Some people want, or feel that they need, a sense of a wider connection to see how they fit into a larger world, both currently and historically. People can also feel the need for a wider social connection, particularly in modern Western societies where small nuclear families and greater geographical mobility may lead to a sense of isolation. From an existential perspective, ‘striving to find a meaning in one’s life is a primary motivational force’ (Frankl, 1968).
But why is the root such a compelling metaphor for thinking about our connection to ancestors, homelands, and the earth itself?
Thanks to the following guests for participating:
Bobi Conn was born in Morehead, Kentucky, and raised in a nearby holler, where she developed a deep connection with the land and her Appalachian roots. She obtained her bachelor’s degree at Berea College, the first school in the American South to integrate racially and to teach men and women in the same classrooms. She worked five part-time jobs at one point to support her son and to attend graduate school, where she earned a master’s degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing. In the Shadow of the Valley: A Memoir is her first book.
Life coach Natasha Mahtani
Buzzvalve managing partner Rohan Chandrashekhar
Personal coach and life strategist Nicolina Werther
Here are some of the resources from the show:
Dr. Sharon Blackie is an award-winning writer and internationally recognised teacher whose work sits at the interface of psychology, mythology and ecology. Her highly acclaimed books, courses, lectures and workshops are focused on the development of the mythic imagination, and on the relevance of our native myths, fairy tales and folk traditions to the personal, social and environmental problems we face today.
Here is the video link.
Mark Wolynn on how trauma is passed on to our children:
Books looked at this week:
Bobi Conn: In the Shadow of the Valley: A Memoir
Dr. Sharon Blackie: If Women Rose Rooted: The Power of the Celtic Woman
Mark Wolynn: It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle
PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.
Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.
Welcome to episode 49 of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky skills by taking this learning journey with you.
You may have seen many genealogical TV programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are, or websites such as Ancestry.com which shows we can know more about distant ancestors than ever before. But what purpose does this knowledge serve? Why is the root such a compelling metaphor for thinking about our connection to ancestors, homelands, and the earth itself?
Humans are context-seeking creatures, and this need to feel woven into the world takes many forms: whether it’s research into family history; pride about one’s hometown, state, or country and the specificities of these places that have marked one’s character, behavior, and speech; and the pastoral longing to restore a lost communion with the earth itself.
With that, here is life coach Natasha Mahtani on what home and rootedness means to her.
Our first book is from Bobi Conn, who was born in Morehead, Kentucky, and raised in a nearby holler, (which is a small sheltered valley), where she developed a deep connection with the land and her Appalachian roots.
She obtained her bachelor’s degree at Berea College, the first school in the American South to integrate racially and to teach men and women in the same classrooms. After struggling as a single mother, she worked five part-time jobs at once to support her son and to attend graduate school, where she earned a master’s degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing. In the Shadow of the Valley: A Memoir is her first book. I spoke to her this week, hence here is a small part of the interview which you can find on www.howtobe247.com and the YouTube channel.
Our next book is from award-winning writer and internationally recognized teacher Dr Sharon Blackie with If Women Rose Rooted: The Power of the Celtic Woman which looks at womenfinding their place in the world, drawing inspiration from the wise and powerful women in native mythology, and guidance from contemporary role models who have re-rooted themselves in land and community and taken responsibility for shaping the future. Here she is
Although Dr. Blackie is Scottish and Irish, these may resonate with women across many cultures. It is also a call to every woman to reclaim the powerful stories from her own ancestors, and the land to which she belongs, so that she might revision the world. She is singing to the creators of a new myth by telling the rocky truths about her own weaving journey to find her place of belonging.
She accurately and painfully names the wasteland we now live in and passionately resurrects the moral and spiritual authority women have always had and must now reclaim if we are to regenerate this planet and our own wild souls.
Before we can change the world we need to change the stories we tell to ourselves, about ourselves, about who we are. The stories we live. For example, she mentions Vandana Shiva, who is India’s best-known ecofeminist, environmental and anti-globalisation activist, promoting the idea that a more sustainable and productive approach to agriculture could be achieved through reinstating systems of farming that are more centred on women.
