Your Life, Your Journey

” Do Shaol, Do Thuras”

The Irish phrase “Do Shaol, Do Thuras” means “Your Life, Your Journey.”

Many years ago I was handed a box by my step mother. My father had recently passed and she was transferring this box of family photos, history and information on to me. I was to become the keeper of this information. Inside there was the history of our coat of arms, copies of patents, invitations to award dinners and events, wedding invitations, old telegrams, newspaper clippings, strange piles of marketing flyers…..some things I knew what they were. Other things, I had not a clue. Pictures of people were mysteries….no names, no places listed, no dates. No connection to be made. Just faces looking back at me.

I realized I could either throw the box and it’s contents out, or get the information organized and keep it safe. I made a decision to protect the information and unwittingly dove head first into the world of genealogy.

This past Christmas my daughter began talking about a family trip to Ireland. We had been talking about doing a “big” trip somewhere. My now decades old foray into genealogy saw Ireland as a solid contender as a destination. Northern Ireland in particular was at the top of the list. And a sleepy town in County Down called Portaferry became one of the highlight destinations.

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Portaferry, Co. Down, Northern Ireland. June 2017. Photo by me.

The venture into genealogy has been a true journey for me. Past history has become living history. I have felt at times as if my ancestors were walking by my side on this journey.  Each story uncovered about these family members put them in a spotlight for me. As I have gained perspective on their lives, my life has gained some perspective too.

Your life. Your Journey. My Life. My Journey.

“Walking. I am listening to a deeper way.
Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me.
Be still, they say. Watch and listen.
You are the result of the love of thousands.”
~Linda Hogan

Genealogy is sometimes fickle. Information exists sometimes, but not always. Oral history is sometimes proven, but not always. People with the good-intentioned desire to make connections sometimes make them up, ignoring dates, places and more. Brick walls are at every corner. Angels appear out of nowhere with a missing piece of the puzzle. Genealogy really is not a single person’s journey, but a collective effort at finding and piecing the puzzle pieces together. DNA testing helps but only if there is a living male descendant.

Exploring the past, I have been able to get as far back as the mid to late 1700’s in Portaferry. This was the first place I could connect my maternal 4x great-grandfather, James Vance, to.

There is no DNA proof. There are no birth or census records yet found in Ireland that connect him to Portaferry. The church he most likely was affiliated with there was destroyed in a massive storm, along with any records. There are Revolutionary War records where he indicated he “was from” Portaferry, Ireland. There are American records that record Portaferry as his “home”. There is only one place in the world called Portaferry.

Capture

jvancebio

Scots-Irish history supports the reason for his family’s journey from Scotland to Ireland in the 1600’s, and then eventually to Pennsylvania in the mid 1770’s. Oral history from family supports this also.

So Portaferry became a family destination. (And I am ever so grateful my family agreed to this)

We are bound to our ancestors and to those who made us,
whether we want to be or not.
What matters is what we make of what we are.”
– Kate Elliott

Upon arrival in America both sides of my family eventually settled in parts of Pennsylvania. My son lives there now and when we go to visit I find myself looking out the car window, watching the scenery fly past. Questions loop around as thoughts: What thoughts did they have leaving Ireland? Did they know where they were going…have relatives here already? How many family members did they say good-bye to? What few things did they bring with them? What was it like for them to see the Monongahela River and the rolling hills of PA? Did it look like home?

Those questions arose again as I walked on the ground and streets where this Scots-Irish ancestor of mine most likely walked, Portaferry. In talking to a town historian there he said, “Portaferry wouldn’t have looked too much different land wise…it’s the same now as then. What you see now is what he saw then.”

 

 

There was great power in that summation for me. A connection to the past. My eyes saw what he saw. The water. The hill. The windmill. The castle. The tower across the water. The forceful tide flowing in and out through the Narrows everyday. The Irish Sea in the distance. All that was the same, then, as now.

I was looking at what he saw everyday.
I saw what he saw.
I was standing where he stood.
I was walking where he walked.
It almost felt like we could walk together and reminisce.
Share a memory.

Political and religious persecution were no doubt the motivating forces in James Vance leaving Ireland. He was part of the last of the five large waves of Scots-Irish to leave Northern Ireland for America in the 1700’s. Up to a quarter of a million Scots-Irish were estimated to have emigrated across the Atlantic from the north of Ireland through the 18th century (with an even greater amount following in the 19th century). Shortly after he landed in Philadelphia he enlisted in the fight against the British in the Revolutionary War. His grave in Greensboro PA has the Rev War marker next to it. He served under Captain Reading and Col. Chambers and fought in the battles of Germantown and Monmouth. He was with Washington and Lafayette in Valley Forge.

