courage and it’s companion – pain

Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

 – Socrates

I watched and listened to and Demi Lovato’s performance on the Grammy Awards the day following the performance. Listening to the lyrics, the simple music accompanying her voice, and feeling the depth of the emotions as she sang, transported me back to a time in my life when I felt the isolation, desperation, and separation that she so courageously expressed in her performance. Her very survival of an overdose and the subsequent bare honesty with which she expresses her feelings in that song, written prior to that event, are worth our compassion and reflection.

I was recently talking with someone about addiction. Although I believe, as Richard Rohr has asserted and discussed in a recent series in his Daily Meditations, all are addicted to something (habits of minds, ways of doing things, substances, a job, etc.*), the conversation was about nicotine. At one point in the conversation it was asserted by the person with whom I was speaking that I couldn’t possibly understand addiction and that reading a certain book might help me better understand it. As I continued to reflect on this conversation, I recalled Ms. Lovato’s poignant performance, and my experience that many people don’t understand depression, either.

It’s easy to look at someone like her and think that perhaps she “has it all” and wonder how could she possibly find herself in such a dark place. I’m quite certain there are many who knew me during the period in my life and might have had similar thoughts, had they known of my condition at the time. Even those closest to me didn’t understand. I was quite adept at being the person I thought I had to be to remain successful in performing my job responsibilities and parenting my children.

I write today to remind everyone that we have no idea what is going on in someone – anyone – else’s life. Even those we may live with or are closest to day-to-day may be struggling within themselves with thoughts, feelings and forces unknown to those of us who are “on the outside”.  Can’t we begin to extend that kind of awareness to everyone we see, pass on the street when we are walking, or observe doing something seemingly unconscious behind the wheel of a vehicle?  A practice of compassion and acceptance can go a very long way in our very divided world. In fact it can, quite literally, change it!

We tend to judge, often harshly, those who are different or behave in ways that we don’t understand or necessarily appreciate. And yet, if we were watching ourselves in those moments of judging others, I wonder how we might feel about the person we are watching.  I feel it is so very important to remember that we are all walking the same ground on this planet at this time.

The complexities of living in this world – different places and societies  – cannot be understated. Addiction and depression have their roots in our attempts to “fit in” to what we have been shown or taught is the “way to be” if we are to survive or get ahead. Living up to what becomes our individual expectations of ourselves can be, and often are, impossible. This, by itself, is a sad commentary on who we are collectively, isn’t it?

The courage to be the beautiful individual that each of us is, is something that some of us seem to have more of than others. And then again…do they really? Or are they trying to make it appear that they do…as I did and so many of us try to do. Often it takes a crisis for us to wake up to our true and authentic selves and begin living fully into who we are, without fear.

May we practice a deeper approach to offering kindness to every single person we encounter in our journey of each day. May we also remember that each of us has impact – with every word, and in our behavior – on the whole of our experience. Choose to be negative, judgmental – that is a contribution. Choose to be positive, kind – that is a contribution.

If you didn’t see Demi Lovato’s performance at the Grammy Awards Sunday evening or online since, see if you can sit quietly and listen deeply and then check in with yourself to see how you feel. You can also see the video embedded in a well written piece on the performance in an article published at The Atlantic.

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.

 – Chief Seattle

*these represent my interpretations of what Fr. Rohr intimated in his series on addictions.

sitting in darkness

 

The world feels very dark to me these days. My concerns are many and my feelings…raw. I look at the trees, slowly changing color, and realize that nature in the northern hemisphere is moving through shorter days and longer nights…more darkness. Enjoying the colors makes the transition easier to walk softly through. However, the conditions in many countries, including mine feel dark, deeply divided and deadly. In times like this we often wish to distract ourselves in any way possible or to simply “check out” to avoid the reality of the feelings these times can evoke.

I believe – even though it is challenging for me, too – that as individuals we have an opportunity to dive in. To dive into the darker aspects of our being…to plumb the depths of our psyche, our experiences. This is where we find the opportunity to heal ourselves so that our lights shine brighter. When I find my self in these dark times, I read, write and spend time just being quiet. Some of what I’ve read today has brought some solace and offered a crack into the lighter parts of my psyche by reminding me of my humanness.

