Clinical trial. Deductible. Dosing. Pre-op. Protocol. Blood work. If you are familiar with any of these terms, you’ve likely had some encounter with health care services in the United States. However, the traditional medical model – a condition-focused, interventional approach controlled by clinical providers – toward health and wellness has been challenged. In seeking recovery via alternative models, Americans are exploring options beyond the doctor’s office. The Ann Arbor area is a nexus for many of these resources, including Grass Lake Sanctuary, a nature-focused retreat space in Manchester that has served the region for over ten years.
By Diana Quinn Inlak’ech, ND
In traditional cultures worldwide, the honoring of ancestors has existed in some form throughout human history. Traditional cultures wove cosmologies around relationship with their ancestors, the natural world, and cycles of life and death. In the span of human evolution it is only in the relatively recent period that ancestor worship has become less widespread. In the West, this shift is intertwined with cultural fear of and avoidance of death and poor cultural competency with processing grief. However, in recent years, the human need to connect with our ancestors has found a new outlet through modern developments in science and technology. These advancements offer new insights to interconnection with our ancestors for contemporary Westerners who are often skeptical of the non-material and unscientific.
Who are the ancestors? They are the people in our family trees who are remembered and whose names are known from the previous generations. The ancestors are also those to whom we have been joined through chosen family, adoption, and deep heartfelt connection. In addition, they are the unnamed distant relatives in those family lineages from beyond recorded history. Our deep ancestry connects us all from the beginnings of humankind through our shared origins on the African continent with "mitochondrial Eve." Ancestral awareness connects us to all of those who have gone before.
The call to deepen my own ancestral practice grew alongside my study of the clinical application of epigenetic science. The emergent field of epigenetics has settled the debate for once and for all: human development is shaped by both nature AND nurture. The term epigenetics means "above the genome", and is the study of how genes interact with the environment to determine their expression. Epigenetic research reveals that aspects of lived experience are heritable, influencing genetic expression by turning genes "on" or "off." This revelation has tremendous clinical value because we understand that genes are not one’s destiny, but rather, gene expression can be modified. It has become quite accessible to test one’s DNA via kits ordered on the internet and then use the raw data in analysis for epigenetic markers and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Single nucleotide polymorphisms are the most common type of genetic variation among humans. These epigenetic factors determine genetic expression and many can be influenced by modifiable lifestyle factors like diet and exercise. In my clinical practice I often assess epigenetic variables to formulate an individualized health plan with patients in order to optimize wellness and minimize disease risk.
Epigenetic factors are also shaped by stressful experiences, emotions, and even more subtle factors that influence our lives. As Tolstoy wrote, "All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Family shadows such as divorce, addiction, and abuse generate adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and are known to produce epigenetic changes that impact future health outcomes. The results of the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study revealed not only the correlation of adverse childhood experiences with poorer health later in life, but also the widespread prevalence of the continuation of adverse childhood experiences in the following generations. Of the 17,000 people who were interviewed for the original study, 64% reported that they had experienced at least one ACE. Traumatic ancestral experiences affect the health and happiness of future generations. In studies of descendants of Holocaust survivors and survivors of the Dutch famine, researchers discovered physiologic changes which occurred as the result of trauma experienced generations before. According to Dr. Rachel Yehuda, principle investigator of epigenetic research on intergenerational trauma, rather than interpreting the findings with resignation, the data can be empowering. The fluidity of genetic expression revealed through epigenetic research also highlights the potential of therapeutic modalities to shift health outcomes.
In the United States, there is a profound legacy of intergenerational trauma from colonialism, Native genocide, and slavery, which informs contemporary systems of oppression. In our current shifting political climate, the surfacing of these wounds—which have always existed, but were previously marginalized by the dominant culture—invites an opportunity for healing. We live in a world of disconnection and division by race, gender, class, religion, and national borders, all of which are human constructs. What are the ways that our ancestral lineages embodied these experiences? How were they harmed, or how did they uphold these constructs? Ancestral healing work is an invitation to take responsibility for our lineage. Through examination of our ancestral inheritance, we can interrogate, provide redress on behalf of, and ultimately forgive our ancestors for their shortcomings. We can see the ways in which they contributed to the present day "dream of life" that is out of balance, so that we can appropriately correct course. Ancestral work is social justice work, and we each have a role to play. Acknowledging and healing our collective cultural and historical trauma is a critical form of social justice activism. We do this work in our lifetime to transmute unresolved ancestral and cultural baggage so it is not carried forward, so we can dream a better dream for future generations.
