Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash
Ancestral messages that promise Safe are very rare. They knew the world wasn’t “safe.” Their messages are about how to live well and thrive in a world that is not safe.
We inherit “ancestral messages” from many sources:
- Government: in the USA: Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights…
- Legal: laws and the history of case judgments
- Teachers: how we are taught about our country’s past, e.g., USA’s current discussion around including and defining slavery. What “safe” means… and to whom.
- Societal messages: “normal”, “desirable,” “bad/good,” etc. “Be Safe” may come from the USA war slogan “Making the World Safe for Democracy.”
- Family messages: were you given curfews, and told “never go out at night” or the message from my parents, “Pay attention and get out of situations before they turn serious.”
Even Family Habits lead to messages. Story: the cook cut the ends off any roast before putting it in the pan. A family exploration discovers that the grandmother’s roasting pan was very small. At least two family messages could be embedded in that story:
- “Make Do”: there wasn’t enough loose money to buy a larger pan
- “Watch, don’t ask”: children learning to cook in that kitchen didn’t ask “why”
A little bit of research often reveals the story. Last week I learned about a western USA state law that “you can not walk around with ice cream in your back pocket.” When researched a story emerges: a horse rustler could put ice cream in a back pocket, walk through a herd attracting a follower or two, and then the herd would follow right out the gate. “I didn’t “steal” the horses… they just followed me.” (shoulder shrug)
I believe we need to know and understand ancestral messages. My very first blog, To Be as Clean as We Can, demonstrates how to stay clean when assaulted by devilish intentions. The most recent blog post, Fools and Nets: Who Survives and How, shares knowledge about how the Fool helps us manage in “this rough world” (Kent’s final comments in King Lear).
This World is Not Designed for Safety
There is no promise of safety in ancestral stories because the natural, balanced world is not safe.
- The storms, wildfires, earthquakes and droughts that plagued our ancestors still wipe out a farm, a neighborhood, or livelihood in a moment. We watch the weather reports.
- Food crops suffer from wet, cold or dry, costs rise; families go hungry.
- An emergency happens: our cupboards are empty as are the shelves in the store.
- We get in our car, drive a block, and wake in the hospital from being rammed by another vehicle. (Hopefully this sentence will be out of date in seven years thanks to self driving cars.)
- Our friend goes to work and is laid off, facing debt and house payments, having a set of skills no longer needed.
If we weren’t expecting to be safe, we might instead focus on being aware, prepared, and resilient.
An Unnatural, Unbalanced World is even more Unsafe
- The storms, wildfires, earthquakes and droughts are increasing in both intensity and frequency. Throughout the world people are working hard to bring the planet back to balance.
- The climate changes affect food chains; in some countries the whole population edges toward starvation. People in and across those countries are standing together to say, “Let’s stop what we are doing. Let’s focus on and fix this problem instead.” The answers are there. The will to change is growing.
- The current and last generation have undertaken the issue of abuse, both in and out of one’s own home.
- Some United States citizens and their legislatures are in thrall to the Gun Lobby. But, every year more people demand change.
- If we look at countries where the USA sells weapons the toll on civilians is life-devastating. We are not “making the world safe.” We are making the weapons industry billions of dollars per year.
We are beginning to focus on the problems and choosing to work together to correct them.
Ancestral Messages Are Not About Being “Safe”
What if instead of promising safety, we taught ourselves and the children how our ancestors managed it all, from personal disasters to collapses of their worlds as they knew them. They managed as best they could, and managed well enough we are here now.
When we live close to wild things we observe how they are in the world. Their competencies include:
- Context awareness – constant observation of surroundings and what’s happening in them. City folk can practice by walking or riding the bus and not looking at a phone screen.
- Risk Assessment and Management: The word Trivia comes from standing at a crossroads in the wilderness and observing which way the animals and birds are moving to be away from predators. Go that way.
- Resilience: chicks know how to disappear in the grass, baby bears to climb a tree. We can have emergency bags packed, back-up hard drives at a different place. We remember we have managed tough situations before and trust we will do so again.
- Focus: pay attention to outer and inner warnings. Let your mind listen to what your body is telling you.
Ancestor message: Foster agency instead of fear. Agency means to feel we have responsibility for our actions and their consequences. Our choices make a difference.
I’m giving myself three minutes to write a list of where to find tools that encourage agency. Feel free to share your own list.
- Old stories are being retold, their messages explored.
- Modern stories like the Harry Potter series, the Hunger Game group…and on and on
- The Last Airbender cartoon series, which features children working to save their world, presenting the idea of survival by intelligence, skill, shared goals and support.
- Sites retelling stories like our guest blogger Nancy King and Jen Lighty’s Corpus Callosum series.
