Mind­ful­ness man Martin Ste­pek Free your­self from our bloody his­tory

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Mind & Body -

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 martin@ten­forzen.co.uk

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