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Passing the Baton: Acknowledging Transgenerational Narratives (and what to do with them)

Photo by Rod Long from Unsplash.com

“If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it – usually to those closest to us: our family, and, invariably, the most vulnerable, our children” – Fr. Richard Rohr

Diving deeper into my own inner-work – the work of reconnecting with the parts of myself that I’ve distanced myself from or protected myself against – I’ve come to realise how subtle, nuanced and insidious these patterns are. They show up in almost every way I relate to myself and others in the world around me.


What is unnamable and overwhelming is passed onto those we are closest to. Our loved ones carry what we cannot. We do the same.


What is clear to me, and after speaking to many, is that if we are to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, we must start to unpack the outdated narratives and patterns that contributed to us being in this place. We must walk with curiousity, compassion and courage. 


For many years, as a teenager I remember my internal world butting up against the narrative I thought to be true about what it meant to be a man. But I didn’t like football, I didn’t enjoy going to the bar, having drinks and talking about ‘chicks.’


There is nothing wrong with living like this, but sold as the only way a ‘man should be’ in our society causes an overwhelming inner-conflict.


I became more and more aware of how emotionally-disconnecting and isolating the condemning of my vulnerabilities was. It was also becoming obvious that these notions didn’t need to be true simply because they were told to be, and were up-kept by a vast majority of men I witnessed in the world around me. 


We can and we must free ourselves from them, expand the box and re-write what these narratives mean for us. We must.


What is Transgenerational trauma (or, narrative-binding)?


Transgenerational trauma (or, more broadly, narrative-binding) is not new. It is more real and alive for me right now though, as I grapple with our responsibilities as a generation. 


The concept of transgenerational or integenerational trauma become apparent and originated in the decades after World War II. Studies had started to prove that children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors showed certain symptoms of trauma. Their nightmares, emotional and behavioural challenges showed that the original trauma of the grandparent or parent had been transferred, from the past, into the present.


This is due to these trauma being alive in their parents and grandparents and therefore effecting the child-rearing style and environment of the children. 


In Lost in Transmittion: Studies of Trauma Across Generations, M. Gerard Fromm explores the idea that “what human beings cannot contain of their experiences – what have been traumatically overwhelming, unbearable, unthinkable – falls out of social discourse, but very often on to and into the next generation as an affective sensitivity or chaotic urgency.”


The ‘We’ is in the ‘Me.’


Whilst some of these narratives are deeply personal, to our own internal map of the world, based on our family system and biographical data; many are also shared across a generation. There is vertical transference and also horizontal transference.


Our resilience as individuals, and a species lies in our ability to belonging to and band together. We weave narratives together, to create shared-meaning, to bind and to co-exist. We’re incredible in this way!


However, these narratives must have timestamps attached to them. In the same way that as individuals, as the world around us inevitably morphs and evolves over time, so too must we develop psychologically and emotionally. As a collective, we must learn the are of ‘updating our software’ so-to-speak.


This process starts inside ourselves as individuals. Whilst these narratives might be held in our family system, or our culture more broadly, they show up for us, within our own experience. They are as much yours as they are ours. 


Passing the Baton.


By this point I feel we are on the same page: we are all carrying narratives and stories from the past. Whether it be threads of patriarchal conditioning, ambiguous-anxiety passed through generational trauma, or many other forms of holding. It’s normal, human, messy and beautiful – gee we’re such intelligent beings oriented towards connection! 


We all also carry the responsibility to bring these into question. To at first acknowledge them, then to re-write them. We must do this for ourselves, to free ourselves from stories that are not ours to carry. We must also do this for our human family, to re-write and re-weave a cultural narrative that is more nourishing to the wholeness of who we are.


In doing this we not only get to experience the lightness in our own lifetime, the hope is that we pass the baton to the generations to come having done what we knew we must. Of course, we will always gift some ’stuff’ to the next generation to work through – it’d be boring without it, wouldn’t it? But, let’s hope we can pass them something that has been at least acknowledged and brought to light.


Doing the work.


I don’t have answers, but I will share some ideas, some perspectives from experience. Know that even having read this far into this piece is – in my opinion – the work itself. The work of peeling back the layers, being curious about the basis on which we are crafting our own lives, and our lives together.


Compassion 


These patterns are no one’s fault. They are fate. I have spent many hours sitting in the heaviness of believing that “I made a mistake,” and therefore feeling shameful or condemning myself. I’ve also spent just about an equal amount of time blaming others, and carrying a sense of being small, disempowered or taken out of the driver’s seat in my life. 


It’s not your fault and it’s not anybody else’s. It’s fate, and it’s a gift to know this.


Curiousity


From this place of compassion, we can then start to be curious about what it is we are holding. This might be through a self-reflective practice, working with a therapist, or any number of self-inquiry practices. 


With the knowing that this is not yours or anybody else’s fault, what is here?

