Opening the Heart

Follow Your Heart by Asha HawkesworthYou can read all of the books about spirituality, you can take all of the workshops, and you can discuss what you learn with all of your friends for years, but true spiritual understanding will not come until your heart is truly open, and it can communicate with your head. Intellectual understanding is not a bad thing, and it is often the first step on the path. But in order to progress, we must take it further. We must integrate our mental knowledge with our emotional selves. We must know it in our heart.

What does it mean to have an open heart? Most people believe that their hearts are open, when in fact they are barricaded in some way. This doesn’t mean that people aren’t kind or loving. It just means that they are still protecting themselves by shielding their hearts from the things that they believe will hurt them emotionally. Everyone learns to do this; it’s our natural defense mechanism. Our challenge, however, is to un-learn it.

Fear makes us close our heart: fear of rejection, fear of being wrong, fear of failure, fear of ridicule, fear of not being loved or lovable. If we fear that we are not lovable—and most of us do at one time or another—we internalize it and come to believe that it is true: we aren’t lovable. Our heart closes some more, as we try to keep out anything or anyone that we believe will threaten this view of the world or reinforce this belief by rejecting us. In effect, we close our heart to make our world a smaller and “safer” place.

Erecting barriers to others does not make you any safer, but it will isolate you and cut you off from other people. It is certainly possible to have so many barriers in your heart that your own spouse and children don’t have a way in. This is not unusual, but it does have painful consequences for everyone involved. When we close our heart, we fool ourselves into thinking that we’re keeping all of the painful emotions away, but they are still there. And worse still, if we maintain this lock on our heart, love can’t find a way in.

Love is the only healer that there is. It is the only thing that exists. It is our connection with Source, with each other, it is literally who we are. When we put roadblocks in the way of it, we inhibit our connection with God and with who we really are. To heal, we must find the barriers to love and remove them, thereby opening our hearts. Of course, if this were an easy thing to do, we wouldn’t need all of the books, workshops, and friendly discussions with our friends. But we do, because the process of opening our heart can feel very painful at first. Why?

When we begin to open our heart, we must allow ourselves to feel everything, including the painful emotions we’d really prefer to forget. But painful emotions don’t go away because we wish they would. They stick around in our subconscious and in our bodies until we allow ourselves to express them and feel them. So the first step to opening our heart is to reconnect with our emotions.

Once we have reclaimed our emotions, we can work on breaking down the barriers we’ve erected over the years. This is not going to happen all at once. Healing is a process, and it’s important that you be gentle with yourself. Opening the heart isn’t just about loving others; it’s primarily about loving yourself so that you can give that love to others. Paradoxically, when we begin to open our hearts and let love in, it can hurt. Love is intense and powerful, and we’re just not used to it. We have to become comfortable with feeling love, with living love. This, too, is a process.

When we open our heart, we are expanding ourselves. We are removing self-imposed limitations on who we are, how our reality looks, and what love really is. This requires us to stretch far beyond the borders of our comfort zone, which can be pretty scary at first. As with anything, however, practice brings comfort and confidence, and eventually our fears fade into nothing, which is all they really are—nothing.

Opening the heart leaves us feeling vulnerable at first. We worry that someone will “get to us” or hurt us. But as we journey toward our true center, the heart, we find our strength and power, not weakness. What is weakness? Is it knowing and understanding our Oneness, our personal power? Or is it living in fear behind our limitations?

When our heart is open, it can work in harmony with our head. Our mind is not the ruler of our heart, or vice versa. They must work together and balance one another, but this can only happen if our heart is open. When we reach this place, we can communicate from the heart, and we can heal ourselves, our society, and the earth. There are people alive today who still know how to do this, who still know the language of the heart. Often, they are described as “primitive,” or unadvanced, but the truth is that they are our teachers. They know, and they remember.

Opening our heart isn’t something that is idyllic or that “would be nice.” It is imperative. Our future, our survival, our happiness, and our joy depend on it. Let go of your fear and find where your true freedom is.

Letting Go of Violence

Match FlameIf you ask most people what violence is, you will probably hear a definition that includes physical force. Physical abuse, assault, and rape may spring to mind. While all of these things are indeed expressions of violence, there are more subtle expressions as well, including behavior that most of us don’t consider to be violent at all. As we ascend in consciousness, we have to look at these other expressions of violence so that we can recognize them, and therefore heal them.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language includes an interesting definition of violence that can help us to understand what it is: “abusive or unjust exercise of power.” Let’s explore this definition in society first.

People in society can do violence to you by trying to deny your voice. This includes trying to suppress your right to free speech, banning your writing or music, or firing you for being a whistleblower. In other words, officials in power can do violence to us by infringing our rights. This is a familiar enough concept. How might this play out on an everyday, personal level?

Do the people in our lives have power over us? Of course they do. We may give them too much power, as in the case of a child who tries to please a domineering parent. Or we may give them a more appropriate level of power, as in the case of a child who, while still hoping to please the parent, has retained enough of their own power to be comfortable making their own decisions. When we love someone, that person has power over our heart: we want them to love us back, unconditionally. When we respect someone, that person has power over our will: we want their good opinion. Finally, when we fear someone, that person has power over our whole being, because we will do anything to avoid what we fear. The kind of power that we allow others to have over us will determine to what extent we are affected by any violence that they might do to us.

Can we do violence to each other even in loving or respectful relationships? Yes—even unconsciously and unintentionally. The people in our lives have power, and, being human, they may abuse that power from time to time. As in the societal example, the people we love may try to muffle our voice, because we are saying things they don’t want to hear. They may try to change things in us that make them uncomfortable. They may attempt to goad or coerce us into doing things that they want us to do, even if it’s not in our best interests, or it’s something we don’t want for ourselves. These are all forms of violence.

Violence occurs when people try to impose their will—their ego—on another. This can manifest as physical (hitting, restraining), emotional (neglect, conditional love), mental (verbal abuse, lack of support, passive/aggressive behavior), and spiritual (repression and denial of true self, attempting to “mold”). In broader society, any group that tries to impose its will or way of thinking on other people—regardless of any good intentions—is inflicting violence on others. Likewise, any loved one who tries to impose their will or way of thinking onto you—by manipulating, being passive/aggressive, threatening to withhold love—is being violent to you.

So, if violence can be defined as imposing your will on others, won’t we have anarchy? Where do you draw the line? What about laws against theft or murder? Are the laws violent because they impose the lawmakers’ will on thieves and murderers?