As is the case for many of us, my heritage is a complex blend of intersections that can be confusing to grapple with: British colonial settlers, Spanish conquistadors, and Indigenous peoples of Mexico. Although the majority of my genetic makeup is European (from the United Kingdom and Spain), the 22% of my ancestry that is Native North American is the part that garners the inquiry, "Where are you from?" In this "melting pot"of a country in which we live, those of us with ambiguously non-Anglo appearance get this question often. It is a reminder that we are Other. My own curiosity about my indigenous ancestry led me to explore the roots of my Mexican heritage, as well as to better understand my white settler origins. These threads get pulled in the tapestry of family history, showing up for example in my maternal grandmother’s great pride in her Castilian Spanish ancestry which set her apart from the Indio background of my grandfather’s line. Ancestor work is complex and can give us opportunity to reckon with the echoes of how individual family patterns resonate with the current of wider historical conflicts. All of these and more are alive within each of us.
Ancestral work is an act of radical self-care and self-love. By putting our attention on our ancestral lineage we connect to the resilience, beauty, and brilliance of those who came before. We receive the help and support from our healthy and loving ancestors of the distant past. We integrate these gifts and provide care and healing for ourselves as we extend care and healing to our ancestors. When we engage in ancestral repair, time is non-linear. In living our fullest embodied lives, we are healing those who came before and those who will come after. We honor the cycle of life and death and acknowledge that we will become the ancestors of the future. When we as a culture restore our relationship with our nonliving relations, our capacity for kinship expands to the other-than-human, whom we can also consider our relations and ancestors. We weave ourselves back into the web of life and the natural world. To paraphrase botanist, and member of Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Robin Wall Kimmerer, how do we engage with the lands on which we live as if they are the lands from which we will be the ancestors, lands that we want to remember us with gratitude?
To be a good ancestor in training, we can begin with establishing an ancestral practice. One route to this work is through prayer, meditation, and visualization. If there are ancestral reverence practices in the tradition of your bloodline, exploring and practicing those is a great place to begin. Raised Catholic, I grew up lighting candles for family members who had passed and honoring All Saint’s Day by visiting grave sites with flowers and cemetery candles that would be kept burning for the entire month of November. Later in life I reclaimed my ancestral tradition of celebrating Día de Muertos, or perhaps my Mexican ancestors reclaimed me. Over the years my celebration of this holiday has expanded to last several weeks with an elaborate ofrenda altar and preparation of special meals. The ofrenda is an altar space with photographs and relics of my ancestors, with offerings of their favorite foods and beverages, and flowers. Altar creation is a simple practice for ancestral reverence, designating a physical space in your home with a representation of your lineage and sitting with an open mind and heart. Ancestral connection is also available through formal ritual; spiritual traditions worldwide include the role of ceremonial ritual in ancestral practices. In his book Ritual: Power, Healing and Community, Malidoma Somé calls ritual the "anti-machine", restoring our psychic foundation and our need to live in relationship with other human beings and the natural world. Through ritual we create room for the sacred, which holds us in the work that we cannot do alone. Ritual has a reparative function, mending the fabric of our souls and restoring aspects of our psyche that have been fragmented, allowing reintegration. Whether done individually or in community, ritual is a powerful component of ancestral work for transformation and for mending ruptures in our lineage. Ancestral work is often grief work, and it is the work of attention and care. Dedication to these practices can bring about healing for oneself and one’s lineage in both directions, transforming the narrative of the past as well as what is left behind for future generations.
I believe that ancestral connection is a critical component of restoring balance in these times. This work has been central in my own healing journey and is a component of the healing work I do with others. So often the physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual malaise that people are living with have a root in inherited ancestral patterns. Regardless of one’s religion, spiritual tradition, or lack thereof, there are many accessible ways to reconnect with ancestry. For the practical and scientifically minded, exploring genealogy or doing DNA testing opens up connection with one’s lineage. Don’t be surprised if after opening the line of communication, synchronicities and family ties come out of the woodwork. Ancestor work provides individual and collective healing that is an essential part of planetary healing, and reconnects us to cycles of life and death and our part in the natural world. It is our gift, our birthright, and ultimately our sacred responsibility.
Diana Quinn Inlak’ech, ND is a shamanic practitioner, ceremonialist and naturopathic doctor specializing in integrative mental health and mind/body medicine. She has been studying shamanism and natural medicine for over 25 years. Her office is located at 560 South Main Street, Ann Arbor, or give her office a call at: 734-945-6210. For information about her upcoming ancestral healing workshops and services, visit www.drdianaquinn.com
In the twilight hours of early evening, three women gather around a bedside. Their voices are gentle and soothing; their lyrics and harmonies weave a spell. The lines on the face of the man in the bed smooth out a bit; the family members in the room visibly relax. This is the magic created by Threshold Singers of Ann Arbor, and Threshold Choirs in more than two hundred locations around the world. The Threshold Choirs sing to people in the midst of a transformative life event: most often dying, but also recovering from illness or surgery, going through difficult emotional times, or being in chronic pain. They sing in hospitals and hospices, at nursing homes, in private homes, and once in a while, for the general public.