One quote from John Lennon and Yoko Ono really resonated as I watch the great divides in my own country seem to widen. “Don’t hate what you don’t understand.” If only we might all slow down to consider that there is so much that we do not understand, and either do some research on our own or pause and allow processes to unfold without our taking sides or otherwise contributing to the hateful slinging of words swirling around us. Indeed, so many feel they are right and others are wrong. And Wayne Dyer’s words ring in my heart…paraphrased here: When you have a choice between being right or to be kind, choose to be kind. This seems out of reach for us when we are so angry or in despair from our own experiences and all we seem to see around us is more of the same.

Healing the hatred that may be simmering is an inside job. It is ours alone – no one else’s – to do. Until and unless we do our work on ourselves, we will find it extremely challenging to offer love, compassion and peace to those whose words and actions are harsh, disparaging and ugly toward others. This IS the work of our lives.

Some us, by nature feel these feelings perhaps a bit more deeply than others – and neither is right or wrong. We are simply different. Honoring our differences is foundational to being able to offer love, compassion and peace to those with whom we differ on perspectives, feelings and beliefs.

With gratitude to Anne Whitaker at Writing From the Twelfth House, I offer the following poem that she shared in her blog post this afternoon.

The Place Where We Are Right

From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the spring.

The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.

But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.

– Yehuda Amichai

May we use the changing of seasons –  the natural seasons in whatever part of the world we live in or the storms of the political seasons – to create quiet time to reflect. As we contemplate our own dark feelings and experiences as a path or journey to finding our way back to the brighter light within…of love, we will find peace within. We need this for ourselves. Our fellow humans need this. Our planet needs this. NOW.

conscious love or unconscious fear?

One of my favorite quotes – and one which is a guidepost for me – was written by Rumi (with whom I share a birthday, 750 years apart).

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

― Rumi

Most of us might say to ourselves or others, “I don’t have any barriers to love within me!” I’m quite sure I said the same many years ago when I first came upon this quote. However, I am reminded when I hear others making disparaging remarks, e.g., judgments about those who may be different (without knowing anything about them), that fear and hate are deeply unconscious. The words we say and the thoughts we think can seem far louder than any words we speak about our love for someone.

If we are truly honest, we might admit to having spent time and energy at some point judging ourselves harshly and then, no doubt, offering some of those same judgments about others, even if we did not speak them aloud. Do you see what is hidden there? Our self-judgments projected onto others – as unconscious fear.

Being or becoming conscious of love isn’t as easy at it may seem. Children find this easy – as it is their first nature until they are taught otherwise by the experiences of their outer world. Our healing of our second nature or learned habits is essentially what I feel Rumi is speaking of in the quote above. And then, I recently read the quote below by Fr. Richard Rohr and it all came together so beautifully.

The words “conscious love” ring true for me as a definition for our life’s purpose and the goal of all spirituality. When we’re conscious, we will always do the loving thing, the connecting thing, the intimate thing, the communion thing, the aware thing. To do the unloving thing is always to somehow be unconscious at that moment.

-Fr. Richard Rohr

Realizing that we have second nature wounds which comprise the deep well of our fear, anger, judgments and negativity, is an important early step in beginning to remove the barriers to love within us. Doing so is also essential to living an authentic and more peaceful life. And as Fr. Rohr reminds us, it is conscious love which is our life’s purpose. Everything that we are, that we do, that we choose, flows from that place. We are love…because we come from love.

Finally, I am reminded by so much of what I’ve learned on my journey thus far, that the work of uncovering and seeing and feeling deep wounds is not easy. In fact, it takes courage – to start; to stay with it, especially when it becomes harder to do; and to honestly claim that you see and feel lighter as you trudge through yet one more dark night of the soul. Brene Brown has offered so much to us through her extensive research and her stories, as told in all of her books. My favorite is one of her early books, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.  I end this post with a quote from that book, which can serve as an early roadmap to making that all important trip back to our first nature (conscious love) as we heal and release our second nature (unconscious fear).

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough. Authenticity demands Wholehearted living and loving—even when it’s hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it. Mindfully practicing authenticity during our most soul-searching struggles is how we invite grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives.”

– Brene Brown

*This is a photo of a drawing by one of my grandsons more than a few years ago.