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“You have to turn your ghosts into ancestors”

In my last blog I touched on the bountiful pool of resources that we can find in our ancestry. How in moments of disruption or being overwhelmed, we can look back and search for solace, strength and inspiration from the ones who walked this path before us.

Beside the resources, there is another flow of energy that we inherit from the past: the wounds of our ancestors, the pain that our parents and ancestors endured and that could not be healed at that time. Like a red thread connecting us to our family line, this pain binds us unconsciously to them. It also keeps us small, as if the thread was tied around our waist, not allowing us to fully express our own energy. This pain appears in our self-limitations, in our patterns and symptoms that prevent us from flourishing.

In one of the episodes of their podcast Renegades, Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen explore their complicated relationships with their fathers. In that conversation Springsteen shares that “You have to turn your ghosts into ancestors. Ghosts haunt you. Ancestors walk alongside you and provide you with comfort and a vision of life that’s going to be your own. My father walks alongside me as my ancestor now. It took a long time for that to happen.”

In these few words Bruce refers to the movement we need to do if we want to mature and grow. “To turn our ghosts into ancestors.” To set ourselves free from the repetitions of the past and to stand in our own energy. So, how can we turn our ghosts into ancestors? What is this process about? How can we, with love and respect, undo the thread that ties us to the destiny of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents ?

Constellations help us to take that inward road: The first step requires awareness. To become conscious of our entanglements. Is there a pattern in my life that I experience as self-limiting? Am I unhappy in my relationships? Do I struggle financially? Do I suffer from chronic symptoms? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, it may relate to an event that lies further back in my family past. So I need to ask this next question: Do I recognize this pattern in my family? Do I come from a family line of unhappy women or men? Were any of my ancestors dispossessed or lost all their fortune? Does my illness run in my family system? Often someone appears from the dark and we can bring them back into light. We might become aware that we have inherited unconscious systemic messages: “You have to choose between money and love ”, “your partner is the enemy”, “it is too risky to have children”, “we are a family of broken hearts”. Unconscious energy tends to repeat itself. It becomes our destiny. When we make it conscious, it enables us to choose.

The second step is about honoring. In an act of systemic empathy, we connect to the traumatic event and to everyone who was impacted by it, allowing ourselves to be moved. We acknowledge those ancestors and their pain and we respect their destiny. We feel the connection and the similarity. “I am like you, because I am your child, because I am your grandchild, because I am your great-grandchild”. We acknowledge our belonging: “I am one of you”, or how Ingala Robl would put it: “I belong to your club (of unhappy women, of the destitute, of the brokenhearted)”. We feel the love and the gratitude. Gratitude because in spite of their struggles, they had the strength to live and to pass life onto their children. That’s why we are here today.

The third step is about choosing. Choosing to do it differently. Once we have felt the connection and the love, we need to step out of their field of energy. We let them know that we will honor the life we received through them by living fully. That we leave behind, with love, the pain that belongs to them. That we will enjoy our life in their names.

This last step can be challenging. It is difficult to let go of the pain of the ones who suffered before us and to do better than them. We “don’t want to let them down” because we would feel disloyal. If we lived a happier life than our ancestors, we would feel guilty. How dare I have a more loving relationship than my mother and my grandmother? How can I enjoy abundance when my grandparents were in penury? How can I thrive in life if one of my siblings died young? How can I aspire to go to university if my parents had to leave school early? Can I have a job that brings me both abundance and fulfillment if my father was dismissed or seriously injured at work?

Sometimes it is easy to complete this last movement. In a constellation we can have a somatic experience of the futility of our suffering. In the blink of an eye we see in the gaze of our ancestors that our suffering does not help them. We suddenly understand that the real respect is to take what they gave us and to bring it forward.

In some other cases, though, this last step takes a bit longer. We might feel that by taking that step we risk losing our place and our belonging. So we may need some time to step out of our family energy field and to let go of that closeness to our tribe. This process then becomes our inner work: Learning to leave our place in our family of origin and finding our own space where we can grow into our adult self. Finding the courage to choose a different path from our elders.

The best gift we can give to our ancestors is to bring life forward, with gratitude. To celebrate that life went on. Then our ghosts will become our ancestors. Instead of pulling us back they will walk alongside us and become our protectors.

Photo: Pep Gasol


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