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Lineage: The Liberatory and Relaxing Power of Acknowledging Our Sources

Lineage: The Liberatory and Relaxing Power of Acknowledging Our Sources

It was the most connected I’d felt since the pandemic began.

My husband Mike and I were cozied up on our big white couch dappled with bleach-faded markings. (I have a very impractical white couch compulsion that’s decidedly anachronistic with my identity as a mother of small children.)

On the big screen was one of the most compelling conversations I’ve ever witnessed, virtual or otherwise, between adrienne maree brown and Sonia Renee Taylor.

The topic was pleasure, activism, the body, and liberation.

I had my notebook out because I don’t hear things as well unless I write them down.

adrienne maree brown said something that activated a spontaneous deep breath in me, a sign that my body is registering truth. (Thank you to my friend Sarah Tacy Tangredi for that wisdom.)

“Lineage makes me relax.” -adrienne maree brown

They both affirmed that sometimes we find ourselves in a lineage stream quite by accident (or perhaps divine alignment).

Sometimes we have an idea and start talking about it and then read something or are referred to someone and realize we’re surfing the same philosophical wave as them.

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this in Big Magic, how an idea can be delivered to more than one person at the same time, and it’s our relationship with that idea and our choice to say yes to it that matters.

I have found myself floating (or at times paddling like mad) mid-stream of a variety of idea lineages, both by “accident” and quite on purpose.

(In fact, after I started writing about using your biological rhythms to guide our schedules and project management, my friend Titilayo turned me on to adrienne maree brown’s book, Emergent Strategy, and the field of biomimicry. I shall forever be grateful to have caught a similar wave as the incredible thinkers in this field, and now I’m so grateful I get to learn from them!)

Lately, several experiences have called my attention back to the importance of naming lineage, whether we find ourselves within a lineage of ideas “accidentally” or by intentional courses of study.

I won’t go through each situation in detail because I care deeply about all of the people involved, and personal details are becoming more and more precious in my life.

But I do want to share what I’ve learned because I know I’m not the only one who’s found herself on both sides of the lineage coin…both having been forgotten to be named and having forgotten to do the naming.

  1. Acknowledging lineage is an act of decolonization and what that means when it comes to Intellectual Property.

The notion that we own anything, an idea or otherwise, is inherently colonial and hierarchical. As I continue to look at the ways in which I’ve played both colonizer and colonized in my lifetime, I grapple a lot with the concept of Intellectual Property. 

As Mark Twain said:

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

I do not have answers as it relates to Intellectual Property law, decolonization, and lineage. I only have the day-by-day practice of sensing into how I can share ideas in a way that feels reverent to those who came before me and those who are generating at the same time as me, whether I know of their work or not.

What does this mean in practice?

It means swimming in the very grey area of where ideas come from.

It means asking myself, “Did I have this idea spontaneously, or did someone else’s words inspire it?” before sharing something. (I don’t always get this right, and here’s a conversation about one time I got it wrong.)

It means acknowledging when I haven’t properly attributed where an idea came from…and calling people in when they haven’t properly attributed where an idea came from.

It also means softening when I laid claim to an idea that it turns out occurred to a bunch of people before or at the same time as me, even if I had no idea we were tuned to the same frequency.

(This happened recently, and it felt soooo good to release my grip.)

Our ideas are all woven together. None of them exists in a vacuum. Acknowledging that takes the pressure off all of us and is deeply relaxing, as adrienne maree brown so astutely noticed.

        2. Boundaries matter.

I wrote about how the Do Less Planner was created because someone in our community was selling something very similar as her own.

The way my ideas were being used in this situation didn’t feel right to me, so I set a boundary.

There’s a paradox at play here:

We can’t really own ideas since none of them are born in a vacuum anyway.

Yet, we still need to acknowledge their origin.

For example, a dear friend of mine recently pointed out that I haven’t been properly acknowledging the roots of the concept of the Fertile Void in my work.

She was so right. The concept of the Fertile Void was originally coined by Fritz Perls as part of the Gestalt movement, and my friend learned about it through one of her teachers, Don Stapleton, PhD, and we’d talked about the concept together.

I don’t know if I first heard the phrase from her or not, but I do know that I began using the phrase as part of the Upward Cycle of Success framework without proper lineage naming.

The moment she told me, I could feel in my body that she was right. That conversation was the impetus for this post, in fact. 

(I’ll also be updating future editions of Do Less and my course material to give proper credit.)

And so, the dance of the colonizer/colonized continues, unraveling and moving toward liberation as we go.

As I said, I don’t have answers.

I have mostly questions and a deep commitment to continue to name the people whose ideas have ignited something in me so that our web grows stronger with every thread of connection.

