November 30, 2014

The Other Reason to Spend Time with Our Families: Ancestral Memory.

mother grandmother laugh family

“There are mysteries to the universe we were never meant to solve. But who we are and why we are here, are not among them. Those answers we carry inside.”

~ Optimus Prime

The past couple years I’ve bumped into this idea of sacred “remembering” over and over again.

The books I’ve read, the movies I’ve seen, and the conversations I’ve had with mentors often contained a message instructing me (us) to remember my (our) truth, my purpose, and my divinity over and over again.

It’s a strange concept, that we might be able to remember something that feels like we never actually experienced in the first place.

Even while typing that last sentence I’m reminded me of the paradoxical Koans, told by Monks to their students as a way to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning.

But just as I’m ready to admit that the whole idea is too much to wrap my head around, science provides us with something that might make things just a bit clearer, and no less fascinating.

Neuroscience has found that mice who were taught to fear a certain smell passed this fear down to their offspring. (Before we go further, I want to extend my sincere apologies to mice everywhere.)

Both the mice’s children and their grandchildren were found to be “extremely sensitive” to cherry blossoms and would go out of their way to avoid the scent, despite never having experienced it in their lives.

That’s right, it happened that fast—the very next generation was influenced in a profound way.

The report concluded:

The experiences of a parent, even before conceiving, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations.

That means if the young mice were perplexed by their own fears of cherry blossoms, merely asking their relatives about their past experiences with cherry blossoms might have been able to provide the young ones with some very valuable information about why cherry blossoms should be avoided.

This is a concept known as genetic memory, or ancestral memory.

While I truly believe that we are all unique beings capable of overcoming genetic and environmental influences, this little nugget of information may help us to understand certain aspects of ourselves better, and that’s a pretty big deal.

Is there something you’re terrified of, and you’re not quite sure why? Could it be that a parent, grandparent or someone further back had a frightening experience with this certain something?

The same could be said for preferences.

One study suggests that savants, such as children who seemingly know how to play instruments without ever having learned, may be drawing upon ancestral memories.

And Carl Jung believed that, “The collective unconscious, unlike the personal unconscious, is a type of genetic memory that can be shared by individuals with a common ancestor or history. The collective unconscious consists of implicit beliefs and thoughts had by our ancestors. While we are not aware of the collective unconscious, it can influence how we act.”

Imagine struggling with anxiety during intimacy and learning that your mother or grandmother suffered sexual abuse.

Or that your dislike for carrots may be related to a great-grandfather’s allergy.

Or that your love of horses has something to do with your great-aunt’s favorite pony.


The next time you have an opportunity to sit with your relatives, remember that, if nothing else, they may hold a key to better understanding certain aspects of your very own nature.

And while much of this is still merely correlative and barely scratches the surface of what might be referred to as a “sacred knowing,” in my opinion, at least it’s a tiny piece of the puzzle floating towards its right place.

We’re carrying information in our very cells that our cognitive selves still haven’t figured out how to access—let alone decode. Waking up to the truth about ourselves might take some teamwork.

I can’t help but feel a little giddy thinking of the things we might uncover about the origins of mankind if we were somehow able to gain a more intimate view of these “ancestral knowings.”

Not only are we the sum of our experiences, but we’re also the sum of a whole lineage’s worth of experiences.



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Author: Lucy Animus

Editor: Emma Ruffin

Photo: courtesy of the author 

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