Apr 162015
Author Judith Fein emotional genealogy

Author Judith Fein writes about emotional genealogy

Today, I’m particularly pleased to present a guest post by Judith Fein and her concept of emotional genealogy.

When I gave my first talk about the power of Emotional Genealogy, I wondered if anyone would be able to connect to what I was speaking about. To my surprise, audience members asked questions for over an hour, and then they continued with personal questions for another half an hour.

You may be wondering what Emotional Genealogy is. Briefly, it involves examining how the behaviors of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents influenced who we are and how we are in the world. And it doesn’t matter if we knew them or not. We carry their legacy and act out the repetitive pattern of their life scripts.

Ghost Ranch Emotional Genealogy

Ghost Ranch Red Rock Cliffs; Photo credit Wikipedia.org

With a blend of curiosity and uncertainty, I put out the word a few months ago that my husband and I would be giving an Emotional Genealogy workshop and arranged for it to take place at the Ghost Ranch Retreat Center.

Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, is infused with magic. The ochre-red-magenta cliffs form an ever-changing backdrop as the sun dances around, chasing shadows, darting behind cotton-puff clouds.

Georgia O’Keeffe called Ghost Ranch home, and the trees, rocks, and mountains in her paintings still stand today, waiting for her to come back and paint some more.

Ancestral people began living in the area 9,000 years ago, and 500 archeological sites attest to their brief and longer sojourns on the land. It was this ancestral depth of the ranch that inspired me to choose it as the place to lead the first Emotional Genealogy workshop.

All that was required of participants was a willingness to look backwards, forwards, and inside. And radical honesty. They didn’t have to say nice things that they thought were expected of them. They would be family for the weekend, in a safe, welcoming place.

Participants came from all over the mainland U.S., Hawaii, and Canada. They came with secrets, questions, dark, unexplored areas in their lives. They came with courage, humor, honesty, confusion, humility. They came like flashlights that unflinchingly looked to the past to better understand the present.

emotional genealogy eys of ancestors

“And eyes—sad, sexy, secretive, haunted, arrogant, tender—stared out from photos, beckoning and challenging us to learn what was behind them.”

Each was told to bring an object or photo from an ancestor. And a common shrine was built. A watch, rings, and jewelry seemed to vibrate with the energy of those who once wore them. And eyes—sad, sexy, secretive, haunted, arrogant, tender—stared out from photos, beckoning and challenging us to learn what was behind them.

As each person held an object, and spoke about it, it was like Proust’s madeleine. It took them back to memories, smells, sounds, tastes of growing up with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles. It provides a safe physical bridge to cross over to the past.

Everyone was asked to bring a camera—in most cases, it was the camera in a cell phone. They took photos of physical traits that linked them back to those who came before them.

Each of the participants was different—in age, talents, accomplishments, religion, and personal history. But there was a startling commonality that bound everyone.

One of the threads that ran through so many lives was shame. Not for what they had done, but for what their parents, grandparents, and other ancestors had done. It was as though what their forebears did had somehow become their story, and they felt implicated—as they though they had done it, or inherited it, or would pass it on.

Another theme was lack of maternal love: mothers who were unwilling or unable to provide physical and emotional security, affection, solace, and caring because of their own limitations, blind spots, mental illness, or emotional genealogy. In some cases, the cruel hand of fate removed a mother through death.

A third thread was absence: adults who were physically there, but emotionally remote or not present. Or who sent their children away to orphanages, boarding school, foster families, or to live with other family members.

There were shared stories of violence, emotional and physical trauma, drug or alcohol abuse, lying, secrets, scathing words, denial.

The goal was not to dwell on problems, but to look at what each of us inherited emotionally, and how we can transform that inheritance, release it, or release our fear of it in order to live fuller, more satisfying lives. We had to separate our own story from the story of those who came before us. Their mistakes were not ours. We had to swing open the closet door and look fearlessly at the skeletons that were rattling around in there. And then we had to close the door. There was forgiveness, self-forgiveness, commitment to make better, freer choices.

Before we undertook this exploration, we used cornmeal to ask permission of the land and our ancestors. At the end of the exploration, after we laughed, and sighed, and felt release, we used cornmeal again to thank the land and our ancestors, for allowing us to do such important work for us and for the generations that follow us.

The field of behavioral epigenetics suggests that behavior patterns are actually passed down in our genes. As our lives progress, something turns those genes on….and, presumably, something can turn them off.

To me, is the best, most welcome turn-off in the world!

X   x     x     x

Judith Fein, an award-winning international travel journalist, speaker, and workshop leader, wrote about her own Emotional Genealogy in her wonderful book, The Spoon from Minkowitz. You can read more about Emotional Genealogy at www.EmotionalGenealogy.org   Judith’s website is www.GlobalAdventure.us.

