To me, gratitude and holidays come hand in hand. For the past few years my perspective on what the holidays are for has shifted from one of partying and debauchery to one of gratitude and appreciation. Gratitude for what we have lived and what we have.
When we take the time to relax and shift our attention from all the “negative” things happening around us towards all the “positive” things, we change what we create. Our attention is creative, and when our attention focuses on the things that make life worth living, friends, love, health and togetherness, we effortlessly create more of those things.
It’s an understatement to write that we’ve had a wild decade. The 2010’s spun through like a Tasmanian devil in the midst of a panic attack after chugging half a dozen espresso shots as it rushed to complete whatever assignment/chore/appointment it had jotted down in its overflowing schedule. The disruption our collective life has experienced is of a magnitude not seen since the mid-20th century.
As this oh-so-chaotic decade comes to a close, it’s important to put things into perspective. Yes, it has been chaotic. Yes, our social institutions have become polarized, strained to the brink of fracturing. Yes, our way of life has been changed by centralized authorities pushing restrictions on our freedom which are meant only to control us rather than promote our health.
And yet we keep moving forward. The indomitable nature of the human spirit continues shining through, released by these most travailing of times. And in no other place is that as noticeable as in Mexico.
What Life Is Like When You Grow Up In Mexico
I grew up in Mexico City. I left the city when I was 18 to attend college in the United States. Ever since then, every year, I have made every effort to return to Mexico for the holiday season to be with my friends and family. As well as to enjoy the awesome Mexican food for which Mexico is so famous!
I am 30 years old now, and have experienced my fair share of successes and failures in every area of life. Throughout it all I have learned about how our personal and collective histories can shape our present in every way imaginable.
Mexico has a complicated history. Every country has a complicated history, because countries are made up of humans, and humans can be complicated. It doesn’t have to be this way, but most of us never learn how to train our minds and manage our emotions. Because of this, most of us wander through life in a permanent state of passive reactivity to our environment, rather than active response-ability.
So countries are complicated. But countries which were colonized by European powers have recent traumatic histories which continue to shape life in every way.
Mexico Is No Exception To This Rule
Before Mexico “the country” existed, it was the land of the Aztecs. The Aztec empire stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean and dominated many peoples who were all forced to pay tribute to the Aztecs. Things were by no means perfect, but they were stable. Then in 1519 the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived on the shores of what is today the state of Veracruz with about 500 armed men under his command.
In 1521 the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, fell under the combined assault of Cortés, the native American tribes he had brought over to his cause, and the deadly diseases, mostly smallpox, which decimated local populations.
What followed the fall of Tenochtitlan was 300 years of Spanish rule. During that time the native Americans were relegated to a position of subhuman servitude to the Spanish. Every form of violation took place during this time. This collective experience left a tremendous, gaping, florid and grizzly wound in the collective psyche of the people of Mexico. This is collective trauma, and it is a very real thing. Read “The Body Keeps The Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk if you’re interested in this.
Trauma Is What Keeps Us In The Role Of Victims
Trauma is akin to a parasite which inhabits an unwitting host, it subtly but effectively manipulates its host into behaving in ways which serve its agenda. In the case of Mexicans, who for 300 years were forced to serve the Spanish, the trauma learned was one of victimhood.
A native American living under the rule of the Spanish would be more likely to survive if he/she obeyed, unquestioningly, without ever considering rebellion. Any person who rebelled would be killed, or worse, tortured brutally, before being killed. When a person is oppressed, without hope for salvation, it pays to be a powerless victim. Because powerless victims survive. Powerless victims then teach their children consciously but mostly unconsciously, how to be powerless victims and the cycle of self-victimization is perpetuated across time.
Then, in 1821, the Mexican Independence movement succeeded in its struggle against the Spanish crown. Spain was kicked out of Mexico and a new country was born. But that didn’t mean that the struggles were over. Indeed, once the oppressors of a people are removed, healing is essential if there is to be a transcendence of the habit-patterns of victimization which were learned during the time of oppression.
Modern day Mexicans, and people from all post-colonial societies, inherit the collective trauma experienced by our ancestors. These traumas are passed on unconsciously, through culture. It has only been about a dozen generations since Mexico gained its independence. While I believe a single generation is enough to heal inherited trauma entirely, this only happens if the trauma is specifically addressed and healed either following a process alone or with the guidance of an experienced healer.
Trauma Can Manifest Itself In An Infinity Of Ways
Some of the most common are:
- The belief that life is a struggle
- The belief that love hurts
- The belief that there are not enough resources to go around for everyone
- The belief that others must have less for me to have more
Most Mexicans continue to be unaware that there is much to be healed individually and collectively. But people are starting to learn that unless we face the shadows we have inherited from our ancestors, they remain unconscious manipulators of our choices, directing us to recreate the stories of victimization which set root during our ancestors’ oppression.
