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I honor my ancestors daily and have done so for the last four years or so. It was a gradual shift in my heart, mostly through osmosis. I lived in the Chinatown of Los Angeles, and the daily example of incense burning on family alters around my apartment complex, and in the local Taoist and Buddhist temples had a subtle impact on me. Seeing young Chinese, Vietnamese, and South-East Asian couples teach their toddlers to bow in respect to the dead was very touching—it seemed so rooted. So strong. It was the real-deal of the often pimped-out slogan of “family values.”
I also saw this modeled by my Latino neighbors in Los Angeles growing up, mostly around Mexican people. “Dia de Los Muertos” is an important Latino (in the Americas) holiday, close to “All Saints Day” in late October-early November on the church calendar. Yet its roots lie much deeper in time. They are very pre-Christian. They are indigenous. In Mexican culture, the holiday is a profoundly joyous celebration where (sometimes even on the actual gravesites) elders, infants, and everyone in-between gathers to honor, remember, and pay homage to their loved ones that have moved into the next realm—the realm of the ancestors.
My own culture, which is mostly Irish-Celtic, has an extremely similar holiday, known as “Samhain.” It was imported to America via the mass wave of starving Irish immigrants. On these shores, it was eventually commercialized into “Halloween.” Yet, the shadows of the root meaning linger still. On “Samhain,” the ever thin door between the supernatural ancestral realm and the world of the living (in the Celtic mind), becomes tissue-thin. The spirits of the departed ancestors check in with us on “Samhain.” We feel their presence even more keenly and officially acknowledge on that holiday (“holy-day”) their existence, as we seek their favor, guidance, and protection.
Even in the orthodox theology of the Bible has, in both the Jewish Pentateuch, and the newer Christian books, is the wisdom to “honor thy father and mother.” Hence, by deduction their
parents—the entire line of ancestors. The God of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” (an ancestral line) exist within a train of hallowed ancestors and family genealogies. The Bible honors the ancestors in the first pages of Matthew, in order to validate the lineage (via the ancestors) of the chief subject of the book—Joshua ben (“son of”) Joseph (a.k.a. in the Greek—“Jesus”).
All this idea of honoring my ancestors hit home even harder after the recent deaths of my older brother and my mother, both of whom I loved deeply. I grew up without a father (or even his legal name, since my parents were unmarried). I grew up in the culturally vapid wasteland of being a “White” person in modern America. What is the language of “White?” Where did “White” people emanate from? What is the mythology, worldview, traditional lands, languages, history, of these amorphous “White” people?
“Well, they are from Europe,” you may say. Where? Which part? Europe is big and extremely diverse ethnically and linguistically. Chinese are from China. Japanese are from Japan. Indians are from India. “Asians” can include billions of people from a geographical range covering over half of the earth.
So what the hell does it mean to be “White?” It is a fake, stupid, historically and scientifically unsound term, rooted in a racist attempt at differentiation from “darker” peoples who were either kidnapped into slavery, herded into reservations, exterminated, or colonized. It is a word without roots. It has no real meaning. It has a deadening impact on one’s sense of roots and belonging, in this modern world that seems to be adrift from any moorings. Individuals feel disconnected, not only from each other but from their own hearts. We (especially this amorphous lost tribe of “White” people) are ontologically “lost.”
What role does honoring our ancestors hold for us so-called “advanced” societies of modern America today? How lame is that! —To honor the dead and departed ancestors which are the root source of our D.N.A.? Not so lame at all, as the points below may demonstrate.
3 Tools to Enhance Your Health Through Respecting Your Roots:
Know or Learn Your Genealogical Roots
“Know your history to know your destiny” – Bob Marley.
Alex Haley’s book, “Roots,” took America by storm in the 1970’s, and for African-Americans became a call to honor one’s heritage and genealogical roots. As Malcolm X would often tell his audiences, “You don’t even know who you are! Your last name is not ‘Washington,’ or ‘Johnson,’ that was the name of the slave owner who owned your family. You don’t even know who you are!” In modern America, the only people who seem to truly know who they are would be recent immigrants. Those kidnapped centuries ago, and those who immigrated here to be deemed and labeled as “White,” have no dam idea who they are.
A key tenet to a healthy psychology and mental health is a clear sense of self-identity. How can you know who you are if you have no idea where you came from, and who your ancestors are? If you do not know, try utilizing D.N.A. tests and genealogical resources to discover that. This will help center your sense of self. It will ground you into your being. It will awaken a seed in your heart. The seed of your own belonging.
Ask Your Elders Questions About Family History (Including Health History)
If you are fortunate enough to have elders still living, speak with them. Ask them what they heard, what they know. What countries did their elders come from? How long ago? Why, and what was going on to cause them to leave their homeland? How were they treated when they came? Why did they settle where they did? Talk to your elders about your family history. Then follow up with research.
When did your ancestors die and how? Did they die from heart disease? Cancer? War? Lifestyle? Alcoholism? Sickle cell Anemia? The pragmatic physical diseases your family have may give you a clue on what to get tested for, what vulnerabilities to be aware of, and what to avoid in your life.
There are genetic patterns affecting our dietary tolerances that are unique to our ethnic backgrounds. Being of Northern European descent, I do not have a problem with gluten. My ancestors lived on bread. We had a higher tolerance for low-grade alcoholic beverages like beer and wine, which was used to purify water. Other cultures may be more vulnerable to damaging effects of even mild alcohol consumption. Learn your genetic dietary patterns. What climates were they suited to?
Create Personal and Family Rituals to Honor Your Ancestors
To love yourself is to begin to feel at home in your skin, and in this world. You deserve to be here as much as any two-legged creature. Once a person apprehends that hidden truth, they come that much closer to the feeling of liberty and belonging. This will enhance your mental health. Your mental health is the key to your physical health. We learn this through the cultivation of mind-body exercises like Qigong, Tai Chi, Yoga, and meditation. Yet, another avenue is the cultivation of personal and family rituals. They ground you. What better rituals to incorporate into your life than those that honor the roots of your core physical existence, your D.N.A.—your ancestors?
Rituals bring stability. Family rituals build family cohesiveness. Our modern society is more disconnected than ever. The promise of the internet and social media “connecting” us is slowly being understood for what it really is—a pseudo-connection. We feel that in our hearts. There is little that is “social” about social media. It is an individual, and often isolating experience that can alienate us from those 3D family and friends present in our lives. Family rituals like honoring one’s ancestors (especially when introduced to our children at a young age) can bring a profound sense of grounding to each individual within the family.
Like Van Morrison reminds us in the song, “Got to Go Back,” sometimes to move forward, we need to look closely behind us. History, especially, your personal family history, is not a set of
cold, dead facts. It lives and breathes within you under the surface—and guides you to where you know not. Become stronger by inviting the unconscious—into consciousness. Let us honor our ancestors.
Previously published on the author’s website, FrankBlaney.com.
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