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We’re Each a Leaf on a Family Tree

Collecting stories

In the years when my family was expanding, the years when I had a newborn or a newborn and one or two toddlers, I dove into genealogy. Exploring my extended family felt fitting as my own family grew. Plus, it was a way to do something (anything!) with my brain that had been numbed by sleepless nights and days broken into shockingly short chunks of possible activity by my children’s morning and afternoon naps.

In these years when reading stories to my children was the part of my “job” that I loved the most, I was also becoming a collector of stories. As much as filling in the spaces on family trees made the detail-loving, obsessively organized part of me happy, what really kept me engaged was discovering new-to-me family stories.

I love knowing that two of my uncles played football with Elvis Presley when he came home to Memphis for a visit. I love knowing where my grandfather learned the carpentry skills that allowed him to build the addition on my grandparents’ home. I love knowing the story behind my great-great-grandfather’s decision that war simply was not for him during the Civil War.

Collecting and creating connections

Even as a child, being part of a family that extended beyond the walls of my home thrilled me. This joy deepened as I grew up and began to add my own “leaves” to the family tree. There is something very comforting to me to be able to explore and honor the relationships and stories that connect me to my history.

An essential part of a greater whole

Until I found yoga, I didn’t have language for what I was experiencing – my connection to a larger “whole.” While at first glance, yoga’s inward nature can look self-focused, the highest intention of understanding ourselves better is to remind us that we are an integral part of a greater whole. We are all connected. Separation and isolation are crippling misunderstandings that cause us much painful suffering.

When you add my spirituality and faith to years of yoga study, my fundamental certainty that we are each infinitesimally tiny, yet essential, parts of the whole sweep of creation is not surprising. This is, after all, a truth that humans have been intuiting through practice and soul-searching since humans have had the ability (and free time) to ponder the mysteries of life.

Every body part (every one) is critically important on a yoga mat

Yoga has a lovely way of keeping things simple – even grappling with massive truths such as this one. It starts us off working with our body on a yoga mat. We learn that every single part of us is critically important – stub a toe and suddenly moving through a Sun Salutation goes from being easy-peasy to all but impossible; get a cold and being in downward facing dog feels like you’re being waterboarded; sprain an ankle … well, you get the idea.

We also learn fairly quickly that the parts of us that we love and appreciate are no more necessary to our well-being than parts we really can’t stand. In other words, there is no sense in playing favorites. Your yoga practice will never change if all you do is lavish attention on your hips because hip-opening postures feel so good while you ignore forward folds because your hamstrings are such hot messes.

As we practice, we learn that no good comes from rejecting and resisting. To have any hope for wholeness and wellness, we must accept all the tight, stubborn, and not-so-lovely parts of us. Not only accept them but love and appreciate them.

Every leaf (every one) on a family tree is critically important

As yoga gives us the body with which grapple with the truth of our essential connection to a greater whole, life gives us family. To spend even a little time standing at the base of your family tree, looking up at the innumerable branches, twigs, and leaves is to be awash in two profound, comforting, and heart-opening certainties. First, life is much bigger than your one small life. Second, without your one small life, the sweep of life of which you are a part would be incomplete.

In other words, the story you are “writing” as you live and love is an essential part of the whole collection of stories that led to your life – and that will lead to the lives of those who will come after you. You and I are essential to this whole of which we are part. Let’s promise one another to treat ourselves as such – and, while we’re at it, to share the stories we collect along our way with those who come after us.

John Calvin wrote, “Without knowledge of the self, there can be no knowledge of God.” A yoga practice and spiritual direction are powerful partners in the search for meaning. Reach out to learn more.