This month, we dive deep on the modality of ancestral healing with healer, Ash Johns. Perhaps you’ve heard nothing at all, a little bit, or are extremely well versed in ancestral healing, either way there are insights to be gleaned in this interview. Ash explains that some of life’s biggest challenges and gifts are our own — and some are inherited. She also unpacks the origins and patterns of individual and collective trauma and even includes a meditation and practical steps to help you incorporate ancestral healing into your life — if you feel called. We love this practice for its blend of epigenetics and psychology and also spirituality and ritual. Read on for a comprehensive take on ancestral healing.
Q. Firstly, can you share a little bit about the origins of ancestral healing?
The origin of ancestral healing is innate to the human experience and our cultural belonging. It is inherent to all of us. No matter our background, we all have traditional, cultural, and indigenious ways of honoring our heritage, the way we live our lives, and remember our family trees. Aspects of ancestral healing include honoring the lands we come from, reflecting on the lived lives of our relatives, cherishing the impact they had in their children’s lives, and also how they contributed to society and their community. Another element to ancestral healing is not only honoring your lineage and who you belong to, but how it has been passed down and how it has been lost.
Although, as I just mentioned, ancestral healing is within all of us, I’d be remiss to not honor those who are bringing it back into our awareness. Some of the leaders helping us reconnect to our past are; anthropologists, the folks who find the relics, tools, drums, bones, and pots that our ancestors used to sing songs, create ceremony, and mark graves; the historians who write about it; and those who integrate all of those areas in their callings as spiritualists, ritualists, therapists, and healers.
We all come from and carry the past, yet it has been forgotten because culture and history continues to move forward at a speed that can often cause us to forget our roots. Ancestral healing is original to all humans and has always served to help us connect through place, space, and rituals that honor life, death, and living cycles.
More specifically, ancestral healing can look like a lot of different things and there are many ways for people to tap into it — some include therapy, yoga, occult healing practices, and creative or spiritual arts. The way that I practice is a combination of spiritual and ritual work, opening up communication portals with the dead through mediumship to see how they lived their lives, what is troubling them, and continuing to be passed on. For example, if there are patterns from your ancestry, I can help you reinterpret and embody the blessings of the people in your lineage into a way that resonates with your own thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, and actions.
Q. How did you discover ancestral healing? What were the events that led you to becoming a healer?
What comes up for me here is the journey of how I remembered my ancestors and the need for ancestral connection, healing, and belonging. It was a process of remembering my ability to be able to do ancestral healing.
It started by observing my own life, looking at the relationships, behavioral, and belief patterns of my living ancestors, and the stories they passed down to me about those who had passed over. I began to ask questions like, “Who am I?”, “Who are we?”, “Why do we live the way we do when it doesn’t align with who I believe I am?” As a young girl, I spent a lot of time filling my journals and diaries documenting my feelings, emotions, different situations that recurred, and patterns that would trigger me, because in my mind I was trying to avoid repeating these patterns when I became an adult. The very specific thing I began noticing was a pattern of depression, mental instability, and emotional anguish within the women in my family. These are brilliant women but they weren’t happy, and they weren’t supported. We were all having the same arguments about men, work, money, and relationships with other women — why was that?
Having this level of awareness, these experiences, and observations paved the way for me to step into this work.
Ancestral healing is synonymous with generational healing but I believe in doing it not only from a psychological and social science perspective but incorporating a spiritual and energetic approach as well.
Q. “Healing” in general has become a highly employed word in spiritual circles. How do you define healing?
To me, healing is understanding that a traumatic experience has distorted who you are, altered the way you operate in and see the world, and is not true to the character of who you are.
Ancestral healing is especially important because we not only experience personal lived trauma but the trauma held within our families.
Healing looks different for everyone and there are many modalities that can be celebrated which contribute to the continued growth and expansion of the collective consciousness. However what makes ancestral healing so important is that it is centered around your experience and lineage that is uniquely you. Looking at your individual generational trauma, you are able to release and find acceptance of family wounds that occurred in someone else’s life that has shaped the energy and beliefs of your lineage.
The study of epigenetics shows us how generational trauma is passed on, not only through genes but the psyche of generations. Certain genes will trigger fight, flight, or fawn in your nervous system. Ancestral healing restores the nervous system of you and those you belong to, so you can operate in the world in a way that is not constantly rooted in past hurts and experiences.
Q. Can you expand more on the idea that some of our patterns or “baggage” is inherited?
All of us in some degree come from a lineage of people who experienced great traumas such as genocide, immigration, slavery, famine, abandonment, and so on. However, if over time, we simply say that this is part of being human and that it’s “normal” for these things to happen, they create a wound inside our psyches, energetic bodies, and behavior patterns. When that continues to happen with no ritual, spiritual honoring, or resetting of the nervous system (physically and spiritually), we pass those same ideas and energy onto the next generation.
This is how baggage, as the way I refer to it, becomes compounded. For example, a woman will teach her daughter how she survived, the daughter will then follow that, add in her own experiences, and pass it down. At some point we have to ask, “Is this really thriving?”, “Is this good for me?”, or “Is this just a pattern of surviving?”
The core wound is never really the symptom. These patterns, wounds, and ancestral traumas manifest in different ways in our careers, finances, relationships, and the way we view ourselves and others. They feel ingrained in us, yet completely separate. They hold us back from what we know to be true about ourselves, how we show up in the world, and how we want our lives in the outer world to look.
