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My Ancestors, My Body, and Our Borders

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My Ancestors, My Body, and Our Borders

Lee Vance

My annual retreat to Barre, MA and the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) felt like a trip home. Traveling to a place where a community of like-minded individuals are interested in stillness, silence and retraining their minds to open with the wonder of a child encourages embodiment. At the start, Lila Kate Wheeler, one of the instructors, invited over 100 of us yogis to feel into our bodies. For those unfamiliar with this exercise, this isn't some metaphysical mumbo jumbo or hollow spirituality. Body awareness is simply resting in the awareness of our raw bodily sensations as they come and go. Ms. Wheeler reminds us that our DNA and dividing cellular atoms culminate into production of these bodily sensations that are exact replicas and offspring of our great grandparents. 

Noticing my bodily sensations for long moments at a time is not something I have ever done naturally - I had to be taught. Because what's the purpose really? During this retreat, one of the purposes became clear: to be in touch with the reverberations of my ancestors. Much like the pebble creates thousands of ripples in the water, I can experience the rippling effects of people like my great-grandfather, Nicholas Vaudo, and my great-grandmother, Rosa Rogato. They both traveled from Italy to escape and to thrive as individuals and for their families. Aren't I one of their outer ripples? Don't I have a replication of the body of cells that felt entrapped and persecuted? And isn't my neuro-chemical courage that of those that uprooted and faced further discrimination from Americans? All of it is in me and your story is in you. I think it's one of the reasons ancestry.com has become such a hit. We want to know the stories of our bodies. 

Out of deep respect for my bodily sensations, filled with the stories of my ancestors, I cannot support protectionism over and above the desire to roam freely. I certainly do value and understand the need to be protected from harm. However, it was this very need that brought Nicholas and Rosa to this country. Ironically, it did not entirely achieve the liberating experience they sought - both individuals had to change their last name (Vaudo to Vance and Rogato to Root) because Western Americans couldn't tolerate diversity. With such foreign names, teachers refused to learn adapt and employers paid them insufficiently. This is why I can't, in good conscious, stand with any group of people that closes its borders or discriminates against differences. My body simply won't allow it. Sincerely, Lee Vaudo.