As I look around the world, as I go about my life, here and there I can run into snags. I may encounter hitches and glicks, I may worry momentarily over something done or not done, or may I see something that seems like a problem coming my way. All part of being human, and to practice is to notice these moments, observe my reactions to them, to pause and breathe and choose a more skillful response. Nothing new there. But for a couple weeks now, there is something new, a thought I'd not had before. Lately, when I'm considering a problem (or considering whether there is a problem at all), I keep having this thought:
"Countless generations before you have dreamed of being here, where you are in this moment. Countless beings would kill and die in order to have this set of gifts and troubles in front of them, to have the chance to think about and discuss these issues, to have the freedoms to act and choose that you have in this moment. Countless beings have lived and died in hopes of reaching a moment just like this one..."
Every time I have this thought, it tends to shift my perspective about whatever I'm contemplating, pulling me back to a larger viewpoint, softening the heart and mind a bit, allowing a spacious clarity to arise. And it also brings with it thoughts of my ancestors - a sense of connection to them and an appreciation for their dreams and the efforts they made here before me. I know so little about so many of them, but I know that one doesn't leave home (especially lands of great beauty) lightly. What impelled them to leave all things known, travel to distant lands, and create a new life from scratch? How many of their dreams were realized in their lifetimes, and how many of their dreams might live in my own heart and blood? How much of my own path has been informed by the longing and support of those beings both unknown to me and yet woven into my bones?
For many immigrants, the desire to assimilate inspires a decided obliteration of the past. The old stories, the old knowledge, the old ways are left in the old land, and pushed into dusty corners of the hearts and minds of the relocated. I know nothing of the traditions, the habits, the humors of my Swiss ancestors. I know none of the colorful stories of my Irish kin, nothing of the loves and losses that inflamed their lives. We've been here too long, and those things were neither retained nor passed down along the way. At points in my life, this has felt like an amputation of sorts to me. An unsolvable mystery that surely held vital keys of understanding my presence here. Our past is a blank canvas.
While there's untold loss in that, there's also real freedom in it, and that is what I'm most aware of now. The spaciousness of it, the creative potential it must have offered to the several generations before me, that it offers to me now. For the first time, it occurs to me to consider that - freedom from the larger past - as a gift that my forebears hoped to offer. What could life be like if unconstrained by the demands and expectations of a tribe? What new dreams might arise out of one, were the old rules discarded? Where would we grow if we weren't looking only at models known to us? What would we do differently with our precious lives if we were unconcerned about the opinions of our elders?
It's a set of questions that I'm just beginning to explore in new ways as an individual, and perhaps they'll have relevance for other hearts and minds at this time, too. In my musing and thinking about these things over the past week, I found (as I'm wont to do) a poetic thread that relates:
"The knowledge I'm interested in is not something you buy and then have and can be comfortable with. The knowledge I'm interested in keeps opening wider and wider, making me smaller and more amazed, until I see I cannot have it all - and then delight in that as a freedom." - Heather McHugh, Hinge and Sign
May you each enjoy your freedoms, and all the space you have to open wide, wider, wider still. And may you really live, may you truly delight in, every moment of this precious life. Happy Independence Day.
Dana Wyss Healing Arts
Breathe deeply, practice often, be well.