“If you live your life to please everyone else, you will continue to feel frustrated and powerless. This is because what others want may not be good for you. You are not being mean when you say NO to unreasonable demands or when you express your ideas, feelings, and opinions, even if they differ from those of others.”
― Beverly Engel
I have learned so much about boundaries in the course of my life…so far. Most of what I learned came from experience; the way I felt when someone or a group or situation made me uncomfortable; or worse, I felt taken advantage of. The hardest part of learning about boundaries is that we must take responsibility for ourselves, which includes realizing that we probably did not say “no” when we might have preferred to do so.
What is the origin of this? Perhaps we learned by example and observation of others, that our preferences were not as important as what someone else needed or wanted (from us). We may even have been recognized or rewarded in some way when we gave up on our desires or preferences for someone else’s.
“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.”
― Brené Brown
The pandemic has provided ample time for reflection, and opportunities to begin again. The beauty of leading our lives is that we can always begin again. Among other amazing opportunities to live fully, leading our lives is about recognizing and taking responsibility for ourselves. Knowing where our boundaries are (and where they are not) is a part of this process.
I continue to learn more about my boundaries, and when the unconscious voice inside tells me to “let something or someone go on by” and deep inside I’m feeling that I am giving up something important, I know I must take action and choose differently. Continuing to go unheeded, the voice gets quiet and a habit is formed. We may even hear a voice from the past that says something along the lines of, “oh, it’s ok. You can let this go for now. It’s the nice thing to do.” These unconscious habits rarely serve us.
As these habits go unheeded or unchecked, we can lose something important in and of ourselves. After months of very little structure (and enjoying most of it), I found myself falling into habits which were not necessarily good for me. Conversations with trusted allies provided a way forward…or back to those parts of my past which were worth bringing forward.
I used to be quite structured in my work. It served me well, because I like to be organized. In fact organizing and having things in their proper places is calming for me. Clutter and piles and having no real structure in my work – when I used to have plenty – was more stressful than I realized.
What is also important, is knowing that our boundaries exist within ourselves. These are not pronouncements that we must make…for we would be abdicating our individual responsibility for ourselves by projecting that responsibility onto the other. Our personal boundaries are just that…personal, within, the guideposts and guardrails that provide comfort to our very existence. That is not to say that, if a situation calls for it, you do not become verbal about what is ok and what is not. Speaking up for ourselves is essential.
You get what you tolerate.
– Henry Cloud
Having personal boundaries is freeing. We do not have to move with the direction of the current situational wind, if it makes us uncomfortable. However, if we are not aware of what does make us comfortable, the inevitable winds will blow us off course…and away from ourselves.
Regarding leadership, Brene Brown has said that being clear is kind and being unclear is unkind. Leading our lives is leadership. It is leadership of the most important and deeply personal kind. It is not abdicating our responsibility, blaming others when our boundaries have been crossed (you know…the ones we don’t know we have until they are crossed?) or projecting our internal unhealed pain onto others. Our personal boundaries are about compassion. Compassion for ourselves, which then becomes the ground for our offering of compassion to others.
Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.
– Brene Brown
Boundaries = Compassion.
Compassion is Kind.
Kindness is Love.
Love is leading your life…clearly, responsibly and fully.
May today be the first day of the rest of your life.
It’s been so long since I posted anything here. I decided to check to see when I last offered something in this space. Surprisingly, it’s been nearly a month, December 26, 2020.
Since that time, I’ve attempted to write several times. Each time, I felt a bit unsettled and wasn’t sure why. Today, I attribute that feeling to what was happening in the larger environment (community, country, planet, heavens). So much seemingly chaotic and volatile energy…and I knew I was feeling a bit off. I just didn’t quite put it all together while I was in it. I read a lot of people who are tuned into the zeitgeist, and clearly the energies were intense. I suppose because we are in the Winter here and still stying close to or at home to remain safe in the ongoing and devastating pandemic, I attributed my unsettled inability to string sentences together in a meaningful fashion, to the seasons we were in.
Below is something I started writing a few days following the attack on the US Capitol. Having had a career in public service (in the federal government here in the US), this experience was shocking and deeply upsetting. Today, I’m glad that I did not delete it. There are some who have been talking about the first “three Wednesdays in January” as being fairly consequential and I wholeheartedly agree that indeed, they were. In fact, I feel we will be living with these consequences for some time to come.
