Who Gets to Speak?

600px-Two-people-talking-logoIn this summer of violence, anger is everywhere. The voters are angry, in America and in Europe. The lower classes are angry, because the government(s) and economy is leaving them behind, making it harder and harder to make a living. The citizens of nations at war are angry, because their cities have been reduced to rubble, and life is precarious and difficult. People of color are angry, because a broken taillight might mean a death sentence.

Anger is a natural result of feeling powerless in a world that is out of control. Conservative voices believe that the seeming chaos can be tamed by returning to a world that never really existed. Liberal voices believe that the seeming chaos can be tamed by equality of opportunity, which never really gets defined. The truth, as always, is that no one is control.

It bears repeating that we as human beings only control the following:  our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and reactions to the world around us. That is it. Everything else is out of our control.

In speaking with people, some believe that we have the ultimate control over our destinies. To the extent that you can shape the four things listed above, that is true. But then there is the outer world to contend with. It is the wildcard, the Joker in the pack. It is dealt at random, without malice or love, and we must play the hand we are dealt to the best of our abilities. As a forty-seven-year-old white woman, I would never expect to be killed at a traffic stop. It could happen, but Chance is far more likely to deal me a different chaos card. Whenever I die, it might be due to illness, accident, or a crime. Who knows? But I probably won’t get shot by a rattled police officer.

Everyone is so angry. I believe the reason is because they feel unheard. When I was a kid, I often felt unheard. I would say something like, “I feel this way.” My parents would dismiss my feelings and say, “No, you can’t possibly feel that way.” There were millions of ways in which my feelings were downplayed or dismissed. They didn’t want to hear me. I had no voice. I was powerless to advocate for myself. This made me seethingly angry. It took me several decades to figure this out.

The people are angry because their elected officials have not heard them. Their institutions have not heard them. They can’t even get someone at the cable company to hear them. “Press 1 for your billing information; press 2 for technical support…” And minorities have practically no voice at all. This is a toxic brew.

White people are angry at the Black Lives Matter movement for being disruptive. They are angry that police officers were needlessly slain. Black Lives Matter protesters are angry that white people never seem to hear them. Hispanics, LGBTQ groups, and others have the same anger. By definition, marginalized voices belong to those that the powerful voices ignore.

One can argue that much of our social struggle over the last few American centuries has been one of determining who gets a voice. When our country was founded, the only people granted a voice were white landowners, who were the only group allowed to vote. Eventually, the vote and the voice was extended to all white men. When the slaves were freed and made citizens of the republic, their former masters had no intention of letting them have a voice. The denial of that voice was institutionalized in ways that still reverberate to this day. And Native Americans, forgotten on their reservations, have even less of a voice. Some voices, to this day, are deemed so “dangerous” that they are imprisoned.

If you have a voice in our society, you have power. Sadly, we have not yet reached the level of maturity as a race (the human race) that we gladly share power. Power is hoarded and only doled out in small amounts to those who pose no threat to the powerful. Power is rank, and rank is privilege and self-esteem. Those who have more power than someone else get a psychological lift. Unfortunately, this means that someone else must have less power.

There is enough for everyone: enough food, shelter, clothing. There is also enough power for everyone, though few realize this. Power comes from within, not from validation from external sources. Another’s voice is no threat to mine. But the belief that a different voice is a threat is the greatest threat of all:  it leads to suppression, anger, and the desire to extinguish.

Everyone says that we should have honest dialogue. Everyone says that we should work out our differences. But I still see that some voices matter more than others. Nothing will be resolved if that remains true. Who gets to speak? Whose speech is shut down? Ironically, almost everyone feels like this, regardless of race or creed or orientation. There is a hierarchy of power and voice that trickles down, with the poor on the bottom. This allows the people in the middle the illusion of having a voice, yet they, too, are unheard by those above. So almost everyone is angry and unheard, and the violence continues until, one day, we decide we’ve had enough. Until, one day, we allow everyone to truly have a voice.

