone. Though our traditions and our old ways of knowing have certainly been disrupted and broken, they have never been completely destroyed, never totally forgotten. It is for this reason that we celebrate our beloved dead – to restore life and what it means to truly live well.
Cultures and traditions that honor the dead do more than just remember. They aspire to confer or to consult with those who have gone before us. We, too, can take part in this aspiration.
There are many ways this conference or consultation can take place. Through divinations of all sorts; through simple question and answer; through sitting quietly and breaking bread with a deceased loved one; and through gathering with family, friends, and our communities, telling stories of the ones we love and remember.
When we look to our ancestors, we do so with love, but we also do so with questions. What stories, what old ways of knowing and being and honoring, were not passed down? What mistakes were made that can serve as reminders to us, from which we can learn? What aspects of culture and heritage were forgotten or shut out, and need to be opened once again?
In these relatively simple acts, we find nourishing prescriptions for life. And we find the roots of a robust care about how we live, what we are doing with our one precious life. But there is more. A very old understanding reminds us that our beloved dead show up not only for us, but also for those who come after us. If we are sufficiently open to these roots, we discover care for what kind of world we are creating for those who come after us.
Legacy is not given nearly as much attention as lineage. But it should be. Legacy is simply the flip-side of honoring our lineage: the more we become aware of our lineage and our ancestors, the more we find ourselves becoming conscious of our legacy.
Each one of us has a legacy to share with our diverse communities. In some cases these are our actual children. In other cases our legacy is built instead with and for our communities, our educational and creative endeavors, our businesses, our growing or healing of living things. All of these things are also our legacy, what we leave in our wake when it is our turn to go beyond the veil.
Who will find inspiration in the way we are living our lives? Are we even living our life in way that others coming after us will find inspiring, are we living our lives in a way that we find inspiring?
Who will be there to ask: What, dear ancestor, can you help me remember? What do I need to know? What will I never know, and need to learn, because it did not find room or voice in your life?
Soulful seekers talk a lot about “conscious living” or “living with intention” and often we are told that the ways to those destinations are through asking what feels good in your life right now. There is nothing wrong with that approach, but I think we can go deeper and achieve something better. Remember your ancestors. And in so doing, remember that one day you too will be an ancestor. What do you want those who love you to remember – about you and about themselves? Live life with an eye to that. It will be a conscious life, an intentional life. And, in a very real way, an eternal life – a true legacy.