developed by Fred Allendorf for use in his Ecology & Buddhism class at the University of Montana:
When did your life begin? We usually begin counting our "age" on the day we were born, but we existed as fetuses up to nine months before our birth. Perhaps our life began at the moment the sperm from our father and the egg from our mother united. However, at this time, our mother's egg had not yet completed the meiotic division that eventually produced the chromosomes our mother contributed to our genome. Moreover, the egg and the sperm that joined to form our zygote were already alive. Our life did not begin at fertilization; it was passed to us from our parents. This transmission of life from generation to generation has been going on for eons, since the beginning of life on Earth some 4 billion years ago.
Humans are fascinated by genealogy. We probably all know someone in our family who has reconstructed our family tree. I would guess that most of us at sometime in our lives traced our ancestry back at least a few generations. The object of this exercise is for us to experience the concept of "non-self" in time by tracing our ancestry in evolutionary time.Contemplate and describe your ancestors at the following points in time before the present:
Ten years ago your living ancestors probably consisted of your parents and perhaps some of your grandparents. One hundred years was several generations ago. How many of your ancestors were alive at that time? How many ancestors did you have 1,000 years ago? One thousand years is approximately 30-40 generations. The number of our ancestors in our pedigree doubles each generation; thirty generations ago we had 230, or approximately one billion ancestors! This is a rather surprising result considering that the total human population of the Earth one thousand years ago is estimated to be approximately 300 million.
Keep going: 10,000 years (the beginnings of civilization); 100,000 years (the beginnings of Homo sapiens). Well, you get the idea. If you are not familiar with evolutionary history, you should consult with an appropriate source (see attached summary).
In addition, I would like you to make some "hard copy" representation of your experience. In most cases, this hard copy will take the form of paper, but feel free to use a different form (e.g., a series of drawings).
This exercise occurred to me while sitting quietly on a backpacking trip in Jewel Basin. While tracing my own ancestry, I could almost see the DNA sequences changing over time
The 10-step Deep Evolution Meditation
1. Begin with yourself today. Examine the many non-self elements that have combined to make you what you are today. Contemplate the many people, the places, and the events that have shaped your life and brought you here to this mediation tonight.
2. Go back to your birth, the day that convention says that your life began. However, you were already a fully-formed human infant at birth. You had existed in your mother's womb for 7-9 months before your birth. Go back to the moment that a sperm from your father entered an egg from your mother to create your unique genetic constitution, the information that makes you what you are today: your sex, your eye color, your height and weight, and many of your behaviors. Contemplate the conditions existing when you were conceived and when you were born.Consider the lives of your parents. Who were they? Where did they live? How did they live? What were their greatest joys? What were their greatest sorrows?
3. If we look a little deeper we can see that the egg and sperm that joined to create your genetic constitution had already existed for a long time before they joined together. We know from biology that the egg your mother contributed had already divided to determine which genes she would pass on to you while your mother was herself a fetus inside her mother. Consider the time of the birth of your parents. Contemplate their parents, your four grandparents. Who were they? Where did they live? How did they live? What were their greatest joys? What were their greatest sorrows?
4. Continue looking deeper at your origins. Go back in time 1,000 years, approximately 30-40 generations. One thousand years ago you had millions of ancestors. The genes present in every cell of your body tonight were then shared among those millions of ancestors; they were spread out around the world, in Europe, Asia, North America, Africa. Who were they? Where did they live? How did they live? What were their greatest joys? What were their greatest sorrows?
5. Go back to 100,000 years ago. You then had uncounted ancestors. They were humans physically similar to us today, but separated by evolutionary change over many generations. Your many ancestors then lived in African, Europe, and Asia. Who were they? Where did they live? How did they live? What were their greatest joys? What were their greatest sorrows?
6. A million years ago. All of your ancestors were in Africa. They were primitive humans who possessed the first awakenings of human awareness. Look out over the African savannah; you were there, in the form of your ancestors. Who were they? Where did they live? How did they live? What were their greatest joys? What were their greatest sorrows?
7. Ten million years ago, before the time of humans. Our ancestral stream has now been joined by the ancestors of our closest living relatives: chimps, gorillas, and orangs. Our journey backwards through our ancestral stream has brought us back to a primitive ape in central Africa. It is becoming more and more difficult to see ourselves in our distant ancestors, but continue. Who were they? Where did they live? How did they live? What were their greatest joys? What were their greatest sorrows?
8. One hundred million years ago. The world is a very different place. We would not even recognize the continents if we could look at the Earth of 100,000,000 years ago from outerspace. Dinosaurs were common in Montana and around the world at that time. Our ancestors were a small species of primitive mammal. They had our hair, our 5 digits, and our
breasts. We have now been joined by all living mammals in our journey in our ancestral stream. Who were they? Where did they live? How did they live? What were their greatest joys? What were their greatest sorrows?
9. One billion years ago. We have now been joined by all the living species that we recognize in our daily lives in our ancestral
journey. We are the wolf, the bear, the whale, the salmon, the pine tree, the flowers on the altar. Our ancestors are simple single cell organisms living in the warm waters of the primitive Earth. Who were they? Where did they live? How did they live? What were their greatest joys? What were their greatest sorrows?
10. The last step in our journey: 3.8 billion years ago. There are no signs of living organisms here. The stream of ancestors that we have been following has ended in a series of complex chemical reactions in which non-living elements are becoming the simplest of possible living organisms. Our ancestors; Who were they? Where did they live? How did they live? What were their greatest joys? What were their greatest sorrows?