We don’t know what we don’t know, and so working with somebody or crafting relationships of accountability is crucial here. Someone who has permission to ‘call you in’ (not ‘out’) and hold you accountable to this curiousity is a great gift for this.


Compassion


Yes, again! As things arise and as we start to uncover the many ways in which we have been touched by stories that are not ours, it is easy to take it personally. I was always told,


“take things seriously, but not personally.”


As in any meditation, and this is why a meditation practice is so brilliant in cultivating these mental states; acknowledge all that arises whole-heartedly, but hold it lightly – not too close.


Courage


It takes courage to even begin this journey home, but of course if nothing changes, nothing changes. Here is where we are required to listen to a good dose of Brenè Brown, acknowledge where our comfort is, then play with the edge. 

This might mean having conversations that need to be had, consciously crafting new habits, working with that psychotherapist or seeking support when you need along the way. 


The courage to take the work beyond the knowing, and into the doing. Then comes the great un-becoming and re-becoming.


Connection


Often on the other side of comfort, once we have danced with courage, is often a deeper sense of connection. This may be with ourselves as we know ourselves to be truly, or with others as we’ve leant into deeper intimacy and vulnerability.

Once we’ve met what is no longer ours to hold, let it move through and taken the courageous leap into what might be on the other side a new sense of what it means to be our true selves emerges.

A deeper knowing, a stronger foundation of beliefs and frameworks that you’ve chosen!


An invitation.


This can be a lot to acknowledge and sit with. Yes, it can feel like a never-ending rabbit hole. This is why compassion is so important. 


We’re always balancing the great paradoxes right. The notion that “there is always more work to do,” and the one that says “there is nothing to be done.”

So tread lightly, don’t take it personally but take it seriously. It’s not a reflection of you, none of this is actually YOU. We are uncovering that bit by bit, again. 



If we are to evolve as a species to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we must do this work. If we are to experience a life of TRUE freedom, free from stories that are not ours to carry, we must do this work. If we are to gift the generations to come with at least stories that have been acknowledged and brought to light, we must walk this path.


What resonated with you in this piece? What’s still ringing inside you and stuck in some way? Let me know, as well as any thoughts or comments on the topic!

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Man with a mirror

Only You Know Yourself As You Are (so you need to ask for what you need)

Photo by Alex Iby from Unsplash.com

“Pretend I asked, now answer the question…”
― Laurell K. Hamilton

This is how we tend to treat our needs, desires and relational exchanges.


Frankly, with a lot of guesswork and a great amount of expectation. There is something nice about someone knowing you so well that they can guess your needs without needing to tell them. Honestly, this sometimes-comforting thought tends to bite me in the butt more than not!


We know ourselves mostly by our thoughts, our inner-monologue.

Others know us mostly by our actions, what they can see of us.


To everyone else, we are mostly a mirror of themselves.


We have a responsibility, in our own lives and in our relationships to firstly know what we’re wanting, and then to communicate it. 


This doesn’t mean we’ll get it, it means it’s been voiced and you’ve released yourself of the possibility of being misunderstood or acknowledged.


To gift ourselves the chance at being heard, and at having our needs met in relationship – intimate, work, friendship – it is up to us to voice what our yearning on the inside is. 


There have been many, many times that I’ve known damn well what I was yearning for inside. The words whirling around, creating an internal storm.


Xander, my partner, sensing there’s something I’m seeking but having no idea what it might be.


Me, not present to the moment at all, avoiding the question, trying to muster the courage to ask for it. Fear of my need being questioned, maybe even not feeling worthy of my ask. 


I have two choices. 


One: I could choose to say something like, “Oh no it’s alright, let’s move on.” Diverting my inner-voice, again, telling it that it’s not worthy. We go on with our day and deep down an inner-resentment builds within myself, and toward Xander. 


Two: I could choose to voice my yearning, with whatever words it spills out in. We then work together to co-understand what I shared and find a way to make sure it is acknowledged and considered. It might not be actioned, may not be reciprocated; but it was valued. 


My path I choose it up to me, one taking a little more courage.


A short reflection, but one I consider important.


We can help ourselves, and our relations co-exist a little more harmoniously if we start to let our inner-lives spill out into the work of relating, by valuing our needs enough to communicate them. We release each other from the onslaught of resentment and frustration, and we may even feel more understood and met.


Is there someone you often choose to silence your desire around? Is there a particular desire or vulnerability in you that you could gift the opportunity of your voice?


What are your thoughts or comments? I’d love to hear what reflections arise for you 😀

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Connecting in Walking Meetings

Why We Feel More Connected in Walking Meetings

“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” — Friedrich Nietzsche


There is a reason some of the greatest thinkers (who also happened to be great at marketing their thinking), had a habit of walking; either with themselves or with others for walking meetings.


Sitting down, inside, meeting after meeting, likely with a loose agenda but rarely a significant outcome – that tends to be a large majority of our working lives today.


We meet to share updates, discuss topics that feel slightly irrelevant to our core mission, and very rarely feel more connected with each other than we did beforehand. If anything, we leave with a slight taste of resentment and frustration.