There is a fine line between doing violence to others and being true to the higher good. Laws that seek to limit or prevent physical violence aren’t necessarily bad. However, when society tries to limit violence by inflicting more violence, it only breeds more of the same. If you want to limit violence in a society or in a relationship, you behave in a non-violent way. Violence is an illness, and we must have compassion for those who are still mired in it.

So, the way to deal with violence in a non-violent way is to practice unconditional love. Unconditional love comes from the Divine and frees us from fear. Conditional love comes from a place of fear. Violence, therefore, is bred of fear.

How do we arrive at unconditional love for others? We start with ourselves. We cannot truly love others until we love all that is perfect and imperfect in ourselves. We have to stop loving ourselves conditionally and start loving ourselves unconditionally.

When we love ourselves conditionally, we do terrible violence to ourselves. Are you a perfectionist, beating yourself up every day for not being able to adhere to an unrealistic ideal? Do you push yourself continually to do things “you have to do” without giving yourself a break? Do you tell yourself that you’re not good enough, unworthy, or bad? Do you think you’re fat, ugly, and unlovable? Are you unable to forgive yourself for an incident that occurred in the past? These are all forms of violence that we do to ourselves, everyday. If we can’t stop being violent with ourselves, how can we possibly stop being violent with others?

Ah, but how do we begin? How do we shed this legacy of violence in our world? We will; we must; it is time. But let’s not be violent to ourselves in the process. Enter into this process with forgiveness for yourself. You are not going to reach a state of unconditional love overnight, or even in a month or a year. It is a process that may last all of your life. The journey is as important as the destination.

If at all possible, find someone to help you reach your goal of self-love. It may be a trusted friend or mentor, a support group, or a counselor. Whoever you pick must be able to be objective with you. You can solicit feedback from loved ones who make you feel safe and who will be honest with you, but they are probably too close to you to guide you through the process.

As you travel the road to self-love, you will learn new ways to talk to yourself and about yourself. You will gradually be able to let go of old, violent patterns. You will learn to forgive yourself. You will learn that you matter. You have a voice. You are a divine spark who is just as important as any other divine spark. When you reach a place of understanding and love for yourself, you will not give your power away to others indiscriminately. You will be able to love, respect, and be open and vulnerable with others, and yet remain safe, because you know and trust your own heart and mind.

Violence is a two-way street. We do it to ourselves and to others; we allow others to do it to us when we give them too much power. But the buck stops here. We can stop the violence, but we must begin with ourselves. As we heal, others will begin to heal, producing an unstoppable chain reaction. We won’t help others to heal through force, but we will help them to heal when we lead by example.

The Twelve Chakras

Vitruvian Man with 12 ChakrasThousands of years ago, our spiritual guides gave us some tools to help us grow spiritually. These were our grade school textbooks, and we have learned them well. But as we evolve, the new textbooks arrive, building on the first. Spiritual knowledge is not static; it evolves as we do. New information arrives when we are ready to receive it. This is why so much new information is coming in today.

If you know what a chakra is, then you probably know that there are seven of them and that they have a corresponding color, or vibration. This knowledge has been with us for thousands of years. And for thousands of years, it was true. But as we evolve and ascend, the chakra system evolves as well. The ascended, fourth-dimensional human (or partially ascended human) has twelve chakras, and they differ in many ways from the seven chakras of the third dimension.

Changing from seven tones to twelve is a lot like changing music modalities. The vibrations are different. The colors are different. The sound, the harmony, is different. And of course, the whole being is different.

If you are a healer, you will find that some people have activated all twelve of their chakras, while others are still operating within the seven-chakra system. If the twelve chakras have been activated, then the person is at least half way to living in a fourth-dimensional reality. Please note that when working with the twelve chakras, it is imperative that you begin clearing with the uppermost chakra and work downward.

So what are the new chakras and their color correspondences? Let’s start from the top and work our way down.

Twelfth Chakra

Color: Turquoise

The twelfth chakra is three steps above the crown chakra, in the aura. It corresponds with the bottom point of the upper MerKaBa (of Source, or your Higher Self) that meets the human MerKaBa, or light body. This chakra is associated with masculine energy—”Father Sky.” It is our connection to Source.

Eleventh Chakra

Color: Deep indigo

The eleventh chakra is two steps above the crown chakra, in the aura. It corresponds with the upper point of the human MerKaBa. It encompasses all of the lower chakras, so it must remain clear or all of the chakras will have problems. While the twelfth chakra corresponds with the masculine, the eleventh chakra corresponds with feminine energy—the Christ-consciousness of Mary, Kwan Yin, or Mother Earth. Its deep indigo energy radiates outward and encompasses things other than ourselves, so it is associated with compassion and connection with all life, including Mother Earth.

Tenth Chakra

Color: Yellow

The tenth chakra is one step above the crown chakra, in the aura. Its energy radiates infinitely in a linear plane in all four directions: front, back, left, and right. Therefore, it is the chakra that connects us with everything. It also protects the Higher Mind processes.

Ninth Chakra

Color: Magenta

The ninth chakra is the crown chakra. It is the portal to the rest of the body as it will be. It is also the upper root chakra, where creation and manifesting energy live. As such, issues about self-denial, feeling undeserving, and even 4-D sex will show up here.

Half-tone Chakra (8.5)

Color: Amber

There is a half-tone chakra between the eighth and the ninth chakra. This chakra provides a clear connection between the third eye and the crown, and it governs emotional and mental clarity. Problems with any of these areas usually show up here.

Eighth Chakra

Color: Silver

The eighth chakra is the third eye, or inner vision. It is the foundation for the higher chakras and must be kept clean and clear. Its silver ray radiates as a cone, with the point of the cone beginning at the third eye, then spreading outward at the back of the head.

Seventh Chakra

Color: Gold

The seventh chakra is the throat chakra. It is about speaking your truth without judgment or delineation. Its color is gold—Golden Truth. Use this color in healing when people need help understanding that their voice—every voice—matters.

Sixth Chakra

Color: Purple

The sixth chakra is the heart chakra. The ascended heart chakra is concerned with Christ-consciousness, or Universal love. This is unconditional love for everyone and everything. During the transition, many healers may see heart problems because this must be cleared in order to ascend. If it cannot be healed in the physical body, then people will leave it to heal on the other side.

Fifth Chakra

Color: Green

The fifth chakra is the solar plexus. Many formerly third-dimensional heart chakra issues now live here, namely the “lower heart” functions such as connectivity and interpersonal relationships (romantic love and friends and family). This may seem like a demotion for feelings that we all really care about, but it isn’t. When the upper heart, or Christ-consciousness, is open and clear, it includes these wonderful, healthy feelings of connection with those we love, but it also allows us to move far beyond them and to maintain much healthier relationships.