So, I offer the following as reflections on that period leading up to and including the inauguration of a new President and Vice-President.
~ ~ ~
The days have been challenging, and sometimes extremely long and painful. As one who is deeply aware of my sensitivity, I’ve found my nervous system a bit under siege in the past few years. Even knowing all that I know, sometimes it’s hard to get back to center and be calm when what is swirling all around me is anything but calm.
I’ve examined through much contemplation what is at the core of my discomfort. At first I didn’t believe it was fear. It certainly wasn’t the angry fear that is projected over and over before our very eyes. And yes, I am human. What has been most difficult to reconcile is the deep sadness of what so many do not know – about who they really are.
Reflecting, now I know that there is some fear, born out of compassion, for those closest to me and rippling out from there, who are not aware of what is real and what is not. I’ve had to come to terms with the reality, over and over again, that they are where they are and there is nothing I can do…or should do…to convince, cajole or otherwise attempt to help them see a different way of viewing or leading their lives.
We are human, and fallible. And in our human fallibility, we often don’t take responsibility for things we’ve done, words we’ve said and choices we have made, which resulted in deep hurt in others. We even reject love when we are deeply lost in the beliefs we hold tightly to while listening to the voices (inside our minds and other humans outside) which seem to “egg us on.” We hold tightly to all of that out of fear…of the unknown.
~ ~ ~
As I watched in horror the images from the attack on the US Capitol (January 6, 2021), I felt so many different feelings. Apparent anger wasn’t one of those. What I realized I was feeling was deep sadness, and concern for all of those affected…and even compassion for the wild-eyed insurrectionists who seemed to have strayed far from their moral compass and were inflicting injury to humans, and destruction to the symbol of a democracy which has striven to “form a more perfect union”.
What is apparent to me now is that I share something with all of them. I have a fundamental belief in the Constitution and what it is intended to do and be, as a living document, for our society (in the US). They do, too. The difference between us? When I swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, I did so with an open mind and heart, grounded in the belief that even in our human experiences together, we can find ways through our differences.
We are learning more and more about those who participated and now know that many of them had sworn an oath to the Constitution, too. They believed it was somehow being ignored and that they needed to fight for it. Incited by a so-called leader, and fed lies to support their intentions, it is easy to say they “lost their minds”. In fact, when we narrow the walls of our beliefs and therefore our choices and actions, we lose sight of the bigger picture. We choose to not learn that the world is bigger than the smallness of that to which we have chosen to expose ourselves; our minds, our hearts, our thoughts. We fear what we do not know, or choose to not look at or otherwise explore that lies beyond the walls of our individual fortresses of mind.
For those who participated and who had themselves sworn an oath to the Constitution, that oath seems to have been conflated with a blind, unspoken oath to an individual, who had no interest in them; only what they would do at his behest, which would ultimately and only benefit him.. There is much written and observable about the individual, his mental health, his choices, habits, his past experience with business and not governing. I will not repeat any of that here. I seek to only offer a different way of viewing what is occurring in our country right now. This is my view through the lens of my experience.
Giving up ourselves, our hearts – ignoring our very souls – leaves us vulnerable to the voices of those who seek to only make things better for themselves. Betrayals are the outcome of such a giving up or abandoning of self. Our experiences of betrayal – however painful – are truly betrayals of self. We have ignored the still small voice of love deep within which seeks to guide us in this life; and instead listen exclusively to the voice of fear that seeks to offer a small and narrow path toward the expression of grievances. Listening to that constant drumming inside, coupled with the voices of others who echo our grievances only emboldens us further. And then we have the experience of betrayal.
Our comfort zones both protect and harm us.
A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there.*
~ ~ ~
Where do we go from here?
The remembrance ceremony the day before the inauguration was a moment of acknowledgement…of lives lost, of the pain of the seeming intentional ignorance of what had been needed to bring us back from the edges of more loss of life, sadness and ongoing suffering. It was a moment of remembering where we were before the pandemic ravaged our nation and just how dark and dismal the future looked for a while. Tears fell for grief, honoring and remembering and….for hope.
