Even the most extroverted among us have been forced to become homebodies to some extent in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gallons of paint have been purchased and much sourdough bread has been baked. People are polishing off old family recipes as they now have the time to use them. This becomes a way to nourish oneself and others , and to retain a sense of solidity when everything feels so uncertain.
We are in our houses more and the urge to nest in such uncertain times is understandable. Home and family traditions have come to the fore as we instinctively ground ourselves in what offers a sense of deeply felt stability. Today coming back from the farmer’s market and seeing the fall crops coming in felt deeply reassuring. The rhythms of nature and the seasons remain and help to hold us. They are also tied to the rituals of the seasons we share with our families and communities.
At this time of year in the Hindu tradition the ceremony of Pitr Paksh takes place where offerings are made to one’s ancestors. Traditionally, offerings such as sesame seeds, rice and milk are offered, but the ritual can be adapted to our individual heritage and tradition. A friend of ours adapted this ritual to her own background and raised a glass of whiskey to her Scottish ancestors at this time of year. It can also be a time to reflect on both the strengths and weaknesses within one’s family lineage.
In general, we are advised to begin with one or two simple contemplative meditations centering on our ancestral roots. This process can involve writing down of memories, and setting intentions for positive change. These changes can include everything from diet and life-style to visualizations and meditations on cognitive and emotional shifts. Tailoring the ancient practice to the individual practitioner is the mark of genuine healing.
This can be a time to think about the relinquishing of unhealthy mental patterns. Likewise, contemplating specific mental qualities and character traits associated with our lineage is important. Meditation and contemplation soon makes it apparent which ancestral patterns we can draw strength from, and which ones we need to change.
This practice is meant to refine our awareness by making perception more sensitive, accurate, and more appreciative of each moment. This is necessary, as many times we can perceive and act from our “old script” without even knowing it. Our actions can be colored or distorted by emotional patterns we carry from earliest childhood. At other times, we can draw on the strength and resilience of those who have gone before us.
In her book Path of Practice Maya Tiwari notes that for many in the “new” world the sense of connection to the past and to one’s ancestors can feel tenuous. Herself Guyanese of Indian heritage Tiwari used ritual as way to get back in touch with her heritage and traditions. It can be tempting in our tech obsessed world to be preoccupied with the new and shiny but increasingly many find themselves turning back to see what can be gleaned from the generations of the past.
Many of us have found ourselves thinking about the actions and attitudes of generations before us and how they behaved during the Depression and World War Two. The grace under pressure, and concern for the well being of others, displayed by so many during that time can guide our actions in such uncertain times. And we can be strengthened and inspired by their sense of community.
In those days of grave threat to whole world systems, people rallied together to take care of another and also to think of the well being of all. From a yogic perspective, ethics are not something merely imposed from without but also something sought from within—not a sacrifice but a service to both self and others. At first, such ethical behavior can involve a struggle to reverse old habits. However, with reflective practice it becomes increasingly clear what we can do individually to stay more connected to spiritual values and virtues such as compassion and tolerance.