When I speak about ancestral leadership, I speak of it as a process that I had to live into.
And when I look back, I can understand that I was living into this process my whole life - and that I was always on a path of pushing my leadership into a more visible space.
At this time of my life on earth, I am coming into the path of being a role model and an elder.
I’m arriving into my deepest phase of life, a phase of teaching and awakening.
Nine years ago, I was profoundly activated and shaken through both a sexual awakening and a remembrance in my body of other lifetimes that my soul was intimately connected to through ancestral memory.
Moving into a more embodied awakening of who I am, I’m reflecting on how my childhood has shaped my journey as a leader.
I’d like to share a story with you about one specific experience from my childhood that has been woven into my adult life, providing me with valuable opportunities to consciously face and grow through the challenges of shame, patriarchy, and privilege in leadership.
The Story of Gregor the Cook
As a child, I had a tremendous amount of privilege.
This privilege went beyond just wealth and white privilege.
It was the privilege of access, and how that informed my identity from that young age.
My grandparents provided me with extraordinary opportunities. My grandfather had a high-ranking job that led them to living in Lebanon.
Because of this, I was introduced to many powerful people from a young age.
At my grandparents’ house in Lebanon, I would greet people who came to visit.
These people included the President of Lebanon, high-ranking diplomats and the elite of Beirut - at a time when Beirut was considered The Paris of the Middle East.
What was most impactful to me about this experience growing up was that in Lebanon, my grandparents had a whole team of staff.
They had a bodyguard driver and a security guard, because at this time, Lebanon was a dangerous place for Americans to be in.
My grandfather’s best friend, the president of the American University, had been kidnapped and tortured, and my grandfather himself had received death threats.
Along with the security staff, there was also a housekeeper and a cook.
The cook’s name was Gregor, and he was my favorite of them all. Gregor was one of the greatest teachers I’ve had in this lifetime.
Since I was the only grandchild in the family, Gregor favored me and called me “the little princess”.
He would make me and my mother any food we wanted. My mother particularly loved Gregor’s crème caramel. And I loved the tiny vegetables that he would grow and cook from the garden: miniature zucchini and carrots sauteed in butter.
One summer day, when I was seven or eight years old, I did something that I was not supposed to do.
I walked all the way down the stone steps on the side of my grandparents’ home that took us to the shore of the Mediterranean Sea.
Down by the sea, there was a little cottage where Gregor would stay when he was working long days for my grandparents and wasn’t able to go home to his wife and eleven children.
Being curious and nosy, and not thinking anything about my actions, I went to Gregor’s little house, and I opened the door.
There I saw Gregor sitting on the toilet. When he saw me, he started shouting at me in Arabic to leave.
So I left immediately and shut the door.
I felt guilty and terrible about it immediately, and I wanted to apologize to Gregor, but I didn’t know how to approach him.
The Aftermath: Deference, Shame, and Silence
After that, something changed between me and Gregor.
Instead of being his usual friendly self, Gregor became afraid of me.
He would defer to me. He made my vegetables as always, but his tone to me was now one of subservience rather than warmth.
When I look back, I now understand the possible reason why things changed.
Because I saw him with his pants down on the toilet, he might have thought that if I said anything about it, he was going to get in trouble with my grandparents and get fired.
I’ve never told anyone this story before, and I’ve always felt a lot of shame about it.
I’ve felt ashamed of having been given power to hold as a child - power that seemed to threaten the fate of Gregor’s livelihood, and the livelihood of his wife and children.
As a child, I had internalized an understanding that I should not have said anything about what happened - not to Gregor, or to anybody else.
So I didn’t say anything.
This awareness came early in my life - that talking about things like this was forbidden.
I didn’t have the words to describe this dynamic back then, but I knew and internalized it.
Now, looking back, I recognize that feeling ashamed and knowing I was forbidden to talk about that incident with Gregor is deeply emblematic of the dysfunction of living inside of white privilege.
Although I obeyed the norms as a child, something in me always felt that those norms were wrong.
Perhaps it’s that I was born autistic, and perhaps it’s that I was born to disrupt the narratives of my mother’s side of the family.
Between feeling the shame about what had happened, noticing how my relationship with Gregor changed, and feeling wrong about the norms I was supposed to obey - my whole experience of this event changed my path forever.
Who Matters? Who Belongs?
I longed for my father as a child.
I know he was closely descended from Irish immigrants. My mother had cut him out of the family, and she had cut me off from having a relationship with him.