The inauguration was, for me, a day of quiet celebration – the inauguration of a new President and Vice-President – filled with some lovely and disturbing images. And these are the times we are in. Holding my breath through a lot of the ceremony, I was finally able to breathe, as the day went on and there were more images of honoring those lost to war, looking forward, acknowledging the people of this nation, those we’ve lost and steps into a different way of approaching the challenges before us. A wise, experienced and deeply compassionate, empathetic leader brings something we haven’t experienced in a while.
It is quite clear that the road ahead will be a lot like traveling a mountain road on the way to the view at the top. There will be curves, bumps, sudden rock or landslides, and yet we must keep our focus on the road ahead…the hill we climb.**
May hearts be opened to our shared humanity.
May minds be opened to consider that which has been previously rejected.
May a deep sense of shared humanity and the love we each have within us be resurrected to lead us into a future that is more peaceful.
May we work together, side by side, diligent in our intention to prepare the ground for those who will follow us – our children and our grandchildren.
May we all be blessed and know in our hearts the Source of the miracles contained in these blessings.
* This quote is attributed to many different people – authors and other speakers alike.
** A nod to Amanda Gorman’s beautifully written and articulated poem. You can see and hear her read it here, if you haven’t yet enjoyed this beautiful writing.
Have you ever read something that just won’t let you go? It happens to me frequently. Passages in a book which resonate or stay with me are written in a book journal that I keep. Not every book that I read has passages that I wish to commit to memory – or to my book journal – but those that do are written in a book that I return to from time to time, to remember and reflect. It’s a great way to carry in your heart the essence of a book long after you’ve read it and put it on a shelf or passed it along to someone else. Writing these passages in a journal is a meditation itself.
I have several books, that I’ve collected over the years, which offer daily readings. I keep them and move from one to the other throughout the course of a year. I feel I receive wonderful reminders, ideas for contemplation, appreciation for things I had forgotten, etc. And by moving from one book to another, I have an opportunity to hear from different voices – authors who have devoted significant time in their lives to creating the passages, sharing the wisdom and awareness in these books.
The passage below is from a book that I discovered a few months ago. The December 21 entry is one that I feel drawn to and have read twice a day nearly every day since. I feel that it captures so much of what I am feeling now, and have been for quite a long period of time. I had not found words to describe the way I felt and what I knew – the challenge of finding a middle place to be with all of the sorrow, suffering and devastation that so many are experiencing.
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
– Percy Bysse Shelley
I am an incorrigible optimist. I’m aware of the threats that surround us, but I haven’t lost my faith. I haven’t lost my hope. And I haven’t lost my confidence that people working together harmoniously can bring about a change for the better in the world that our children will grown up in.
It’s not for governments to improve our lives. It is for each individual to ask himself or herself, “Should I continue to make things which destroy life, or can I lend my expertise and my experience to benefit life, to help life?”
We get discouraged because we don’t see life as it is. We feel we can’t make a difference because we don’t see things as they really are. When we see life as it is, when we see people as they are, all sorrow will fall away, all suffering will come to an end. This is the great message of all religions. When we see life as it is, all sorrow falls away.
From – Words to Live By: Daily Inspiration for Spiritual Living, by Eknath Easwaran: December 21, p. 380.
I find so much here.
I care deeply about so much and I find the times we have been in for the last many years, and in particular the one we are in now, to be painfully difficult when I consider all who have been or are hurting. I am often drawn to the news to see if things have happened to support those who need it most. And I know that I must step away from it. I cannot unsee things I’ve seen and I cannot forget much of what I’ve read, as it relates to the pandemic, the multitudes of losses of life, income, homes, access to necessities in a country that supposedly is so wealthy.
As I focus on the second paragraph of the above writing, I feel as if there are many answers there for each and everyone of us. Will all, who have the power and resources to help large numbers of people, find this question and take it to heart? Not likely. However, all of us who read this, might consider asking it of ourselves and then asking the question of four or five people that we know, and then asking them to do the same. I wonder what could happen if we all asked ourselves:
“Should I continue to make things which destroy life, or can I lend my expertise and my experience to benefit life, to help life?”
I already know there are many who will shrug this off as being useless as they are not involved in anything that destroys life. I would argue that each and everyone of us participates in an aspect of this when we do not care for ourselves, or we utter a judgmental word or phrase to ourselves or antlers about yet another human. There are many things we do that contribute to destroying life rather than benefiting or helping life.
