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Becoming Good Ancestors: Part 4.

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.

Remembering our wholeness.

What is healing? Healing means different things to different people. For me, healing is the process we undergo as we remember our wholeness.

Along our healing journey, at some point many of us come across the term “Shadow work.” Perhaps you have heard of Shadow work, yourself! What is Shadow work? Why is it important?

The term “Shadow work” was popularized by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. Basically, the Shadow is that within ourselves that we reject or keep hidden in order to be accepted by others: family, friends, our community, and even our religion or nation. We become aware of our Shadow when we have a strong negative emotional reaction to a “trigger”. We become triggered when we project our own rejected emotions onto someone or something else.

Shadow work in action.

Let me give you an example. I get very angry when I see someone texting while they are driving. My heart rate picks up, my throat clenches, and I feel like I could quite literally see red. How could someone be that careless? Don’t they know they could cause a wreck and kill someone?

What is it about texting and driving that really bothers me? First of all, the person texting and driving is getting away with breaking the law. Maybe there are a few laws I’d like to break every now and again! Perhaps I don’t feel it is fair that I have to be good and follow the law while other people get away with breaking it!

I feel powerless when I see people texting and driving. Not only could they hurt someone or damage someone else’s property, but that someone could be me or someone I care about! I don’t like the potential influence this person has on my own personal interests.

When I see someone texting and driving, I judge them as careless and irresponsible. Responsibility and caring for others are values I hold high. However, every now and then, I’d like to be a little reckless. I’d like to care less about what other people think of me. Maybe I’d even like to make people a little mad from time to time.

Notice, it is not okay to text and drive. It is against the law, and the law is just because texting and driving has the potential to do much damage. My Shadow work around texting and driving is not around the rightness or wrongness of texting and driving. Rather, my Shadow work around texting and driving focuses on my reactivity around the action and judgement of the person doing the texting and driving.

Shadow work is personal and collective.

We all have personal Shadow work, but there is collective Shadow work as well. Whether in a family unit, a group of friends or colleagues, or even at the societal level, our collective Shadow is often projected onto people we view as different than us. Women, immigrants, BIPOC, houseless people, and members of the LGBT+ community have historically served as societal scapegoats. Today, it is all too common to project our shadow onto people with different political associations or views on masks and vaccines than our own. Indeed, as long as we are unwilling to integrate our own darkness, we will find reasons to condemn it in everyone around us!

Being good ancestors means doing our Shadow work, both personally and collectively. Feeling our emotions and working to understand them and how they impact us and everyone around us is a continual process. It takes time, effort, and the willingness to be uncomfortable from time to time! I suggest that doing our individual and collective Shadow work is a moral obligation. Adults who are willing to “deal with their own stuff” reduce the likelihood that maladaptive thoughts and behaviors are passed on to future generations. Furthermore, by doing this difficult but healing work, we begin to integrate all the disowned and unloved aspects of ourselves. We uncover the wholeness that we always were, but had simply forgotten. Indeed, we realize a way of living and loving more deeply in ourselves and our world.

An exercise in Shadow work practice:

  • I suggest recording your shadow work exercises in a journal.

  • Notice when you feel a strong negative emotional reaction. We’ll call this a “trigger”.

  • Where in your body do you feel that emotion? For example, does your stomach clench? Does your heart rate increase? Perhaps your throat feels dry or tight?

  • Is there a relationship between the trigger and where in your body you feel the emotion? For example, do you feel choked-up when triggered by someone who loudly speaks his mind?

  • Get specific. What is it about the trigger that so disturbs you? Using the example above, perhaps it angers you that this individual so loudly states his point of view without caring for other people’s opinions or feelings.

  • Here’s the tricky part…. How do you see this trigger in yourself? Using the above example, perhaps you wish you could so loudly state your opinion and care less about the feelings and opinions of others. Or maybe you wish you were in a position where there weren’t consequences for saying whatever you want whenever you want.

  • Integrating the shadow. Is there something in this shadow experience that is good or even neutral? For example, can we find healthy ways to feel seen and heard?

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