Family Tree: Legacy or Liability?
Ever been compared to a family member? How did you feel? Was it a compliment, or a cringe-inducing experience?
We all have different experiences with family. Some of us think of family and our whole bodies seem to melt, or sigh into a state of deep relaxation. Going home is an experience that reminds us of who we are, fond memories seem to pour out of the woodwork allowing us to access deep mind-body awareness of the unconditional support and belonging that has been and continues to be available to us.
If this is your experience, you may aspire to follow in the footsteps of a particular person, or to integrate a variety of patterns that your family used to create meaning and connection. You may have terms of endearment your parents or grandparents used that you carry into new relationships. You may have favorite traditions or time-honored beliefs. You may have skills and crafts you've been taught that you use to serve yourself and others.
If this is your experience, you likely feel securely rooted in your family tree.
You may think of your family tree as a sturdy oak, or giant redwood. You see that life has not always been perfect, but the family has endured the test of time and circumstance, and is still standing strong with deep roots of love and connection. You feel comfortable talking about your family tree, and sharing about it with newcomers in your life.
Unfortunately, that is not the case for all of us.
What do we do if we are born into a family that was not sturdy and rooted in fertile ground? Your family tree may have endured harm through disease, natural disaster, decay, or destruction by way of society's metaphoric Once ler (reference to the Lorax).
What if when you hear the phrase 'the apple doesn't fall far from the tree,' you think "Oh $h!t?" And you fantasize about having the good fortune of a gust of severe wind carry your metaphoric seed away to a new, more fertile ground where you can at least have a chance to grow?
Alexander den Heijer suggests that "When a flower doesn't bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower." So, what does this mean for those of us who have more liability than legacy extending from our family heritage?
A New Environment
Although there is certainly room for the age-old nature/ nurture debate, in this post, we are going to empower ourselves to consider what we can influence through the nurture aspect of our experience. Perhaps if your seed comes from an apple tree, you are destined to become an apple tree. The question we want to consider is not can I be a coconut tree instead, but rather: will I be a healthy, fruitful apple tree that stands the test of time, or one that is struggling to survive in poor soil?
If we are going to thrive, we must consider whether we will benefit most from remaining close to the resources of our original environment (family relationships and patterns), or whether that environment subjects us to harm.
After all, change requires change.
We do not want to remain in experiences that are likely to produce more of the same. We want to begin considering what else we need to create change for our self and future generations. Perhaps, if we do not come from a legacy we hope to strengthen, we get to be a person who creates a catalytic shift from liability to legacy.
Some of us may benefit from exploring new worlds of possibility where we are not only removing ourselves from harm, but can grow and change through considering new ideas, teachings, beliefs, opportunities, and healthy relationships. We can, then, put down new roots.
Are you saying I should not remain connected to my family?
To be clear, it is never my intent to say anything specific about what you should do. Everyone's experience of their family as being defined more by legacy or liability varies. Some have incredibly strong (genetic, cultural, financial, relational, spiritual) legacies, while others have the same level of liability on the other side of the continuum. Many of us fall somewhere in between.
We may find ourselves wanting to hang onto parts, but not the whole.
We may mindfully carry certain resources (teachings, traditions) with us as we seek to escape the toxicity of specific family dynamics, and go out in search of new fertile relational ground. From the opposite angle, we may find it most beneficial to maintain loving connections, while changing our own patterns of belief or behavior.
Every situation is unique. What is often most helpful is positioning ourselves to mindfully choose what is supporting the life we want to create vs. allowing our original context to decide all future possibilities for us.
May you each find and establish what you seek as you embrace your power to participate in strengthening or creating a relational legacy.
Enjoy listening to John Mayer's 'In the Blood' as you reflect on what is true about your personal experience of family.
In The Blood John Mayer
How much of my mother has my mother left in me? How much of my love will be insane to some degree? And what about this feeling that I'm never good enough? Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood? How much of my father am I destined to become? Will I dim the lights inside me just to satisfy someone? Will I let this woman kill me, or do away with jealous love? Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood? I can feel love the I want, I can feel the love I need But it's never gonna come the way I am Could I change it if I wanted, can I rise above the flood? Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood? How much like my brothers, do my brothers wanna be? Does a broken home become another broken family? Or will we be there for each other, like nobody ever could? Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood? I can feel love the I want, I can feel the love I need But it's never gonna come the way I am Could I change it if I wanted, could I rise above the flood? Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood? I can feel the love I want, I can feel the love I need But it's never gonna come the way I am Could I change it if I wanted, can I rise above the flood? Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood? Source: LyricFind Songwriters: John Mayer In The Blood lyrics © Reach Music Publishing