Yes…it’s one of those questions. One that has a different answer each and every time we ask it of ourselves.
Let’s keep asking it anyway. The changes we make as a result of asking are so very important. And if we are serious about “…bringing about change for the better in the world that our children will grow up in,” how can we not attempt to ask ourselves this question, again and again and again?
We must live the question.
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. ― Rainer Maria Rilke
As we approach the Winter Solstice, I feel it is a good time for reflection. Typically we, who write in these spaces, often tend to write on or before or shortly after the new calendar year. In looking back, I’ve written here in at least one of each of these.
This year feels different. In fact, I feel that writing just before the Solstice, and beginning to review and reflect on the last year – no, for me, the last several years – is the proper time.
It is said everywhere, in conversations with mask-covered faces, or screens across the many miles and time zones, or splashed across the news and social media, that 2020 is unlike any we’ve seen. And when something else unusual happens, we say, “Well, it’s 2020.” I have said it myself, even as I know that deep inside my version of what 2020 seems to have become for so many, is a period much longer than one year…and actually resulted in preparing me well for this one.
As we move toward the Winter Solstice and the beginning of the natural new year, reflecting on what we have seen, felt, learned; where we have offered a hand or resources to the many who find themselves suddenly lacking various necessities – whether food, shelter or someone to listen to them – feels even more compelling and important than ever before.
The last several years in my country have been extremely challenging. I’ve only recently begun to appreciate the heightened level of my anxiety and my hyped up nervous system for what it was. It’s as if I now see, in retrospect, how my body was responding to the various conditions here. Feeling as deeply as I do, I was unsure at times just how much of what I was feeling was mine and how much of it was from the collective anxiety that so many are beginning to admit now, to having felt. Although we are not fully beyond threatening and possible challenges, I do feel we are moving toward healing. There may still be a few more bumps in the road…and we are still on the road toward something different. For that I am deeply grateful.
I’ve wondered, at times, at the amount of anxiety and stress that I have carried in my body. Some of it, I could chalk up to having spent my career in public service. Many of those years I worked “close to the flame” as a trusted leader once said. The closer to the flame, the sooner you burn out. That, indeed was true for me. One particular administration was extremely challenging to work in and led me to plan an early retirement at age 50. As I watch former colleagues and friends begin to leave their service now, I understand.
Leaving when I did created an opportunity to become more aware of my extreme sensitivity, and just how thick the armor was that I wore in my 30s, 40s and early 50s. Another type of freedom awaits, we we begin to peel one level of armor off at a time. Embracing feeling…rediscovering the safety of vulnerability… and finding our courage.
The pandemic has created so many opportunities for us to have a long, deep look at ourselves and just how we react or respond to our environment and the changes therein. How many have taken the opportunity this has – and still is – offered is unknown. I have watched as many have resisted, and done everything possible to keep their lives in the mode of their individually created normal, while others have softened into the change, following the suggestions made by epidemiological experts to adhere to new, different and seemingly unusual guidance. Why do any of this? Because we are being asked to care for and consider safety for ourselves and of others as well. The collective of humanity…ALL of us…is counting on the other.
It comes as no surprise then, that our country is in a pretty sad place. All of our seemingly well hidden secrets have been laid bare. Mind you, these secrets were not secret to those who have suffered for years and years and years while many more climbed the wealth ladder, stepping on the fingers of so may who kept trying, against all odds, to make it up one or two rungs, in order to create a different life for themselves or their families. And here we are…
Many still resist what we are seeing. Seeing the reality rather than participating in the myth is an opportunity to make necessary change. How many really see the opportunities before us, and how many are continuing to resist?
It is clearer than ever that we cannot teach anything that others are unwilling yet, to see and learn. In fact, when we finally come face to face with our own suffering, rather than continuing to outrun it, we fall to our knees, or we reach out, or we scream in pain hoping that someone will hear us.
This morning, as I do most mornings, I read a daily meditation, written by Fr. Richard Rohr. This morning the title of his daily writing, “Letting Go is Liberation”, feels timely. For the many who are afraid of letting go of the reality they’ve created, deeply fearful that something might be lost, this title offers a different way to consider what letting go is really all about. He is such an amazing writer and I appreciate the majority of what he writes. As I continue to heal much of what I was exposed to in the religion of my early life, I experience most of his writing as transcendent of dogma and more universal, and welcoming and healing.
