Japanese culture is rich with ancestral worship. Shinto is the indigenous, animist tradition that no doubt arose spontaneously across the country in accordance with respective needs in respective communities. This form of worship is the thread and crux of *all* indigenous religion for a reason. It is borne of relationship to land and ancestry, which may equate to the same thing if we feel deep enough. Buddhism is a more modern addition to the religious landscape in Japan, but it was fused with an extant understanding of the pantheon of gods, and the position of us as humans within that. Certain Buddhist traditions, in particular funeral rites, were combined with an animist perspective and cemented the practice of connecting with our ancestors.
As with all ritualised traditions, the actual connections made with ancestral heritage today have weakened, typically performed with a sense of obligation rather than reverence, but I would say only in the past century or so. When held against a backdrop of what is likely millennia of solid ancestral worship, it means there is a powerful collective pool of wisdom that we can return to from our present deviation - if we choose. I was fortunate enough to experience the resonance of that wisdom in many ways during my time in Japan, as well as within my body. This is where my understanding of ancestral healing stems from.
photo by Masatoshi Naito 内藤正敏「婆バクハツ！」
That we are bound to the land is obvious if we spend any length of time living in that way. We are made up of the molecules in the air that we inhale and exhale, an unending exchange through breath whether we are conscious of it or not. We are made up of the food that grows drinking Light from Sun and Waters from Earth. Our skin is clothed in material woven from plants, the mud walls and thatched roofs over our collective heads built from the land itself. Simply by existing, we are in a constant state of interaction. These things are created, borne of the miracle that is nature. To live in reverence of nature is to live in reverence of ourselves, as the materials in our surroundings are alchemised into cells in our skin and eyes and bellies, and in turn, the materials of which we are made are released, dissolved or decomposed, back into the air and earth from which we are born. And who are we? Just as the sunflower grows from a seed encoded with specific patternings that, with sun and air and water and soil, will grow to manifest specific shapes and leaves and petals and colours, so are we each encoded with a genetic patterning. We are a product of our material physical environments - what we generally term 'Nature' - but also carry an essence of something unique, a combination of strands of genetic memory passed down through infinite generations of wombs. Although we are composed entirely of the material that our ancestors were made of, the way in which this material has come together in our bodies at this point of space and time is unique. We are hybrids of hybrids of hybrids living at a specific intersection of myriad dimensions, in moments that will never exist again. This moment now. And now this one. We are individually unique combinations of our ancestors vibrating with an orchestra of frequencies. And yet we are simultaneously ancient. The elements have shifted into a unique pattern, but the nature of those elements are fundamentally the same, and have been since the conception of life on this planet. This idea is hardly unfamiliar in terms of physical genetics and DNA coding, something that 'science' can explain. But I have a growing awareness that this coding encompasses the combined experiences and emotions of our ancestors. This is something that science increasingly seems to have the capacity to explain too - that DNA patterning is malleable, that cells can heal and express themselves in different ways depending on deep-set conditioning, intention, and belief. Funding in that direction of scientific research isn't forthcoming, but that is besides the point, and perhaps that actually *is* the point - because if we listen to and feel our bodies without judgement, the truth of cellular healing is abundantly evident. An attempt by science to prove or disprove such embodied truth by default takes us out of our bodies and into our minds, making it a point to contest and doubt the innate intelligence of our somatic experience, which is how the imbalances all started in the first place. Our bodies hold the memories, traumas, joy and grief lived through by our parents and their parents and theirs, and so on. These are emotional imprints and are passed down in reproduction, manifesting as physical, mental and emotional features and conditions.
The 'physical' model of how this might work is intergenerational toxic overload. When living in harmony with nature, consuming living foods drinking fresh water and breathing clean air, our terrain is healthy. From around WW2, the use of commercial pesticides, herbicides, etc became more widespread. So did food grown in artificial conditions, water chlorinated, symptoms over-treated with drugs, vaccinations overloading the adrenals, air pollution, and chronic stress, to name but a few. Folk of my grandparents' generation when first exposed to these artificial elements coped okay, because their terrain was strong. But they might have taken a course or two of antibiotics, or hormonal treatments, which upset the balance of their gut flora or the mechanisms in their reproductive systems. Not a big deal for them, but a child conceived in that compromised terrain might not have such a strong system. And then they too are overloaded with alien substances, from birth. Digestion, endocrine, immune systems and detoxification channels stop flowing as nature intended. The children they conceive are born into even more toxic environments with even weaker terrains, and so on. This is largely why there are so many more children with allergies, behavioural and autoimmune conditions today than ever before.
A more cultural example might be the intergenerational impact of the war in Japan. The younger generations are largely unaware that the matrix they inhabit was woven as a result of Japan's defeat in the second world war. But speak to anyone over the age of 70, who grew up during the war or its immediate aftermath, and the mindset inherited from such devastation is overwhelmingly visible. This is a generation framed in shame. There is a cultural tendency in Japan to make oneself 'small' out of humility and respect for others, but this crushing defeat, at the hands no less of the physically 'larger' white folk, is not only symbolic. The Japanese really did shrink. Our spirits, our sense of worth, the validity of our existence, all shrank. We made do with less. We made do with *being* less. Scarcity mindset abounded. Scarcity and shame defined the entire generation. The result of that mentality seems to have been a mass forgetting in the generation that followed, characterised by mindless and rampant consumerism. Amnesia is easier than confronting a generation's worth of grief. Anyone who has visited Japan will be aware of the layers of plastic wrapping everything comes encased in. Three plastic bags for three items at the 7/11 - one for the cold drink, one for the hot croquette, one for the notebook, and a handful of cartoon stickers and coupons. There is an abundance of shops lined by an abundance of crap. I didn't know abundance could feel so hollow until I lived in Tokyo. The mindset is one of endless exponential financial growth, inherited from the American model, adopted in retaliation to the desperately frugal mentality of their parents, making up for the lack of self worth with an abundance of material stuff.
The shame continues to be left unprocessed. The grief is still very much there, running as a dark undercurrent to Japanese society, the sense of not enough-ness, the sense of not being as good as the big bold West. This is why we cling so desperately to these models that the generation before believed were symbols of progress. I wonder what the next generation might do with this shame, what new warped ways it might find to express itself in if we continue to shirk the work of grieving.
This is why I say 'we', because that unprocessed shame and grief lives in me still. I believe we all carry a load of ancestral grief in some form or other, and illness tends to be a very obvious way of that manifesting. It's difficult to ignore, and I wonder if this 'pandemic' is, at least in part, an expression of our collective avoidance. We are being moved to heal as interconnected individuals. I don't know what that shared healing process will look like or how it will unfold. It's more than likely to be a chaotic fucking mess, but I have trust in a larger cosmic body that is holding us all, and in the power of guidance carried by our ancestors, through us. We just have to ask. Different threads and experiences have led me in this direction, to understanding the conditioning I hold in my body not only as results of 'childhood trauma' or specific habits or events or relationships in this lifetime, but as a cumulative rendition of millennia of lives lived in rural Akita, Yorkshire, and wherever else my ancestors may have wandered.
Interesting note: It is actually a widely understood notion in Buddhism, especially the Lotus Sutra, that to heal oneself is to heal seven generations preceding and into the future. This idea of living with the 'seven generations' at heart is also found in Celtic paganism, and in the native American Iroquois tradition.