After all, if lineage is relaxing, we do our best work in a state of relaxation, and the world needs the gifts we have to offer through doing our best work, it seems to me that acknowledging our sources is better for us all.

And if situations where everyone wins aren’t an act of liberation, I don’t know what is.


I’d love to know what you think. Have you ever had someone not credit your idea and had feelings about it? Have you ever not credited an idea (purposefully or not) and had a reckoning around it? Who are the key people in your thought lineage? Do you name them regularly? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!


  • Love this, Kate. Thank you for calling attention to how important and how tricky it can be. I know I am often checking myself to be sure I am appropriately acknowledging the lineage of “my” ideas and I know I don’t always get it right. Your sharing about it here helps me feel better about committing to it more and also forgiving myself if I screw it up. Xo

    • Kate Northrup

      So glad this resonated with you, Juli! Yup…screwing up is inevitable. It’s what we do after that really counts.

  • Yes, Kate! Exactly! It’s like how under intellectual property law, while we may not own an idea that was born from someone else or the collective consciousness, we do get to “own” our unique expression of that idea or the parts that we’ve creatively added to the original idea. This is how companies can “claim” a logo or a title or a program name or a book or a tagline as a representation of the identity of their business.

    Yet, as you pointed out, the key is not to take or use or misappropriate OTHER people’s ideas without asking permission and/or giving credit. This is the whole basis of trademark, copyright and other intellectual property laws….to protect and honor other people’s work and to allow room for the parts that you uniquely contribute to the expression of an idea.

  • I’ve made so many mistakes, appropriated ideas that I’d convinced myself were mine. I’ve especially gotten myself in hot water when I “borrowed” someone’s idea and then found I couldn’t actually defend it, since it didn’t come from me and I didn’t know the lineage of the ideas. So that’s another piece of this. If you colonize an ideas that’s powerful and polarizing, it’s very hard to defend the idea when faced with critical feedback. Thanks for starting this conversation.

    • Kate Northrup

      Oh wow. That’s another layer I hadn’t thought of. Yet another reminder that slowing down and being devotional and methodical in our process is where it’s at. Which is why doing less helps us every time…gives us the bandwidth to really think things through.

  • I have had people take what I shared in conversation and not give credit to me.

    I’ve also had a mentor who would say things that were profound and it was not her but information she read or told by someone else.

    I realized when I read something she was claiming as her wisdom . I had a lot of feelings around that and made me realize she did that to maintain her power, has she shared where it came from I would have been more empowered in her work she was doing with me would’ve had a greater impact.

    Thank you for bringing this up and helping me to really understand colonization through your example.


    • Kate Northrup

      Lots of great points you bring up here. Yes, the old model is thinking that we need to gain our power from disempowering others (like sharing their ideas as our own.) The new model is that our power is sourced through lifting one another up and that there’s way more than enough to go around!

  • Thank you Kate!
    This resonated deeply. I have had to check myself too frequently when my ‘ideas’ appear to have been usurped. I had never considered this context. I will be diving deeper!

  • Cecil

    Interestingly, I was sharing with friends here in South Africa about the importance of acknowledging ancestors/ancients in our lives. We are not self made but rather we stand on the prayers, ideas and sacrifices of others. I see intersections with your concept of lineage.

    • Kate Northrup

      Yes Cecil – so powerful. Acknowledging that we are all standing on the shoulders of those who’ve come before us is powerful!

  • Thank you for writing and sharing this Kate. This is something I’ve been IN over the last year or so and I have mostly fumbled through it. Your giving voice to this makes me feel less alone. It also gives me permission to be gentle with myself AND not have to be right or wrong. Just relax and be! Thank you!

    • Kate Northrup

      So glad this was permission giving, Amanda. Yep – the screwing up is indeed inevitable! It’s the repair that really counts!

  • Hi Kate,

    This was such a perfect post to wake up to! As a fine art photographer, it could get tricky and sticky when “coming up” with concepts for new photo projects and allowing them to formulate and take shape into being my own. I usually use a different medium of Art for my inspiration (ie Music, Paintings, Films, etc) because drawing from other Photographers is too close for comfort, and it’s true, no idea is new… one of my mentors and most favorite people in the world, Tori Amos, had a conversation with me a couple decades ago about Artistic energy exchange and synergy… we take in one medium and respond to it with our own medium. It’s all part of the same conversation, just a different visual or audio language. With our own personal DNA frosting 🧁 added on to make it our own, until the next person in the conversation adds their layer and spin and moves the lineage along… such a great topic you’ve brought up. And I love how open and transparent you acknowledge credit where credit is due. Thank you for giving me this insight… it’s providing a lot for me to think about as I move forward with my own Photography project this year.