In this piece, he offers six kinds of liberation. You can find today’s meditation here. You can also sign up to receive them each day on the same page. It’s worth a few moments of your time to read and reflect on where you find yourself. There is always more to realize (real eyes).
As we move closer to the Solstice, I feel it is also important to consider the deep and long shadows that we have an opportunity to take a look at. I recently offered a short post on the shadow here. Shadow work is so important. I also saw the quote in my inbox this morning:
“The keys to freedom are in your shadow.”
– Danielle LaPorte
Finally, the upcoming Solstice is unique. The Great Conjunction, as it is called, also occurs on that day. As the planets, Saturn and Jupiter enter the constellation of Aquarius (Air sign), and in so doing offer an opportunity for a beautiful spectacle in the sky, maybe…just maybe, we will all begin to liberate ourselves from so much of what we continue to drag around, and open our hearts to look deeply into our shadows – or continue to do so – and breathe, deeply.
Blessings to all for whatever holiday you honor and celebrate. May the new year bring us all more love, peace and expressions of compassion to other sentient beings.
we stopped our complaining, sharing stories that appeal to our wounded selves, our emotional triggers;
we paused instead and asked ourselves what is happening within us;
we realized that an old experience or series of experiences were deeply hurtful, damaging, humiliating, painful and still hurting, and that we are acting out by participating in the sharing of grievances;
we chose to honor and acknowledge the experience from the perspective of our adult selves – embracing the wounded child, teen or young adult who suffered the hurtful, damaging, humiliating, painful experience(s);
we told our inner child that he/she is no longer alone in that pain and is deeply loved, accepted and held by our adult selves?
another part of our hearts, previously walled off for protection, opens to others who’ve suffered similar hurts, and are still holding onto wounds;
we have energy to put toward a more caring and compassionate life experience for ourselves – and others;
we no longer find it necessary to participate in, spread or otherwise project old wounds; rather we become a place where these negative energies are seen and allowed to pass by;
we find within ourselves the true peace that passes all understanding.
“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one”
“Anger is the punishment we give ourselves for someone else’s mistake.”
– Gautama Buddha
I am going to venture a guess that most of you were likely not shown how to express anger in a healthy way. As you grew up and became more and more involved in the society at large, what did you do? Express it or stuff it? If you are female, you might even have been told that “ladies don’t act like that.” Whatever “that” is. I suppose “that” is defined as acting out one’s anger rather than stuffing it back in the box it wished to explode outwardly from. Even worse, many of us were shamed for being angry in the first place, which serves to add fuel to a flame either burning out of control or being buried deeper and deeper one…more…time.
Anger isn’t pretty; whether we ourselves are angry or we are witnessing someone else’s anger. One of the greatest dangers associated with anger is we often have no idea what the angry person may be capable of – or incapable of, like holding themselves back beyond a point of no return.
I recently wrote about the shadow – our collective shadow which is enabled by our unexplored individual shadow. As I have continued to reflect on the important work of engaging with and beginning the process of healing that shadow, it became clear that anger is an immediate doorway right into the deep places of pain – unexplored, unknown and unhealed. Yes, anger is yet another projection of something that is unknown to us, until it is triggered.
Do you stop and ask yourself what you are so angry about when you’ve been triggered and then become angry?
I know I certainly didn’t for a very long time. I was expert at burying those feelings. Today there are fewer things which make me angry, which is saying something given the goings on in my country for the last many years. And I know enough now, to pause and ask myself this question: “what is being made visible to me in this moment?” I don’t always know or find the answer right away. However, I stay in the question as I continue to reflect. Once I’m clear about what has been triggered, I’m then certain that an apology to another, if I have projected that anger onto them, is essential and a very important part of taking responsibility for my trigger, my healing process. Does this happen in rapid succession? No. Rarely.
This year has a brought us to and through many emotions – anger certainly among them. The shadow is there. We have a bag full of painful experiences that we don’t wish to ever look at or think about again. And it is the one place that holds the key to a freedom we have forgotten we ever knew. It shows us all the time what we haven’t yet stopped to consider as we continue our journeys into healing. Shaming and blaming seem to be far easier than facing ourselves. Some still believe this to be the case and choose accordingly. And like all choices, this one has consequences.
