The shadow knows

Manifestation

Proverbs 23:7 For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.

“Be careful what you wish for.”

Such a simple concept – you are what you think – but not really evident in common practice in all areas of life in this 21st century, or I would venture to say, the last half (at least) of the 20th century; especially in the United States, especially in business, and especially in politics.

Really unfortunate, cuz it’s killing us. Personally, and as a species, and we’re taking the whole planet with us.

In exalting the individual, we have doomed community, in doing so, we have lost sight of all of those things that used to be more common in human interaction: truth, fairness, goodwill, friendship and equity. We’ve turned love into a Hallmark card, and concern for all beings? Hardly.

We are destroying the earth, the home of all life as we know it, and we are destroying ourselves, all the while thinking we’re doing great. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting more desperate and resentful and everyone is losing a little piece of their soul everyday, but Hey! Look at me on Instagram! See my Facebook? I’m doing great!

So everything’s fine. If you’re not fine, that’s your problem.

Meanwhile, our self-hatred is manifesting in the world. Our thoughts have power. There is a black river of ick and pain running underneath all of our shiny, happy wonderful lives. There are so many humans on the planet now that our dark thoughts have tipped the balance of nature, disrupted cycles of renewal, and brought us to the precipice of annihilation.

We are personally and globally unable to acknowledge our human shadow side; our thoughts fester away in our individual brains, mostly unacknowledged, certainly not exposed to the light for examination even if we know they’re there, but becoming part of the collective unconscious and getting stronger everyday just the same, with each new damaged spirit, each new disregarded soul and pervasive unacknowledged resentment.

Anxiety, depression, substance abuse, gambling, domestic violence, gun violence, child abuse, sexual violence…

Humans are not being treated fairly or properly by other humans and that is where it all begins. The resentment and frustration is palpable these days, running through every discourse, framing every encounter. Love and goodwill have been replaced by resentment, distrust, blame, and a general sense that something’s wrong.

Can’t be me, must be you. You’re wrong. I’m right. I’m getting mine. Screw you.

Fingers pointing everywhere, running from responsibility. Not me! It’s the Mexicans. It’s the Muslims. It used to be the Irish, the Germans, the French; anyone other than me. It’s women. It’s men. Too religious. Not religious enough. It’s not my fault. Look at me, I’m fabulous! Check me on Twitter! Find me on YouTube! 10,000 followers on Facebook – I must be doing it right!

I was impressed by Felicity Huffman’s apology for her part in the college admissions fiasco. She took responsibility for her actions. Her humility and remorse will save her from a withering heart over time, and beyond that, I hope it helps young people who look up to celebrities to know that everyone makes mistakes, and that sooner or later lying catches up with you. She is helping the whole community by standing tall in the face of her mistake.

Life is hard. It’s hard for everyone in some way. It’s hard to be a person of integrity, in our culture, in the world, but it’s the only path to survival. We have to start being honest with ourselves and with each other about who we are personally and collectively. Stop pretending, start getting real.

I read a lovely post this week on a wonderful blog – The Hummingbird’s Journal – about redwood trees and how their roots are actually quite shallow; surprising for such enormous trees. In order to survive and to remain standing, they intertwine their roots, so they are quite literally holding each other up.

Reading that almost made me cry. That’s exactly what we have to do, if we are going to survive. Get down to the roots. Get back to community. Civility, integrity, concern for others, and for ourselves.

Acknowledge the shadow. Step into the darkness, find what’s there and bring it into the light to be healed. Acknowledge your thoughts about yourself and understand that’s what you are offering the world – to your neighbors and your kids, to everyone you love – not just the happy smiley persona you think they see.

Your thoughts – your unwillingness to forgive yourself and others –  manifests in the world whether you intend it or not. Your unkindness to yourself is felt by others and absorbed, especially if you have children. The guilt you feel is cast onto others as blame. That knot in your stomach is felt by all of us, all the time.

Help yourself and in doing so help us all be stronger, taller. Just like the trees. We’re all in this together.