Forget Those Abusive New Year’s Resolutions

Joan Crawford in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"

A new year, a new you, right? Time to lose weight, get fit, change your diet, stop yelling at your kids, love your spouse oh so perfectly, and basically be glowingly nice to everyone all the time. The only problem, of course, is that this is not only bullshit, but it’s the worst form of self-abuse.

Implied in all these resolutions is that as of December 31st of any given year, you notice that you suck. You just aren’t good enough. Buck up. Get with the program. You can do better than this! And by the third week of January, when you have failed in 90% of your aspirations, you feel even worse about yourself, because if you weren’t a TOTAL LOSER, you would’ve been able to stick it out and make it happen. This is yet another verse in the song, “I can’t be happy now, but I’ll be happy ONE DAY when I’ve fixed all my problems.”

Inevitably, some of my Facebook friends posted their resolutions. And it’s not that they’re all bad, mind. If you can make healthier choices, then make them! There’s nothing wrong with fitness, healthy food, or a genuine desire to be a good person. The problem is when you decide that you aren’t good enough today, but there’s that BETTER you out there in the future, waiting to be born. This is a myth, of course. You are the best you that you can be, right this very minute. Abusing yourself with the notion that you haven’t really tried in all the years of your life, due to some innate failing on your part, is not healthy.

A group of women at my gym started a new year’s cleanse for three weeks. The idea is to detox after a holiday season full of rich food. I have no problem with this, since I personally don’t want to see either cream or sugary treats for quite a while. Most of the time, I eat whole, unprocessed foods. As I was reading the rules of engagement, one of the big ones was no alcohol. The other was black coffee. Well, I put coconut milk in my coffee, and I’m still going to do that. But no evening cocktail? Seriously? As things progressed, many of these women were opting to eat smoothies for breakfast and salads for dinner. Now, I already eat salad for lunch every day. Not because I feel I should, but because I genuinely enjoy it. And a part of me naturally rebels at the thought of drinking my breakfast. (Unless it’s coffee, of course.) This was no longer sounding like a simple, fun cleanse. What was next, a fast? I could feel my resolve slipping away…

A meme on social media. Author unknown

A meme on social media. Author unknown

I’m officially now at the age (older than the wonderful cat above) that I will do what I please and not worry what the rest of the world thinks about it. And it may be that this kind of wisdom is one you have to earn with years. Many of the people who seem to suffer the most with new year’s resolutions are younger and in their 20s-30s. They’re still not sure if they’re good enough, so they seek validation from the world around them. Women, in particular, struggle with acceptance of their physical presence on the earth. It doesn’t help that so many businesses’ profits depend on us feeling bad about ourselves.

S0, what to do? The big key is acceptance. Accept who you are, right now. Embrace that person. No one ever said you had to be perfect. No one ever was perfect. No one. So what makes you think you will be any different? You are the product of your history, your genes, your society, and your self-regard. That last one is kind of important, because it’s the only one that you control. If you continuously think you suck, it’s going to have a negative effect on your life. You’re going to stress out about how not to suck, which is a moving target that you will never achieve because you will continue to think that you suck, even when you don’t. And if you are certain you suck, no one can tell you otherwise.

So acceptance is step one, and choosing to like yourself as you are is another.

I have known many people who believe that liking themselves, much less loving themselves, is some sort of Herculean task that they will never, ever attain. It’s too hard, they say. Well, believing that certainly makes it so. You’ve given up at the starting gate. Those other horses are definitely going to win…

Self-regard is something that you cultivate, like a garden. You clear the weeds, you plant seeds, and then you mulch, water, and fertilize. It’s a process, not a sudden, overnight change between December 31 and January 1. When I plant my seeds, I believe that my garden will grow. You must also believe in your garden and in your inherent self-worth right now. Tomorrow doesn’t exist. You only have this moment. Use it and forget about fixing what isn’t really broken at all.

Comic relief

If you’re still having a hard time accepting and liking yourself, well… JUST STOP IT. Bob Newhart will show you how. It’s hilarious because it’s true.

