Discovering my Inner Neanderthal

My Christmas present to myself this year involved gathering saliva. First I had to collect it in a very little vial. It turns out that this isn’t a small thing. After sitting there for about a half an hour, imagining grapefruits and lemons, I had enough to send it to 23 & Me, an organization devoted to opening the secrets of your personal genetic code. I just received the results today. I open the virtual envelope. Drum roll, please….and…

It turns out I’m not Sacajawea’s great-granddaughter, like I’d always believed. It’s hard to give up that story, but there is a small compensation (if you can call it that): I have Neanderthal genes. Who knew? So…with that and all my German/Nordic/English/Irish (with a pinch of Native American) DNA, here I am.

I’d like to know what it means, having this Neanderthal heritage. But it turns out this whole thing is so new that nobody knows. This is just fine with me. It means I can make up another story just as satisfying as the Sacajawea one for my own entertainment (Clan of the Cave Bears, anyone?).

But mostly this new information leaves me even more curious about what’s hardwired and what’s not.  What I know so far is that, as a human being, I’m hardwired to sniff out trouble, to fight or flee the saber tiger. Otherwise the species wouldn’t have lasted this long.   We’ve also developed the capacity to solve other problems in order to survive. These are the skills we’ve rehearsed since Neanderthal times.

In my own present life, survival requires far different skills: attention, yes, but also problem solving and focus. I’ll be forever grateful for the part of me that notices danger.  The biochemical cocktail, good sense, and experience that helps me to manage critical situations is also something I’ll keep. But there’s a catch: this can be a mind set that doesn’t shift easily. This is particularly true after a whole life of drama and trauma and life challenges. When I’m running this software I miss a whole lot of the Big Picture.

I’ve noticed over the years the gift of various spiritual practices is this: over time they gradually switch the focus from the immediate challenge to something softer,  to some graceful Knowing that holds all of it.

Maybe it’s my Neanderthal DNA that knows this. I may never know.

But what I do know is that how I react, whether I respond with fear or acceptance, is a habit that has changed over the years. So I’m going with what experience has taught me: peace is a choice. The mind loves knowing it has a choice. Peace has become my practice. Every day gives me opportunities to remember that, to return to that fundamental understanding.

And I imagine my various ancestors, living and dead and DNA-encoded, clapping their hands for that.

What do you know about your ancestry? What stories give you strength and choice about how you live your life today? I’d love to hear from you here or by email. Look for “rewiring” opportunities coming up.

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