Because of this, I would never retrieve an understanding of who he was as a person until I met him once near the end of his life - but my body had its own knowing and understanding.
Something in me knew that I wasn’t safe in my own family, because of who I was and who my father was.
And I understood on a somatic level that people could just be erased and cut out.
It wasn’t just that Gregor could be cut out. It happened to my father too. So it could happen to me at any time.
I didn’t have words for this - I’m only just finding the words as I tell you this story.
But I held that knowledge in my body.
As I grew up, I interrupted many family narratives and assumptions, mostly at the dinner table.
I challenged my family to talk about racism. I challenged them around their views on the Vietnam war, which my uncle - a traumatized veteran - often defended.
I challenged the classist beliefs that played out in my family around who mattered. I learned that my mother mattered, and I mattered to a lesser degree.
I learned that my mother’s siblings - adopted into the family due to my grandmother being unable to have any more biological children, and carrying their own trauma as adoptees - mattered significantly less.
My grandfather didn’t view them as belonging to the family as much as he viewed my mother and me as belonging.
All of this created layers of deep, unspoken pain and longing in me.
How We Can Become Ancestral Leaders
Shame, unspoken norms, privilege, and belonging: What does all this have to do with becoming an ancestral leader?
When I think of where we need to go in the future as ancestral-led leaders, my own understanding of that has to do way more with my family's failures than their successes.
It has to do with who's an insider and who's an outsider.
Patriarchy, white supremacy and colonialism have made us split ourselves into less than human categories, ranking people from the top to the bottom.
The ultimate result of that is that nobody's needs get met.
Not even those at the tippy top.
Those at the tippy top of corporate institutions, academic institutions, and political institutions - none of them are able to have their full range of human needs met within these systems.
Therefore, for as long as they stay inside of those systems, none of them can fully access the energetics necessary to lead us all where we need to go for the good of all, the beloved earth, our ancestors and descendants.
This paradigm is the opposite of what it will take for us to become ancestrally led as a culture.
Being ancestrally led is about retrieving a deep embedded wisdom in our bodies that allows each of us to create a very distinct, a very specific, and most importantly, a very precise trail to our own liberation.
When I speak about “living into” this specific kind of ancestral leadership, I am speaking about retrieving the wisdom that lives in your body, and living in such a way that forges your unique trail with both your past ancestors and future descendants in mind.
It’s not about reproducing the instructions and processes that were previously used to teach leadership within the frameworks of corporate hierarchies and other capitalist structures.
It’s about tapping into the deeper teaching that lives in your body - and then LIVING in a way that is informed by that teaching.
Whether we choose to lead or follow in any specific situation, there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to live. Not everybody's designed to be an ancestral leader.
However, no matter who you are, we're all designed to be in relationship with our ancestors.
Through working with the ancestors - both our own and those of others - we can learn to respect others’ gifts and talents as equal to our own.
We can begin to retrieve a very ancient practice of matriarchal leadership, which, by the way, is not the opposite of patriarchal.
It's not women above men.
It's about the elders leading from a place of making choices and decisions that support the wellbeing of everyone's design, caring for the needs of all people.
Healing Trauma to Access Ancestral Leadership
In my own life and career, I've worked with many traumatized people.
I've worked with homeless people to help share their stories.
I've worked with middle class folks who were processing stories of parents that committed suicide, and of mental illness in their family lines that just kept repeating.
I've held space for trauma after trauma in so many diverse ways.
I have also - and this is the part I don't always acknowledge - worked with very, very wealthy people.
Even people who have gotten to the tippy top of capitalism, as well as leaders who have created amazing businesses with a lot of ethics, but still haven't quite landed on the culture of how to create ancestral leadership.
These leaders are now seeking to become much more culturally relevant.
And the way to become more relevant as a leader is to do the work of unpacking the deepest teachings from their family stories.
This process of unpacking and re-storying our family lessons doesn't just involve getting connected to our wise Ancients.
By tracing our breadcrumb trail backwards, we can open up a new cosmic breadcrumb trail forwards into the future.
We can help build and create our future by being in relationship to our descendants and understanding what they need. We can live into this understanding, and use the wisdom of our family story to live our lives wisely and help to shape a future we can all be proud of.
Do you want to be supported as you live into your own understanding of ancestral leadership, unlocking hidden gifts as you tell your family story and move through healing of the traumas carried within it?
Join The Unmasked Writer's Lab, our flagship paid membership program, where we will work together to reveal and build upon your unique gifts to create a better future for our descendants.