A Closed Door to the Past

close door to past

There was nothing left to glean from all this revisiting. No more knowledge, no more insight, no more wisdom to be mined.

Brighthill is proud to bring you a guest blogger, Rashi Starlight.

When I was writing up my notes for a pentacle class a few weeks ago, I was pondering how it would be to get out of balance with each element. It wasn’t until several weeks later that I realized that I was living my life way out of balance with Spirit. I was too much in Spirit, and so obsessed with working out issues that it prevented me from connecting with Deity. More importantly, I was so out of touch with myself that I became mentally isolated from my entire life and found it impossible to find joy in the now.

I became so intent with working out feelings from the past that I started forcing myself for go farther and farther back and basically reliving every wound, every slight (real or imagined) that I ever felt. I constantly thought about past relationships, past tricks, childhood slights, how much I dislike my parents, blah blah blah blah… After I spent days forcing myself to “face” and “deal with” every emotional ache and pain that I had experienced in high school, I finally understood that I was just torturing myself for no real reason. And that I was being outright stupid.

And hence, the title of this post and the picture of a CLOSED DOOR. I was in meditation, in the throes of yet another episode of angst from some forgotten bully who was mean to me 30 years ago, when suddenly I said, “This is nonsense!” So, I forced myself up, took off my clothes, and lay in the tub under the shower praying to see what the point of this all was. And it came to me…there was none. We live in an Oprah, New Age world where every pain, every sorrow needs to be beaten into the ground with hours of talk and years of therapy. I did all this and paid my dues, and it came to me that I was done. None of it mattered.

I could spend endless hours reliving everything in my past (which wasn’t that bad, in the big scheme of things) or I could just say, “ENOUGH!” I had enough of process, of reliving trauma, of trying to make things worse or better than they may have been. There was nothing left to glean from all this revisiting. No more knowledge, no more insight, no more wisdom to be mined. I do not consider myself to be wise, enlightened, a “survivor” or whatever modern terminology applies to dictate what you should be. But I know that I have seen, dealt, and grown. It can all be put into permanent storage now.

So, underneath the soothing water of the showerhead, with my Walmart candles lighting the bathroom, I decided to shut it all off. I visualized a door slamming on all this baggage. Mom, Dad, high school, probation, old shames, and unrequited love no longer mattered. Nostalgia no longer matters. The door on the past is closed. Slammed, with great force.

Having never had one, I don’t believe in “a-ha! moments,” but I can say that this was definitely a shift in perspective. I was ready to enter the world of the living and the world of now. I felt lighter, happier, and motivated to do things for the sake of doing them, just because I wanted to. I finally understand that to overcome life challenges, you have to actually overcome them—not relive them over and over, hoping that some nugget of insight will come down from the sky to instantly make you a light being. I experienced pain and lessons, and I learned about what makes me tick and what makes me go down a rabbit hole of despair. Now I just want to do my thing and live my life again.

I remember some awful pop song from the 70s where some confessional singer kept saying, “These are the good ol’ days.” All of the different phases of my life, before “enlightenment,” were happy. I lived in the now and had fun. Some disastrous results occurred, but what the hell? I had tons of “good ol’ days,” and I was sad because I should be having them again. All the things were aligned:  great dogs, my coven, the workshop that I teach, a cute apartment, boxes of art supplies, and my friends who are really my family. The only thing that was in my way was the past. My quest to know myself got lost in a ghost land of half remembered despair that I felt I needed to heal.

Now I see that the healing comes in acknowledging, learning, and closing the door once and for all. These are the good old days!

Choosing High Vibrational Music

high vibration musicAs you grow and heal, you may find that some of the music you used to listen to doesn’t appeal to you as much. The reason is that you are raising your vibration, and music with a lower vibration is making you feel irritated or uncomfortable. To support your healing, it’s important to seek out music that has a higher vibration. But what does that sound like?

