Autumn blessings, friends! This autumn I’ve been reflecting on what being a good ancestor means to me. I hope my musings give you something to ponder as you consider for yourself what it means to be an honorable ancestor.
What does it mean to be a good ancestor?
I think becoming a good ancestor is both a collective responsibility and a deeply personal quest. The very nature of leaving behind a kinder, healthier world for future generations involves all of us. No one gets to sit this task out! However, what we are called to do and who we are called to be in the specific time and place we find ourselves is a journey each must undertake for themselves.
The mad idea of separation.
In 1961, Norman Rockwell noted the Golden Rule common in all the worlds religions. Here are a few of the examples he gave:
Buddhism: Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.
Christianity: Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.
Hinduism: Do naught to others which if done to thee would cause the pain.
Islam: No one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.
Taoism: Regard you neighbor’s gain as your own gain and regard you neighbor’s loss as your own loss.
The Golden Rule indicates the spiritual principle that All is One. However, we tend to act as if All is anything but One! Perhaps the trouble starts with the question… who do we mean when we say all?
In addition to the Golden Rule, I’ve noticed spiritual, and even non-spiritual, traditions have something else in common: the exploration of the journey from the individual to the communal to the universal.
In yoga we describe psycho-spiritual development through the chakra system. At the Rook chakra, our foundation, we our task is to meet our basic needs for security and stability. The Crown chakra symbolizes our connection to all beings. Psychologists describe this phenomenon using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Astrologers express this idea in terms of the procession of the zodiac from individualistic Aries to universal Pisces.
Teacher and podcaster Rob Bell’s take is my personal favorite: The journey from me to we to everybody.
Me, we, and everybody.
To be a good ancestor means we must get good at identifying with everybody. However, a sense of self gives us a springboard from which to begin this process. I don’t believe that it is spiritually deficient for us to know who we are as human beings and meet our basic needs. It is a necessary step on the path of psycho-spiritual development. The problem comes when we get stuck at this -or any! - level. The key is not to stay at me or we or even everybody, but to integrate and live all three simultaneously.
I believe most adults know it really isn’t “all about me”, although perhaps at varying degrees. We identify with people who are “like us”. Our tribe, so to speak. This is a tricky place to be. First of all, we can easily lose our sense of self at the expense of group acceptance. Another unfortunate possibility is that we get stuck here. We don’t move beyond caring for ourselves and our immediate community (i.e., church, city, political party, etc.) and into the realm of everybody.
The Universal level is just that. It is everybody. At this level we know ourselves to be intimately interconnected. Universal care and concern is not to be confused with martyrdom and co-dependence. Quite the opposite, in fact. As we integrate the process of concern for me to we to everybody, it becomes clear that, as the Golden Rule suggests, I express the highest form of self-care through my love and concern for the other because I am the other.
Questions for reflection.
How, then, might we put these psychological, spiritual concepts into practice in the physical world? Here are a few ideas:
· Me: We begin with ourselves. How are we treating ourselves and those in our immediate circle? Are we able to extend our concerns outside of ourselves?
· We: What impact does the group or groups we associate with or belong to have on other communities? Consider the good and the bad. Do not shy away from looking at the shadow side of whatever groups you are involved in. It is often people within those groups who have the power to meaningfully initiate needed changes.
· Everybody: Consider the global community. What did we inherit from our ancestors that we would like to pass on? What did our ancestors leave us that we do not want our children to suffer? On a collective level, are we living up to the Golden Rule’s task of treating others as we would want to be treated?