What value do our ancestors have in our self-growth?
It seems that wherever you turn, there is someone talking or writing about the importance of consciousness and mindfulness to lead a more purposeful life. And any kind of transformation towards a genuinely conscious life must start with the self, from within.
But with so many of us living our lives on autopilot, finding time for self-reflection or self-awareness seems unfathomable. From the moment we wake up in the morning, to the moment we rest our heads down to sleep at night, our schedules seem to be bombarded with incessant activities or thought-stimulating information. To loosely use the terms used by Kabat-Zinn, we are in a constant state of ‘doing’ and we sidestep any opportunity to be ‘still’ or of ‘being’.
Even when we do find time to be ‘still’, we don’t dare turn the gaze inwards because there is too much pain, anxiety, fear, and anger buried deep within and we make great efforts to avoid feeling them. But as soon as we face a disturbance or a problem, we become quick to react without questioning the root cause(s) of these reactions; without understanding the connection that our adverse reactions have with our deeply buried emotions. To undergo any self-transformation, we must accept the truth that we will undergo a profoundly painful inward journey, and it all starts by asking the following questions: Why do certain disturbances trigger me and why do I allow them to take up unnecessary space within me?
Our behavioral patterns are shaped by the people who have cared for us or who have been part of our family circle. No matter how ‘trauma-free’ or carefree our childhood may seemed to have been, the role of family dynamics and even generational trauma has been prevalent in our conditioning.
Information and data have been fed to us from the moment we have been born. Our caregivers designated our name, defined the location of our birth, acquainted us with our ethnicity and origin, and for some of us, designated our religion. From an early age, we have been taught to understand what consists of acceptable and unacceptable social behavior; taught how to talk or express ourselves; and told how to act so that we are accepted in social circles.
From the moment we entered this world, we have been conditioned to develop perceptions about ourselves and about others. We have been conditioned to behave a certain way if we need or want to receive love, to be considered successful, or to be accepted by others.
If everything has been taught or conditioned, then our triggered behaviors will also have been part of the conditioned pattern. We are connected to our past no matter how often we try to convince ourselves that we don’t live in the past. Our inner disturbances, anxieties and fears are shadows that have been constructed since our childhood and are consequences of generational unhealed emotions, not just from our caregivers but from their own respective caregivers.
For many of us, shadows exist because we may not be aware of their existence and in some cases, we may even refuse to cast awareness into these emotions. We may continue to live our lives thinking that our pain, suffering and frustrations are externally-caused factors, when in fact, they are emotions that will have been anchored deep inside us from our past, and have become an integral part of our behavior.
Conditioning does not only relate to our individual childhood experiences. It also relates to the collective and transgenerational conditioning. Each of our caregivers and ancestors have had their own share of experienced traumas — individual and/or collective. Trauma stories may have not been verbally shared or heard during our childhood, but emotions and behaviors may have been unconsciously observed and inherited. If our parents or grandparents never verbalized or articulated their stories, their behaviors or emotions will have unknowingly pierced our hearts and indirectly passed on through to us, albeit unconsciously; they have been seeds planted in our own development.
Inherited traumas and self-growth
Traumas are wise emotional wounds. As soon as we experienced pain, fear or anger while growing up, our systems intelligently learned mechanisms to help protect us from future disruptive episodes. For some, this meant numbing their pain. For others, it was disconnecting from their own feelings. Not bringing our emotions or traumas to the forefront meant that many of our wounds will have toughened us up by incessantly distancing ourselves from these wounds.
Our own caregivers will have also undergone their own experiences of traumas from which they too protected themselves. The cycle of conditioning from all things painful and disruptive has been repeated and transmitted, and when we are not aware of the sources of our own reactions and behaviors, we continue to pass on the patterns to our next generations. It therefore becomes relevant for us to realize the deep connection we have with our past, with our ancestral traumas and with our historical narratives. By shedding light on our formerly concealed stories and emotions, we can then begin a healthy process of self-awareness.
Our reactions and our behaviors are excellent messages being shown to us, and lessons from which we can learn. Our task is to identify what those messages are, and why they exist. The most poignant time to capture them is when the emotion or the discomfort is emergent and present, and to question why it is showing up. To achieve this, we need equip our spiritual muscles to lean into troublesome emotions and triggers as they surface.
It’s from this point onward that we can understand ourselves in a more profound way; it’s when we capture our unanticipated reactions that we can become better familiar with our core. By watching and exploring our discomforts, we can begin our process of growth and conscious transformation.
To grow means to acknowledge information and lessons that has been imbedded in us from the moment we have been put on this earth. To grow means to know who we are and to acknowledge the lessons engrained in us from our past — not just the negative ones, but the positive ones as well (such as perseverance and awareness). We can grow when we reflect on all the pieces that have made us who we are today.
Yes, our history and our past may include a lot of suffering and torment, but with golden moments of stillness, we can also learn the value of the journey taken by our ancestors. It’s this journey that has led us to be where we are today. And by observing this journey, we can open the gateways towards self-awareness; we can write and define our own narratives, and; we can reprogram our abilities to interpret and manage our emotions (and discomforts) more productively.