I am an example of such a person. I have faced the trauma I inherited from my culture and let go of it. I had been programmed to be a victim, I made choices which perpetuated my status as a victim and then when I experienced the consequences of such choices I used them as proof that I was, indeed, a victim, which served to further deepen my self-limiting narrative. Most people remain caught in their own story loops, unaware that it’s not the world which keeps them bound to their circumstances, but their own beliefs about themselves.
Life Is Tough In Mexico
Crime, government corruption, unemployment, teenage pregnancy, illiteracy and obesity are high (when compared to non-colonized countries). Social mobility, educational attainment, institutional integrity and transparency are low (same comparison). If you grew up in a post-colonial society, you know firsthand the effects this has on your perception. If a person does not raise above the negativity enmeshed in post-colonial societies, he/she picks up the same negativity and makes choices which match those negative perceptions.
Growing up in Mexico City, I struggled to reconcile the life I lived and the life I saw those around me living. I was/am privileged. My parents worked hard to provide me and my brother with opportunities most Mexicans can only dream about. We had a lovely house in the center of Mexico City with access to the best food, water and services anyone in could ask for. We went out whenever we wanted to and my brother and I were even sent to summer camp abroad every year starting from the age of 6.
I Enjoyed This Materially Abundant Life
While I enjoyed that life I saw that many people in Mexico City didn’t even have a place to sleep at the end of the day. I saw dirty, barefoot children skittering through crowds of people, looking at the world through the eyes of betrayed innocence, trying to sell a packet of gum to anyone who would buy. I saw shaggy, dirty men sitting on the ground, missing legs, arms or eyes, an outstretched hand entreating alms in a futile attempt at staving off hunger and homelessness.
Now I know that these people are victims because they identify with being victims. Their stories have been tragic, there is no denying that. But to say that these people are incapable of changing their life circumstances one choice at a time is to embrace a fundamental untruth: that we lack free will. These people have lived as victims for so long they have forgotten that they all have the capacity to choose better for themselves. This is truth.
I grew up believing that these people were unfortunate, that they were victims of their circumstances, that their life circumstances were completely out of their control. I wished I could help them; I often gave them money, food, a listening ear, a smile, anything I could to ameliorate the suffering which they endured while I enjoyed the privilege given to me by my parents.
I Felt Guilty
Because I had so much while so many others had so little. I believed that if we could just help these people we would be able to live in a healthy, happy society.
Then I grew up, and I learned that the homeless, ignorant and handicapped of Mexico only represent the most explicit cases of unconscious, trauma-generated, victim mentality. There are other, subtler forms of victim mentality. Forms which most people adhere to, while being completely unaware of it. In the end, they are all forms of fear.
And I was no exception to embracing fear. I picked these fearful forms of self-victimization up throughout my life in Mexico City. I learned the unconscious habits of fear from my surroundings. I was not at all aware of it as it happened, but it did, and I only became aware of it once I developed the self-awareness that allowed me to observe myself as I perpetuated my victim role.
How To Go From Passive Victim To Active Creator
We all have the power to create the lives we desire. Make no mistake about this. We listen to the limiting opinions of others at the cost of our dreams. We are in the drivers seat of our life circumstances. What makes the difference between being the active creators of our lives or not is whether we believe we have the power to change the things we want to change.
Everything starts with belief. The belief that we are worthy of achieving our desires.
Victims look at their life circumstances and believe they have no power to change them. That someone else has to come in and change things for them, so that they may live happy, productive and healthy lives. In Mexico, that “someone” is usually the government. A victim never assumes responsibility for what goes on in their lives. In contrast, an active creator looks at their life circumstances and understands and innerstands that he/she is responsible for all of it.
The degree to which we assume responsibility for our life circumstances represents our degree of active creatorship. The more responsibility we assume, the more powerful creators we are.
Which brings me to the subject of gratitude.
Gratitude Is An Unbelievably Powerful Emotion/State
When we experience gratitude it’s because we appreciate something we have received in our lives. Victims don’t express gratitude, they remain stuck in the things they don’t have; they focus on not having money, not having health, friends, love or beauty. By focusing on their lack, victims unconsciously create more lack.
In comparison, people who experience gratitude for the things they have in life, actively create more of these things. Without even having to work for them. Because our attention is creative. If your attention doesn’t focus on something, then that something doesn’t happen. Literally.
So by being grateful for things in our life; our relationships, health, wealth, freedom, abundance, anything, we create more of these things.
It’s really that simple.
You Are Invited To Be Grateful
These holidays, I invite you to be grateful. The news does an astounding job at showing us how messed up the world is right now. Where we place our focus is always our choice. When we place our focus on the things we don’t want or don’t have, we actually make more of that for ourselves. If instead we focus on what we have already, and we all have a limitless bounty of things to be grateful for, we actively create more of these things for ourselves.
Because where focus goes energy flows.
So what are you going to be grateful for these holidays?
To our wealth and success.