If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete. – Jack Kornfield

The law won

I love you

I was astonished to hear about the college admissions scam, in the way I’m always slightly surprised when I remember that some people who seemingly have everything are willing to risk it all to have more. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

I’ve thought about it a lot in the past 2 days since the story broke, and what I really can’t wrap my head around is why the parents, especially the celebrities, didn’t think they’d get caught? Why would you risk going to prison for something that could have been accomplished in other ways? Spend money on a tutor to help your kid bring his grades up, for example. Spend your money on a better prep school. Instill in your child the idea that school is important and that you have to study to get into a good college. Teach them that money can’t buy everything and that some things are worth working hard for.

What it all really comes down to is privileged people thinking they’re entitled to something the rest of us aren’t. Not a new concept in the US, certainly, especially considering the person who currently holds the highest office in our government, but as Americans, that’s just not the way we’re supposed to do things. We’re all equal, right?

Right?

Ask your black neighbor if they’re surprised by this turn of events. Ask a poor child or any person of color, in fact, if they’re surprised by the assumptions of wealthy white people that they matter more then the rest of us.

I doubt it.

I’m not surprised by the attitude – I’ve encountered it personally many times living in a resort community most of my life – but as I said above, I am surprised at the level of risk involved for what seems to me to be a small reward. One day you’re a fairly wealthy actress/celebrity living the dream life, and the next the FBI is at your door. Prison awaits you, and you know that, but you risk it all and go ahead and break the law to get your kid into a particular college?

Wait a minute…what?

Exactly. You had it made and you blew it. Accept that your kid was too lazy, or not a good enough student to get the grades to get in. Accept that you’re like everybody else. Accept that life happens to you in the same way it happens to every other human being on the planet – there are consequences to your actions, and not everything is going to go your way. Life will humble you sooner or later. There will be a reckoning.

I guess maybe you don’t understand that if life has, indeed, gone mostly your way cuz your parents or you paid your way through the hard stuff. But just because karma hasn’t caught up with you yet, doesn’t mean it’s not going to. Sooner or later it’s going to have its way with you and you’ll find out that it’s true for everybody. Karma is an equal opportunity experience. It doesn’t discriminate. It is though, I believe, especially tough on people who don’t quit while they’re ahead.

I have compassion for all involved, cuz they’re going to pay a big price for their cluelessness, and their kids are going to pay an even larger price in some ways. The humiliation is epic. This is an opportunity for self-examination and growth, though, so if they recognize that they will ultimately benefit, but it’s going to be tough sledding until they get to that point. It’ll be painful and that’s too bad, because it really didn’t have to happen, but I suppose most crime is that way.

But I also have to say that it gives me hope to know that laws still matter in this country, even for the wealthy and celebrated, and that karma works. It does my heart good to know that there is order in the universe, after all. Not always, but sometimes, and for me right now, that’s enough. Cuz for 2 years I’ve been watching someone in power run roughshod over our democracy and our laws and it’s made me quite sad and feeling hopeless about the future of this country.

But this week, our laws worked, and someone who thought they were above the law was proven wrong. That makes me happy and hopeful that we might just survive as Americans and as humans going forward.

This week the law confirmed that we are all equal in this country still, and that is as it should be. Thank goodness.

 

Simple, not easy

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“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~Buddha

So Valentine’s Day was last week, and everyone’s feeling warm and fuzzy about romantic couple love, but I think just as important and maybe even more important, in that I don’t think you can really make a relationship work without it – is the love you show yourself.

It took me a long time to get this. Growing up, my mother and other important adults were critical of me so I got the message that I was unworthy of love, and that message stuck in my head for a long time. I got other messages, including those on TV and in magazines, and from other people throughout my life that reinforced the original message, so I had an idea about myself that I felt had been proven over and over again.

There is something wrong with me.

