Recent research has been focusing on the possibility that personality, states of mind and health can be affected by the experiences of previous generations – in a way that does not rely on the currently known methods of DNA transmission, but instead uses a methylation process to pass on responses to extremes of stress. As a recent New Scientist article puts it – the sins of our grandfathers are visited on us today.
In the spiritual, healing and esoteric world, it has long been commonly acknowledged, whether through past lives, or ‘karma’, that families have ‘patterns’, encoded behaviours that operate way below a conscious level, and colour our experience of the world and other people around us.
The 20th century contained near unparalleled misery, loss and deprivation, the effects of which still reverberate and yet I am unsure that we have learnt from this lesson yet. As a person from a family with significant military service on both sides and yet a personal commitment to promoting peace and non violence, I have been moved to explore this both in my experience and in the wider world. After much reflection I believe what it comes down to is this: that we are still fighting a war for base survival, and for our liberty to think and believe what we choose, when we should be celebrating our freedoms and a state of abundance.
Right now many of us have a level of personal security, liberty and access to communications tools that our ancestors could only dream about. For a long time, we have had more than enough resources to feed clothe house and educate our whole population – and yet so far we choose not to do so.
Right now it’s time to look into our family and cultural closets – and say hello to the skeletons – and to listen to them. Ancestor worship has been relegated to a form of black magic and necromancy, when for much of human history, it has been a way of both honouring those who have made our lives and freedoms possible, and of ‘checking in’ with them, imagining looking at ourselves with their eyes.
As we come up to the anniversary of the ending of the First World War, let us place ourselves for a moment in the minds of those who lived through it. For them it was the ‘War to end all wars’ a cavalcade of slaughter and waste that should, and could, never be repeated. On the journey through the mud and disease filled trenches that scarred Europe, the spirit of chivalry, the best of men, and the best part of England and other countries was lost.
As victors, instead of rejoicing in our peace, prosperity, and access to the oil of the middle east, our grief led us to conspire with other nations to impose the extreme, punitive conditions upon Germany that led to the rise of the Third Reich. It is my opinion that this pattern of behaviour has continued, and it is what has driven us to war after war ever since. It therefore is our generation’s job to learn from our culture's past mistakes, and above all to learn how to enjoy peace, to share our earth’s resources, and to address the future effects of climate change before even more vicious wars do it for us.
The wars of the 20th century have left scars deeper than we can imagine –
and yet, as in the deepest parts of human myth, hope remains.
As we pin our poppies to our lapels, and the last of the living World War II veterans prepare to gather at the cenotaph to honour their departed comrades, let us pause for a moment. The best way to honour our war dead is this; to ensure that they did not die in vain, and that we learn the true value and responsibility of being the victors.
This year, for the first time in 25 years, I will wear a red poppy, but for remembrance, not glory.