Even more radically, Canada’s Idle No More movement took the world by storm in 2013, when what began as a simple resistance campaign against a pending bill in Saskatchewan, spilled across the border to the United States and spread its influence across the world. The movement – which inspired solidarity actions around the globe – was founded by four women, three of whom were from Canada’s Indigenous nations.
In our own Western societies Dr Blackie says we are seeing more calls for a return to native wisdom, but we cannot live by the worldviews of other cultures, which are rooted in lands and histories that have little relationship to our own.
She begins with talking about wellspring in Celtic culture, given the importance of water. According to the Collins English Dictionary, a wellspring is ‘a source of continual or abundant supply’ – which tells us why wells, along with certain rivers and lakes, have been recognised as sacred by nearly every culture on the planet, and throughout every age. In Ireland, a survey carried out in the 1940s recorded as many as 3,000 of them. These wells once were thought of as gateways to the Celtic Otherworld.
She mentions the tragic story of the well maidens, who provided weary travellers with all means of sustenance, including spiritual connection to all that welled from within the Earth. Water was perceived as a sacred conduit to this most potent of life force, and the Well Maiden as the mediator of this power via her golden cup. Then one day everything changed, when a king decided to sexually assault a well maiden and force his subordinates to do the same.
Then he tried to take on their powers for himself, taking the golden cup ‘ he carried it off along with the girl.’ The Well Maidens withdrew, never to come forth from any of the wells and serve again. The gift of spiritual nourishment, the very bond between the Earth and mankind, was lost.
She says this state of affairs has its roots in the deeply dualistic worldview which emerged out of Western philosophy over the last 2,000 years: we have come to believe that we are separate from nature, and more than this – that we are somehow above it. Often, it’s something to be feared, as anything which cannot entirely be controlled is to be feared.
In this tradition, women are linked to those inferior qualities of nature, just as men are associated with the superior qualities of reason and intellect. And so it follows that if men are superior to nature, they must also be superior to women. Similar to a lot of Western religious doctrine that believed man was above animals and nature. Therefore, wild places have become ‘resources’, and if they cannot be used for human benefit they are not valued.
In terms of the wasteland, she says it refers to the hollowness inside us, for we are reflections of the hollow world we live in. To embrace it might mean that we spend our lives doing work we hate in order to feel secure, defining ourselves by that work which we’re paid to do for others, wondering then why our hearts are breaking. The wasteland burns us out.
Scottish barrister Polly Higgins writes that human being’s quest to destroy the natural world is ecocide. She is also part of the movement attempting to change the justice system to recognise this. Hence if women want to change things, we need authority, and authority comes in good part from inside ourselves.
Next Dr Blackie talks about being drawn to the edges. Edges are transitional places; they are also the best places from which to create something new. Ecologists call it the ‘edge effect’: at the convergence, where contrasting ecological systems meet and mingle, life blooms. She refers to the celtic shorelines and islands.
She tells the story of a selkie, a seal woman, who loses her skin and can’t go back to the sea. The woman puts on the seal skin and returns to her home with her sisters, in some versions bringing her child with her to her under water home for a time; in other versions, she returns to the rocky beach in human form to reconnect with her child once a year. American writer and Jungian psychoanalyst Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés reflects that the seal/Selkie in this story functions as a metaphor for the wild soul, the instinctual nature of women.
Dr Blackie reiterates this message saying these Selkie tales resonate strongly with women, for the Selkie’s song is our song. It is a song of yearning – yearning for a part of ourselves anf the power that we feel we have lost – or maybe a part that we feel we might once have had, but never know………The Selkie story is a story of a woman who breaks. Taken literally out of her element, trapped on the land, where she cannot find a way to belong. She also recalls her own experience of depersonalisation, feeling detached from her body.
Sometimes a person may deliver the push that helps us over the edge. Someone familiar: a daughter, a friend; someone unfamiliar: an unexpected teacher, or guide. Often we need help, to set ourselves off on the journey to reintegrate our skins. This is similar to a pilgrimage, which is a search for knowledge, begins also with longing: longing for deep connection; for true nurturing community; for change. There is no fixed path or map as it is our own.