50 years later I look back and I see that nope, nothing wrong with me at all. Never was. I was different from other people, certainly, but only in the way that we are all different from each other in our particular ways of being in the world. Just being myself, walking my path, trying to figure life out just like everyone else. No more or less deserving of love and compassion than anyone else.

It’s a shame it took so long for me to get that, but I have now, and for that I’m grateful. I push myself to do things that mean something to me, including spending time with people who are important to me, but all the goals and ideas I had about what my life would be like – should be like – have been replaced by only one:

Appreciate and experience as fully as possible every single moment of my life, and offer the best of what I have within me to myself and others.

That’s it. Simple, but not easy, I assure you. It’s a process, and while I’m getting a little better at it over time, I’ll never be “finished.” Two things have helped a lot:

  • I’ve developed a mindfulness practice, including meditation, in the last few years that helps keep me grounded and appreciative of what’s here now.
  • I check in with myself and how I’m feeling – what my body is telling me – before agreeing to do anything outside of work or caring for my mother – some things I say “yes” to cuz they’re what I want to do or need to do to stay true to myself, and/or support my mental and physical well-being. Other things I say “no” to for the same reasons, or simply because I don’t have time or energy and I don’t do well when I’m overwhelmed.

Again: simple, but not easy. As a recovering people-pleaser, saying “no” is especially difficult. I think of it as a muscle I’m exercising and making stronger – just as I’m building muscle in the gym 3 times a week. It’s good for my health, and my longevity, and it’s worth it, even though sometimes it’s uncomfortable.

Throughout my life people have taken me for granted, taken advantage of my willingness to do almost anything or become almost anyone in order to be liked, and not really taken much notice of who I really am or what I want. That’s fine, really, as I didn’t always know, either, and that was more about them than it was me, anyway. Those people have exited my life now, most because they chose to, but some because I pushed them out the door and closed it.

I have a couple of really good friends now – folks who truly know me and like me – and I don’t worry about the rest anymore. Life is not a popularity contest. Further, I’ve come to realize that ultimately, the only person I really need in my life is me. I’m the only one who’s been there the whole time. No one knows me as well as I know myself. Therefore, no one can love me as well as I can love myself. All of me – the good, the bad, and the really unattractive – it’s all there for a reason, and it’s all deserving of love and compassion.

I’m still learning – I hope I will be until my last breath – and I’m still struggling. I probably always will be, cuz I’m less than perfect. (Pro tip: we all are.) I’m completely okay with that, though, cuz the alternative is really unpleasant – trying to be “perfect” and being stuck in people-pleasing, self-loathing hell as I was for so many years. In so many ways I feel reborn everyday lately, cuz so many things seem new and fascinating and wonderful to me, including myself.

What a joy it is to be alive and to experience all that this precious life has to offer for as long as we can! Nature impresses me. Art and poetry and music impress me. Laughter impresses me. Sometimes other people, but mostly not so much. We all have something to offer, me included. None better, none worse. All impressive, none impressive. Everybody just getting on as best they can. That’s enough.

It’s going to take all of us, giving our best, impressing ourselves, offering the best that’s within us, uniquely ours, to solve some of the problems we, as a global community, are faced with. It starts with me, and with you, and it’s not at all about who has the best stuff, or the best job, or the slimmest waist, perfect kids, how many things we can do at one time, or whatever. That’s not what’s impressive about any of us.

It’s what’s inside. Look there. See what you find.

Are you impressed?

The time to be slow

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This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes

Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning

John O’Donohue, from To Bless the Space Between Us

This poem by one of my most beloved poets showed up on a favorite blog yesterday. It brought me to tears. Lie low to the wall until the bitter weather passes. 

This last week has been so, so hard. Not just the weather here in northern Michigan, where we have dealt with ridiculously low temperatures and two feet of new snow in the last 7ish days, but in all areas of my life. All the black boxes have been ticked off at some point: disappointment, discouragement, despair, exhaustion, outrage. I’m all in.

Saturday was the final straw for me. I could feel my tender heart breaking in half, and every part of me screamed, “That’s it!”

