The Scent of Lilacs

My morning altar includes a bouquet of lilacs, my father's compass, and a crone modeled in artists' clay by my father many years ago.

The scent of lilacs on my morning altar sparks musings on ancestral memory and healing.

“All the eggs a woman will every carry form in her ovaries while she is a four-month-old foetus in the womb of her mother. This means our cellular life as an egg begins in the womb of our grandmother.

Each of us spent five months in our grandmother’s womb, and she in turn formed within the womb of her grandmother.

We vibrate to the rhythms of our mother’s blood before she herself is born, and this pulse is the thread of blood that runs all the way back through the grandmothers to the first mother.”

(When The Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm by Layne Redmond)

This powerful bit of ancestral science comes floating back to me in morning meditation, as I breathe in the heady scent of the lilacs.

I remember hopping in the car with my dad and a pair of clippers to scour the countryside in the spring and find a stand of lilacs to cut a bouquet to bring home to mom.

That memory and a strong call to have the scent of lilacs nearby and close to me inspired my partner and I to store a pair of clippers in our car and find the blossoms sitting on my altar now.

My maternal nonna loved lilacs, as did her eldest daughter, my mother, her sister, and as I think of it, as do all of the women in my nonna’s lineage, and it’s no wonder that we do.

The scent molecules imprinted at a cellular level as she breathed them in have been passed on to us, in her womb, as she carried my mother and her siblings.

They synthesized in the eggs that seeded our birth, and they are passed on to our offspring, physically and energetically.

In the breathing, in the scent, I feel her love and strength flowing to me, with my mother as an intermediary on its journey through the generations.

The molecules in the air that I breathe are recycled, the atoms that formed them created when the universe began, indestructible and eternal.

Those atoms form the molecules our ancestors breathed for millennia, recycled and cleansed, exchanged in our lungs at the level of the alveoli.

Oxygen in, carbon dioxide out, in a regenerative dance with nature, whose trees and plants exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen, literally sustaining life.

As I inhale and exhale, in meditation and throughout the course of my life from first breath to last, I am inhaling atoms that were inhaled and exhaled by my ancestors, through generations.

They carry the imprints of ancestral legacy. Their energy, their knowing, their experiences, their pain, their trauma, their joy, their victory, breathed into my lungs and out, held in our bodies at the cellular level.

We are connected with our ancestors physically and energetically, each time air meets flesh in the act of breathing, air meets blood, an eternal exchange, receiving nourishment, expelling toxins for the earth and nature to receive for composting.

Every breath I take cleanses, restores, energizes, alchemizes the cells of my body that hold ancestral wisdom and imprints of ancestral trauma.

It is no coincidence that lilacs grow plentiful and abundant on old farmland, in regular rows. Before flush toilets were invented, lilacs were planted over outhouse holes after they were filled and the outhouse moved to a new location.

More poignantly, lilacs have been traditionally planted over burial sites for placentae and stillborn babies. I first read about it here.

As I breathe in the scent of lilacs, I flow healing and love back through the generations to my mother, my nonnas, my ancestors. I wonder at what experiences, joy, sadness or trauma imprinted the scent in our collective memory.

What other ancestral experiences, joy, sadness or trauma have imprinted and affected me in the way I navigate life? I know my grandmother experienced two miscarriages after my birth. Were there more? How did they affect her?

I wonder if the reactions and responses I have to life situations that feel like they’re not really mine, but feel real nonetheless, stem from incidents and experiences before my time, passed on in my ancestral lineage.

In all the wondering I become more committed to my own healing, and know I am contributing to collective healing in the doing.

I am a trauma-informed somatic coach who helps people tap into the wisdom of their bodies so they can heal and thrive. More information here.

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