Part of my family has a Halloween tradition to honor relatives who are no longer living. They bring out old photos and share stories of who they were in life and what they were like. The last time I visited that contingent of my family during Halloween I really enjoyed this practice. I learned more about some relatives whose names were already familiar to me, and I heard about some branches on the family tree I didn’t previously know existed. It was interesting and it was grounding.
This year I was not visiting those relatives for Halloween, but I have been feeling especially drawn toward ancestral connection lately. This feeling intensified for me while attending martial arts camp in-person for the first time in three years. In many martial traditions, establishing a connection to your teacher and your teacher’s teachers (and all their teachers) is just part of learning the art. I'm sure the pull I currently feel toward ancestry also partly derives from the onset of the holiday season, which is rich with nostalgia, tradition, and connection. It also comes from my longing to make the world a better place.
In my quest to cultivate a better future, I often consider the past. Especially the people who lived and worked and played on this planet well before I was born. Everything about modern life has been shaped by the people and institutions that preceded the present moment. And so much of how we conduct ourselves in the world and with each other is passed down to us by the people in our lives who had it passed down to them.
A lot of the rules we live by are unwritten. Often they are also unspoken. We pick them up by existing in a place, or a community, or a culture. Sometimes we learn about one of these unwritten rules only when we unwittingly act out of alignment with it. They are everywhere and they shape our every interaction. We cannot avoid them. We long-ago formed the practice of crafting and enforcing unwritten rules for survival, which is one reason they are so powerful.
The trouble with some of these kind of socially enforced agreements is that they are up for interpretation at every moment by whoever happens to wield the most clout. So we’re not all operating under the same agreements. For example, my household has agreed how we're going to communicate. We had an in-depth meta conversation to dig up all the assumptions and the unwritten rules we were operating under and examined each one. We then agreed on what things we will communicate about with each other and how we will express and receive those communications. We also agreed to review our agreements regularly to make sure they continue to result in our desired outcome.
As a household we established our own set of "default" interpersonal protocols and practices to facilitate healthy and effective communication. And they work because we took the unwritten communication rules passed down to us and intentionally agreed on something else instead. Unfortunately, these agreements are not the same default setting of the rest of the world. Fortunately, I take my communication practice with me when I venture out into the world. And so I get to be an example of how to live out my values of honoring the worth, agency, and humanity of everyone as well as being in-process.
And living out my values is critical to having an impact on the world around me. Ultimately I want to be a good ancestor. I want to leave the world better than I found it. To do that I must understand how I came to be here in this place and at this time and what operating agreements I was handed to navigate this place. I need to understand how the ground beneath my feet was shaped and how it was shifted over time. One way I deepen my understanding of the world is by learning more of the history of humanity. More of the history of the people who gave me their traditions. That puts the present into context and I can rest-in to that clarity. Then I can reach out to love the world.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.