Dr Blackie heads to caves and bottomless lakes, looking at the darkness and the number of myths that have arisen from this. Caves were seen as portals. Mythologies from around the world offer up stories of the magical, uncanny energy which can be found inside caves, and once they were important locations for ritual, ceremony and rites of initiation all across Europe. They were also seen as gateways for transformation.
Ceridwen, according to Welsh legends and folklore, was a white witch or goddess, and is considered to be the goddess of poetry, inspiration and of the cauldron of transfiguration. When she is chasing the guard of her potion, Gwion, the two of them change into any number of animal and plant shapes. Following the birth of Taliesen (who is later considered the greatest poet), Cerridwen contemplates killing the infant but changes her mind; instead she throws him into the sea, where he is rescued by a Celtic prince, Elffin.
The story of Ceridwen and Taliesin, then, is the story of an initiation, a rite of passage, and of the transformations which inevitably must follow. In this, Dr Blackie says we have to let ourselves fall into the darkness, to kick-start the process of transformation, and develop the self that knows its place in the world. The self that can begin finally to act from that place of solid, grounded rootedness.
Here, in the long dark, we must also meet what psychiatrist Carl Jung called the Shadow: all that is irrational, instinctive and hidden in our own psyche. We are forced to go deep into ourselves, so that we might first discover what it is that we must accept, know, and above all lose before we can find out what it is that we might become.
In the Celtic story The Madness of Mis, Mis becomes so overtaken by grief that she transforms herself into the ultimate wild woman. Hence the author says sometimes, madness seems like the only possible response to the insanity of the civilised world; sometimes, holding ourselves together is not an option, and the only way forward is to allow ourselves to fall apart, without getting stuck there.
The descent into darkness can take many different forms. It might be a mental or emotional breakdown, but it might also be a physical illness or disability. In her remarkable book The Alchemy of Illness, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome sufferer Kat Duff says: “The well venture forth to accomplish great deeds in the world, while the sick turn back into themselves and commune with the dead . . . Space and time lose their customary definitions and distinctions. We drift in a daze and wake with a start to wonder: Where am I? Defying the rules of ordinary reality, illness shares in the hidden logic of dreams, fairy tales, and the spirit realms mystics and shamans describe.”
Dr Blackie turns to paths, reciting the story of Elen of the Ways, who is the protector of paths and the energies that flow through the land, including underground and over ground waterways and ley lines. Elen can be seen as an ally on our pilgrimage, an indigenous guide who accompanies us and helps us to find the way, as we forge our own pathways to reclaim the sources of our native wisdom. The author also notes that we must find allies on the way of this journey. In Celtic mythology, there is an especially close affinity between animals and women. Women are not just helped by animals, they are accompanied by them.
In the Welsh story of goddess Rhiannon, she was also tested, where she was accused of killing her infant son. The goddess held on to her truth as she went through her own trial and tribulations, which Dr Blackie says we should all do going on our journey.
She then turns to moors and bogs, where she recounts the story of the Buried Moon, in which the Moon is held prisoner in the bog by the Evil Ones until the townspeople miss her light and go to search for her. In this stage of the journey, Dr Blackie says this is symbolic of searching what was lost within ourselves, the buried moon is a representation of this. She also adds that the female body has been exploited in the same way, commodified for others. When we uncover the buried feminine, we will always find there a strong creative element. This is the core of our task: to remake the world in the image of those stories.
The story of the Holy Grail has been popularised by films such as Indiana Jones. However, although the medieval Grail myths are always presented as a Heroic quest through a forest with a male lead, women are central to Grail mythology: they are the Grail bearers, the Grail messengers, and it is invariably a woman who directs the Hero on his road to the Grail castle, or reproaches him for his failure there. The idea is that we have both masculine and feminine qualities, and these need to be rebalanced.
This particular concept of balance is comparable to that expressed by the ancient Taoist symbol of yin and yang, in which masculine and feminine energies flow and curve around each other, together creating a circle of wholeness. This is also in Hindu mythology where a male divinity must have a female counterpart so that one doesn’t become toxic.