 

 

After the war James joined with a group of German immigrants in a business endeavor with Albert Gallatin (who later became Secretary of the Treasury under Jefferson and Madison) establishing the first “Glassworks” in New Geneva PA. The name Albert and Gallatin, as well as the German given and surnames of the glassblowers (seen on the marker below), became intermingled with the Vance family as friendships developed and marriages took place. Thinking back to when we visited Gallatin’s home, Friendship Hill near Port Marion PA, I realize I had many of the same thoughts and emotions I experienced in Northern Ireland. At Friendship Hill I saw the same things James would have seen. I walked the same path James would have walked on. I stood in a room James would have stood in, looking at he same furniture he sat on. I could imagine him greeting his friend Gallatin. Family history tells of Lafayette and James embracing warmly in Gallatin’s living room.

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Statue of Gallatin, his home, James grave and marker from the Glassworks where James worked.

Eventually James married and settled down to raise a family. Two of James’ sons became well known potters in a flourishing pottery trade in New Geneva PA. When his sons moved to Cincinnati they continued with their pottery work. Their sons, James’ grandsons, lived there and designed and built steam powered paddle boats in Cincy that ran up and down the Ohio River. Their children, James’ great grandchildren, grew up to build buildings that are still standing in Columbus Ohio.

These individuals left a mark on history.

Several years ago my family visited what was my great-grandfather Vance’s farm in Columbus Ohio. Now part of Highbanks Park, only the land remains. The buildings of the farm, then state of the art, and the house, with greenhouses and a swimming pool, are gone. Still, we walked the trails. We walked on land my mom walked and played on. The same land her father walked on. And the same land her grandfather walked on. We saw what they saw. My children stood on the banks of the Olentangy River. The same river their grandmother, great-grandparents and great great grandparents stood by.

 

 

Genealogy isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I never would have imagined I would spend decades searching for little clues of history that would weave together a rich tapestry of stories and adventures. I never would have imagined the information would lead me to a small, sleepy town near the Irish Sea in Northern Ireland.

“Do Shaol, Do Thuras”. “Your Life, Your Journey.”

It was James Vance’s life. It was his journey. And it is my life. But my journey includes his journey.

Do Shaol, Do Thuras”

Each one of us are the result of the love of thousands.

What matters is what we make of who we are.”

All this is infused into the making who we are. Whether we know all the history or not, we are the result of the love, the joys, the struggles and sacrifices of our ancestors. Of course it is our life and our journey. It also is our life given to us through the life and journey of others.

What matters is what we make of who are—-drawing on and respecting all the snippets, remnants, blood and DNA of those who came before us. Add to that all the combined experiences we’ve had, with all that is at this moment. Standing here. Now. It has made us who we are.

All of this grounds me somehow. What written history I can find about my ancestors on both sides of my family is that they gave to others. They lifted others up. They adopted orphans. They worked hard. They were teachers and ministers. They bailed people out of Depression era debt. They literally raised churches. They built boats that aided commerce and travel. They built stores that served people and communities. They tanned hides and sewed shoes. Some built furniture while others were self taught itinerant doctors who knew the how to combine medicinal plants into elixirs and ointments with healing properties. They built carriages and forged horse shoes. They grew flax and wove linen cloth. They were council members in the towns they lived in. They supported Women’s Suffrage. They carried bodies off of battlefields. They fought in wars and they resisted wars and fought for peace. They were regular people.

Of course there are a few characters too! We all have a couple. We have pirates, disposed ministers and a witch!

I am a richer person for knowing my family’s history. I feel a kind of connection to some of my ancestors.

It’s all a journey. A personal journey most certainly. But also a journey that began before we were born. A journey of others that led to us being born.

I’ve been fortunate to get to know James Vance as intimately as I have. To have stood where he stood. To have walked where he walked. To have seen the same views he saw. To have been in rooms where he sat.

“Walking. I am listening to a deeper way.
Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me.
Be still, they say. Watch and listen.
You are the result of the love of thousands.”

Be still. Watch and Listen.

**Check out what I’ve been reading This Week

 

 

 

 

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Dewdrops

For many years, at great cost, I traveled through many countries,
saw the high mountains, the oceans.
The only things I did not see
were the sparkling dewdrops in the grass just outside my door.

~Rabindranath Tagore

I have been very fortunate in my life to have traveled to many places all over the world. I was blessed to be able to actually live in a few. Each country opened my heart and eyes in a new way. There were wonderful, joyful, carefree times, and more difficult, very uncomfortable times. There was fear and worry. There was celebration and excitement. I grew in ways I would never have been able to do had I not traveled.

