On Abundance, Survival, and Healing Our Lineage
(Originally Published August 19, 2017)
My ancestors never rose out of survival. They never escaped scarcity and fear, panic and lack; the wolves were always at the door. They rarely rested safely in the arms of security, or peace, or even comfort, and never marched onward to abundance. And some days, I fear, neither will I. Because within me I carry a complicated legacy that’s just as alive now as it was for the hundreds who have gone before.
While visiting a historic 130-year-old working farm with my children, all at once I knew: This survival instinct isn't just a function of being human, a byproduct of the collective struggle; it is mine, embedded in my DNA, which isn’t simply a randomized code but a detailed record of my ancestors' experiences—the very experiences that are perhaps being brought forth for me to clear on behalf of them and for myself and all our lineage.
See, it’s not simply a biological function that's become outdated in our modern world; it's a legacy passed on to me from countless generations ... and one I have a responsibility to either change for the better or carry on intact.
I'm not very far down the line from this kind of subsistence lifestyle this historic farm pays homage to. My 82-year-old grandfather was raised "dirt poor" in the literal sense of the word: Living in a cabin with a dirt floor, he and his 13 siblings were only occasionally lucky enough to own shoes throughout their childhoods. My 83-year-old grandmother, also from the same area in rural Utah, was born in a rough-hewn pioneer cabin with no electricity or plumbing that still stands to this day. Her family moved to a proper home on a farm in town when she was a child and later, my dad spent his summers there working the fields with his grandfather. I remember my own childhood visits there, where Great-Grandma would feed us homemade biscuits and fruit preserves from her stone-walled cellar beneath the house.
This is the stock I come from, where survival wasn't a given and luxury all but unattainable. To this day my grandfather considers the purchase of a nice pair of shoes to be a sign of success—even a sign of victory and triumph. And indeed, it is.
So it's easy to see, then, why I find myself craving more than anything the trappings of modern luxury, to have what was denied my ancestors (and not just a quality pair of shoes but a pair of designer heels, no less), and yet why I sometimes feel so conflicted and guilty for having them. And why my burning desire is to have a business of my own where I not only share my God-given talents with the world, but one in which "work" isn't "work," where I get to spend most of my hours enjoying the pleasures of life rather than toiling and living by the sweat of my brow ... and yet why this has been the most difficult thing for me to create, my path marked by despair and confusion and struggle and subconscious acts of self-sabotage one after the other.
Walking among the century-old farm equipment and contemplating the sheer number of hours and amount of exhaustive labor it took to raise a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, or a simple garden salad, or the sweet luxury of cherry pie, I understood it all very clearly—and for the first time, it resonated on every level of my being: For those in my lineage, to lust after the desires of luxury and ease rather than toiling for survival would not only mean literal death, but betrayal, shame, and disgrace. Because if you didn't labor, you didn't eat. Not just you, but everyone; if you didn't do your part, working side by side with your family to bring forth your daily bread, then the family economy would collapse and everyone would starve. You would be the one responsible for your family's demise. You would bear the blame.
It's not hard to imagine the complicated mix of emotions entangled in this way of life. There's the worry and weariness of struggling to survive, of giving all your time and resources just to live from day to day, of never getting to rest nearly all the days of your life; there's the sense of pride and accomplishment when you've been able to provide well for your family, and even better if you've secured a decent living for yourself and earned a bit of ease; the sense of identity and kinship with those like you who also toil, who hold the same values and virtues who are working just as hard as you; the sense of sacred responsibility to do your part to ensure the survival of all; and feeling duty-bound to uphold the legacy of those who came before and to pass it on to future generations with gratitude for those who gave their all to provide for you, for without their labors, you would not exist.
But it doesn't end there. There's another layer to this, perhaps even more complicated for those of us living further down the bloodline in a time where dinner can be had for 99 cents at a drive-thru window: The issue of "us" vs. "them", of those who nobly labor to secure their family's survival vs. those whose security is assured and so may assume a life of luxury and ease, barely lifting a finger yet having access to all the comforts and pleasures life has to offer.
There's a persistent, seething jealousy for those whose lives are so drastically different, so profoundly easier than anything you could ever hope to attain. It's easy to see and perhaps even easier to forgive, considering the harsh and drastic circumstances in which our forefathers lived and died. And judgement is, after all, a coping mechanism, a way to segregate our fears and disappointments by projecting them onto someone else. But it's also this sense of quiet rage and deep injustice that we inherited alongside the rest. It is every bit as much a part of our legacy as the noble struggle to survive. And yet, by virtue of the fact that we live in a society where ease and relative luxury are an integral part of this modern world, our very lives represent the thing our ancestors so deeply despised.
The inherent injustice in a system in which some are so absurdly fortunate as to be granted every opportunity and desire, free from struggle and strife, while the rest are cursed to toil and sweat and suffer all the days of their lives—it's a palpable pattern playing out in the world today, not simply because the system itself continues to exist, but because we are living, breathing extensions of our ancestors who have lived it all for millennia before.
This is the inner conflict we play out in our daily lives. As living bearers of this legacy, these forces are still alive and at work in us today. We exist because our noble ancestors survived, only to become the thing they loathed so completely. This is why we wish for ease and believe it is attainable, and why we hate ourselves for wanting it and bury ourselves in guilt if we achieve it. It's why we can say to ourselves that we want to succeed beyond all our wildest dreams, and why we push and struggle and fight to achieve our desires, and why we weep and mourn when we don't achieve them, and also why we silently, persistently, become the hidden force that's subconsciously keeping ourselves down … because to succeed is to betray not only our inherited legacy, but every ancestor who struggled and fought for generations before. And to betray is to be cut off from the herd, and to be cut off is to starve, to die.
But we come from better stock. We come from hardy forefathers who survived. And so survive we must, even if it means that, in the end, the one we betray is ourselves.
And still, after all this, there is a third legacy — one filled with more hope and promise than all that came before: It's the deep desire our ancestors had to end the cycle of strife ... for life to one day be better, if not for them then for their children and their children's children. For us down the line to experience all the ease and joy they never could — to make their sacrifices worth it in the end.
This is the legacy most of all that we must strive to play out. This is why we live. This is why we carry the blood of our ancestors in our very veins: because when we succeed, they succeed. When we achieve, we are released from our conflicted inheritance ... and so are they. When we erase the pain of one legacy, we create something new, something better—something long hoped for and deeply, desperately desired but never yet achieved. This is our purpose in life. This is our reason for being: to carry the torch into unknown wildernesses ahead, navigating the dark by the light they ignited long ago.