Dr Blackie writes that institutions are systematically removing nature from our view. According to a recent article in the Guardian, words for elements of nature have been systematically removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary: ‘almond’, ‘blackberry’ and ‘crocus’ made way for ‘block graph’ and ‘celebrity’ in the 2007 edition.
She worries about the destruction of nature. A folklore legend is connected with a lake, known as the Lady of the Lake that talks about this. In the folk tale, a local young man, son of a widow from Blaen Sawdde (near Llanddeusant) agreed to marry a beautiful girl who arose from the lake, with the condition that he would not hit her three times. He eventually did, and she left with all the cattle with her. She returned on occasion to visit her sons, imparting her wisdom, who are known today as the Physicians of Myddfai.
The importance of herbal remedies and understanding plants are underlined here, as we’ve seemed to have lost them. And so the Heroine’s task on her Return is to bring humankind back in its place in the world: to bring about a re-enchantment of our relationship with the Earth. Our Return, then, requires a place in which we can be grounded, rooted to heal the severance from earth. Dr Blackie suggests both our environmental and our existential crises derive in good part from a dissociation between people and the places they live. If you don’t know a place, you don’t feel responsible for it.
In Irish and Scottish mythology, the Cailleach is the divine hag, the Old Woman of the World, the creator-goddess of the land, who shapes the Earth throughout the ages. To be an Elder is to be strong and hold power. Becoming elder begins at menopause, an entire journey all of its own: a biological, spiritual and emotional rite of passage whose impact is often underrated. It is both an ending and a beginning of a new path, passing on wisdom.
Surveys done by KPMG and Goldman Sachs show that millennials prioritise climate change, resource scarcity, inequality and the regeneration of the planet over personal gain and achievement, with movements being led by both young and old, especially within indigenous communities.
The Journey of the Heroine we’ve been following in this book is a journey back to the ground of our own belonging in the world, a retrieval of our life-giving feminine wisdom and the regrowth of the roots that nourish it.
Our next book is It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle by founder of the Family Constellation Institute Mark Wolynn. Here he is
Traumatic events can affect the way we feel and behave, and when they run deep, sometimes trauma requires years of therapy to resolve. But if left unresolved, traumas, just like genes, can be passed on from generation to generation.
Apparently severe trauma can lead to negative behaviour and feelings, even when the trauma isn’t your own. One of the author’s patients, for example, was overwhelmingly afraid of dying. She was severely claustrophobic and feared being unable to escape from a life-or-death situation.
She described the feeling as “I can’t breathe, I can’t get out; I’m going to die.” The patient wasn’t reacting to trauma from her life but to the experience of her mother’s relatives, who she later learned were murdered during the Holocaust.
Wolynn claims personal traumas can be passed on to successive generations via genes as well as behavior. He says it’s important that we find a way to resolve the effects of trauma. If we don’t, families can find themselves in a vicious cycle of inherited traumatic feelings.
Our biology too can be affected by traumatic events. Research has shown that thoughts and emotions can alter a person’s genetic code, or DNA. This means that a person who suffers from trauma might pass “traumatized” genes on to children.
According to Stanford University cell biologist Bruce Lipton, emotions like fear or anger can “biochemically alter the genetic expression of…offspring.”
Trauma also alters stress hormones, and parents can pass on these changes to children as well.
Rachel Yehuda, a researcher at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, studied Holocaust survivors with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. She found that levels of the hormone cortisol were atypically low in the bodies of Holocaust survivors and war veterans.
In general, the body increases cortisol levels following a traumatic event in an attempt to “normalize” the body’s systems. Yet people with PTSD often have chronically low levels of cortisol and, as a result, they can potentially pass this trait on to offspring.
All in all, trauma doesn’t just impact one person, but potentially an entire family. So when it comes to identifying and overcoming trauma, we must examine the family, too.
For Wolynn, resolving parent-child relationships is key in breaking the cycle of trauma, especially as they are the most significant people that shape you.
There are four ways a parent-child relationship can be disrupted, called the Four Unconscious Themes. These are an overly dependent child-parent relationship; the rejection of a parent; a break in a relationship with the mother; and trauma inherited from a family member.
