In 2005, I was on a German train. It was a grey January day and outside the window, I saw a smokestack and chain link fences. Everything I saw reminded me of the Holocaust. I felt the energy of the Holocaust pressing down on me, and the feeling got stronger and stronger.
My parents were Polish Jews and my mother survived the Holocaust in ghettos and concentration camps like Auschwitz in Poland and Ravensbruck in Germany. Still, I wondered why I was feeling this and what was going on? When I got home, I was sick and disoriented, and I knew something had happened to me on that train.
I thought about the countless souls who had died in such a horrible way, that they no longer believed in basic goodness. From the age of 19, I’d practiced Buddhist meditation to understand my own suffering and its origins, and connect with that fundamental goodness. With so much suffering in the world, I wanted to apply that training. So I began journeying to Poland to learn about the world my parents had left behind, and to explore basic goodness in the light of the Holocaust, the largest collective trauma we’ve known, and in the light of how that trauma was still in me.
Buried Rivers is about the invisible bonds between the living and the dead. It's about the bonds of family, but also the bonds between strangers. It’s about not losing faith in each other or in ourselves.
Ellen Korman Mains has taught Buddhist meditation for over thirty years and is a teacher of Inner Relationship Focusing. She is also the daughter of Polish-born Jews who survived the Holocaust. Her new memoir (October 2018) harvests the fruit of ten years of journeying to Poland to explore collective and inherited trauma and unexpected ancestral blessings.
Does it seem odd to attribute hair-like tentacles to the heart? Somehow, that was the image or felt sense that arose when I wrote this, almost 9 years ago. It was a good feeling, although a vulnerable one. To feel my heart in this visceral way is something I still aspire to and appreciate when it happens!
I gazed into the forest. The late September sun burned high and bright, warming the crisp blue air. The autumn sky seemed limitless and full of promise. Space was the ultimate healer, impossible to grasp, yet inseparable from the seed-like substance in my heart. The seed felt ready to grow tentacles or at least sprout hairs. The shell around it had been penetrated often enough. I only needed to keep extending those fine hairs into space.