    Warmest wishes,
    Val Patterson in Los Angeles

    • Kate Northrup

      Val – yes to gathering inspiration from other fields. I LOVE that. Yes yes yes yes. And the piece of the conversation with Tori Amos about artistic energy exchange and synergy…swoon! Love all of this. Thank you for being part of the continuing conversation!

  • Maureen

    Just wanted to say that intellectual property law aligns with the concept that no one can own an idea. Ideas cannot be copyrighted, trademarked, or patented.

  • Michelle

    Such an interesting discussion. Thank you. I have many perspectives on this – including allowing myself to enjoy that others have taken on my ideas without the need for recognition; the absolute thrill to find others that are thinking along similar lines (when I thought I was alone and out on a limb), and my experience in equity markets where once a fund manger takes on the idea and makes an investment it becomes his idea… but if he doesn’t take it on. it stays your idea. If it was a good one – you will always be remembered for it – and vice versa!). Perhaps my favourite experience was a conversation with a friend recently. After I’d attributed yet another topic of interest to an author I had read recently, or someone I had heard on a podcast, she commented. It’s as if you feel like you need to attribute all these ideas to give them validity – but actually I think your ideas are great – and you don’t need to confirm that others have similar ideas for me to find them worthwhile or interesting. What I hear from all the comments above is the value of generosity – both in sharing and attributing idea. It also reminds me to be brave with sharing ideas – even before I find the others to validate them. Thank you Kate!

  • Yes! Love this so much! It resonates so much as a dancer and artist. No idea is new. I love the comments about how we can take an idea or inspiration from different mediums and repackage or express them in our own mediums. I also adore the comments about copyright laws, there is so much truth here. I love how you keep learning Kate and how you continually keep sharing about where you are growing, THAT is so relaxing to me.

  • Jamie Sophia

    My first thoughts were as a mother (and daughter) and recognizing how little recognition mothers get for the incredible investment of time and energy raising children involves. Except of course when children are young and adore their mothers, all too soon so many of us forget to honor that we literally would not exist without our Mothers.
    This then of course leads to the ultimate separation from our True Source of life itself and that “we” think we are separate from Source or from each other.
    This “colonizing” movement is of course very patriarchal and ego based as a separation / me me me attempt to individualize and claim power (as partially stated in a comment above) and the splits continue in the scrabble for resources. But (Mother) nature gives bountifully and unconditionally and yes, there is always plenty for everyone! (And how do we honor Mother Earth? It’s a systemic issue on a catastrophic level and it’s definitely time for the rise of the “new/old” system❣️
    And last but not least, I couldn’t help but notice that the name adrienne maree brown was repeatedly and consistently printed in lower case rather than beginning in capitals as all names should be “honored”. Was this a simple oversight or a deliberate choice? Who am I to say? The artist formerly known as Prince called himself a symbol …

    Thank you for this open and honest article – we none of us are an island and none of us are truly individuals separate and unaffected by any other (enter global pandemic -no one ever gets sick in a healthy balanced WHOLE organism)
    -Jamie Sophia Mariah

  • I was just doing a more tribal yoga class this morning literally wrestling in my mind the entire time about appropriation and acknowledging lineage in everything (even exercise).

    This feel so relevant and a part of the great internal and communal conversation right now. We need more voices on this topic. It’s so good! Thank you!

  • Thank you so much for this! So sooo important and it resonates very much. Appreciate you, your authenticity and work so much – reading Do Less right now and it’s all resonating on such a deep level of knowing and affirmation, and gratitude for the remembrance. Has brought up feelings for me around this very topic of ideas as I believe we’ve been on similar philosophical wavelengths for a long while before I read the book. You put it all into such a beautiful framework and flow – thank you again for writing it and standing behind these shifts we so need! Honouring the ancient ancestry and feminine wisdom of it all feels so healing indeed ❤️

  • Kate,
    This was a “wake-up” today in a few ways. I’ve been dealing with a shame-spiral since a partial misappropriation of work last year. I did give credit in the body of the text but not in the formal way that is my norm. It was someone I knew and her response was to call me out publicly online. I would have preferred she email or call me personally to discuss it, but didn’t have control over that. I immediately owned my error, apologized, pulled down my post, and slunk away. She was “okay” with it after my humiliation but our mutual trust is likely forever broken. It was an unusual error on my part but I recognize I wrote it in a state of reactivity instead of relaxation. For me, that makes all the difference in my behavior. You’ve brought me more healing around this today. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability.

    • Kate Northrup

      I’m so glad this provided some much needed healing. And I’m sorry for the experience. I’ve been on both sides of it. It’s how we heal. And it also sucks.