In our personal lives, ‘catching up with a friend,’ might typically look like catching up at the bar, or at the local cafe for a tea or coffee. Again, we might leave feeling satisfied, light and re-connected, but I know for me there is something missing. An ease, the feeling of moving in a common direction, a feeling of being side-by-side, supporting, guiding. Together.


Of course there are some instances in a working environment when indoor meetings make sense.

Types of meetings


We could divide meetings into six categories:


Status updates (quite pointless, or could be done on a project management software)
Information sharing (again, use something like Slack)
Decision making (often necessary)
Problem-solving (often necessary)
Innovation/creative (useful)
Team building (useful)


The first two categories could easily be met with a project management and collaboration software. The last four categories could call for a physical meeting. 

So, why embrace walking meetings?


It is known that Aristotle instructed students while strolling the Lyceum. Sigmund Freud conducted many of his analyses by foot. And Charles Dickens quite routinely walked around 20 miles a day with no particular destination in mind. He once walked 30 miles from his London home to his country residence at 2am 🤔


As Sports Illustrated reported, Dickens found writing to be “painful,” and walking was a significant de-stressor after a long day.


More recent walkers include Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Weiner, and Steve Jobs. Whilst I might question some of the thinking that takes place here, I can’t help but see the pattern in fostering strong working relationships and expanding the box in the thinking that does take place.

Walking across the street

Here are some of the reasons walking meetings help us connect:

1. They create a safe space for candor


Walter Isaacson, who wrote Jobs’ biography, told Forbes that Jobs insisted their first meeting happen on the move; it was Jobs’ preferred way of meeting someone and having a serious conversation.


LinkedIn is known for its workplace culture and the effort and intentionality in designing both space and culture. They have their own bike path, built into their California headquarters, often used by colleagues for walking meetings.


Igor Perisic, LinkedIn’s vice president of engineering, commented to Huffington Post that desks create unwelcoming barriers during one-on-one meetings:


“You feel like you’re at the principal’s office. That’s not what you want.”


Very much agreed! If we are to foster meaningful, creative and nurturing relationships – in work, and life-outside-work – finding ways to have others feel in our spaces, and a permission to let their guards loose a little is crucial. The nature of casually walking and talking, side-by-side helps create that space!


“When we walk we let our guard down,” says Marily Oppezzo, a post-doctoral student at Stanford School of Medicine.


“Walking releases your filter. Ideas you hold back in a conference room come spilling out when you’re moving.”


This makes walking meetings incredible useful then, for relationship building, team building or important decision making.

2. They inspire creative thinking


“Methinks the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” — Henry Thoreau


We are influenced by our environment, in many ways and even when we think we may not be. Walking outside seems to be a great catalyst for generating fresh perspectives, discoveries, and ideas. 


One research study looking to find out how walking does effect our creative performance, had test subjects look to find alternate uses for everyday objects like car tires after either walking or sitting.


For example, one subject suggested using a clothing button as a doorknob for a tiny house, a miniature strainer, and a ground marker for path tracking.


The study found that the walkers came up with many more unique ideas than the sitters, both while walking and after walking.


Another study published in the European Journal of Developmental Psychology found that both children and adults performed a memory exercise better while walking than sitting.


While the reason isn’t incredibly clear just yet, researchers speculate that movement itself produces superior brain functioning compared to that of typical multi-tasking. 


Guardian columnist Oliver Burkeman echoes the theory:


“I suspect the greatest mental benefits of walking are explained not by what it is, but by what it isn’t. When you go outside, you cease what you’re doing, and stopping trying to achieve something is often key to achieving it… And in some hard-to-specify way, even the distractions of walking — traffic noise, people — seem to help.”


Regardless of the science behind it, you simple need to reflect on your meetings and the times you have ventured into movement and the outdoors. How do you feel after a walking meeting, compared to a seated indoors meeting?

3. Movement and the outdoors is simply good for you


Of course, walking makes you feel good. It also gets you moving, awakening from the slumber of our sedentary working lives.


Did you know that the average professional spends an average of 9.3 hours per day seated and 7.7 hours per day sleeping. While I don’t necessarily consider sitting to be “the new smoking,” I do know that regular movement is essential to my well-being, in may ways!


One study found 12 minutes of walking to increase happiness, vigor, and attentiveness significantly more than the same time spent sitting. 

To walk or not to walk?


There are plenty of reasons to experiment with walking, whether at work or simply for friendly catchups. Enhanced creativity, greater candor, and physical fitness are just a few of the lovely benefits.


Of course, all things happen within context. So, consider the intention of your meetings, the outcomes you are hoping for and whether walking would support you in this. 


While I do enjoy a room with whiteboards all over for some creative meetings or workshops, I will always prefer going for a ‘wander and ponder’ together most other times. 


What are your thoughts or comments? How do you like to meet, how do you prefer to connect with others in this way?

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