There are qualified professionals all around who can listen and hold space while we explore these dark places within. We will not make our best contribution to the collective healing and transformation of the whole of our planet, our countries or our communities and families, if we are unwilling to take this important step into ourselves.
My prayer, as we enter both dark and auspicious times in the coming weeks and months, is that we will make choices for ourselves that will create the impetus for healing, so that we can add that healing to the whole of the healing of our planet. Each one, heals one.
“Angry people want you to see how powerful they are… loving people want you to see how powerful You are.”
“It’s always standing right behind us, just out of view. In any direct light, we cast a shadow. The shadow is a psychological term for everything we can’t see in ourselves.
Most of us go to great lengths to protect our self-image from anything unflattering or unfamiliar. And so it’s easier to observe another’s shadow before acknowledging one’s own shadow.
Exploring your shadow can lead to greater authenticity, creativity, energy, and personal awakening. This introspective process is essential for reaching mature adulthood (which is rarer than most think).
The shadow is the “dark side” of our personality because it consists chiefly of primitive, negative human emotions and impulses like rage, envy, greed, selfishness, desire, and the striving for power.
All we deny in ourselves—whatever we perceive as inferior, evil, or unacceptable—become part of the shadow.
Anything incompatible with our chosen conscious attitude about ourselves relegates to this dark side.
The personal shadow is the disowned self. This shadow self represents the parts of us we no longer claim to be our own, including inherent positive qualities.
These unexamined or disowned parts of our personality don’t go anywhere. Although we deny them in our attempt to cast them out, we don’t get rid of them.
So what happens to all the parts of ourselves we sweep out of view?
Whatever qualities we deny in ourselves, we see in others.
In psychology, this is called projection. We project onto others anything we bury within us.
If, for example, you get irritated when someone is rude to you, it’s a good bet you haven’t owned your own rudeness.”
As challenging as it is to watch what is happening in the US, I’m reminded of a few things. One, what we see here, we’ve seen in other countries, and it’s visible in some surprising ways now. Two, and what is apparent to me, is that we are coming to a reckoning with the sleeping giant, the underbelly, which has been awakened and enlivened here. The shadow of our country has been buried for long enough. To quote Leonard Cohen,
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
I know I am not alone in wondering to myself and often aloud to trusted friends, “What can I do?”
I feel there is an unspoken imperative to move as swiftly as possible toward healing all of the country’s wounds. These painful wounds have occurred for many generations, and it will take many to heal them. We have to begin. Beginning is an imperative. If we are to survive, in this country and on this planet, we must begin.
Until and unless we face our own shadows, those disowned parts of ourselves which hold our buried shame, painful experiences, and traumas, we will have little or nothing to add to the collective healing. We will otherwise add what is hidden…and unconscious.
It’s easy to share posts and memes on social media which talk about healing, or the need to do it. It’s hard to actually do the work.
The cracks in the foundations of our democracy have been there from the beginning…and so that light has continued to shine – to some degree. Still, we have so much more that must be tended to…and it begins with each one of us.
The above mentioned website can be a start. There are several authors whose work is mentioned or cited in the writings there.
“There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection.” – Carl Jung
It is startling that we desperately hold on to what makes us miserable. Our own woundedness becomes a source of perverse pleasure and fixes our identity. We do not want to be cured, for that would mean moving into the unknown. Often it seems we are destructively addicted to the negative. What we call the negative is usually the surface form of contradiction. If we maintain our misery at the surface level, we hold off the initially threatening but ultimately redemptive and healing transfiguration that comes through engaging our inner contradiction. We need to revalue what we consider to be negative.
John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
This passage in John O’Donohue’s book provided an opportunity for me to pause. In that moment, as I considered the latest news about what is happening here in the US, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of us can see where we are.
It’s as if we are sitting in the midst of a battle royale for the very soul of what this country was founded on nearly 244 years ago. The dark underbelly which has perpetuated division and all manner of negativity for aeons has been exposed in fairly stark terms against the powerful backdrop of a deadly pandemic. Yet, there are some who are not sure what they see, or are afraid of what it may mean to really see it for what it is.
There are so many questions that we must ask ourselves, as if we haven’t already been on a roller coaster of internal query already.
