In a recent study, scientists found that memories may be passed down through generations in our DNA. The study suggests that experiences are somehow transferred from the brain into the genome, allowing them to be passed on to later generations.
That’s not such good news if phobias, anxiety, and PTSD are written into your genome, but it does provoke ideas about how other kinds of memories — such as those experienced during Past Life Regression and other trance narrative experiences — can be so meaningful to people’s lives. We know that our genes can and do turn “on” and “off” when triggered — by environmental influences, as well as internal thoughts. The idea that stories are written into our DNA means that DNA can be rewritten — positive stories can also be passed down.
Of course Shamanic healers have been performing radical revisions of biological narratives for centuries. The ancient belief that disease is the fault of evil spirits who need to be banished from the body of the sick person is a kind of ritual editing in which disease is removed and replaced with a new story — one where the person’s now-restored soul can begin the healing process.
Using very different methods and philosophies than shamanic healers, poets have been the keepers of memory throughout written history. And in the epigenetic spirit, 20th-century avant-garde traditions of poetry have been un-telling old stories and re-coding them into new experiences for the reader. William Carlos Williams connects this practice of linguistic magic back to healing in “The Yellow Flower.” (Click on the link to hear Williams read this amazing poem).
Given that poets and shamanic healers have known for centuries that the body houses memory, it seems to me that the importance of this study — and others like it — isn’t the proof that ancestral memories are encoded in our DNA. This isn’t proof about destiny, or fate, or any other pre-scripted ending.
Rather it’s a reminder that memories are biology; that narratives of memory are the congealing of cells, chemicals, hormones, and blood into the moment of the telling. The passing down of memories is central to how we communicate the deeper messages — what some might call The Information — in ways that have the power to both cure, and kill us. The body is written as the memories are retold, from blood to bone, to mustard flower.
Believe that memories are not set in stone and that revision is possible. Then pass it on.
...the tortured body of my flower
which is not a mustard flower at all
but some unrecognized
and unearthly flower
for me to naturalize
and choose it for my own.
-From "The Yellow Flower" by William Carlos Williams
(NOTE: The photograph I’m using for this blog entry was found putting the keywords “Mustard Flower” and “DNA” into Google Images. Mustard Flower is “The Yellow Flower” evoked by William Carlos Williams. The photograph is linked to a study of wild mustard weed, and the ways that it may uncover how the environment and genetics interact during a crucial moment in the life of a plant: Genetic Flower Power. Somehow, it’s all related.)