A few years ago, we had the good fortune to see Andre Rieu and his orchestra at the Rose Garden. He is a fine example of a musician who works in a higher vibration because he infuses all that he does with his own joy. Watching him perform, I knew that this man was a total mush. He’s happy, he’s joyful, he likes to have fun, and he probably cries when he watches a sad movie. It’s no wonder he was drawn to Johann Strauss. Honestly, there are few forms of music more joyful than a waltz. It would take a determined grouch not to feel uplifted by hearing one. When Andre played “The Blue Danube,” people got up and danced in the aisles.

Of course, Andre plays more than just waltzes. During the course of the evening, we heard everything from classical pieces to movie themes and popular songs. At one point, he played “America the Beautiful,” and the older gentleman standing next to me wiped tears from his eyes afterward: it brought forth his love of his homeland. A rendering of “Amazing Grace,” complete with bagpipe, also brought tears to many eyes, as it often does. You don’t have to subscribe to any particular religion or spirituality to feel the depth of God’s love for all of us, and how affecting that truly is.

By the end of the evening, balloons had fallen on the audience, and everyone was dancing and playing with the balloons while the orchestra played on. In short, the audience was behaving like children. In the span of two brief hours, music had taken us back to our child selves. We danced and sang along with the abandon of three-year-olds. Now that is music of a higher vibration!

Emotion is the Key

None of this means that you are destined to listen only to classical music or Enya for the rest of your days. Not all classical music has a high vibration, just as not all rock or pop has a low one. The trick is to learn to discern for yourself. The key to a song’s vibration is emotion. Emotion is a very powerful energy. When combined with music, it has a definite effect on your mind, mood, and sense of well-being. Angry or depressive music can fuel these same emotions in you. Likewise, calm or joyful music can produce these feelings in you as well. And of course, there’s a lot of emotion in between, some of which is helpful, and some of which can be harmful.

When listening to any music, you should tune in to how it makes you feel. This doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the lyrics, however. For example, there is nothing wrong with listening to some sad songs. Sad songs say so much, as Elton said. And a few swear words are not necessarily an indicator that you should drop the CD in the trash, either. No, you have to tune into the energy of the music. This takes some practice.

You can really love an artist’s music, but if they have an overly cynical world view or a depressive personality, this energy may be in their music and will affect you negatively. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that an artist has to live like a saint and be perfectly healed. Many artists have personal struggles and still manage to infuse love and joy in their music. Human beings are multi-faceted, and we all experience the range of emotions, positive and negative.

How Does it Make You Feel?

The next time you’re listening to your favorite music, ask yourself how you feel. Do you feel sad? Sad is not a bad feeling. Some of the most beautiful music ever written tells a sad story that can make you weep a river of tears. And this is OK—unless you’re wallowing in sad music because you’re depressed. There should be a balance in all things.

Likewise, however, some music makes you feel happy or joyful. This is my favorite kind. Artists like Neil Diamond, the Beach Boys, and John Denver are masters at expressing joy in their music. And Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” speaks for itself.

Of course, most music falls into a vast “in between” area of complex emotion. Determining how you feel when you hear it may take some time. For example, it’s possible for a song to be uplifting, critical, gritty, and hopeful, all at once. For me, U2 and Bob Dylan fall into this category.

Problematic music will make you feel angry, depressed, or hopeless. These are all indicators of a lower vibration, and you should avoid it. Just as a joyful song can make you feel like a happy three-year-old again, a lower vibrational song will only serve to make you feel worse about yourself and your life. With practice, however, you can soon determine whether an album belongs in your collection or not. Follow your own inner guidance.

I also want to encourage you to check out a lot of the new musicians out there. Many of them are doing good work at a higher vibration, as our crystal and rainbow kids grow up. You may not hear them on the radio, unfortunately. Some artists who are less well known sell through sites such as CDBaby.com. Many may only perform locally as they struggle to get started. Keep your ears—and your heart—open and ask for good music to come into your life. Music can be very healing, and when it is, it’s a blessing in our lives.

