Family Heirlooms

unnamedWhat am I supposed to do with this shit?

December 4, 2018

In my meditation practice, I commonly visualize what supports me. I bring to mind the earth: how solid it feels under my feet, how much weight it holds as the basis for my whole life and for all the lives I can imagine on this planet. With the intention to honor all who came before me, I ask, who lived on this land seventy-five years ago, or two hundred? Who lived here five hundred years ago? What made them laugh, and what agony did they live through? What wisdom did they access in their time on this land, and how can I be receptive to that wisdom?

Frankly speaking, though, honoring an all-encompassing ancestor and a general ancestral wisdom allows me to skim over the muck and the truth of what it is to live and to learn. Not every day, but when I feel strong and ready, I bring it in closer and meditate with a more specific focus: my grandmother.

My grandmother adored me. When I was little, I delighted in our shared affinities for tiny things, for froofy dresses, for novels, and for lemons. Her wit and the pleasure she took in me are not her whole story, though. When I remember her, I don’t remember a sweet and benevolent elder. I remember someone who hurt different members of my family with her words, her silence, and her judgment. I remember someone whose fears immobilized her and caused her to lash out instead of to pursue connection.

These contradictory parts of her story don’t cancel each other out. She is still the one who I remember genuinely sharing my enjoyment of tea cups and doll house furniture. She is also the one who I remember mocking and shaming my siblings, vocalizing her racist worldview, and silencing my mom and my grandfather.

The contradiction is the point.

If I can willingly look at the sweetness she brought to my life and at the bitterness, I can get closer to accepting that I, too, bring sweetness and bitterness to the world. I can love myself through the contradictions. I can love myself neither because of my strengths and my good days, nor despite my flaws and my regrets. I can love myself because I am lovable.

In my career, I have had countless conversations where people tell me their families are or were just top-notch: wonderful, caring, role models who “would do anything for me.” I’ve also heard countless people tell me their families are or were the absolute worst: hateful, abusive, neglectful. As true as these depictions are, they are never the whole story.

In our wonderfulness, we are all cold, secretive, temper-ridden, spiteful, afraid, dishonest, and unreliable. We don’t clean the shower, we avoid certain phone calls, we blame our loved ones instead of taking accountability. And in our awfulness, we are all curious, insightful, talented, sweet, generous, knowledgable, and hilarious. We notice others’ discomfort, we create delicious food or moving art, and, in certain quiet moments, we have access to eternal wisdom.

This week, engage your ancestors in the exploration of your lineage and yourself. Ask anything you want. If you need someplace to start, consider asking:

  • What love did you bring to the world and to me?
  • What pain did you bring to the world and to me?
  • What drove you toward your harmful behavior?
  • What do you wish I knew about living a good life?
  • What do you wish I knew about you?

The questions above are useful in meditation, journaling, prayer, and contemplation. Your ancestors will hear you, even if you can’t hear their answers yet. Certainly, this healing work can be effective with ancestors who are still on the planet with us. Building intimacy requires honesty and healthy boundaries. Use discretion before starting this conversation with someone who has harmed you.

P.S. We have been making a wish list–wanna know what’s on it??