It alters our reality based on fears that don’t belong completely to us.
Most of the time we believe that something is wrong with us or we need to change our mindset, when really we are carrying the beliefs, patterns, and memories of the people who came before us, which play out over and over again in our own lives.
At some point, we have to “break the chain.” Changing your behavior or going to an energy healer doesn’t change your ancestors or their energetic bodies. Therefore, going to the ancestors directly and connecting to them through song, dance, and the things they request when you’re in the ancestral realm, help shift their energy so you can embody the fresh energy of transformation, and breathe your own dreams into life.
Q. What are some steps people can take to heal their ancestral trauma?
Many of us don’t even realize that we’re repeating patterns from our mothers, fathers, let alone the people from generations so far back that we aren’t even aware of their names. If you’re dreaming and wanting to see something different in your own life to that of your family line, or are looking to do it in a specific way and still feeling stuck — it’s probably a good idea to explore ancestral trauma.
The first step is being open to experiencing life in a new way. Take ownership that things can be different no matter the subject — money, relationships, love, responsibility, work.
Secondly, whatever it is you want to change that you believe is connected to an ancestral trauma or wound, you need to look for the patterns in your own lived family and personal life. Observe any personal or generational patterns associated with what you want to heal and look for insights.
The third step is to light a candle, put on a calming meditation to relax your mind, say a prayer or set an intention to connect to the main ancestral wound preventing you from being the change, achieving your goals, or feeling love and harmony in the world. Breathe and write freely in your journal for about five minutes. After the five minutes, ask yourself what stories have you been told that support that ancestral wound. Is it that you have to work harder or twice as hard as other people? Who taught you how to hold that wound? Take another five minutes to write down what you desire to change about it.
For example, the wound may be, “we always have to work hard,” and the beliefs and stories you were told may be due to your race, color, or gender. Your desire or dream may be, “I am allowed to have pleasure and ease in my work that brings happiness, abundance, and love into my life.” Take a moment to write down how you want to experience your life moving forward with your work.
This is an easy practice of inquiry to become aware of ancestral patterns, wounds, and how you hold them in your own life. If you go directly to the ancestors but you don’t actually believe your life can be different or have the courage within yourself to embark on deeper healing, it’s a futile mission. Therefore it’s important to begin with awareness, so that you can see the patterns that show up and believe they can be healed.
When you’ve done that, you may want to start looking for a mentor. Any healer, counselor, or ancestral lineage practitioner will ask for the reasons drawing you to the work, and want to know about specific patterns that have been emerging. Have a good list of what you want to change in your life, within your family, or beyond, and hold that intention so that life can guide you to your mentor!
Seeking help is the highest form of praise, self-love, and compassion that you can have for yourself, and you are always rewarded for it. One of the key components of ancestral healing that is commonly misunderstood is that we can do it all entirely ourselves. It really requires us to be in communal healing. Having a practitioner or mentor with you and your ancestors shifts the narrative around individual, heavy forms of healing into a communal practice where your ancestors can take responsibility for their pain and unprocessed wounds. A space where you can embody the blessings physically so the lineage and world starts to shift.
Q. Any advice for people on cultivating and developing a relationship with their own ancestors?
Commitment, consistency, and vulnerability.
Commitment because if you sit down and say I’m going to do this, be the change, break the chains, live my life differently and honor where I came from; it’s going to require you to show up and stand in that authority. You will be the one in your family that hears and honors the calling even when it’s hard.
Commitment and consistency go together by carving out the time to journal, connect with your ancestors, find a mentor or healer, follow the offerings that your ancestors might ask from you, engage with practices that help you embody the healing and blessings, research recipes, and so on.
Vulnerability is required both with yourself and your people. Acknowledging that you’re willing to do this and you need their help. That you want to remember the songs, dance, potency, freedom, power, that come down from the women and men in your lineage. Vulnerability will pull family members to you who are ready to do the work and be in community with you.
Q. Although different for every individual, are there any universal themes that you see in your work? For example, are there some ancestral healing issues that are specific to the current collective?
The universal theme that I see across people from all races, socioeconomic privileges, and different identities, is that we’ve all forgotten and disconnected from our past. The shame or guilt in our past prevents us from being whole humans now. As much as we want to experience love and have good intentions, the past is affecting our present. Until we go back, we can’t truly go forward. Until we reclaim the great elements of our lineage and apply them in a new way, we’re going to keep repeating the same patterns.
We all, regardless of our identity, have the same core wounds around belonging, abandonment, our needs being met, safety, love, and actualizing our dreams and desires. The wounds are the same for every human lineage, but the storyline and the way they intersect is what creates the depth and complexity of the ancestral healing process.
Symptoms of depression, imposter syndrome, and commitment issues are bigger wounds that run through every lineage and show up as instances in your life — that is what we want to get to.
Ash Johns is host of It’s Still Happening, a podcast about all things Ancestral Healing, personal growth, and conscious business for change makers and visionaries looking to be the change. She is also the creator of Finding Your Freedom™, a six path process of ancestral healing for personal freedom; and facilitates Healing is Happening™, a monthly membership for group Ancestral Healing. More information on these offerings can be found here or follow Ash on Instagram.