And yet, coming “home” was the real lesson. When I left Ithaca I felt I had been liberated from many things: parents, American culture, high school cliques, peer pressure, boredom, a broken heart. Parts of life felt stagnant and mundane. I did not want to be only an American. I was going to become a world citizen.

So I traveled. With eyes wide open. My senses were like a sponge. My brain rewired as I learned and experienced new things, had new thoughts and gained new perspectives. My body changed from new foods, less four wheel transportation. I sat next to sheep on buses, and stepped over dead bodies. I ate eyeballs and other balls, intestines and stomachs. I learned how having a cup of tea can be a three hour silent event. I discovered weaving silk is very hard and that I don’t like salted goat milk. I was jostled in religious parades and sat in stillness and silence in Japanese gardens. I was followed by herds of children begging for money and food. I found myself surrounded by groups of men because I had blue eyes.  I was invited into homes and slept on floors literally crawling with scorpions. I was awakened by earthquakes and “trapped” by a declaration of martial law. I traveled by plane, boat, train, bus, trolley, subway, cart, truck, helicopter, elephant and foot.

I ran out of money and sold my blood. I got very sick and had to go to a hospital every day for testing. I experienced altitude sickness, fainting, food poisoning, acupuncture and cupping.

I grew up.

And then I came home and looked out the window and saw the “dewdrops.” All the beauty, mystery, hope, sorrow, sadness, pain, possibility and wonder right outside my window. I hadn’t seen all that ever before as clearly as I could now.

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Redbud leaf, by me

I did have to travel in order to come home and be able to see the dewdrops….right out my own window. I don’t think the meaning and message would be as clear as it is now without all those experiences in my life. I learned to look through different lenses. The experiences from the world provided a means for observing, assessing, evaluating and synthesizing information and experiences, challenging beliefs and even personal opinions.

What’s outside your window? Your living room window, your car window, your bus window, your office window and the restaurant window? The window to your thoughts, biases, perspectives, your heart, your education and religious background? The window that showcases the planet, the environment, the universe? The window that shows you the life of others, their struggles and joys?

What do you see?

What I’ve been reading, and watching, this week : This Week

Nourished

Sometimes I forget. I forget I need to be nourished. I forget I am no different from any other living thing. There are things I must have to thrive, to blossom, to succeed.

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Sunrise, March 3, 2027

Sometimes I forget. I forget I need a specific kind of nourishment. I put time and tender thought into living with certain intentions: to be loving, to be kind, to be compassionate, to be considerate, to be humble. I put time and tender thought into my job. Yet, it is so easy to forget I need to put the same, if not more, time and tender thought into remembering to be aware of, to feel the cycle of my breathing, the beating of my own heart and the tiny pauses between both. Those pauses, felt only in the fleeting moments of stillness and silence are the source of my nourishment. My source of renewal. Of healing. Of remembering.

“Even the smallest shift in perspective can bring about the greatest healing.”
~
Joshua Kai

Sometimes I forget about restoration. My restoration happens in those quiet, transitory pauses when I am able step out of the busy-ness of life and step away from “important” things and return to that which is timeless. My restoration happens when I am aware of the breath I take, when I feel the wondrous, rhythmic beating of my heart. It happens when I listen to my soft-spoken inner voice that has a connection to that which is in a symbiotic relationship with the world, the universe. Something eternal. Here, in this restorative process I have the chance to be reminded of and reconnect with my heart’s calling.

The nourishment of my “being” is about balance. It is about finding the balance that includes stillness and silence walking in unison with my daily life. It is about acute awareness of those pauses that ensure my heart will be open in order to love and serve others, but also to love and serve myself.

“The warm and radiant yes of the heart is perfect, like the sun,
in bringing all things to life and nourishing all that is truly human.”
~John Welwood

What I’ve been reading:  This Week

Wisdom Dreams

I once dreamt I was telling stories and felt someone patting my foot in encouragement.
I looked down and saw that I was standing on the shoulders of an older woman
who was steadying my ankles and smiling up at me.
I said to her, “no no come stand on my shoulders,
For you are old and I am Young.”

“No no” she insisted, “this is the way it is supposed to be.”
I saw that she stood on the shoulders of a woman far older than she,
who stood on the shoulders of a woman even older,
who stood on the shoulders of a woman in robes,
who stood on the shoulders of another soul, who stood on the shoulders…

~Clarissa Pinkola Estés

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sunrise this morning

I admit it. I am a firm believer that some dreams are messages that I need to pay attention to. For me, they can be a processing tool, a problem solving tool, or sometimes, even a window into the future. There are times when my dreams are like an encyclopedia that has blown open to a page of facts, truths, possibilities that I need to know.