Who is Right?

right wrong debate

The Cheshire Cat and Alice

Recent events in our world have caused huge divisions among people, and most of us choose a side. We believe that we have chosen the “right” side, which must mean that the other side is “wrong.” But no one’s right if everybody’s wrong, to quote Buffalo Springfield. By choosing a side, we give energy to negativity—even though our “side” may be saying, “Hey, let’s have world peace, let’s not attack any one, let’s not return violence with violence, let’s help those who are less fortunate.” And it’s okay to believe in that; that can be your truth. Believing in the possibility of world peace is not a problem in itself.

Many people say that they want world peace and harmony, and yet they feed conflict. It isn’t obvious at the time. It’s done unconsciously, and it happens when we mentally choose a side and enter into the energetic push/pull of duality and division, which we do as naturally as waking up in the morning. But by taking a side, we devalue other human beings and pass judgment. We say, “You are wrong, because you are advocating something that I really don’t like.” And when that something is violence, war, or even lack of health care coverage, it can be really hard not to choose sides. However, in choosing sides, we create a division within ourselves and allow anger to fester. We can’t promote peace with anger; it just can’t be done. So now, instead of being peaceful, we become angry and project that anger onto others. In short, we become part of the problem.

Anger and the drive to take sides can be healed, but it takes awareness and resolve. It may also require a break from mass media. We tend to seek out news articles that validate our own opinions, our own sense of “rightness.” And this is easy to do. You can always find someone with a similar opinion. But reading about it or watching TV news obsessively only reinforces our sense of anger, outrage, and the amount of negative energy that we contribute to the situation. This cycle of seeking out validating information can become an addiction:  not to the news, and not to a “cause.” Instead, it’s an addiction to feeling “right.” We can become very angry with people who do not validate this feeling.

So in a world where people need to be right, is anyone right? We really want to believe so. Our egos really want to believe so. But no one is.

Truth, right, and wrong are all subjective. For some people, war is wrong—end of story. But for other people, war is a rational response to violent provocation. For others, war is a reasonable way to ensure economic security. Are all of these points of view wrong?

Yes. And no.

The answer depends on your point of view in this great dream that we are having in which we are all separate. In our dream, we disagree. We go about things differently. We see the world differently. But we’re still all One being, all God. And part of God can’t be wrong. Likewise, a single soul’s perspective does not reflect the entire truth of God, so no one person is right. In spirit, there are no “sides.”

This has implications, of course. No religion is right or wrong. No political belief is right or wrong. No opinions are right or wrong. And there is no such thing as duality, because so-called opposites (such as good and evil) don’t really exist. There is only the Oneness of God.

How do we live this? Intellectual understanding is all well and good, and that is always the first step. But to know something fully and truly live it requires emotional understanding. It means integrating what we’ve learned into our emotional body so that it can become part of our behavioral patterns. This requires practice.

When someone disagrees with you, try to place yourself in their energy and see with their eyes. From their perspective, you can at least understand how they believe that what they are saying is right. Then let it go. You can also remind yourself that no one—no political figure or anyone else—wakes up in the morning and says, “I want to be the baddest, most evil person I can be.” No one does that. They may be deluding themselves, they may be unhealed, they may even be mentally ill, but everyone acts out of their belief that what they are doing is right.

Another challenge is raising our children with the knowledge that no one is right. This involves helping them to be discriminating without being judgmental. A fine line, that. Archangel Metatron suggests that we teach our children to see how subjective right and wrong are. For example, burping at the table is considered rude in America, but it is a compliment to the chef in Japan. It depends on your point of view. The trick with children is to make them see that it’s not about right and wrong, but about choices that are safe and healthy versus choices that are unsafe and unhealthy.

None of this means you or your family can’t have a code of ethics. We can, and we can encourage our children to develop their own sense of them. What it does mean is that we shouldn’t judge others because their values are different from our own. We must respect their right to make their own choices. For example, in your house, you may choose to be kind to animals and people, to eat all of your meals together as a family, and to live joyfully. Others may choose similar—or very different—values.

