All twenty-five of us stood against the two walls across from each other. We were all blindfolded and could not see anything. We could only hear Wilbert Alix, our workshop guide, in the background instructing us on how we would do the Ancestor’s walk. As we stood with our blindfolds on, we were to imagine both parents standing before us; we then would look into our mother’s eyes and imagine walking through them to the past generations. This exercise is meant to give us an opportunity to heal not only ourselves but to impact those whom have gone before us, if not physical then the psychic wounds that have remained throughout the times.
Panic, almost terror, arose in me, my heart was beating so hard, I was surprised at the physical reaction I was having at the thought of going through my mother’s eyes onward to experience her ancestry. “Couldn’t we choose our father’s line to go through instead?” I asked. The answer was “no”, it was important to go through our mother’s. He reminded us that it was very important to go through an experience to the other side of it for a healing to take place more deeply. But to go through my mother’s eye to heal seemed like a big challenge for me, but I was going to give it my all, I wanted to heal!
A huge part of me wanted to run right out of this workshop. Up until now all the exercises with at this Trance Dance workshop led by Wilbert Alix were really fun! But this one felt particularly challenging for me since my mother and I have a history of emotional pain. In fact I have spent the last thirty years trying to heal the wounds with my mother, they seem to run really deep. My mother and I have attempted in so many ways to be in an healthy and loving adult relationship together, but there is always an awkwardness that has stayed between us. My first two years of my life have remained a wedge that has not allowed us to feel safe with one another on a real and authentic way.
My father, who was in the Navy, was away at sea for long periods of time, leaving my young mother and their two small children alone by herself. When I was around the age of one, I was left in a crib while my mother took an afternoon nap. My crying for food alarmed my brother who was 20 months older than me. In desperation to feed his baby sister, he found a bottle of iron pills, opened them up (obviously this was before child proof lids), and fed all of the pills to me.
When my mother woke she found her baby turning blue and hardly breathing. Fortunately they pumped my stomach and brought me back before I quit breathing all together. Just as she was beginning to recover from the intense stress of this experience, I contracted the measles and both eyes became infected. When my mother took me to the doctor’s office, he gave her an ointment and told her to come back when I was over the measles. My right eye got better, but the left eye became so infected that my sclera literally fell out in my mother’s hand. When she took me back to the doctor’s, it was too late to save my eye, which had to be removed.
My dad was still at sea and could not be reached through either of these crises and my young mother felt all-alone. When he did get back, my mom had told him that she had had enough. She was leaving him and going back home to Oregon, and she could not handle raising us kids. They decided that my dad’s parents who lived in Detroit would take care of us until my dad got out of the Navy. Due to my age and the tenderness of removing my eye, they could not make a prosthetic eye until I was older. I wore an eye patch for a period of time.
Back at the workshop, I stood with my blindfold on, at first a bit paralyzed by my “inner Janese”, unable to take a step forward. Wilbert told us that we could not take a step until we felt the connection, and go through the maternal ancestor’s pupil.
I stood against the wall imagining both parents before me, and all I could feel was my inner little girl asking my mom, “ why didn’t you want me?”, Why did you leave me when I was sick?”. It seemed a long time before I could get past those two questions. My blindfold got soaked as tears rolled down my face. I wanted to crumble on the floor and sob, but instead I kept looking into my mother’s eyes.
Then a most interesting thing happened. I started to feel lighter, and began to see the heaviness of my mother’s heart. As I felt the intense level of anger and grief that my mom had probably felt in her heart, my compassion and empathy grew for her, and I wanted us both to go through her eye to face her mother together. With blindfold on and holding my mom’s hand in my mind, I took one step forward to face her mother.
This step took me into a feeling of darkness. The air felt thick and heavy and I wasn’t sure if I could continue. I stood there numb, waiting for anything to come in and make sense. Finally memories about things that I had heard my mom say over the years about my grandmother, who I only met once, started pouring in. Her mother was an alcoholic who did not treat her well; she had been given up for a few years as a baby to her mom’s friend; her younger sister was the star child in that family and my mother never felt loved by either of her parents; and she was sexually molested. Feelings of anger and grief felt as if they were breaking down a wall inside me as the memories came in. After a time my mother and I stepped forward through her mother’s eyes together.
The next step did not take me into my great grandmother’s eyes, but the eyes of all the women in my maternal ancestors hearts. I felt the crying and pain of many of female ancestors, and sadly realized that there have been a lot of women in my family that had been rejected, neglected, and sexually molested throughout the generations. I stood there crying and feeling love and sadness for all who have not been loved and treated with high regard.
In the background I could hear Wilbert telling us to dance our ancestor’s dance. At first I started to dance like a playful child for all the women who have not felt freedom in their life to be safe in their creative expression. Since we were all blindfolded and no one was watching, I was dancing as if no one was watching. We, the women of the Richter lineage were dancing free. I felt as if they were dancing and expressing through me. As I was really getting into feeling that I was dancing with all my ancestors, a sensual strong women dance started to come through. I felt that for many generations the women in my family had felt shamed about their feminine sensuality through sexual abuse and trauma. We had been afraid to express our sensual and sexual natures for fear of more abuse; and in this moment we (I ) were free to dance our whole authentic true dance, not just dancing out the safe fragments that were safe and comfortable to express.
My dance then became a compassion dance. My love and compassion grew so large within my heart that not only was I dancing with my ancestors, but I experienced feeling all of humanity dancing the various dances within me. It was quite a powerful and big feeling to experience being one thread woven in the tapestry of all life.
I went into this exercise with a lot of trepidation along with the desire to experience a healing with my mother. Not only did I see my mother with new eyes, I experienced a connection with humanity in a way that I had not experienced to this degree before. I feel very grateful for the opportunity and courage to look deeply within myself and face difficult situations, and to come through to a new place within my heart.