Mindfulness man Martin Stepek Free yourself from our bloody history
CURIOUS about what happened in history on this day, August 26, I looked up the date on Wikipedia and found a long list of events. The list added to a question I’d been thinking about for the last few years, especially recently while I’ve been watching a fascinating history of Ireland on BBC 4. That is, are we all carrying the suffering and trauma of countless generations in our genes, our DNA, our minds?
The scientific evidence about DNA and genes is mixed and disputed. But we do know is that the behaviour of our parents or whoever raised us does affect us, and they in turn were affected by the attitude and actions of their parents or carers, and so on back in time for as long as our species has existed.
So even if the effect of events isn’t passed on in our genes, we are almost certainly affected by our parents’ life experiences. Looking at the Wikipedia list, I counted 35 historical events, of which 20 are about killings, battles or wars.
Watching the history of Ireland – I’m up to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I – much of it concerns invasions, massacres, and starvation. Survivors of these events who went on to have children obviously carried some aspects of what they witnessed or experienced in how they behaved day to day.
Given the scale and frequency of such awful acts, it is reasonable to assume that our ancestors passed on behaviours affected by these events. This is in addition to the normal suffering of human life through the ages: infant and child mortality, the death of mothers in childbirth, death from famine, death from disease.
Not exactly cheery stuff, but this is about who we really are: our own thoughts from moment to moment, what those thoughts are, whether they are rational or not, whether they are helpful or unhelpful in our lives, whether they are considerate and compassionate or cold and brutal.
These thoughts, reactions, prejudices and mental habits are the results of your genes and your past.
Understanding that we are all programmed by past events and past people helps us stop blaming ourselves for our imperfection. That’s a good thing in itself because berating yourself helps no-one.
It also helps us stop blaming others for how we feel. Like you, people act as they do because they are also the results of past events and past people, and have limited if any control over who they have become. Moreover, like blaming yourself, blaming others does you no good, and it does you a heap of harm because it makes you bitter, which you carry around with you, weighing you down, and making you negative for the rest of your days.
Now we can start to do something about all this accumulated stuff that our past events and our ancestors have heaped on us. Mindfulness is not a quick fix nor is it a pill that cures all ills, but it does work, especially if you work at it.
It’s not just about the practice called mindful meditation where we either try to focus on one thing single-pointedly, usually the breath, or else just observe whatever contents our mind has at that time.
This helps but it’s equally if not more important to try to become more and more aware of as many moments in your life as possible. Deliberately aware, not just automatically thinking or feeling this or that, and being dragged to wherever your volatile, unpredictable mind happens to drag you.
When you take a sip of water, notice fully the experience of sipping the water. When you laugh at something funny on Facebook or TV, be totally absorbed in the humour. If you feel fresh air on your face, really experience it. Don’t think about it, don’t analyse it, just completely be it as if that is all you are at that moment, just a living thing feeling the wind hit the skin on your face.
The result of spending your moments like this instead of worrying, planning, ruminating or regretting, which is what we usually do, is that the mind mellows, and it starts to really enjoy and appreciate these everyday experiences.
In the long run this helps to mitigate, even eliminate, some of the destructive junk we have built up since we were born. All the ancestral centuries of pain, fear, hatred, worry, anxiety lying dormant in your mind, ready to flare up in reaction to the tiniest of events, can be kept quieter, or gently dealt with by a single change of attention to the clear feeling of an in-breath, then the peaceful calmness of the out-breath.
This is how we tame the inner demons from our own lives, and the lives of all those who came before us.
And if we can collectively learn to do this as a species we can perhaps in time stop adding to that long list of wars, battles and barbarous events which have so harmed the lives of those who came before us and many who still suffer today.
Martin Stepek is founder of TenforZen, offering guided mindfulness sessions in handy, 10 minutes a day, audio courses. Author of four books, he is frequently asked to speak on mindfulness, his remarkable family heritage, and on business. See tenforzen.co.uk and www.martinstepek.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org