After a challenging morning with my mother, I went over to my house to shovel the drive. I was anticipating that it would take a while cuz I hadn’t been over there all week and we have gotten a crapload of snow, as mentioned previously.

What I discovered when I got there, however, could not have been anticipated. Someone had plowed up a 6-foot tall, 3-foot deep wall of snow at the end of my driveway all the way across. I was completely flummoxed. So angry I could hardly breathe, and so distressed and confused I couldn’t think. After 15 minutes of sitting in my car in the road freezing, I finally decided to call the police. I don’t know either of my neighbors and was too angry to speak to either of them about this.

A very young policewoman finally showed up about 45 minutes later. By then I had shoveled the part of the driveway I could – from the wall up to the house. She spoke to one of my neighbors and got the name and phone # of her plow guy, and called him. He said he didn’t think it was his fault, but he’d stop by and take a look later and if he thought one of his employees had done it, he’d plow it out, if not, I was on my own. The policewoman told me this and said there was really nothing more she could do. Good luck. See you later.

Whatever.

I write a lot about community and kindness and about staying in the moment and surrendering to things outside of my control. I believe all those things I write about. This week has put it all to the test, and I still believe those things. But, man, it’s been hard.

There were good things, and they are what I’m hanging on to:

  1. I met one of my new neighbors. It was an unfortunate way to meet, but she was very kind and I’m happy to know she’s there now. Her name is Martha. She’s older, perhaps late 60s, or early 70s. She’s a Mennonite. She was very apologetic, even though in no way was this her fault, obviously. I appreciated her kindness and understanding, and it instantly made me feel better.
  2. An older man in a huge black truck stopped on the road while I was shoveling and asked if I was alright. He offered to help, but by that point I had already shoveled what I could, and the police were there. He didn’t have a plow on that big truck, unfortunately, but just the fact that he took a moment to see if he could help – a complete stranger just passing by – mended a piece of my heart.
  3. I recognized I was too upset and angry to speak to people. So instead of marching up to Martha’s door or to the neighbor on the other side and ranting, which is something I most definitely would have done when I was young, I waited until I could think of something better to do. The policewoman was a disappointment, but she tried, and it was better than confronting people I don’t know with a huge chip (wall of snow) on my shoulder. That’s how people get shot, right? So, good all the way around.
  4. I’m able to realize that in the grand scheme of human suffering none of the crap I was hurt by or upset about this week was very important. I’ve been saying to myself over and over this too shall pass. So true. In this morning’s meditation my focus was on letting go. 
  5. Though I was feeling pretty sorry for myself in the 15 minutes in my car before I decided what to do Saturday, it passed and I got up and did what needed to be done, in the words of Garrison Keillor. (Man, I miss that show. PowderMilk Biscuits – I could use one of those right now!) A friend said to me one time, if no one else will feel sorry for you, sometimes you just have to do it for yourself. I did, and then I let it go.

So, that’s not it. I’m not all in. I’m not done. There’s more to me than that. Good to know.

Still, I’m going to lie low to the wall for awhile. Until I find my feet again on fresh pastures of promise. Lick my wounds, and piece my heart back together. Patch it up, as I’ve done so many times before, and will again, I’m sure. That’s just the way life is. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I’m getting stronger and smarter all the time, and that’s a good thing.

Here’s hoping this week is better: where the air will be kind, and blushed with beginning. Monday is a good day to start again.

And again, and again. As many times as necessary.

I, myself

All acts and facts are a production of spiritual power,
the successful ones of power which is strong enough;
the unsuccessful ones of power which is too weak.
Does my behavior in respect of love effect nothing?
That is because there is not enough love in me.
Am I powerless against the untruthfulness and lies
which have their being all around me?
The reason is that I myself am not truthful enough.
Have I to watch dislike and ill-will carrying on their sad game?
That means that I myself have not laid aside small-mindedness and envy.
Is my love of peace misunderstood and scorned?
That means that I am not yet sufficiently peace-loving.  –Albert Schweitzer

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I would love to believe that my life begins and ends within the boundaries of my skin; that I’m connected to nothing and no one, and that I bear no responsibility for anyone other than myself.