Simply speaking or sharing light and love is very important; and sometimes I cannot dig deeply enough to find anymore to offer. In those times, I must be still. In resting in stillness, I create an opportunity to tap that deep well within which more energy is present for the waning light within me when I feel it is beginning to dim.
When we are afraid, we hold on to what is familiar. Yet, letting go of what is familiar is where our true emancipation lies. I believe that O’Donohue calls us to examine the inner contradiction by looking at our negativity. Even as I type this, I know that my negativity – however subtle I think it is – always pulls me down and into a place that isn’t comfortable.
Like many, I do my best to maintain a positive outlook, attitude and perspective. And as a human, this can be difficult at times. And I know as I continue to examine my thoughts, beliefs and feelings, I will revalue what I consider to be negative. Therein lies a treasure, if I linger long enough to see it emerge.
Rilke used to say that difficulty is one of the greatest friends of the soul. Our lives would be immeasurably enriched if we could but bring the same hospitality in meeting the negative as we bring to the joyful and pleasurable. In avoiding the negative, we encourage it to recur. We need a new way of understanding and integrating the negative. The negative is one of the closest friends of your destiny. It contains essential energies that you need and that you cannot find elsewhere. This is where art can be so illuminating. Art is full of intimations of the negative in ways that allow you to participate imaginatively in their possibility. The experience of art can help you build a creative friendship with the negative.
The dance with negativity is part of the important work of remembering who we are. This work is both supported and challenged by where we are. The times we are in seem ripe for a deep exploration, integration and reclamation of those essential energies.
I send my best wishes to all, as we all continue to navigate the bumpy roads and white water of our human experience.
No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
– Nelson Mandela
The quote above is from Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela.
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The country I live in, like many others across the world, is seeing it’s ugly underbelly of fear, hate, and violence in full view, as it seeks to be seen and while seeming to take center stage. Anyone who lives here or watches from afar, has seen it becoming more visible. It has always been there, and many of us (me included) had or have been so busy minding our lives – working all of the time, raising children, tending to families, etc. – that we may not have been as aware of the deep pain of ongoing and systemic racism, income inequality, and all manner of rule making and policy development that codifies and grounds the practices which both underlie and underline the existence of all of these.
If the pandemic has done anything, aside from the devastating loss of life and income with the concomitant grief of so many losses, it has provided the opportunity for us to slow down and look; to observe what is endemic to our way of life. The loss of life at the hands of those who have “sworn to protect and defend” has been occurring for far too long, and is now seen in ways it never was before. The advent of technology – put so easily into our hands – has changed everything. What had been hidden is visible. Along with that visibility has been an uncovering of the laws which protect those with the power, when their use of force is inappropriate or too much. It’s reminiscent of the laws that award power largely to the white male establishment (patriarchal power) at the expense of humans of color, women and children of all races, and those who live on the very margins of our “democratic” societies.
How is all of this related to hate?
Let’s first recognize that hate has its roots in fear. Hate is a derivation of fear; an expression of the same. Then, as we reflect on what we have seen, heard, and read some clarity emerges. Fear of the loss of power is playing out in full view today. Fear of the loss of power and control; fear of the exposure of what is and has been hidden, are just some of the examples so visible. Could this be the outer reflection of what is within us?
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Several years ago, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of policemen in my community at an annual dinner sponsored and provided by a local foundation. Many of us from the community participated in serving meals to officers – “serving those who serve”. A few members of the community were invited ahead of time to make some remarks.
My Dad had served as a police officer until he died in another community in another state. So, participating as a volunteer member on two community teams as a part of their implementation of community-based policing, at the time, felt like an opportunity to give back and in so doing, to honor my Dad’s service to his community. Although I no longer have a copy of my remarks, I know that I sought to honor and thank the officers and their families. In addition and regarding safety in particular, I recall this phrase with great clarity, “When fear meets fear, the outcome is never good.”
Today, I know there was so much I simply did not know about the overall structure of laws in this country regarding qualified immunity, among other long standing laws designed to protect officers. I have no regret about my involvement with my local police agency or my sentiments about it or my words of gratitude and encouragement when I spoke. I grew up in a police family – and that comes with many, many thorny issues – and I know the dangers officers face, the cost of that chosen profession, borne by them and their families…and they are all human. And so are the people who die at their hands – human.
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My reverence for life is real and fundamental to my being. And it is often a painful place from which to observe the growing and increasing light being shown on the underbelly of crumbling societal structures.
