This picture caught my attention, I love the deeper undertones and stitches within the stories of our maternal lineage that it speaks to. I had read something recently on the fact that half of our essence in oocyte (pre-egg) form was present inside our mother’s ovaries while she herself was still inside her mother’s womb. Meaning our primordial cells were subjected to the internal environment of our grandmothers, however hospitable that be, very much depending on what was at play in their outer world. Take that back a generation or two and think of how half of our mother’s and grandmother’s blueprint was formed within our great grandmothers and great great grandmothers 100+ years ago.
One of the studies I recall from University days examined maternal behaviour in sheep and how this is impacted by genetics and epigenetics (how environmental factors affect genetic expression). High licking and grooming female sheep are noted as having superior maternal qualities and go on to produce the next generation of high licking and grooming ewes, which is also linked to increased levels of estradiol within the blood. Interestingly if lambs from mothers not showing such high maternal instincts were adopted by ewes that did, the lambs would grow up to exhibit this behaviour, as did the next generation, therefore presumably switching on the particular genetic expression of high plasma estradiol post-partum amongst other factors.
Applying this to my own life, my own maternal Gran was brought up by her mother quite isolated from other family members while her father worked away at sea. Unfortunately when Gran was seven, my great-Gran was placed into a secure psychiatric hospital due to mild depression and perhaps other unknown mental imbalances. In the 1920s, I can only imagine the conditions and treatments she may have been subjected to in such an environment. My Gran never saw her mother again even though she was later discharged when my Gran was a grown woman. Gran was sent to Scotland to live with her paternal grandmother and aunties who she did truly adore and spoke of often. Having a daughter of almost seven myself, it makes my chest hurt to think of the heartache and trauma that this separation would have created and was deeply imprinted within my maternal lineage. In spite of this, my mum and I were blessed with a close bond with my Gran and each other.
I recently spent a few days with some maternal cousins and aunties and it made me think again of Gran. She passed away at 95 in May 2016 and I cried for about a month. It was a challenging time for me personally with huge changes happening in my life and mourning the loss of my Gran seemed to trigger a more massive purge of deep emotions inside of me. I was painting my living room at the time, in the house that both sets of my grandparents had lived in before me and I poured all my emotions and love into the strokes of purple paint, curiously her favourite colour.
When I teach my Hormone Harmony workshops to yoga students covering various asana, pranayama and other energy work techniques that over time bring relief to emotional and hormonal imbalances, I encourage a deepening meditative practise during particularly the 4th and 1st quarter of their cycles when we are more naturally reflective, inward looking, withdrawn, intuitively and even more psychically aware. This is the real reason why women in many or perhaps all ancient cultures retreated to ‘red tents’ or sacred sites during menstruation. During such times it can be enlightening to ponder the trials, loves and lives of our grandmothers and the generations before, tuning into how what they may have faced in life would have brought forth certain behaviours and patterns that could still be affecting: how we live our lives; the interplay within our relationships and our deep rooted beliefs and fears on self worth and our feminine expression. Go one step further and conduct a private ceremony or ritual at this time to honour your female ancestry, the root of the word ‘ritual’ comes from the Sanskrit word R’tu, meaning menstrual.
There are stories about how my Great Gran used to be seen going into the sea daily when she lived alone with my Gran to take the water. There’s no doubt she was a vulnerable young woman far from friends and family but she must have found some comfort and solace connecting with the natural world and feeling the love of mother Gaia’s sea-skin envelope and hold her. I bet she also had the same special sparkle and mischievous sense of humour my Gran had too. With my Gran dramatically separated from her mum and sole care provider at such a young age, there’s no question on where my own separation anxiety as a child stemmed from, my own mum used to call me a limpet! And I would get hugely homesick if staying away even into my teens. My own daughter shows similar behaviours and still co-sleeps with me much to the dismay of some.
It would have been helpful to understand a few years ago just how deeply this patterning can impact on relationships in adulthood. Think on, only since the mid 1800s have women been allowed to own their own property, attend University to further their careers and seek to divorce in certain unhappy circumstances, that’s only about 3 or 4 generations before us. This deep societal programming and fear of abandonment from our ‘men folk’ is still hugely ingrained within our feminine psyche today.
It wasn’t until I entered into relationship with an individual somewhat more emotionally distant and aloof than myself, especially when under pressure, that my own inherited ‘abandonment wound’ and somewhat anxious attachment style surfaced for illumination. In spending time alone and providing for myself, holding down a mortgage and caring for my daughter more than 50% of the time (amongst a whole host of other standard life stressors), I’ve been plunged deeply into a 360 degree self analysis review of where my beliefs and mindsets may hold me back.
I do feel it’s all too common for women (and men) to stay in unhealthy, potentially unhappy or perhaps just purely platonic relationships lacking heart felt connection due to these deep seated and ingrained patterns and conditioned fears of not being able to make it alone. Or maybe we can but only if we sell our soul to a well paid, secure job that we loathe and that takes us far from who we are deep inside. I’m aiming to bust that myth from here on out.
Coming back to our maternal lineage, another fascinating element of biology that stayed with me at the back of my mind is mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondria are so-called ‘organelles’, micro-structures within our cells that somewhat resemble bacteria. They are the energetic ‘powerhouses’ acting like furnaces for our cells and providing energy (converted from food) for our systems to function in a healthy manner. Mitochondria have their own separate DNA from the rest of our cells which is solely inherited through our maternal line. Mitochondria have a huge physiological role to play and dictate our sleep cycles, perception, a host of neurotransmitter functions, our overall susceptibility to inflammation (and therefore many diseases!) and our ageing process. Wow, all that being deeply influenced by our maternal lineage.
Imagine if all young women were empowered early in life to become aware of certain familial blocks or patterns and how deep analysis, emotional and energetic healing could help unblock such sometimes damaging traits before entering into the whirlwind of personal relationship and indeed motherhood itself.
I’m convinced that asana, pranayama and meditative techniques do work to unblock these ‘granthis’ (Sanskrit for difficult knot to untie), which refer to energetic blocks within our pranic system and can hinder living our lives at our fullest potential and restrict our physical lives and spiritual development. It is these difficult knots that keep an individual entangled in their preferences, desires and fears. Both knowledge and action are needed to untie these knots, leading to freedom and spiritual liberation.
I’m reading a book right now on Grandmother wisdom ‘Our Love is Our Power’ by Sharon McErlane. Instead of our mitochondria as little packets and furnaces of energy within our cells, I now like to think of them as little packets and powerhouses of love all the way back down our mumma’s line. With my interest in energy medicine encompassing yoga techniques, reiki and qi-gong healing all working to reduce inflammation in the body, I can’t help but wonder if these actions and healings have a profound impact on our mitochondrial DNA firing up these microscopic ‘furnaces’ with love energy in each of our cells as energies are transmitted, transmuted and unblocked along our meridians, nadis and chakras (as thermographic studies have shown).
Having switched my maiden name and married surnames back and forth after my short marriage, I decided just to drop my surname completely (on all but official documents) a few years ago and step fully into the inherited love and power of my own Grandmothers, Gweneth May Rogers and Helen Bird McCall. I feel their infinite, enduring, tender, unique love and way of loving be with me now, every time I sign my name. So next time you meditate or just find yourself day dreaming, think on your own Grandmothers and the wisdom they would impart.
My book rightly reminds us of the Native American Prophesy: ‘When the wisdom of the Grandmothers is heard, the world will heal’.
Heather Gweneth Bird x x x