But that’s just not the way the world works. For better or worse, we’re all part of the same big world. We’re all connected in so many ways to each other and everything else on this planet.

There are ways of being in the world that do not contribute to its wholeness or well-being. I would like to crawl up into my head and say, “Not me!”

I’m doing it right. It’s the others. It’s them over there. They’re screwing everything up. And they should have to experience the consequences of their misguided, stupid, irresponsible, thoughts and actions. Not me. Not my responsibility. I’m doing it right.

But it is me.

As long as anyone on the planet is hungry, the responsibility is mine. As long as children are abused, the responsibility is mine. As long as other living things are devalued and not respected, the responsibility is mine. As long as the planet is being abused, the responsibility is mine. As long as anyone is homeless, unable to pay the heating bill, unable to get the drugs they need, unable to be educated, supported, loved, cherished, the fault is mine.

Because I am you. And her. And them. And us.

All of us. We. This world, and all the two-legged, skinned, finned, furred, feathered and green things in it. Whatever is lacking is whatever is missing in me. And I’m the one who has to fill those holes.

It begins with me. And until I really understand that, I’m not doing it right, after all.

Between the pages

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I came across this site a long time ago, and it made me think about some of the odd things I’ve found in books over the years.

I’m a voracious reader, and I make good use of our (really fabulous) local library. I borrow books, I request books from other libraries, and I buy books at the annual book sale. I buy books at Goodwill and other second-hand shops, and at garage sales, too.

I have nothing against new books, but I can rarely justify paying for them when they are available for free or almost free. More than the cost, though, I value recycling and I also really like the idea of enjoying a book someone else has already read and had in their hands; it makes me feel connected to other book lovers in a distant, but oddly intimate way.

I love to find comments in the margins, and lots of times there is stuff stuck in the book. Usually I find innocuous or obvious things like the library receipt, a credit receipt from the second-hand store, or a bookmark.

But sometimes it`s other things, more intriguing things that I`m sure were left in the book accidently. Once I found a picture of a woman sitting on a couch in a living room and laughing. She was older and had dyed black hair, and bright red nail polish. She was wearing a red sweater and black pants.

The odd thing about the picture was that it had been ripped on all four sides to leave only the fragment with the woman in it. There must have been other people in the photo as the woman is looking away from the camera and laughing, obviously at someone to her right, who has been ripped out of the picture.

I looked at the picture for a long time. Our lives are connected now in a very odd way, even though I have no idea who she is, and she probably has no idea what has become of that picture. I want to know what she was laughing at, and what was in the rest of the picture.

She`s a real person, living her life somewhere, and she or someone who knew her had read the book on my nightstand. Or maybe she`s dead now. I would like to know her name. Doesn`t that seem wierd? Just the fact that I wasn`t meant to ever see that picture makes it seem like something stolen, or too personal, somehow.

Once I found a note in a book and when I started to read it I felt like I was eavesdropping or interfering in some way, so I folded it back up and put it back in the book without reading the rest of it. I always put the stuff back right where I found it, and send the book back out into the world for the next person to discover the unexpected contents.

Thinking about the ways in which we are connected never loses it fascination for me. Like people who are traveling on the highway at the same time, or flying on the same airplane, shopping in the same store or sitting in the same movie theater. There is always the chance that they`ll meet and their lives will become intertwined, for better or worse.

Otherwise, we just seem to each be in our separate bubbles. But we aren’t really. That’s just an illusion. The other people are there in the picture, but to each individual, life consists of only our own little fragment. The other pieces are out there, though, just waiting to come together.

Life is with people

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Life is With People is a book I read in college. I’ve never forgotten the title because it’s so true. The book was specifically about Jewish communities throughout history, and how the idea of community is woven so completely into the fabric of Jewish life that it never occurs to them to question the value of it.