- Ancestor Authors. The Odyssey is about the end of a civilization, the Aeneid about founding a new one. Dickens and Twain are good places to start for how to recognize and survive the ills of modern times.
- Martial arts and Nia teach me awareness, defense and offense skills that prove useful in many different settings.
- My Celtic Christian faith teaches me to practice compassion and Lead with Love.
- My commitment to Transformation encourages me to act with courage, cleverness, and caritas.
And, some of us have retained or learned how to receive direct messages from our ancestors in dreams or day-visions. Some others of us find such explorations scary to consider, or even silly. Let’s explore one person’s experience.
Kate’s sister, Kelly, took the photo of her when she wasn’t looking, as they visited Poul na Brone in 1984.
How Can We Live Well in This Rough World?
I’m grateful to know and share information with Kathleen Cain, who tells us in this poem the ancestral message she received when visiting Ireland in 1984 with her sister.
All That You Need, She Says: A Dream of the Poul na Brone Dolmen
by Kathleen Cain
Suddenly she’s in the field on foot.
No car, no donkey, the way a dream
transports the dreamer. Dolmen house.
All that’s left of some poor Celt’s
mounded grave, inhabited again.
Dream on a warrior’s grave
and the doors to the Otherworld
will open to you.
A cloth of pattern and weave she does not know
curtains the passage. Coins on its edges
stir an ancient song in the wind—coins
older than any Caesar forged, even before
sunlight gleaming on the Rubicon
hurt his eyes. The wind rattles stones
along the Burren, shakes the furze bushes
to their roots. She passes through the veil
in darkness, finds an old woman within.
Hidden Ireland, forced to conceal herself
in Iron Age tombs among the hills, in order
to reveal herself to her children’s
Only her eyes, like two dark discs
or smoke in the distance, give her away.
She offers a gift. A palm full of stones.
Part of herself. She has not learned
to make rosaries yet.
The white one
for clarity and light. Make anger
to burn away darkness from it, she says.
But darkness is also a gift.
The black one,
the largest, takes longer to gather,
less light to dispel. Dream it.
The brown one
for the things of earth, its bottom
always tinged with blood, the hunt,
birth. The earth dies in order to live.
Walk inside the circle. Keep it.
The red one
for love, the heart, one edge scoured
with disappointment, the rest growing
open, ready to receive.
The grey-green one,
a wedge of the sea, of air that lingers
above the sea, of clouds the sea gives
birth to, what you cannot see through
yourself, the spaces that fill a life.
Begin again. Burn fog, fear, dry leaves,
old love, untruth away. Use all that you need.
Five strengths from myself to yourself—
in the palm of your hand, she says.
Kathleen’s wise ancestor does not promise a fear-free, safe life. Another use for the word “safe” is a strongbox with a key. Who are we if we “Stay Home: Stay Safe” inside four walls and a locked door? Her ancestor gives gifts of “How To Survive and Thrive” in tough times in this rough world. If we can stop thinking we need/want to be safe, we can begin thinking about the gifts and skills we have and need to live well and thrive.
What Stone Messages Could You Hold in Your Hands?
- Settle down, take some deep breaths.
- Hold out your hands, cupped to receive. Or put them on your lap or a nearby surface.
- Open your inner awareness, rest in patience.
- Imagine an ancestor putting a stone into your hands. Wait, breathe. Feel the stone in your hands.
- Can you describe the stone? Do you know the ancestor?
- What message to you does the stone contain?
- Take more deep breaths. Feel your feet, your body in the place where you are.
- Write down the experience. Put the message where you will see it every day.
If you choose, share what message(s) the stone(s) contain in the comments or email me.
What Ancestral Messages am I Creating?
We can practice discernment in choosing which ancestor messages we will send along. Many continue to work on leaving behind racial biases, on ending violence from sarcastic remarks to war, on uncovering hidden messages like generations of incest to end them. What I am choosing to leave behind could be another, useful list.
And then make a second list of the ancestral messages you want to send to this world’s descendants. What messages are you living by, sharing with others, teaching children and friends? Pay attention. Your choices enter the marrow of the world.
Note 1: This blog is part of the Unto All Generations theme in my blogs. The theme title comes from the blog post, Attitude Unto All Generations, and another of my favorites, A Gossip Meets at All Hallows.
Note 2: The Developmental Theatre: Fearless Creativity website will include how to encourage building competencies in Context Awareness, Risk Assessment and Management, and Resilience. Coming later this year.
Note 3: Kathleen Cain published this answer first in Knowing Stones: Poems of Exotic Places. Ed. Maureen Tolman Flannery. John Gordon Burke Publishers. 2000. Kathleen says: “The poem is old enough to use a spelling then popular (more often now, it’s one word, Poulnabrone)–and archeologists scold us that it should be “tomb” rather than “dolmen.” Ah, well, what can you do?”