It is easy to sit on one side or the other of what we are seeing in our collective experience. It would be easier still, to shame, blame or otherwise criticize these conditions and those involved. Yet, to do so is to be lost, caught up in the very fear, hate, and accompanying anguish that all involved are feeling – even if they can’t quite connect to the experiences in the same ways those of us so clearly see as we objectively observe them. Condemning it does nothing to change it – or to begin the healing process at the core of the pain associated with the outcomes of these seemingly intractable societal realities.
What exactly IS possible?
The easy answer is to remember our hearts. Is pain there? Yes. Indeed, the pain that we may no longer feel, because we have chosen to bury it, is still there. It is awaiting our return to see, feel and heal it. Until and unless that happens, we remain locked into our minds with deep festering wounds.
The journey from our overthinking and fear-based mind, to our soft and loving, yet aching heart, is very short, as measures go. However, the journey – the work and our commitment to it – can be longer and fraught with remembering past hurts, questioning (“why me?”), and downright resistance. Who wants to go there anyway?
Well…as we look around, among our family and friends, our communities, cities, states and nations, it is easy to see the vivid and real outcomes of living the resistance to going within to face, embrace and heal all that deeply aches in our hearts…and may even have manifested elsewhere as dis-ease in our bodies. And yet….this is the work of our lives.
It has been said, that in my country, we collectively elected our shadow in the previous general election. The shadow self is that part of us that we have consciously or unconsciously disowned.
“We’re often afraid of looking at our shadow because we want to avoid the shame or embarrassment that comes along with admitting mistakes. We feel that if we take a deep look at ourselves, we’ll be too exposed. But the thing we should actually fear is not looking at it, for our denial of the shadow is exactly what fuels it. One day I looked at something in myself that I had been avoiding because it was too painful. Yet once I did, I had an unexpected surprise. Rather than self-hatred, I was flooded with compassion for myself because I realized the pain necessary to develop that coping mechanism to begin with.”
— Marianne Williamson,
The quote above is from The Shadow Effect, by Deepak Chopra, the late Debbie Ford and Marianne Williamson.
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Generally we are terrified to take that first step to having a deep, long look at ourselves. We tell ourselves that we are too busy, can’t find the time, or cannot do it alone. And…we do NOT have to do it alone. It’s never quite as dark and ugly in there as we thought it was, once we take those steps.*
Our shame about past choices, actions, and spoken words, is so great, we often cannot find a way to forgive ourselves and we therefore are unable to offer forgiveness to others. Ignoring our aching hearts creates ripples that we are not fully aware of. The implications of not doing this work are significant – for our health as individuals and for the health of our families, communities, nations. Indeed the healing of the planet (our natural resources) will not occur in the ways we may intend (the thinking self) until we make that journey into our hearts to heal (the feeling self). Head and heart are important partners, when they work in partnership.
“Feeling is the language of the soul. If you want to know what’s true for you about something, look to how you’re feeling about it.”
– Neale Donald Walsch
The quote above is from, The Complete Conversations With God, by Neale Donald Walsch.
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By virtue of being human, we are born with and from the light of our Creator. When our light dims, we are experiencing separation from that awareness of what and who we are. We all have this light. Some of us have experienced what feels like the dimming of this light, and the ensuing darkness of the emotional clouds which feel like they have completely extinguished this light. And yet, like the sun, it never stops shining. It is always there, shining bright with the love that is who we all really are.
As we continue to observe the situations, conditions and events from which we can no longer avert our eyes and hearts, let us all consider our own darkness. Doing so creates the opportunity for us to take that first step toward acknowledging what aches in our hearts; to embrace with love and acceptance the child, young adult, or adult within who is hurting; and to continue the journey to the heart of our being.
From that place, we can begin to heal ourselves, and all that is hurting in the world outside of ourselves – our families, our communities, our cities, our states, our nations.
Love is always there…waiting for us to return to being that which is our true nature.
*Without the therapists, spiritual directors, and many other healers with whom I have worked, my journey might have been far more difficult. Having traversed the challenging road back to myself, I offer a compassionate listening heart to those who are curious about the journey for themselves. I refer, when necessary, any person to the appropriate experts if their needs are well beyond a what a listening heart and soft inquiry can provide.