Most religions discuss the interpretation of dreams. Theologians, psychologists, therapists, musicians, poets, people who pay attention to dreams, see them as a connection, a nexus between the body, mind and spirit. There is a universal understanding that dreams connect us to something greater than ourselves. They provoke a sense of wonder and awe that by their nature are the essence of mystical experiences.

That which the dream shows is the shadow of such wisdom as exists in man,
even if during his waking state he may know nothing about it….
We do not know it because we are fooling away our time with outward and perishing things,
and are asleep in regard to that which is real within our self.

~Paracelsus

So, if you’ve been following this blog, you know I am an admirer of Clarissa Pinkola Estés. When I read the above quote the proverbial light bulb of understanding lit up. As a Jungian psychologist and story teller Pinkola Estés’ dream integrated the ideas of messages found in dreams and the importance of each person being a story teller.

In our world today I believe that both of these things are important. I think we have become disoriented and separated from spirituality and our connectedness. We no longer know our own stories of where we came from, who we are, what matters to us, what our connections are, how we are related and connected to each other. We have become impatient or disinterested in hearing the stories others cry out for us to hear. There is a restlessness, an uneasiness in me that worries that we have lost the connection to and understanding of a compelling gift: dreams.

Pinkola Estés not only reminds us to allow and pay attention to the dreams that arise during sleep, but to remember we are standing on, supported by, encouraged and emboldened by those who have come before us. The falterings, the successes, the hopes and dreams of others are the foundation on which we stand.

Those pillars of known and unknown persons in the past gently tap us with encouragement and with a reminder that we must give voice to our own story as well as give witness to the stories of others.

We are the dreamers. We are the story tellers. We are the pillars for those still to come.

“Sometimes dreams are wiser than waking.”~ Black Elk

“A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read.’
~The Talmud

Dreams are illustrations… from the book your soul is writing about you.”
~Marsha Norman

“Dreams say what they mean, but they don’t say it in daytime language.”
~Gail Godwin

 

 

 

The Place Where Potential Sprouts

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I set aside 3 hours of my week to take care of me. It’s not a lot of time, but it is what I have promised myself to protect. In a quiet room with teachers, students, moms and dads, business owners and leaders, bankers, techies, various types of administrators, musicians, a scientist, librarian, chef and an artist, the lights are dimmed and we allow silence to embrace the room as we share and hour and a half of yoga and meditation twice a week.

There is a yoga pose called the “Child’s Pose”. Sitting back on your knees, you bend forward, like a seed, placing your head on the floor or stacked fists and you breathe. This is a comfort position. A rest position. A safe position. A healing position.

Our teacher said, “Child’s pose. The place of silence. Where potential sprouts.”

True Silence is the rest of the Mind,
and is to the Spirit,
what Sleep is to the Body,
Nourishment and Refreshment.

~William Penn

I mulled that over for awhile. If you’ve followed me for any time you know I have this thing for silence. For stillness.

With all the noise of fear, hate, uncertainty, greed, oppression, repression, divisiveness…….finding silence is difficult.

“In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in an clearer light,
and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.
Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth.”

~Mahatma Gandhi

How do we find a clearer light by which to see the path that leads to Truth? The path may be similar, or very different, from others in our lives. Without the “attitude of silence” we have no way to rest the mind and spirit. No way to nourish and refresh both. No way to see the crystal clearness of Truth.

If we can invite and allow silence into our life, we may in fact allow that seed of potential to sprout and grow. Watered and fed with silence and stillness.

We have to protect Truth, Wisdom.

“Silence is a fence around wisdom.”
~German proverb

“Silence is wisdom’s sentinel.”
~James Lendall Basford

Our potential is a seed. Waiting to been tended and nurtured. Waiting for the light and warmth, for the soft rains and fertile soils.

 We have the choice over some seeds we plant. Some seeds are given to us. Our thoughts, our actions, our attitude, our contemplative silence, as in the Child’s Pose, gives life to those seeds. In the attitude of internal silence we may find a clearly lit path leading us towards our personal, and hopefully, collective potential.

Your heart is like a garden. It can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. With silence as your guide what will you plant? What kind of potential will sprout from your heart?

You Are Sitting On A Pot of Gold

Ahhhh, the ego.  You know Ego… very self-centered, arrogant, self important. Ego finds things like power, control, authority and position as motivating triggers. Ego drapes us in false-pride. Ego is forever judging. Ego believes itself to always be right and everything else as wrong. The length it goes to in order to convince you of this is impressive.