I plodded through the book then – it was required reading for a Jewish Studies course I was taking; the course was great, but the book was not – and beyond the simple description I just gave, I don’t remember a thing about it, except that the cover was bright orange. I think of the title often, though.

Here’s the thing: my Aquarian heart knows that life is with people. I was born knowing that. Aquarians are hard-wired for brotherhood, sisterhood, neighborhood; whatever ‘hood you want to name. When in Sunday school they told me that Jesus asked me to love my neighbor as myself, I got it. I did then, and I do now. I embrace the idea of community, completely, wholly, happily.

Exclusion makes me angry. I can sniff it a mile away, and it always turns my stomach. The idea that some people are acceptable, and others are not – for any reason – is simply ridiculous to me. More than ridiculous, it is repulsive. Exclusion requires judgment, intolerance, and fear. People cite all kinds of reasons for exclusion – most often morality – but let’s be clear: it’s about ignorance and fear, and nothing else. There is nothing moral about prejudice. The Bible, supposedly the last word (no pun intended) on morality is pretty clear on this point, too: Judge not, lest ye be judged.

I don’t find any ambiguity in that statement at all. Same as “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Clear, concise; no room for misunderstanding. Is there?

Is there?

I was a card-carrying, singing-in-the-choir Episcopalian for most of my life. I explored every other religion/belief system/moral tenet out there when I was a young adult. Some resonated with me, others did not. I took what had meaning for me and left the rest. So I had sort of a hybrid personal religion, but I always maintained ties with Christianity in general, and the Episcopal church in particular.

Until 10 years ago, or so. I still love the Episcopal church in general, especially the little one in my tiny town. My parents were married there, I was baptized and confirmed there. I really did sing in the choir. When I got older, and understood the poetry and beauty in the liturgy, I loved it even more. I loved the community spirit of the congregation. I loved coffee hour. I looked forward to Sunday. I was a believer, baby!

I believed in God, though probably I defined that more broadly than even most of my pretty broad-minded-as-Christians-go fellow Episcopalians. And I believed in people – the power of the human spirit. The Episcopal church was the first to appoint an openly gay man as a bishop. Further evidence to me that these were my people. 

Then our beloved priest retired, and we got a new one from out east. He was a bigot, misogynist, and a homophobe. A man of God. Believed in Christ. Believed that people of color, women and LBGT people were less than God’s cherished creatures. He protested the appointment of Bishop Robinson, openly and vehemently. When our bishop came to visit the parish, he embarrassed us by spewing his hate following the Bishop’s speech to the congregation.

Yikes.

So I’m thinking, okay, this is a test of my belief that everyone has a place at the table. God has a sense of humor. He’s testing me.

All are welcome?

Okay, how about this guy?

I failed the test. I didn’t condemn the priest as human being, but I couldn’t deal with him and his hypocrisy every Sunday. The worst part was that I discovered that some of the congregants, many of whom I had known and loved since childhood, shared his beliefs.

It broke my heart. I stopped going.

Years later we got a new priest and I started going again, but it was different. It was tainted. I gave up after a couple of years. I realized finally that I no longer trusted any of it, including God.

Mainly I didn’t trust myself, and that’s what I had the most trouble with. Confronted with people who didn’t believe what I believe, I crumbled. Judge not, lest ye be judged. I couldn’t do it. I’m as much a hypocrite as that priest. I judge him for judging others.

Ack.

I believe there is a place for us all in our community, and yet, when it really comes down to it, there are people I would exclude, maybe. Ideas I would exclude, certainly. Clearly I have more to learn, more work to do. I’m challenged to accept intolerant, judgmental people as readily as I welcome people who think as I do, or I am just as intolerant. That’s the paradox. There’s no way around it.

Life is with people. They only way for us all to survive is to accept and live that. Everyone must be welcome, no matter what. We are each of us unique, and our challenge is to find our common ground and work together to benefit us all. Community.

No small thing.

And yet, everything.