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.

Mar 122015
Writing with you heart on your sleeve

Writing with your heart on your sleeve helps your readers to connect with you. And that’s what it’s all about, right?

One of the most rewarding parts of sharing your memories and stories is those moments when the big picture comes alive. When you see in someone’s reaction that you connected. Writing with your heart on your sleeve increases the likelihood of that happening.

The memory collector has a different role than the average narrator. You’re part of the story. You add context. When you expose your more vulnerable side, you allow readers to see the world through your glasses.

It comes down to building trust with your readers—your loved ones. The better they know you, the more they will trust your vision—your filter—of the stories you’re telling. More importantly, writing with your heart on your sleeve helps form that palpable the connection with your readers. Continue reading »

Dec 302014
Breaking through Writer's Block

Five great ideas for breaking through writer’s block

I’m often asked, “Where do you recommend people start when they’re recording their memories.”

Sometimes, however, it’s not the starting that’s the issue. At the beginning, with a little brainstorming, ideas come down like the proverbial cats and dogs in a rainstorm. Then they don’t. That’s the problem. You encounter the “What do I write?” blues.

Breaking through writer’s block is important. Once coming up with ideas is difficult, it’s a slippery slope to procrastination. Continue reading »

Dec 042014
Wendy Parmley Shares Hope after Suicide

Author Wendy Parmley shares her story of finding Hope after Suicide — here in this post as well as in her recently released book.

I’m excited to have author Wendy Parmley share her insight with Treasure Chest of Memories readers. Wendy is an advocate for suicide prevention as well as for the support of loved ones left behind after a suicide. In this post, along with sharing her story of finding hope after suicide, she also opens up about the roles of her faith and sharing her story had in her physical and emotional healing.

I began writing my book nearly three years ago following a bicycle accident which left me unable to return to my nursing career because of the continued effects of a traumatic brain injury. During those dark days when I couldn’t get my brain to work, God spoke to my heart. I knew what my new work would be. My new work would be to tell the story of my angel mom – the story of her life, the story of her death, and the story of my healing journey. Continue reading »

Dec 012014
Tethered to the past

Tethered to the past: the ropes can keep us safe or tie us in knots

Tethers or connections? The past is an integral part of our future. When we write memoirs, memories, or histories that create a positive connection with the past, it grounds us. When the past colors our existence to the point that the present and future are drained of reason, it’s a tether to be broken–or at least loosened up a bit.

How are You Tethered to the Past?

There’s an apt German expressions for those times when you are torn about an event: “One eye laughs; the other cries.” Continue reading »

Nov 202014
Looking at Venus de Milo, do you marvel at her beauty or yearn to hear her story? Source: Wikipedia.

Looking at Venus de Milo, do you marvel at her beauty or yearn to hear her story? Photo source: Wikipedia.

Traditionally, beauty is something flawless and unmarred. However, when it comes to writing your stories, such perfection is boring. (That’s why I avoid it at all costs!) Telling meaningful stories is a process of finding beauty in the scars and sharing it with others.

We have a natural tendency to cover our scars. Perhaps it comes from our need to protect what is precious to us. A scar on our child’s face reminds us of some harm that we failed to shield him from. A chip on the coffee mug that we got on our honeymoon serves as unwelcome reminder that we’re no longer young and unfettered. And, perhaps it’s because we’re hardwired to appreciate symmetry.[1]

However, it’s a curious double standard. We never look at an ancient, craggy tree and think, “Wow, that’s too bad. I bet it was beautiful when it was young.” We wonder about the scars and admire the tree’s survival. Continue reading »

Nov 172014
Conversations that matter

Family gatherings aren’t just great opportunities for bonding. It’s also a great time to have conversations that matter.

Family gatherings are the perfect time to start conversations that matter —and to collect stories. After the bird or ham has been carved and the casserole dishes scraped empty, we loosen our belts. And, often, we loosen our tongues.

This holiday, as Aunt Ida and Grandpa start to exchange familiar stories, make the most of the time with your loved ones. Jump (calmly and unobtrusively) into action.

Draw out New Information

Instead of simply laughing, nodding, and adding stories of your own, draw out new information by asking questions and listening carefully. 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 »

Oct 022014

forgetful personal historian For someone who is all about preserving stories, my memory sucks.

Just the other week my mother-in-law told me a story about a family ring. Apparently, my husband found the ring in the summer cottage and, assuming it wasn’t valuable, gave it to me to wear. My mother-in-law had to have an awkward conversation with my then boyfriend, telling him that she wanted the ring back.

I was appalled at the fact that this episode rang zero bells of familiarity. However, it never occurred to me to doubt the veracity of her story. She simply wouldn’t make up that type of thing—especially as she was in the process of re-gifting the ring to me. Continue reading »

Sep 302014
Lists are not just for Santa

Lists aren’t just for the big guy with presents. Start making your own.

My scattered brain loves lists. They calm and organize my distractible why-did-I-come-into-this-room brain. When my brain isn’t preoccupied with finding my glasses or coffee cup, lists feed my creativity.

Lists can be the memory-collector’s best friend. To illustrate this point, I found myself making a list about making lists.

Lists help you remember

Lists, if you don’t forget where you put them, are more permanent than memory. They can become an Idea Bank to store your ideas. (Hmmm… That’s a section of Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life. ) Continue reading »