  • Maureen

    You’re welcome. I’m a non-lawyer too but I do photography and so I’ve had to teach myself a bit about IP law. As someone involved in social justice movements I have critiques of certain aspect of “intellectual property;” at the same time, as a photographer I have had many moments when I have been grateful for copyright laws. I have had my photographs used without my permission by large corporations, and was glad that the law offered me recourse. I think about it too very time an icky political candidate wants to use a famous song as their campaign song, and the band says “Nope!” That right exists because of copyright laws. It’s a complex issue for sure.

  • Sheila

    Kate, I’ve always admired how you’ve shared your sources in your conversations – authors, experts, thought leaders. It’s served as a reminder to me to do the same.

    Thanks, as always, for being open about your growth edge. That you’ve raised this conversation shows your intent for integrity. This is such an important topic that will spur on more listening and learning in my communications.

    I’ve struggled over the years with this in songwriting because I’m surrounded by musical influences. It can have me second guess my originality. I’ve found great solace in talking through sticking points with other songwriters/musicians. Community wins again!

  • Luna Beverley

    Thank you Kate! I needed this discussion today. In fact I’ve currently been stewing over a disagreement with a client related to lineage today. I ‘created’ a building design, and my client would like to give my drawings to get a different designer to create a 3D rendering. I hate the idea of another entity changing the design and how it’s marketed. But perhaps there is a win win option I can find.

    • Kate Northrup

      Oh Luna that’s hard. I’m so sorry you’re in the muck with that. I find that getting quiet and really listening to my soul is the best way to determine what is best in situations like that!

  • I love this so much. Yes, attribution is deeply important. The idea is not the original thing, but rather *how* we put the ideas together. I haven’t come up with anything new yet — I’ve just learned a whole bunch of amazing things from a whole bunch of amazing people. How the ideas connect in my own mind and come out of me (usually with a smattering of “Jersey” … LOL) is the only thing that is “original,” but even then — it’s just me being me (which is the only thing “original” about any of us. ha.)

    I’m not a huge Kundalini practitioner, but I love using the “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo” chant at the end of my morning yoga practice which reminds me, “I bow to the teachers and the teachings that came before me.” There’s a reverance to be found there. One that I need to keep front of mind, always. Thanks for the great post!

    • Kate Northrup

      I love that you end your morning yoga practice with that chant. What a perfect reminder every morning that we’re not alone!

  • Tamar F. Gersh

    Awesome post! I was just thinking about this thought as I am learning and listening to a new podcast and new trailblazer but stopped in my tracks and was like” Hmm..I already learned this idea like 20 years ago but from someone different. How does that work?” I love what Elizabeth speaks about in her book how ideas can float around to different people until it catches the eye of one specific person. I guess I feel like if two different people have the same idea they automatically make it a different idea the second they give their personal spin on it and that is what makes it unique. In any rate, really enjoying what ideas you are sharing Kate! Keep on creating:)

    • Kate Northrup

      Yes Tamar – it’s so true that if 2 people take action on the same idea, it’s no longer really the same idea because of their uniqueness. Thanks for that additional layer!

  • I grapple with this often as well. I look forward to a time when we need not think about owning our thoughts, a place where we all know there is plenty for all, and it honestly doesn’t matter who said it. Thank you for this conversation. This subject needs expansion and I love it that you are always bringing expansion. Thank you for what you do.

    And thank you Maureen for the information!

  • Such a helpful perspective. I’ve found, more and more, that the content overload we’re in these days makes it hard to trust my own voice. I have an idea and then I have to question if it’s my own or where it came from. I’ve taken a note from your Instagram break post here (thank you!) and am just coming out of a 2-week break, having unfollowed many, so I can tune into my voice even more.

  • Jenna

    You know this concept really freaked me out when I read it in Big Magic. My ego kept wondering how Elizabeth could be ok with the fact that her friend basically wrote her book. (clearly I wasn’t as self confident or realized as you both then) As time goes on – and after reading this as well, I realize that is really just fear and ego talking – saying “hey Jenna you shouldn’t do this or write that cause it’s been done and no one will think you’re original or interesting.” I love love love the Twain concept of an idea kaleidoscope (kaleideascope?:) – it really shows that there are infinite combinations of thoughts so that you never really run out of relevance. Thanks for the boost!

  • I blithely made a limited edition art book of cafe drawings from my travels through Europe one autumn several years ago and titled it, “There is No Virtue in Deprivation”. You know where that came from, I’m sure. But I didn’t give proper credit to Abe Hicks as a channeled entity, and I should have mentioned Esther Hicks and I cringe at my obvious gaffe now!

  • I love that this came up one our call and Takisha mentioned it as feedback for me just last week. I immediately rewrote my bio on my website to name my 3 main spiritual lineage teachers. Thank you for holding such authenticity and respect dear Kate!!

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