Thanksgiving: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie?
Intergenerational Disturbance and Evolutionary Practice, Part 2 of 3
The evolutionary practice of going to the root of a problem to address issues manifesting in our current lives may sometimes feel like waking a pack of unpredictable dogs. Which is why we are often reluctant. Let sleeping dogs lie, right? Well, maybe not if they’re lying on the dinner table?
Doing metaphysical deep dives around sites of intergenerational disturbance can be tricky since we are working with unknown and unpredictable energies. It can be painful if not done skillfully. This kind of evolutionary exploration is certainly not for the faint of heart. It helps to learn about “ritual safety” so the stirred up energies don’t bleed over into our current relationships and experiences. It really helps to have skilled guides.
During Thanksgiving week when many of us will be spending time with our families, the ghosts of our troubled dead hover. Every family, culture, nation, and even spiritual path has them. Maybe the word ‘ghost’ sounds superstitious to you, so here is an alternative way of thinking about it – the breaks in passing along love and connection from one generation to another stay with us in the form of family secrets and dysfunctional family dynamics, and though they are invisible, these energies sit with us at the dinner table every time we gather. Our families “constellate” in predictable ways, with these invisible forces shaping our relating, until they are seen, appreciated, carefully addressed, and invited to find more harmonious ways of expressing themselves.
If you are someone who tends to find themselves in the crossfire of unhealthy group dynamics, Thanksgiving can be a mine field. “What to do?” you may often ask yourself, as you wince, every time you hear Uncle Vance say something insensitive. Seeing invisible dynamics at the dinner table does not require taking on other peoples’ pain, or performing others’ “emotional labor,” though this is what often happens. Seeing invisible dynamics also does not necessarily require calling people out, educating them, or going on the offensive. It involves evolutionary practice: “Where does this energy I am reacting to live inside me?” Most of the practice goes on quietly, inside ourselves. Since we are part of the group, the work we do individually benefits the group.
Evolutionary practice in groups involves acknowledging any hurt we feel with great compassion, not trying to figure it out with our minds, not pushing it away or stuffing it down with food or substances or betraying it with polite but insincere conversation. The practice has no absolute rules such as “avoid talking about politics or religion.” The practice is fresh in each moment, taking cues from within. The practice involves tending to that hurting one inside – taking alone time if necessary, maybe a walk around the block. When we’re blessed with emotionally intelligent families, the practice can involve healing conversations. The practice sometimes involves setting boundaries. (There’s a saying in the social justice movement: “Some people you can work with and some people you can work around.”) The practice involves cultivating compassion – first for ourselves, and then, for all. The practice involves gratitude. The practice involves forgiveness. The practice sometimes involves well-timed, difficult conversations. The practice involves letting go. The practice involves love. The practice has been the same since throughout human history – there really are no newly invented shortcuts.
The polarization we experience in the collective, we are also likely to experience in our own families. (If you are blessed with a relatively harmonious family, that is truly something to be grateful for!) Our own families, blood or chosen, are intimately connected to the greater human family.
No matter how you choose to see the source of the unwellness – as the ghosts of the troubled dead, or as invisible, dysfunctional group dynamics – those energies await us at Thanksgiving dinner. Doing the evolutionary work to brighten the group constellations you participate in can be done privately.
This Thanksgiving, award yourself extra points for your capacity and willingness to do the evolutionary work – it may require greater effort than non-holiday times, but it will also have greater collective impact.