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 narrative 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? For its own sake.
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). The main dial on the Susan Piver machine is set to “know.” That’s just me. 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? Contemplating where you came from—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, religion, culture, or character. These beings or ideas are your lineage. 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 Italian-Americans or devotional Christians 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 beside you can feel or 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. I really don’t know. 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. For me, 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 the same tribe. As tribe members, certain benefits and responsibilities accrue. When you hold a lineage, for example, you could find refuge at 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 you can best serve 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 Muddy Waters, to Marpa, Manjushri and Sarasvati, Shiwa Okar and Sakyong Mipham. 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 gather 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 or ideas 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 means to you. 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.
And know this. We are utterly alone in this world. And companions are all around. 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.
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