On the importance of lineage

January 23, 2023   |   2 Comments

Dear Open Heart Project,

Hello! I hope your week is off to a good start (or end, depending on when you see this). This week, instead of a video, I thought I’d share some thoughts on what can help keep our practice in the realm of sacred. This does not mean holy or precious. It means transformational. In my training, one of key instructions for keeping practice connected to something larger than ourselves is to connect, each time we practice, with lineage.

How does one identify their lineage in this time of increasing disconnection from the past, from each other, from religion?

Here is a place to begin: Your life is telling a story. Do you know what it is?

If you reflect, you could see that your life actually has a narrative arc. Themes keep repeating. On any ordinary day, story lines are continually rising, arcing, fading. Some are big and some are small. Although you can’t see it in the moment, looking back, you could see that a particular story is unfolding: the story of your life. The older I get, the less I try to direct this story and instead try to get out of its way so it can tell itself. To whom? To me. Why? I don’t know.

At middle age, I am pretty clear on some of my personal themes: Independence versus relationship. The search for a true home, always just out of reach. The longing to be seen, coupled with the longing for invisibility. The quest for insight (as opposed to, say, love or power). That’s just me. These have always been my issues. It’s not good, it’s not bad—but it is thematic. Where the story is heading, I have no idea.

What story is your life trying to tell you? What are your themes? How do they create or obscure your spiritual path? Who are your ancestors? Contemplating the sources of wisdom that guide you and speak to you—your lineages—can tell you something about the nature of your unique personal story.

There are beings or ideas to whom you feel connected, whether through blood, culture, or nature. These beings or ideas are your lineage. Who and what has taught you the most, whether with kindness or fury? Perhaps you count yourself as part of the lineage of Eastern European Jews or Chapatti makers of India. Maybe you see yourself as of the lineage of healthcare providers or pagans or devout atheists. On an inner level, you may identify as part of the lineage of mothers or fathers, lovers, poets, seekers, change agents, survivors of trauma, activists, gardeners, or of those who have no lineage. You belong somewhere. You belong to someone, even if it is to those who also belong nowhere.

At your times of greatest need, your lineage can rescue you—not from sadness or grief, but from loneliness. Someone has felt what you feel, has an interest in your story, longs for your freedom. I’m not saying this in any woo-woo way, like there are ghosts or angels all around trying to bless you. (I’m not saying there aren’t, either.) All I know is that when I have sought guidance and support for my deepest questions and concerns, these beings or ideas are always there for me. When I read certain words, contemplate certain lives, or join with others who share my lineage(s), I learn what I need to learn. I find comfort. I find the support I need to take my inquiries deeper. This is all I want.

In Buddhist thought, when you are part of a lineage it is said that you “hold” that lineage. This is beyond simple admiration and respect, but a recognition that you are part of a tribe. When you hold a lineage, you could find a refuge during your most confused moments. In your words and deeds, you could think that you represent more than yourself. In these ways, you are not alone.

It is all so incredibly intimate. The only one who has any idea of what your true lineages are and how to best represent them is you.

During my darkest moments, I blunder around in search of the embrace of lineage. Are you here? Are you here? I need you because I cannot see the sense of this life, of this world. Please let me see you or feel you, I say to those I have identified as my lineage holders, to my parents, grandmothers and grandfathers, to Rainer Maria Rilke and John Coltrane, to Marpa, Manjushri and Sarasvati.. Do you know me? I have no idea, not in the moment. But when I look back on the way my life has unfolded, I see only proof of their presence. Together, we are authoring a story and together, somehow, in some lifetime, we will conclude it by liberating it into pure space.

It has been said that prayer is when we ask things of the divine and meditation is where we glean the answers. We could view our meditation practice as both a very straightforward cultivation of mindfulness and awareness and as a chance to connect with lineage. If this sounds completely NOT interesting or useful, no problem. Ignore me. But if the notion of lineage holds appeal for you, you could try this: Before you begin your practice, take a moment to acknowledge the lineages of your heart. Think of the beings you most admire or have benefitted from, whether in person or in your thoughts. Name them to yourself. Ask them to bless you, whatever this may mean. Imagine them sitting with you, to your left and to your right. Feel that you practice together. At the end of your practice, thank them.

We are utterly alone in this world. And, at the same time, companions are everywhere. As you go about this day, tune in to those moments when you feel accompanied as well as to those moments when you might accompany another, whether by word, deed, or a simple shared glance. Some shared moments are between you and another person, but sometimes they arise between you and yourself (when you suddenly “get” something), or you and the world (when you are touched by its beauty or sorrow). When you look, you see that companionship is everywhere. For this, in part, we can thank our lineages.

What/who are your lineages? I’d love to know.

With love, Susan

In other news!

Buddhist Immersion and Meditation Teacher Training: Registration is now open

Registration is open for a brand new program, Buddhist Immersion and Meditation Teacher Training. Truly, I am more excited to teach this than anything I can imagine. It is a chance for us to look more carefully at foundational Buddhist principles (such as the Eightfold Path, the Six Paramitas, and more) and explore what I think is the most transformative path of all: the teaching path. Whether you go on to teach or not, learning to teach teaches the teacher in a whole new way! And, oh yeah! We’ll also study the enneagram! And there will be a full day retreat! It’s gonna be a party, y’all. A deep and real party.

The program is 15 weeks long and begins on March 18.

If you’d like to discuss it further, there are two ways to do so. You can register for a free info session on January 31 and/or schedule a phone call with me. This program asks a lot of you (and me) and I want to make sure it is a good fit. All the details are here.

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  • Posted by:  Sally

    I’m interested but missed 01.31.23 session as I just discovered it. I’ve been traveling & am now in Victoria BC for 2 months. Sorry for missing it. Thanks for ALL that you give us

  • Posted by:  Iman Nosseir

    Thank you for this. The idea of lineage in the context of feeling lonely for certain qualities resonated loudly within me. Having a lineage that has those qualities really intrigues me. It feel like I can have my personal set of archetypes that inspire me to be who I aspire to be.

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