Mindfulness may be all about the present, but it doesn’t mean we forget about the past. It just means we don’t live in the past. Sometimes, taking a reflective look back at the journey can help us appreciate our resilience, feel grateful for all of the steps on the journey so far and to non-judgmentally observe any missteps that we might want change or work on now.
At this time of year, I always look way, way back. That’s because my ancestry.com membership renews around this time and I always have to ponder whether I want to continue with it, since I rarely use it anymore. Genealogy was a serious hobby of mine for about 20 years. I had a deep yearning to understand how my existence fit into a bigger picture and how experiences might pass down from previous generations. I believe there is profound meaning in the present by understanding our past.
From the time I got married at the ripe old age of 18, my husband would say that I was of “pioneer stock.” I don’t know if I really understood exactly what he meant, but I had been referred to as a “tough old bird” by someone else, so assumed it had to do with my stubborn persistence to do whatever needed to be done, regardless of how difficult. Then I read Willa Cather’s books sometime in my 20’s and I had the strangest and strongest urge to pack up and move to the plains of Nebraska.
That really piqued my curiosity. Why would I want to leave the comfort of city living to homestead land in Nebraska? I discovered through genealogy many years later that I was indeed of pioneer stock, literally, which definitely surprised me. One branch of my family tree was my maternal side that emigrated from what was originally Pomerania, you know, where the dogs originated, and by the time they left for America, was part of Prussia.
In 1881, they ended up homesteaders in Kansas. They had to build their own homes and build their own church, which I finally located in the 1990’s. It was not easy to locate, so I was quite pleased when I actually found the structure after driving almost 60 miles in circles around several farms in the area.
Mindfulness is definitely about being in the present moment, but understanding our past only enhances what we observe now. Our past experiences are what determines who we are now. Our ancestry may tell us a lot about how we see the world now, how we are, i.e., “behave” in the world now, and may give us insights into where some of our strengths or weaknesses originated.
After spending years researching my family’s past, I can see I have a long line of resiliency passed down to me. I can appreciate the grit it took my ancestors to survive and even thrive. Their lives are in the past but their legacy lives on in me, in the present. Just one line of my lineage made it through religious and political turmoil in Prussia, left their homes, farms and communities to try for a better life, and lost family members, including a child, during their voyage to Castle Gardens in New York (Ellis Island didn’t exist yet). They travelled by horse and wagon with nine children across rugged terrain from New York to Kansas. I struggled driving from New Mexico to New York with 2 children in the backseat of a comfortable automobile. They created a community from scratch, toiling the land and building the structures. I can’t imagine how difficult life was, but then again, maybe they didn’t see it as difficult. They simply saw it as something that had to be done. Of course, they did it because they were pioneer stock. And their ability to thrive with what had to be a lot of grit and determination ultimately led to my literal existence. That’s pretty miraculous!
Now each year when my membership comes up for renewal, my hobby that has fallen to the wayside for the past several years due to time constraints resurfaces. I’ve made it back as far as the 1400’s in some areas and have a pretty good feel for where I came from. But there are still mysteries to solve and so I don’t know if I’m ready to let it go yet. Either way, I’m grateful for the knowledge gained so far and grateful to those ancestors for sticking with it so that I am here now.
I believe that when I was younger, my living ancestors, including my great-great aunt who made that initial voyage to Castle Gardens as a child, greatly influenced my persistence and resiliency. It was just the way they behaved and I modeled my behavior on theirs. My life wouldn’t be the same if I’d had a completely different ancestry. When I consider what my ancestors endured, it certainly broadens my perspective. Am I really going to whine about inconveniences compared to what they went through so that I can be here now? I keep what they modeled for me in mind with my own descendants. Many of the characteristics we consider traits are really learned or modeled behaviors. What am I passing down? I hope I’m passing down adaptability, resiliency, empathy and mindfulness, but I guess only time will tell.
You don’t have to go back centuries if history’s not your thing. But you can look back at just the last year and recognize how you’ve adapted to our crazy circumstances, how flexible and resilient you’ve been, even if you might have experienced a few fits of kicking and screaming along the way. It’s been an indescribably difficult year for most people, but as the year draws to a close, we can see we’ve made it this far and hope is on the horizon. We’re still adjusting and facing new challenges on a regular basis, but with each change, we’re adapting.
Some people are experiencing vaccination anticipation, ready right now to get a shot and get back to normal, but hopefully most people understand we’re not done. We still have a pretty long journey ahead of us before we feel real relief, before we can go back to many of the things we enjoyed in life pre-pandemic and before we can really know how our lives may look into the longer-term future. But we’re here. And we’re doing what needs to be done, no matter how difficult. Whether that grit came through historical generations or whether we developed it this year, we’ve got it by now. And it will serve us well into 2021.
Be well, wear a mask and take many mindful moments during this holiday season to feel gratitude for the many blessings we all have in life and for the people in your life that have supported you throughout this disruptive year.