When the women of color were invited to stand at a retreat I attended, I wasn’t sure if I should join them.
My grandfather’s family came over from the Philippines, but I never met them. In fact, I didn’t know any of my grandparents because they all passed over before I was born. Though my dad makes pancit once in a while, he doesn’t speak a word of Tagalog. I’ve had the “skin journey” of an American white chick, and like a lot of Americans I’ve been completely estranged from the cultures of my ancestry.
To stand felt like disrespect to the other women somehow, as if I was equating my experiences with theirs. But not to stand felt like I’d be disrespecting my ancestors, as if they didn’t exist, as if the inter-racial marriages of my grandparents and great-grandparents never happened. I stayed seated but I was suddenly asking myself a new question.
Over lunch the next day, there was a facilitated discussion about questions of belonging – to cultures, groups, families, and even genders. Hearing other women’s stories about their estrangement from their family lines, about not feeling heard or understood, seeing their tears as they spoke about their confusion, all of this struck a deep cord within me, too. I realized the extent of my own grief over not knowing who my people were, other than being able to recite a few short anecdotes and point to places on a map. I wanted to somehow be more Filipino, but was afraid that I wouldn’t be accepted if I tried to connect with those roots. I wanted to be more everything, more Irish, more Swedish… More them, more me.
I brought my intention to connect with my ancestors into a Transformational Breathwork session. And holy crap, did the ancestors meet me there.
Immediately, they showed me the ships they took to get to America from their respective countries, and the railroads they built and cities they learned to call home. I saw them labor to earn a living and raise their children. They were so happy to be with me and know that I was paying attention. I could feel their eagerness to tell me that there’s no way I could disappoint them. They couldn’t have imagined my life, my “American mutt’ mix of ethnicities, or that I would be at a place like this retreat—not in their wildest dreams. How could they not be happy for me, and with me?
The ancestors reminded me, “Even your parents, your family, your friends, when you’ve thought they don’t see or understand you, in their hearts they could never be disappointed. Their souls’ wish is that you live a happy, authentic life. So they may not see with their eyes, but they see with their hearts and feel pride when you live your fullest life. It doesn’t have to look anything like theirs. You have your own path to walk.”
Then I saw the ancestors of the lineages I’ve studied and the message from them was similar: that I can take the ball and run with it. The point of all of their teachings – yogis, lamas, mystics and shamans – is to live honestly and with love. So, I don’t need to mimic what they did or tacitly apologize for not being more like them (or more old, more on the fringe, more brown, more indigenous); I only need to carry it all forward with integrity in my own way.
I am so grateful to this retreat for opening the door for this experience, to the space that was created at the retreat, and to my partner in the breathwork. I am humbled, empowered, and deeply grateful to the ancestors for their message.