Fourth Chakra

Color: Red

The fourth chakra is the seat of emotions, and it corresponds with the old second chakra, behind the navel. Emotional issues are centered in this chakra.

Third Chakra

Color: Ultraviolet X

The third chakra is where the root chakra is in the old system. It helps us to understand our need to be intimately connected with other people. Problems with connection or intimacy may center in this chakra. I call the color associated with this chakra “Ultraviolet X” because it has no name and cannot be seen by most third-dimensional human eyes. It lies in the ultraviolet frequency.

Second Chakra

Color: Ultraviolet Y

The second chakra is in the soles of both of your feet. It is the grounding chakra. Whereas in 3-D this is more of a simple grounding, in 4-D this chakra helps us to feel Mother Earth and to know that we are her children. It allows us to be intimately associated with her chakra system, so abuses of the Mother can never again occur with this understanding. The color of this chakra also lies in the ultraviolet frequency.

First Chakra

Color: Clear, or transparent

The first chakra is below your feet, in the earth. It corresponds with the bottom point of your MerKaBa, or light body. Use the clear color of this chakra for general healing work, along with another color, “Clear Color Y,” that is not associated with any of these chakras.


My Father’s Inner Child

DadI realize now what a profound impact my relationship with my father has had on my life, but in my youth it was harder to see. I certainly knew that my relationship with my father had broken in some way, but since neither of us knew how to fix it, we just lived with it. And now we are completely alienated, in part because he never healed his own inner child wounds. Instead, he has continued to relive them.

My father was born in 1941, a classic “war baby.” He was an accident, born to two people who were too much alike and who, once the war ended and they were thrust together full-time, couldn’t actually stand one another. My father’s father, Pete, left home when my dad was 8 years old. My dad never saw Pete again until much later in life, when we located him at my instigation. Pete was nine months away from death at that point, and we learned from my father’s newly met half-siblings that Pete had always told them that my father had died. Ouch.

I get why Pete left and never wrote or visited my father. My grandmother’s father must have suffered from narcissistic personality disorder, because she had many of the traits herself. She had a wicked temper, and she struck her children until they were her size and wouldn’t take it from her any more. She was smart and highly manipulative. I think she liked to stir up drama and bad feelings for the sheer fun of it. Mind you, I love this woman. She has her good side. But her bad side was pretty hard to live with, even as grandchildren. We always understood the pecking order:  who was the favorite and who was trash. God help you if you were on her bad side. So I can understand why Pete stayed away, although it’s not an excuse.

My grandmother was unusual for her generation because she worked outside the home. One of my father’s early sitters used to lock him in the closet all day and tell him that if he told anyone about it, that the spiders would get him. He is still terrified of spiders to this day. Eventually, his mother did find out, and he didn’t go back there again.

At some point, though, my dad was on his own. My father is a good cook because he has been doing it since he was probably 8. He started to cook because he was hungry. My grandmother wasn’t home, and even if she was, that woman just didn’t cook. So he experimented. First, he tried the dog food, as cereal. Even with milk, it was awful. He tried his hand at pancakes, made from flour and water. Not terribly tasty. Over time, though, he figured out how to provide for himself. He had to.

My grandmother remarried when my father was probably around 11 or so. This was a good thing. My Papa was a quiet, kind man, and he adopted my father and gave him his name. My father bears it proudly. Papa was the only father he ever really knew. He was very different from Pete, however. Papa must have really loved my grandmother, because he put up with a lot. His method of dealing was to remain silent and to avoid stirring the pot. Everyone walked on eggshells around the sleeping dragon that was my grandmother’s temper, and Papa was no exception. He was a wonderful man in many ways, but he tolerated her abuse toward him and the children rather than speak out about it.

All of those early years of living on military bases during the war must have been formative, because my father was always interested in the military. So it wasn’t surprising that he went into the Navy after graduating high school. I believe that the military gave him the sense of family, discipline, and cohesiveness that he had never gotten at home. After a tour with the Navy, he tried his hand at being a musician, one of his biggest passions. But musicians don’t make a great living, so he enlisted in the Army, hoping to start a family soon.

My parents met when my dad was passing through Alabama for training. For my father, it was love at first sight. My mother was a good-looking woman, and she has a certain charm to her. After knowing each other for precisely six weeks, they married, and my mother left her job to travel to New Mexico as a new bride. When I asked my mother if she loved him when she married him, she replied, “I don’t know.” I believe her truth is that she has never loved him, but she thought she was heading to a better life with a nice house filled with nice things. She envisioned a man who had the drive to become an officer and do really well. Unfortunately for her, my father had no real ambition, and he always took the easiest route. I think he was just afraid to fail, and his ego couldn’t handle that.

Due to my grandmother’s constant belittling of him, my father had no self-esteem. One way in which people cope with that is to become bombastic and to avoid ever being “wrong” in any way. The mere thought of my father being wrong about anything was enough to send him into a rage. He had his mother’s temper. It would come out of nowhere, and it was always triggered by old inner child patterning. In his fantasy, my father saw himself as supremely competent and intelligent, as someone who knew better than anyone else ever could (he often said if he could just run the country for two weeks, he’d set everything right). My father could not cope with challenges to his authority, either, but that’s just what he got in my mother.

My mother told me that in New Mexico, it became apparent that my father expected her to cook and clean and do everything for him, as though she were June Cleaver. He would run the house and do all the thinking for both of them, and in her view, he treated her little better than a servant. This did not last. As I’ve written elsewhere, my mother is a textbook narcissist, and my father had unwittingly married his mother (as evidenced by the mutual loathing shared by my mother and her mother-in-law). My mother was not going to submit passively. She let him know, in no uncertain terms, that this would not fly, or she would be gone. My mother, when roused to a temper, is a fearsome thing, and my father’s fear of being abandoned overrides everything else. He lost the battle, and he ultimately lost the war.

After five years of marriage, I came along. My father was disappointed that I was not male, but he loved me very much in spite of this shortcoming. In my toddler and preschool years, I was a Daddy’s Girl, no question. He loved to play with me, and he could be a lot of fun when he was in his happy place. My mother, bless her, did not know how to play or be emotionally present at all, so it’s not surprising that I preferred my father’s company to hers. But this aroused my mother’s jealousy, and at some point, she began a campaign to undermine my father in my eyes. It wasn’t conscious, but it played out what I believe is her contempt for men, and my father in particular.

For my father’s part, it became obvious after awhile that I was going to be the only child he would have, so he funneled his desire for a son into me, and just began to treat me like he would a son. We talked about science, and he tried to involve me in his RC airplane hobby (which, I confess, bored me to tears). He really did his best, but I was always aware that I would’ve been so much better if I’d had a penis.

When I was 9, my parents bought a ranch in Texas, as a retirement property. Dad was looking forward to finishing his 20 years in the military, and this was his answer. But he still had some time to go, and buying this property meant that when he was stationed overseas in Germany, my mother and I would remain in Texas, where mom now had a job in order to afford the property. My father left us when I was 10. Aside from two one-month visits, one per year, I did not see him for two years. When he returned, I was 12, skidding into puberty, and not at all the same person that he left. My mother had changed as well, but my father had changed a lot.

When my father returned, I was so excited to see him at the airport. I was waiting for a great big, excited Daddy Hug, like I always used to get. He didn’t give me one. He didn’t seem very excited to see me at all, in fact. Honestly, I felt ignored. I couldn’t understand what had happened. He didn’t seem to care at all that I was there. Some fathers physically abandon their families. But from that time forward, I felt emotionally abandoned by him.

The period following my father’s return was the worst of my childhood. I was 12 going on 13, a truly difficult time in so many ways. But we all had to learn to live together again, and my father was acting as though he wasn’t sure he wanted to be married any more. He started smoking again, in secret, and lying about it. My parents fought daily. My father didn’t seem to like me. I couldn’t do anything right. I had begun to care about coiffed hair and makeup and nail polish, and if I didn’t want to muss my nails, he just got angry about it. Who was this person? I often asked myself. (Looking back, I wonder if the problem was that I was now becoming, unmistakably, a woman, and his deep, dark secret was that he just didn’t like women.)

I don’t know what happened for my father in Germany. Had he met a nice (not mentally ill) woman? Had he had an affair? Had two years of separation given him the space to express himself in ways that he could not within the joyless confines of his marriage? I will never know the answers to these questions. All I know is that I prayed that my parents would divorce, and that I would live with my mother.

In the end, my father’s fear of abandonment and my mother’s fear of being economically deprived (she had grown up in poverty) must have won out. They remained together, physically. But emotionally, the landscape had changed again. My mother had always shown a certain contempt for my father, but now it had grown exponentially. My father reacted to this contempt with periodic bursts of rage, no doubt fueled by frustration (it’s not like my parents talked about their issues). My house was ruled by passive aggression, and my mother ruled the roost. There was no compromise here. We catered to her whims and needs, and when my father flew into a rage, my mother and I entrenched, united against him.

Three is a difficult number, because when you have a threesome, it is easy to fall into “us” against “you.” The “us” may vary, or in the case of my family, it might not. Mom was always the center of the family. If my mother disapproved of me, my father was in lockstep with her, always fearful to upset her. If my father misbehaved, my mother would summon me to her side to disapprove. It was the worst kind of toxic dynamic, and the one who probably suffered the most from it is my father.

My dad feared being abandoned by my mother, as his father had abandoned him, but the truth was that my mother had abandoned him emotionally long, long ago. In fact, she had never really been with him. Because my father had not healed his sense of abandonment, he unwittingly visited it upon me, as well. The rift that opened when I was 12 never really closed.

As I grew into adulthood, my father tried to regain some of our old easygoing intimacy. He’d talk to me about some things. But for me, there was always this uneasy feeling of détente, as though we were carefully and quietly skating around the mammoth sitting in the middle of the room.

For one thing, conversation with him has never been easy. I found that I could not truly express myself, who I was inside, to him. The few times I attempted it, I unleashed his rage. For example, one day at 14, I confided that I had a crush on a certain boy at school. This boy was mixed race. My father exploded, “I ain’t having no black grandchildren!” My respect for him plummeted further as I thought, “You have no say in that.” I never again talked about my romantic interests with him.

Later, in college, I tried to talk to my father about something I’d learned in history class that I found very interesting. But what I was saying began to conflict with his highly conservative beliefs, and once again, he exploded. He ridiculed me, saying that I was “becoming so smart,” which had been a source of pride until that moment. I lost more respect for him as I realized that being educated was fine as long as I always agreed with and validated his worldview. Of course, I can see now that this was an inner child reaction. His inner child heard, “You are wrong,” and he couldn’t deal with that. So he took it out on me.

Many incidents such as these taught me that there were only a few “safe” topics of conversation with my father. We could talk about science fiction books and movies or computers. Airplanes were always a safe bet, too, but that topic had a soporific effect on me. Yawn.

In short, my father and I had nothing to talk about. There was nothing real that we could talk about. If I revealed the inner workings of me, he did not want to hear it (neither did my mother, but it was far worse with my father; my mother, at this time of my life, identified with me and would make more of an effort). If I revealed my true self in any way, it was the wrong thing to do, and I regretted it instantly. As a result, my father did not know me. We were strangers.

I look back, and I wonder where the playful daddy of my early childhood went. In part, I think he was worn down my mother’s joylessness and contempt for him. When he had his post-Germany crisis, he opted to remain in the prison that he built, and he became more and more depressed over time. Both of my parents suffer from long-term, clinical depression, but both came from a background that stigmatized mental issues, so it was never acknowledged.

In my thirties, I began to live my life on my own terms. I left my husband, married a woman, and proceeded to have children. I no longer cared what my parents thought about it. This broke what was left of my relationship with my mother, and I became her enemy. When I gave birth to my daughter, all of her motherly affection was transferred to her, and she actively tried to turn her against me (at age 2), just like she had done with me and my father. To make a long story short, things got so bad that I chose to cut off my parents. It was the only way to save my marriage, my children, and my sanity. My father was collateral damage.

I recognize that my mother and my father are a package deal, so it isn’t possible to cut off one without cutting off the other. And in our toxic dynamic of three, this resulted in my parents teaming up in a united front against me. My father has lost so much of himself that he responds according to my mother’s toxic dynamic.

My father’s worst fear is to be abandoned, and we always manifest our worst fear. I felt emotionally abandoned by him, and now I have physically abandoned him as well. It is sadly ironic.

It does make me sad to know that my father can’t be a part of my life. Sometimes I wonder if he will outlive my mother, and if so, what then? I could reach out to him. How would that go? Or he may predecease my mother, and there is an end to it.

My father is not a bad person. He has many unhealed traits. The rage, the fear of abandonment, the bombastic, in-your-face need to be “right.” But inside is a funny little boy, very creative, smart, and talented, who never learned to value himself just as he is, who has never appreciated his real worth, and who has never really experienced the love and intimacy that he craves. That, for me, is the real tragedy.

Isolated in a Sea of People

Tillamook LighthouseTwo sets of parents lost their children the other day. One of those children shot the other at school, and then turned the gun on himself when the police arrived. As Ahnna Hawkesworth put it:

A child.
Carried a semi-automatic weapon and enough ammunition to kill hundreds of people.
To school.
On the school bus.
In a guitar case.
Within 5 miles of my children’s school.
Why did his family have semi-automatic weaponry in the house? I have that question along with many others, but I have to say I am far more worried about the mental health of our children in this time. The guns would sit there unused if no one thought about them. Why do so many children have the thoughts in their heads that cause these incredible losses? That’s what I really want to know.

This has become so commonplace that it hardly shocks us any more. It has become so commonplace that suicidal teenagers, in their hour of desperation, now consider Death by Mass Killing to be a viable option. A viable option. How on earth did we get here?

Let us leave aside the complex issues of gun regulation and mental health for a moment and look at a deeper illness that is afflicting our society.

Americans have long worshipped at the altar of the Individual. We no longer see ourselves as tribal and mutually supporting, which is how we evolved to be. Instead, we see ourselves as collective Lone Wolves, each competing with the other and looking after good old Number One. Now, “Number One” may include our immediate circle of family members, but it is a small thing, this circle. The majority of humanity lies outside of it. The majority of our communities lies outside of it. The majority of our neighbors lies outside of it. It is hard enough, in this day and age, to care for one’s own small circle, much less anyone else.

But even within our circles, many of us live in emotional isolation. The child feels isolated from his parents, perhaps because they’re just busy or preoccupied, or he knows he cannot meet their expectations, or perhaps the parents are themselves unhealed and self-loathing, and they naturally passed on their frailties to the child. The parents feel isolated in a world of corporate uniformity, where they are expendable and largely undervalued, and they work just to live, barely knowing their competing coworkers. How did my dreams come to this? Where did it all go?

The seniors are isolated in shining apartment towers, where other people are paid to care for them, surrounded by their peers in isolation. It’s hard to make friends when they might die next week. It’s too painful. Where are the children? Where is the laughter? What’s on TV? I wish I could hear it… Their children come to visit now and then, taking time from busy, busy lives, trying to make ends meet, struggling in a race no one can win.

The new graduates look out upon the world and compete for jobs that they are overqualified for. They have been competing since grade school, taught from a young age that they must be better than That Guy or That Girl if they’re going to make it. Maybe they could get pretty good at making coffee. What is out there for them? Where can they belong? Where can I find true friendship and connection?

We are fundamentally lacking connection in our lives. Oh, some people are good at connecting. Many struggle. Some never learned, because they had no one who could teach them. But the overwhelming majority of us suffer from a profound lack of connection. Who are your neighbors? Do you know them? Do you know what they like to do? Is your neighborhood well integrated, with old and young, with people of many colors and faiths? Do you judge them, or do you have compassion for them?

I believe that every person who comes across our path is an opportunity for us to reach beyond ourselves. It may be that a person who comes my way is in need of a guardian angel that day. I can be that angel. We all can.

You can be surrounded by friends and family and still feel isolated. Is the iPhone more important than a conversation? Do you have so much homework or work that there is no time for fun and joy? Are you so tired and overwhelmed that you can barely function, much less reach out to your loved ones? We are not slaves to our circumstances. We can make new choices at any moment. We can take steps to reduce our stress, bring joy back into our lives, and to sit and talk with real people, right now. We can learn to be vulnerable, we can admit to our mistakes, we can hug our children and help them to cope, even when it’s difficult for us to cope.

Competition discourages connection and encourages contempt for others. There is no need for competition. There is enough for everyone. Everyone has something to offer, but it may not look like what people expect or test for or hire for today. That does not make a person’s gifts any less valid. We must begin to help people recognize and cultivate their own gifts, regardless of whether someone thinks it’s “marketable” or not. We must begin to see that every human being has value. There are no “throw-away” people.

People are highly creative beings, but when the creativity is snuffed out, what is left? What should a young man do with himself if he has no options? Men are made to protect and provide and innovate, but what if they can’t do that? What if their beautiful minds are not allowed to pursue their gifts? Because “that class” was cut from the budget, or they couldn’t pass the reading test and therefore couldn’t qualify for extracurricular activities? Or if the corporate cookie-cutter job actually punishes creativity and rewards sameness and safety? What should a young man, who is effectively told to waste his precious brilliance, do with himself? There is no place for me in this world. I do not belong in these boxes. Nihilism is one small step away from boredom. This is why gangs and fundamentalism can be so attractive. It gives despairing youth a place to belong and to feel accepted. But isn’t it better to show them acceptance to begin with? Isn’t it better to begin to live as though we are all connected? (If you doubt that we are, see what happens when a major tragedy hits your town, and the connections will rapidly become clear.)

As always, change begins (ironically) with the individual. But when many of us begin to change, we all begin to change. Reach out to others. That stranger over there is your business. Because we are not a multitude of tribes. We are ONE tribe, the human tribe, and we must begin to accept and love everyone as we want to be accepted and loved ourselves. It is the only way.

I don’t know what pain that poor child was suffering that made him do what he did, but I do know that the answer is always LOVE. Love, and compassion. These are universal spiritual values, and yet, they are so often the least practiced. But that’s what they take:   practice. Start practicing love and compassion. Make it a habit. Meditate. Remove some of the stress from your life so that you can breathe and relax. Learn to live joyfully. As you bring yourself up, you bring others up with you. You never know whom you will touch with your light, or whose life you will save.

Related:  Letting go of violence


Shame and Blue Fingernails

“Prostitutes,” by
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

On my thirteenth birthday, someone gave me blue nail polish. It was bright, it was bold, and I loved it. So naturally I painted my fingernails with it.

When my mother saw my fingernails, she told me to remove it. I had been allowed to wear pink, apricot, and red nail polish for years, so this made no sense to me. Why? I wanted to know.

My mother, who was from Alabama and had a very broad southern accent, said, “It makes you look like a Ho-er. Do you know what a Ho-er is?”

The two-syllable word sounded like someone who hoed for a living, but given her tone, I supposed that was an incorrect guess, so I shook my head.

“It’s someone who sells themselves for sex.”

Ah. She meant a whore. So the blue nail polish made me look, in her eyes, like a common prostitute. The red nail polish did not, but the blue did. Right. Glad we cleared that up.

My mother taught me a wide variety of ways to be ashamed of my physical body. Of boys, she said, “Tell them to keep their peter in their pants.” Of marriage, she said, “Boys like sleeping with girls, but when they want to get married, they’ll look for a virgin.”

But more than words, my mother transferred her feelings and energy on to me. What do I mean? I believe very strongly that people never have to speak a word on a subject, but they will still convey their prejudices, judgments, personal issues, and shame on to their children as a sort of energetic imprint. The transference is unconscious, of course, but we are all psychic beings, and we pick up on it. So, my mother also taught me that the body is dirty, that pleasure is sinful, that self-denial is righteous, and that the male of the species was not to be trusted.

My parents married after knowing each other for a mere six weeks. I do think, in 1965, that my father was pleased to find such a wholesome virgin who seemed so very charming and who was certainly attractive. My father is a sensual man, and he loves the pleasures of this world, particularly food, wine, music, and, yes, physical pleasure. Unfortunately, he married someone with the opposite sensibilities.

I know my mother was powerfully ignorant of her sexuality when they married, because to a large degree, she still is. The Encyclopedia of Sex, A-Z (with pictures), which occupied our family bookshelf mostly collected dust until I started poking through it when no one else was at home. It was greatly informative, but I had the nagging feeling that the lot of it was dirty, and I probably shouldn’t really be reading it at all. Which didn’t stop me.

The same is true of everyone’s first real sexual experience:  masturbation. It was the sort of thing I really wanted to do, but would promptly feel incredibly dirty and ashamed of after the fact. Mom had done her job well.

I was 18 when I first had sex, in college. I think I pretty much had to be out of my parents’ house in order for that to happen. In high school, the fear of getting pregnant and the attendant shame was enough to keep me in line. But in college, I found a degree of freedom, so I began to explore. The only problem with this sexual exploration is that, even then, in the back of my head, it always felt like my mother was watching—and disapproving.

This was borne out when my mother, who didn’t understand the meaning of “privacy,” was rummaging through my underwear drawer and found the condoms. She held one up. “What are you doing with this?” she asked. “Being safe,” I replied.

And then she cried for a week. No, seriously. She cried for a week because I was no longer a virgin.

This pretty much sums up why I’ve never had an honest conversation with my mother since I was probably 7 years old. Nothing good ever came of it.

But where did all this shame come from? In her Southern Baptist mindset, a male God had created men and women, told them to procreate, made it fun to procreate, and then told them not to do it too much or under the wrong conditions (of which there are many), or, if they did, then they were supposed to feel really terrible about it and beg for forgiveness. In this worldview, the body is the enemy. It is to be conquered, held in check, cleansed, made worthy even though it cannot actually ever be worthy.

I didn’t know it then, but I am aware now that there was sexual abuse in my mother’s household. I do not believe it was visited upon her directly, but it was certainly visited on probably at least two sisters, and my mother was aware of this in some way. My mother’s abhorrence for the physical goes beyond mere toxic religion.

The body is sinful, she thinks, and it is inherently dirty. She puts everything up her nose except cocaine, because she believes that there should not be mucus there, ever ever. It’s dirty. Her house is so clean you could eat off the floors. All knickknacks are under glass so they won’t get dust on them. Animals are dirty. She regards them as vermin, and they are not allowed in the house.

And as for sex? Well, let’s just say I feel sorry for my father, and I wonder how I got here.

Of course, she did her duty. And she wanted a child. A single child, because the physical trauma of giving birth to one was overwhelming. She had a rough time. I probably should have come via C-section. Her body was her enemy. I was not breastfed. And she spent years trying to persuade various doctors to remove her female organs. She finally found someone who would. Out, out, damned ovaries!

Poor Mom…

Shame is a human concept. The rest of life on this planet does not have shame for who they are or how they feel. The body is a vessel for the spirit that is to be cared for and enjoyed during its short journey in this realm. To feel shame for one’s body or anything else is to say that God (however you care to define the Divine) simply did not know what it was doing. That the Creation is flawed. The only thing flawed here, often, is the way in which we think of ourselves.

I think that shame arises from areas of cognitive dissonance. While the perpetrator of abuse may convince themselves (and the world) of their moral superiority, all the while knowing that they are actually out of integrity, the victims of abuse convince themselves of their moral inferiority and badness in order to make sense out of what is occurring. And social rules are used to create scapegoats for society’s shame. If a woman became pregnant out of wedlock, then she can bear the brunt of everyone else’s shame, and then individuals won’t have to look quite so hard at themselves and how they are out of integrity. It is so much easier to throw stones at someone else for their sins than to address your own…

Shame is a concept whose time has passed. Its only purpose is to keep people down, to disempower them. And it is particularly terrible when the person doing the disempowering is—you. It is the worst kind of self-abuse.

Our society gives a lot of lip service to the word “Freedom,” and I think few people even really know what it means any more. But if you want to be truly free, then you must release your shame. Love yourself, love your body, love your feelings, love your pleasures, love your passions. Be you, gloriously. And wear blue nail polish.

Lessons in Humility

I have known many people who have poor self-esteem, and it certainly has a negative impact on their life. The worse their self-esteem is, the more negative the impact becomes. This is why learning to love yourself is so very important.

That being said, I have also known a number of people who appear to have the opposite problem:  their self-esteem and their ego are bigger than Alaska. Are they narcissists in the textbook sense, or are they just arrogant and unpleasant to be around? Does it matter?

The interesting thing about the latter group is that, uniformly and paradoxically, they tend to suffer from worse self-esteem than many. It just doesn’t look like they do.

My father made up for an amazing lack of self-esteem by being bombastic, arrogant, loud, and opinionated. He wasn’t able to have what I would call an adult conversation with anyone. Truly. He stood always ready to drive his opinions and points home with a sledgehammer. If you happened to agree with his opinions, you’d probably get on all right. If you disagreed, then God help you. My father stated on more than one occasion—and he truly believed this—that if “people” would simply see his brilliance for what it was and elevate him into a position of authority (President, perhaps), then he would fix everything within the span of two weeks. And he really believed that he could, and that he would. All he required was the authority and power granted to a tyrant.

Growing up with the certainty of “rightness” all around me (my mother really was a textbook narcissist, so they were in lock-step on being superior to everyone else), I was in danger of becoming equally hard to take. My social skills were practically nonexistent. I think my saving grace was that I had a capacity for kindness that both of my parents lacked. But even so, by the time I was 13, I was no fun to be around.

If you are raised in an echo chamber that tells you how wonderful you (and by extension, your family) are, how smart you are, how much smarter you are, and what an idiot everyone else is, well… You start to believe all that nonsense. If your teachers are “idiots” (according to father), then you must have nothing to learn from them. What could they possibly teach you, the Bearer of All Knowledge? Indeed, no one on earth can teach someone who already knows everything. This is a bad place to live.

I was a fairly intelligent kid. I was not the smartest person ever born. I was not the cleverest. I was not the most talented. But my Family Mythology said that I had to be, because my parents were. I had to reflect their Greatness back to them. Failure to do so would reveal cracks in their armor, would allow those nasty feelings of unworthiness to come into their consciousness, and this had to be prevented at all costs.

As my father’s attitude and disrespect for others began to manifest in me at the horrible age of 13, a kind, quiet man stepped in and probably literally saved my life. He was the principal of the very small, rural school that I attended, and he called me into his office one day. He spoke kindly to me. He said that he knew I must be frustrated, since the school’s resources could only provide so much, and I was bored. And he said that my attitude toward some of my teachers had become disrespectful, and that this was not okay, and, worse, it was actually hurtful. That surprised me. It hadn’t occurred to me that my disdain for the teachers was hurtful. I didn’t actually mean to hurt anyone.

And because this man was so kind, so compassionate, and so forthright with me, I began to cry. I started to see that I had behaved very badly. I began to understand that my teachers were doing the best that they could for me, and that I needed to be more respectful, and gracious. And grateful. And I began to change.

I did change, over the years. But I did pay a price for my early arrogance:   I was ostracized by my classmates for a time. They really piled on, and that hurt. If that’s what it looks like to be the “smartest” and best, then I’d have to say it’s not worth it. It’s not worth it to place yourself on a pedestal above other people. Pedestals are very lonely places. Life happens in the crowd.

I have come to understand the most important lessons in life. You have to live with other people, who may not agree with you. You’d better show some respect, or life will be very hard. Other people’s feelings may not trump your own, but they still matter, particularly if you care about them. And I don’t know everything. If I thought I did, I would have stopped learning years ago. And that would have been a terrible tragedy.

I owe a lot to that school principal, wherever he is. A single compassionate conversation can change a life. Coach, wherever you are, this one’s for you. Thank you.

The Holiday Wars

Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto,
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Let’s face it, when this time of year rolls around, some people just want to run and hide. Already, the Christmas carols are playing, and the Christmas trees have been on display since September. If your kid is in public school, it’s been all about Halloween, then Thanksgiving, and then Christmas. Which is awesome if you celebrate those days. And if you don’t, well… it’s pretty annoying.

Yes, Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday that’s been made into a bigger event because of its proximity to Christmas. But at least it’s acknowledged. Unlike, say, Yom Kippur. And of course, pretty much every holiday on the Christian calendar owes its very existence to a pagan precursor. Easter remembers the goddess Eostra and, of course, the ritual sacrifice of the King of the Year, eerily echoed by the crucifixion of Christ. Samhain and Yule were Christianized as well during the process of converting the many European pagans, who did not want to lose their festivals and traditions.

So it’s fair to say that many of our modern holidays are muddy, at best, in terms of their origins. Am I celebrating Christmas or Saturnalia? The answer, for us, is yes. Do we celebrate Hanukkah? The answer, for us, is yes, because one of our family members is Jewish. Do we celebrate Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Litha (midsummer’s eve)? For us, the answer is yes, because we take the view that any day is a day worth celebrating. The pagan understanding of the Divine presence in the natural world and its cycles makes sense to us. Celebrating the life of a master (be it Christ, Buddha, or any other) also makes sense to us. Celebrating Jonathan’s Jewish heritage makes sense to us. There is beauty in all of these. And I have no doubt that if we were introduced to Diwali, Eid al-Adha, or the Chinese New Year, that we would find joy in all of them.

Given our perspective that every holiday is a good holiday, I don’t understand why so many have chosen to be offended by someone else’s holiday. I understand that the nondominant religions are rightfully irritated by the overwhelming presence of the dominant religion (Christianity) in the U.S., and let’s face it, we all know that this push is really about making money in retail sales. Acknowledged! And these holidays are overwhelmingly pushed in public schools, and Wiccan/Jewish/Muslim kids may or may not like to create construction-paper reindeer. Acknowledged! Public schools could do a better job of acknowledging minority religious practices. At all. Ever… But when they do…

There was a stink a few years ago in Texas because some textbooks didn’t discuss Christmas, but they did discuss Diwali, which is the major festival in India. Christians were outraged. I think it’s probably fair to say that most Texas kids don’t need further instruction in Christmas, but most have probably never heard of Diwali, so exposing them to it is a really good idea. I have worked with teams in India, and trust me, in a global economy, this sort of thing is good to know. But of course, the “War on Christmas” folks had a field day with this, and bemoaned the “attack” on their beloved holiday.

So here’s my point:  isn’t this all getting a bit silly? I don’t really care if someone says, “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” “Blessed Yule,” “Happy Kwanzaa,” or even (gasp) “Happy Holidays!” My own holiday preferences don’t need to be validated at every turn. What I do in my house is my business, and if 50,000 Christians salute me with a “Merry Christmas,” then so what? I am not offended by pagan posts in my Facebook newsfeed any more than I am by pro-Jesus posts or even pro-atheist posts. There is no conflict here, unless I create one. Someone else’s beliefs can never negate what I own in my heart, so why should I care?

As it happens, I can scroll by. I have that power.

When I play “The Holly and the Ivy,” I remember the Druids who gave rise to the tradition of Christmas trees, holly, and mistletoe. When I play “The Coventry Carol” or other songs, I think of a lonely couple in the desert, giving birth to their first child. And when I hear Jonathan sing a Hebrew prayer, I think of the thousands of years that prayer has been sung about a miracle of oil.

The Holiday Wars are just another way of creating separation where there is none. We are all One, no matter what we celebrate or revere or think is important. Why would someone else’s joyful celebration be an annoyance to me? Celebrate! Live! Love! Drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. And let’s stop looking for ways to divide what can never be divided. It’s all an illusion…

Happy holidays!

By Asha Hawkesworth

The Perfect Gift

You know that when you say something definitively that the Universe is going to smack you around. So, in my last blog when I said:

No one looks back on their life and thinks fondly of what they received for their 25th Christmas.

The Universe clearly had something to say to me, along the lines of, “We shall see about that!”

There are toxic gifts, and there are toxic gift-givers. We deal with them and move on. But there are also people who give from the heart, without reservation, and they know where we live. And their gifts reflect this understanding.

So, let me state now that on my death bed, I probably will remember my (early) Christmas gift, which I received in my 44th year, literally the day after I wrote the previous blog. It was my equivalent of Ralphie’s Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. It was something I had wanted and missed for at least 20 years.

On the day I received it, my beloved requested my assistance to move an object in a rented U-Haul van that was a “gift for the family.” He wouldn’t say more. I rode with him in the pouring rain to the far side of town, where we found the house of a middle-aged couple who was moving further south. And there, in their packed-up living room, was a lovely spinnet piano. “There’s your piano,” he said.

A piano of my own! I had wanted one my entire adult life. I will never be a world-class pianist, but I love to play. Making music for myself is a calming, meditative thing. I like to challenge myself to play that piece a little better than I did before. I like to be with the melody and just make myself happy. And now, after two decades, I could do it again. I had received a long-lost piece of myself, which I had mourned and missed. It was a gift of pure love and pure understanding, one that said, “I see you.” It doesn’t get any better than that.

The children are naturally drawn to the piano; I hope they want lessons. I’m trying to encourage them in that direction. I can’t play for long without having a cat perched on top of the piano. They love it, too.

The best gifts don’t really have a price tag. How do you put a price on the joy of music? But I know I am loved when I received the perfect gift—the gift that gave me back my music. So, yes, I’ll remember this gift always, but more importantly, I’ll remember the love that inspired it. I couldn’t be more blessed.

By Asha Hawkesworth

When Gift-Giving is Toxic

As we skid headlong into “that time of year,” when giving gifts is more of an obligation than anything else, I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss the toxic aspect of gift-giving, and how it negatively impacts a relationship.

To be clear, I just want to state that there is nothing inherently wrong with giving or receiving gifts. If you are giving from your heart, out of the pure desire to give to another, then God bless you. Please do so. That is what giving gifts should look like:  given from the heart, without any attachment or expectation bound up with it. In a way, that is sort of the function of Santa Claus, and perhaps his appeal, as well. The gifts are freely and miraculously given, and the jolly old elf doesn’t even expect (nor does he get) a thank you in return. According to the legend we have created, Santa does it for the pure joy of giving, and nothing else. No wonder he is so well loved.

But then there are the other kinds of gifts, the kind that aren’t really gifts at all, and some of them are, quite frankly, massive burdens. You know what I’m talking about. They are passive aggression wrapped in bows, hateful commentary provided “because they love you,” or an imposition of someone else’s preferences for you. Or, maybe it’s just a lavish opportunity to “outdo” you with all the money “they” have. Whatever the reason, the end result is that the gift makes you feel bad. And that is toxic.

No matter what dynamic is occurring in the push-me/pull-you of the relationship, it is important to understand that it is probably largely unconscious on the part of the giver (or the receiver, which I’ll get to in a minute). The person who gives hurtful gifts probably didn’t do any plotting with the ultimate goal of hurting you; unconsciously, they are just trying to “win” a power struggle that has been going on between you, and “gifts” are a perfect weapon.

If a person gives you a gift that has an expectation attached, then it is a toxic gift. For example, giving you a gift membership to a gym that you don’t want and have no intention of using is toxic. This “gift” may keep on giving when the expectation that you go to the gym and work out regularly becomes a frequent topic of conversation. The gift-giver feels, because they spent money on you, that they are entitled to badger you about a choice they wish you would make. As a result, you may feel bad about yourself, and you may (rightfully) resent this person’s intrusion into your life and personal decisions. Gifts of this nature may require extreme boundary setting on your part. And if gifts like this regularly come from the same person, it is entirely within your right to start refusing them—kindly, if possible.

Some gifts, like in the previous example, may be calculated to hit you where it hurts. People who have personality disorders, or traits of disorders, often use gifts to try to control other people. In the gym example, the gift-giver may think, “She’s too fat. She needs to exercise more.” This may or may not be true, but if the person believes it to be true, then their “gift” is actually an attempt to make you do what they want you to do.

My mother was a classic toxic gift-giver. One year, she bought me a set of cutlery, but apparently she made the mistake of letting me choose my own style—which she didn’t like. The next year, I received a set of dishes that she had chosen—and which I didn’t like. The greatest Battle of the Gifts was waged with her mother-in-law, however. My mother found many things to dislike in my grandmother’s home, and her method of dealing with it was to give my grandmother something new to replace her old things. For example, cutlery. One year, my mother gave my grandmother a new set to replace “her old, ugly set.” My grandmother was wily and passive-aggressive herself, and that set of cutlery quickly disappeared into a black hole, never to be seen again, but her “old, ugly set” continued to appear at the dinner table. My mother complained bitterly about this on a regular basis and actually had the chutzpah to ask my grandma to give back the set if she wasn’t going to use it.

Of course, gift-giving is a two-way street, and the motives of the gift-giver may be quite pure and innocent—until the receiver gets hold of it. I read a column in Ask Amy once that described a daughter-in-law who dutifully attempted to buy a gift for her mother-in-law each Christmas. One year, the mother-in-law began to give the woman a “do not buy” list, so the daughter-in-law took care to avoid the items on the list. The next Christmas, however, her gift from the previous year appeared on her mother-in-law’s “do not buy” list. This is textbook passive-aggressive behavior, and you can’t win that war.

I had a rough time buying gifts for my mother as an adult. I tried buying her clothing (she loves clothes). But they “didn’t fit right,” “were scratchy,” the “wrong color,” or a bad choice in some other way. There was always something wrong with everything I bought her. I began to ask her what she did want, specifically. One year, she handed me a catalog and pointed out a pair of diamond earrings. Fine! Easy. I ordered them; I wrapped them; she opened them—and promptly found a “flaw” in them. I heard about that “flaw” for months. And then I started giving her gift cards…

No one can control you through their gifts without your consent, of course. If you are the giver, have no—and I mean zero—expectations. Don’t expect gratitude. Don’t expect joy. If you get them, then yay! But if you don’t, know that their inability to be happy or to receive has nothing to do with you. As long as you gave from your heart, then you’re good.

Likewise, work on being a good receiver. Even if you don’t like the gift and would never choose it, a simple and heartfelt “Thank you” will suffice. Even if the gift feels thoughtless or hurtful, give the giver the benefit of the doubt. If the gift feels toxic and you have previous experience of toxic gifts from this person, then you can be gracious and set your boundaries at the same time. If the relationship is valuable to you, it may be time for a heartfelt discussion.

But really, when it comes down to it, the most important gifts in the world are the gifts of Love, Time, and Presence. They don’t need gift-wrap, and they never go out of style. No one looks back on their life and thinks fondly of what they received for their 25th Christmas. But people do look back on their lives and remember the good times spent with loved ones, the times that people shared together, the times that loved ones were engaged and present with them.

I’ll leave you with Fab Wisdom…

I may not have a lot to give
But what I got I’ll give to you
I said, I don’t care too much for money
‘Cause money can’t buy me love

By Asha Hawkesworth