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On Work, Ancestors, & Healing

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

In April of 2022 I decided to take a break from seeing one-on-one clients. It was just six months after moving back to the land of the Conestoga-Susquehannock in Pennsylvania (after sixteen years away). Two years into a global pandemic. I was overwhelmed and exhausted. Choosing to take this break was difficult. I, like many of us, receive a sense of value and worthiness through the work that I do. Who was I if I wasn’t doing ancestral healing work professionally? Who was I if I wasn’t helping white people unlearn and heal from white-bodied supremacy? Did I have worth? Did I have value?

I took a step back to see my life on a larger scale. I began to understand that my passion and purpose come through me regardless of what I’m getting paid to do. I also began to embrace that I have a lot of life to live. That I don’t need to have it all figured out. That I can tune into what feels right right now and trust that. I took a job doing marketing and communications at a local Waldorf school and for the first time in years, I had somewhere to go every day, work friends, and a steady paycheck. The job offered the structure and community I desperately needed.

I had hopes that I would keep teaching and facilitating, that I would keep publishing writing. (Laughing to myself) As some of you may know, working in education leaves little energy for much else. Again, I found myself consumed by work. Overwhelmed and exhausted. I began to see the pattern I wrote about in Taking a Break. How easy it is to put work before myself. How difficult it is to center my well-being. The near constant push to “prove myself” as worthy and valuable. “This is where your ancestors got stuck,” is what my therapist told me. I felt her words deep in my belly and chest. Yes.

This is where my ancestors got stuck.

The protestant work ethic. Have you heard of it? If you work hard, god will reward you (financially). Thus, if you are poor, it’s because you’re not working hard enough. This belief system shaped modern capitalism. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, anyone? It also deeply shaped my ancestors.

Of course, this emerged for me after moving back home to Pennsylvania. The land my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors have been in since (I think) the 1700s. As the family stories go, my mother’s mother’s ancestors were German Anabaptists fleeing religious persecution. A religious sect that was persecuted by both Protestants and Catholics. They came to Pennsylvania seeking the promise of religious freedom and became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch (an anglicization of Deutsche), along with other German immigrants.

I recently learned that Mennonites and other Anabaptists “earned toleration and the right to exist” through work after their persecution. Earned the right to exist through work. So work was not just about one’s relationship with god but also a survival strategy. A means of safety. I feel the tears behind my eyes. The frustration and tension in my shoulders. How this belief lives within me. Work as safety. Work as a connection to god. A god that punishes those who don’t work “hard enough”. A constant striving. Never enough. Earning the right to exist.

This lives within my body, even though, intellectually, I know it to be untrue. As someone who was raised by a single, working mother, I know firsthand that a connection does not exist between hard work and financial reward. I understood this long before I learned about capitalism's oppressive and dehumanizing nature. And yet, here it is. Living within me. Constantly reinforced by the systems we live in. The beliefs and trauma of my ancestors in my body. And here I am, remembering, trying to get unstuck.

The steady paycheck and community that the job offered were great but I soon started to plan my exit. I knew in my bones that it was vital that I spend my time engaging in work that I’m passionate about. That the standard 9-5 has never been for me (no matter how many times I’ve tried to fit myself in that box). Before I left, though, I started to practice boundaries in a whole new way. I said no a lot. I started to feel the ways in which my energetic boundaries can be porous when I’m exhausted, leading to overwhelm and more exhaustion. I started to prioritize myself and my well-being.

I'm bringing this learning with me as I begin to see clients again. Boundaries can be harder when I'm doing work that I love, rather than just for a paycheck. It can be challenging to separate my sense of self from how "successful" my practice is. But I'm here to practice. And continue on that ever-evolving path of personal, generational, and collective healing.

I'm excited to integrate this learning with the relationships I've been building with the land and the community here. That's what's shaping my offerings. Some may notice some differences and some additions. My intention, as always, is to offer work that is generative, healing, and in service to collective liberation. Continuing the process of embracing my value and worthiness regardless of the work that I do, tending to my wounds and those of my ancestors, and being curious about what emerges in the process.

It’s good to be back.

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