Wolynn says if you suffer from trauma or emotional problems, you should examine your family history and the events of your early childhood. Doing so might help explain what’s happening in your emotional life today.
If you wonder whether you experienced an interrupted bond, for instance, look to the events of your mother’s pregnancy; whether you might have been adopted; or if you were separated from your mother before you were three years old.
Wolynn recommends Core Descriptors, which are a key component of the Core Language Approach – a therapeutic process for solving psychological problems through language. He says you can identify them with exercises, such as describing your mother or father to learn better how you feel about them.
If you say something like “This person was abusive,” he says you can move to the next step, which is writing down an event you blame them for. Exercises such as these reportedly can help you pinpoint specific problems in your relationships, so you can start to address them and ultimately resolve them.
Sigmund Freud wrote about repetition compulsion, or when a person unconsciously tries to bring her suppressed trauma to the surface through repetitive behavior. Our memory or even an absence of memory can alter past experiences, so he says it’s important to use Core Language to pinpoint the source of the trouble.
You can’t overcome your fears until you know specifically what they are. So uncover your fears by first finding your Core Complaint. Your Core Complaint is a phrase that describes your current fear or phobia, such as “I’m out of control right now and I’m afraid of what I might do.”
Next, identify your Core Sentence, or the outcome that could result if your fear comes true. It might be “I’ll hurt my child” or “My partner will abandon me,” for instance. Once you’ve found your Core Complaint and Core Sentence, you can start to work on the link between your fears and your family’s history.
He also adds your deepest fears can help point you toward the source of trauma in your family history. A Core Language Map is made up of four components: the Core Complaint, the Core Sentence, the Core Descriptors and the Core Trauma. Each component serves as a signpost, pointing to events in your family history. Those events tell us what we fear, and why we fear them.
You can use the insights you gain from your Core Language Map in two ways. The first is through Bridging Questions, or questions that use your fear as a tool to discover patterns in your family history.
The second is to create a family tree. Trace your family history back three or four generations, and place any traumatic events next to the family member who experienced them. A traumatic event might be the early death of a loved one, exclusion from the family due to a dispute or a major sociopolitical event, such as a genocide.
The final stage is to free yourself from inherited trauma by making peace with your past and your family’s past. Obviously not straightforward, but creating new visual and verbal language that allows you to communicate with yourself is an important part of the healing process. When you recognize that a relative’s trauma is holding you back, you can work on breaking the cycle, so the trauma stops with your generation.
To do so, he says you should use written exercises, visualizations, breathing exercises, your personal language and healing sentences. Healing sentences help you acknowledge your pain and the pain of people who suffered the original trauma. So instead of saying “I’m a failure,” saying “these are not my feelings”.
You can also try a healing action, such as lighting a candle in memory of someone in your family with whom you’ve become estranged. A ceremonial act could help you find a safe, emotional connection with that person, one step toward finding forgiveness or acceptance.
He believes healing sentences can also help you heal your relationship with your parents. This relationship plays a key role in your healing process, especially if your trauma stems from early childhood.
Coming to terms with your struggle, communicating your struggle using the right language and accepting other people’s struggles, too, are important parts of healing a relationship.
So to sum up:
Dr Blackie says in If Women Rose Rooted that the characters and landscapes which inhabit the Celtic stories may shift, but the heart of the stories does not change. She adds thwt it’s time to strengthen the frayed wild edges of our own being and then weave ourselves back into the fabric of our culture. Once we knew the patterns for weaving the world; we can piece them together again. Women can heal the Wasteland. We can remake the world.
Wolynn says in It Didn’t Start With You that don’t assume that you are the source of your trauma. Your emotional struggles might have been passed down from relatives, through genes or historical relationships. Use the Core Language Approach to identify your trauma, find its source and ultimately overcome it. Break the cycle! Defeat your trauma so you don’t pass it on to the next generation.
My family went through partition, war, and famine. My parents are immigrants who worked hard to make a life in the UK. There is no doubt I am shaped by the land they came from and the burdens that they carried. What about you?
To end, here is Buzzvalve managing partner Rohan Chandrashekhar, and personal coach and life strategist Nicolina Werther on being rooted. And if you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe!