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Taming our ancestors

When friends wax lyrical about their family trees, I have always kept quiet, very quiet. My ancestors, sadly, were not a nice bunch of people.

So I felt slightly anxious as I headed to The Bridge in Somerset. This five-day intensive retreat packs a hefty therapeutic punch with its combination of meditation, visualisation, body work, journaling, group sharing and ritual. It’s not uncommon for retreats to delve into the relationship with our parents, but few dig back deep into our ancestral roots. At The Bridge it’s an essential part of the process.

“We work with the past in a very particular way,” says Donna Lancaster, one of The Bridge’s co-founders. “We revisit your childhood and then go further back as that’s where the blind spots tend to be.”

Unfinished business can stretch way back. “It’s in your DNA,” says Donna. “We don’t just inherit our grandfather’s nose or grandmother’s hips; we may take on their attitudes, their beliefs.”

I feel sick to the core. My grandfathers were both abusers – one sexual; one physical and emotional. I don’t want anything to do with their attitudes, their beliefs. I hate the idea of sharing DNA with them.

Donna reassures me that we always have a choice; that we can choose what to take from our heritage and what to discard. She quotes an ancient Celtic ancestral song: ‘Oh may this be the one who will bring forward the good, true and beautiful in our family lineage. Oh may this be the one who will break the harmful family patterns.’

Over five days I work through a raft of emotions. I rage against the cruelty, the pain, the betrayal that was passed from generation to generation. I sob for the innocence that was lost, again and again, in my family. Yet I also feel hope. This generation, my siblings and I have called a halt. We have turned the tide. As the song says, we are the ones who will break the harmful family patterns. Yet, even so, I can’t find anything beautiful in my heritage.

Towards the end of the week Donna says we will be working with our ancestors using visualisation, meditation and movement. I feel a tight ball of fear in my stomach and, as the music starts, I start to shake. My whole body shudders and slowly I feel something loosening inside. The room suddenly feels full of people: my ancestors are crowding around me. As I go back in time, I realise they weren’t all abusers – many of them were wild, passionate, creative people. I dance in the flames with the powerful witchy women, with the strong thoughtful men and something loosens. It feels as if I were lifting the curse, allowing the energy that had been warped to run clear and free once more.

I left the retreat feeling lighter, brighter, as if I had shrugged off a heavy backpack of pain, fear, sorrow and anger. The Bridge is a very beautiful process, full of deep grace and wisdom. I heartily recommend it for anyone who wants to shed the shadow of the past, no matter what shape that shadow may take.

This originally appeared in Natural Health magazine.

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