Sat Nam Rasayan is the name of a sacred healing technique that has recently become available in Ann Arbor, through Billie Wahlen (also known as Mohinder Singh). Wahlen is a gifted healer and massage therapist, and is well-established and known in Ann Arbor’s healing and bodywork subcultures.
Do you have areas of your life where you feel ‘stuck,’ even though you’ve tried many ways to make changes? What lasting upgrade would you like to make in your health, finances, or relationships? Beneath every problem are beliefs, feelings, and often-traumatic responses with which we resonate unconsciously. When we resonate with what is positive, we spiral up; we’re able to access opportunities for change in a creative and self-empowered way. We feel confident in our capacity to handle what life brings us with clear thinking and an open heart. Basically, our system is energized by these positive beliefs and feelings.
It has been more than a year since the #MeToo hashtag rippled through the collective consciousness. Inspired and moved by the hashtag, a team of southeast Michigan-based activists, educators, parents, survivors, and community members came together to host a community-based healing initiative called the #MeToo Storytelling Salon. The first #MeToo Storytelling Salon took place in late 2017 in Ann Arbor, and over 60 people attended from all over the region.
The Crazy Wisdom Interview with Dr. Molly McMullen-Laird and Dr. Quentin McMullen, Founders of the Rudolf Steiner Health Center, on Anthroposophic Medicine
Quentin McMullen and Molly McMullen-Laird are a husband-and-wife doctor team and the founders of Rudolf Steiner Health Center, which is one of Ann Arbor’s leading alternative medical practices. Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, Steiner Health is unique as a “community-supported medical practice,” and it focuses on anthroposophic medicine, which combines conventional and integrative approaches to medicine and is based on the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner.
The Healing Touch Center in Farmington Hills has been offering healing sessions to the general public for two decades, providing those who enter its serene healing environment the opportunity to balance their body, mind, and spirit. Represented around the world, and endorsed by the American Holistic Nurses Association, Healing Touch uses a gentle, light, or off body touch to balance chakra energies, reduce pain, and relieve mental and physical stress. It is a holistic model of care, working in tandem with modern medical practices, which encourages the client to participate in their own healing process. The practitioner is ‘the straw’, channeling high vibratory energy to the client for their highest and greatest good.
Plant-based remedies have been used for centuries. Chemical constituents found in plants are now synthetically created in sterile, replicable laboratory environments. Those medical advances have done wonders to further research and understanding of the intricacies of the human body. So, why has a sudden resurgence in using essential oils saturated newsfeeds, yoga studios, moms’ clubs, and more?
The word “hospice” is one of those terms to which each individual has a unique and palpable reaction. For some it brings a sense of fear or uneasiness. In others it arouses tender memories of a past experience as it relates to a family member. For a lucky handful, their faces light up when engaged in a conversation regarding end of life care in the capable and compassionate hands of hospice staff. These blessed few seem filled with peace and joy in the face of this word. As with all of life, we perceive it through our own lenses, which shape how we feel about any given situation. My personal experience and perception of hospice is filtered through many different experiences with friends, family, and from volunteering for a children’s grief program I helped create with Hospice of Asheville, North Carolina, in the early eighties. I’ve had several close friends cared for by their loving hands during end stages of life, and three of my grandparents and my mother-in-law were in hospice care before they passed out of this earthly plane with loved ones by their side. I know what it takes to be a volunteer and how impactful it was to receive comfort and care, both in facilities and in-home
Driving on Gratiot headed toward Mt. Elliott Street, I was in the heart of downtown Detroit, just a mile or so away from Ford Field. It seems only small businesses are here, a Mr. Fish and a crowded shop selling second hand furniture, likely for a charity. In this place on this map, blocks of the grid are disappearing. Fallow fields sit waiting in their place. I pulled up to a bright brick church anchored strong amidst open green plots and dilapidated, boarded-up structures. There is a man sitting on a milkcrate. He is sentinel of this corner.
The soft pink emanations of Rose Quartz ultimately radiate deep, pure love. This unconditional love energy forms a new foundation where inner peace and contentment become a personal reality.
The life force in a biannual or perennial plant is evident in the greenness of its leaves and the vibrancy of its flower. As it begins to die back in the fall, that life force is not lost; it is transferred into the root, which embraces it and keeps it safe until the next growing season.