Dr. Wayne Dyer says “No one has ever seen the face of ego. It is like a ghost that we accept as a controlling influence in our lives. I look upon the ego as nothing more than an idea that each of us has about ourselves. The ego is only an illusion, but a very influential one. Letting the ego-illusion become your identity can prevent you from knowing your true self. Ego, the false idea of believing that you are what you have or what you do, is a backwards way of assessing and living life.”

And, “The ego-idea has been with us ever since we began to think. It sends us false messages about our true nature. It leads us to make assumptions about what will make us happy and we end up frustrated. It pushes us to promote our self-importance while we yearn for a deeper and richer life experience. It causes us to fall into the void of self-absorption again and again, not knowing that we need only shed the false idea of who we are.”

Sogyal Rinpoche in The Tibetan Book of the Dead writes by way of describing ego : “Two people have been living in you all of your life. One is the ego, garrulous, demanding, hysterical, calculating; the other is the hidden spiritual being, whose still voice of wisdom you have only rarely heard or attended to.”

This ego self has a driving purpose to be seen in a positive light. Always. This ego self will work endlessly to disavow itself of any responsibility it has for any negative outcome. Ego is not responsible. Ever.

As an alternative and a means of balance, there is the idea of the quiet ego.

This is the idea that says our sense of well being is about transcending, not enhancing the self. This is the path to contentment and that elusive sense of inner peace we all longingly search for. This is the way to a lasting happiness.

Jack Bauer, Heidi Wayment, and Kateryna Sylaska are researching the idea of the quiet ego. “The volume of the ego is turned down so that it might listen to others as well as the self in an effort to approach life more humanely and compassionately.”

According to the above researchers “quiet ego consists of four interconnected facets: detached awareness, inclusive identity, perspective-taking, and personal growth. These four characteristics all contribute to having a general stance of balance and growth toward the self and others.”

I want balance and growth towards the self and OTHERS. How about you?

So, what does this mean?

“Detached Awareness” is when the quiet ego speaks up and reminds us to be mindful and aware of what we are doing, of what is happening around us. The person with a quiet ego is focused on the present moment with no judgment or preconceived ideas of how things should be. We put this quality to the test when we rush through activities, do things automatically without paying much attention to them.

“Inclusive Identity” presents itself in a person with a quiet ego as being cooperative and compassionate. They possess a strong connection with all living things, all people…strangers, people of other ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds, there is no “other” to a person with a quiet ego. The other end of this spectrum would be doing things only for yourslef, the “what’s in it for me?” thought process.

“Perspective Taking” is about the proverbial “put yourself in the other person’s shoes and walk a mile.” It’s about imagining yourself going through what the other person is going through. It is about listening to and hearing the other side of the story with no judgment. For some this is difficult. It is their perspective that matters and the other person’s views are “wrong”, “not of significance” or “irrelevant”.

“Personal Growth” is about allowing and working towards life being about learning, changing and growing. It is about new experiences that challenge what we think about ourselves and the world. It is about stepping outside of what we are familiar and comfortable with. It is about the fluid experience and not about the value judgement of the end result.

When we experience quiet ego we have healthy self esteem because we acknowledge our limitations. There is no need to be defensive about who we are. Our well being is balanced through having contributing traits like humility, authenticity, open thinking, valuing the present moment, resilience, self compassion, satisfaction with our life.

Listen to your quiet ego…see the world as a whole. Learn to see the oneness, the inter-connectedness that is everywhere. We are all human. We all share the same emotions, struggles, life events. We will all die. If our thoughts are rooted in love and compassion rather than pride, power or attachment, our true self is thriving and not ego.

“But I’ll tell you what hermits realize.
If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet,
you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.”
~ Alan Watts

As Dr. Dyer says, we don’t have to accept the ghost called ego to be the controlling force in our life.  We don’t have to perpetuate the idea that ego is something that rules us and is difficult to quiet.  It is possible to quiet ego so that, as Sogyal Rinpoche teaches, we can hear the still voice of wisdom instead.

rainbow(Ithaca NY)

Each and every day, all day long we are offered true gifts and are capable of offering our true self to others. This is our treasure. Treasure to both receive and give. The challenge for many of us is to open the door for quiet ego to come in to our lives and guide us so we have the presence of mind and awareness of how rich and blessed we are.

“We are like Tolstoy’s fabled beggar who spent his life sitting on a pot of gold,
begging for pennies from every passerby,
unaware that his fortune was right under him the whole time.

Your treasure—your perfection–is within you already.
But to claim it, you must leave the busy commotion of the mind
and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.”
Elizabeth Gilbert