Apr 102015
Write about average and it comes alive

When you write about average, others look at the details and see something a lot more compelling than simply “average”.

Average gets a bad rap. Well, not so much a bad rap as not enough rap. We seldom hear about him or her.

For instance, you never see Average’s mom post about his achievements on Facebook. “Congratulations to my son Average who achieved something that most kids achieve.” Instead, we see the parents of Average’s friends posting about their kids achieving all the things Average tried to achieve, but fell just a tad short. “Congratulations to my child Superior who achieved something momentous. My kid is wonderful beyond belief and worked so hard. #mykidisintheroomwithme #Imjustanattentionwhore.”

Okay, the hashtags are imagined, put in my head by a hilarious teenager. (I’m withholding her name to protect the snarky.) But the post isn’t imagined. Its equivalent passes through our news feeds on a regular basis. Continue reading »

Mar 312015
Going back in a Holodeck

Going back via a mental Holodeck

We all know that going back home isn’t an option. But a girl can dream.

Last week, as the plane approached Greenville-Spartanburg (South Carolina) International Airport, the sight of red clay gave me a twinge. Home beckoned like a taunt. “Come back… Oh yeah. I forgot… You can’t.”

In my defense, I’m not trying to go back. I’m here to live in the present. To spend time with the people I love now. But, however much my intellect knows that going back isn’t possible, it can’t control my heart. The past, unbidden, beckons in my psyche. Continue reading »

Feb 262015
Memories Family Stories and community learning

Memories, family stories, and community learning were all featured on this episode of Dear Myrtle’s Wacky Wednesday

Dear Myrtle, “Your friend in Genealogy since 1955,” was the would-be storyteller’s friend on her February 25, 2015 Wacky Wednesday show (embedded below). And, as the guest on her show, I got a great taste of community learning. Continue reading »

Feb 052015

Old cousins welcome new ones A new cousin discovered me recently–through Ancestry.com.  We share the same great-great-grandfather. “Sounds like we’re cousins,” he wrote. “How cool is that?”

Very cool, in fact. Finding new cousins through family history research is an undeniable rush.

His contact once again brought home the value of a family “treasure chest.” Once again, the beauty of my grandmother’s “Treasure Chest of Memories” washed over me and amazed me. Continue reading »

Nov 042014
Retouching the past

Retouching the past: Is it helping you tell your story or is it changing your story?

We’re in an age of retouched photos. We remove blemishes and correct lighting and exposure. We can even remove wrinkles, whiten teeth, and eliminate extra chins. We can… But should we?

Retouching the Past or Telling Who We Are?

When we write our memories and stories, retouching the past is tempting—maybe even necessary. Retouching stories, just like re-touching photos, can be a way of drawing attention to what really matters and eliminating extraneous details. Unless it’s integral to the story, maybe we can leave out that Miss May had three hairs growing out of the mole at the side of her nose and that each hair grew in a different direction. Continue reading »

Oct 102014
Aiming and putting down roots

Putting down roots isn’t a random decision.

The place we choose to settle and put down roots has far reaching (no pun intended) consequences. It’s the community our children call home. It’s the environment in which they form their worldviews. Frequently, it becomes the place children and grandchildren choose to start putting down roots. In other words, it’s something that will matter to future generations. But it’s often a story left untold—especially when it comes to our ancestors. Continue reading »

Sep 092014

Crymes Family Grave Marker There’s no question that grave markers are an invaluable resource for birth and death dates, full names, and family connections. However, when we try to tell a person’s story, we often over look them or give them only passing attention. We look for something more dynamic than a cold stone to illustrate someone’s personal history.

But grave markers are more than a resource. They’re a memorial to a life that has passed. And many times, if you listen and observe closely, they also tell a story. Continue reading »

Jul 152014
A typical day in your life

Describing a typical day can deepen connections.

Your story does not have to be extraordinary to be worthy of the written word. In fact, memorializing a typical day can be the key to connecting with loved ones.

I remember my younger son’s fourth grade teacher pulling me aside to describe my son’s “spacy” behavior. “Welcome to my world,” I told her. Although I sympathized with her, a part of me was grateful for someone who understood—viscerally understood—life with my son.

We hear “Walk a mile in my shoes!” with good reason. Experiencing the dust around another’s feet and the rhythms of their daily life promotes understanding and empathy. Continue reading »

May 292014

Lives of World War I Injuries Historians at London’s Imperial War Museum (IWM) are trying to preserve the stories of 8 million people. That’s how many World War I stories they estimate are in danger of being lost to “living” memory. And, that’s only counting those who served the British Commonwealth.

The “Great War” began on June 28, 1914. We’ve lost the lives of World War I–the veterans, survivors, nurses, and doctors of that war. In addition, the next generation—the children that knew their stories, are also aging. These stories are in danger of being lost to history. Continue reading »