So why bother with any of this? It’s comforting when others are wrong (thus making you right), and it’s certainly the easiest road. There are, of course, many reasons why you might bother. For one, right and wrong is a method of dividing God, of separating two or more people, or groups. You can’t be One with God if your ego is busy dividing what God is.

Another reason is to have peace. If you’re not constantly warring with others about what is right and wrong, you can let go of anger. When you let go of anger, you can find peace. Imagine what could happen if the Israelis and Palestinians stopped believing that they were right, while the other was wrong. Imagine what the U.S. as a nation could do without party divisions and finger-pointing. Imagine what you could accomplish as an individual if you weren’t expending your energy on right and wrong.

There is a saying, “It takes two to make a knot.” So stop pulling. Drop your end. The other party will end up with a slackened bit of string and be unable to make any knot at all.

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.

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.
Yesterday.
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

 

Lessons in Humility

hs graduationI 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.

When You Wish

Alpha Capricorni

Photo by Mike Peel,
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The universe whispers. It’s whispered to me since before I was born, of the grief that echoed in my mother’s body from the death of a child born a year before me. It whispered that she yearned for me, and so I was born two months early, yanked into a shattered world. At first I thought it was only my world that was broken, but I came to realize that the whole world is shattered, like glass. Some pieces will cut you and become buried so deeply that you have to dig them out. Other pieces fall quietly, reflecting colors and light. Sometimes, when you look at a piece of shattered glass just the right way, in just the right light, a flame rises up that seems caught in it. I saw that flame in his eyes, in one flickering glance.

When the world is shattered into a trillion fractals, it seems impossible that two pieces which fit together would ever find each other, but I remember what day it was:  September 18, 1974, ten days before my fifteenth birthday. I remember because that was the day I put away the last journal of my childhood and started a new one. I wrote, “I saw the most beautiful boy today. I think he’ll kiss me one day.” I wished on a star for him to love me. And he ran away every time he saw me. It was a long time before I believed in stars again.

His name was Jonathan. We were at school together, in Connecticut. A small, private school with few places to hide. I trapped him once or twice. I set my girlfriends scheming. The result was always that I was embarrassed, and he was mortified. But I was entirely transfixed by him. I had an unshakable belief that he would belong to me one day. I confided this to Sally, my dorm roommate.

One Sunday evening, Sally concocted a game. We had all returned from our weekends away laden with care packages of snacks from home. The train had been late, so we missed dinner. As was customary when this happened, we opened our packages and shared them in a pile in the middle of the room. As we rifled through the pile, Sally filled a hat with slips of paper. She instructed us to name which boy we liked. This took awhile because each time a boy was named, we went through the list of his faults as well. “You like Scott? You mean the Scott with no butt?” Or, “You’d kiss Eric? You know what I saw him eating for lunch?!”

By the time it was my turn, I wouldn’t say his name. In fact, I was feeling rather sensitive. It felt like an unkind game. I thought it would be safer just to be quiet, but of course I had confessed too much.

“She loves Jonathan,” Sally announced.

“Which Jonathan?” the cry rang out, all titters and giggles.

“Jonathan Katz!”

“He mooned Erica’s mother when they were coming back to school from a game the other day,” one of the girls announced. “He and the Battista twins. They’re a bunch of hooligans. I don’t know what you see in him! And he’s so short!”

“That’s why his butt reaches the back window so well!” someone else chortled.

I thought, “He’s short?” I’d never noticed. I’d hidden in stairwells, memorizing his laugh. I’d watched him fell teammates playing soccer. I’d fallen off a tree stump gazing at his grin. But I’d never noticed he was short. I was sure he had noticed my shortcomings, though. My uncontrollable hair, my nonexistent bust—oh, and the crutches. That yank into the world had saved my life, but not my ability to walk. But no matter how imperfect I felt I was, I couldn’t reconcile the thought that he could never love me with the whisper in my heart that said he most certainly would.

“Take one!” Sally commanded, pulling me back from my reverie. I looked around at the other girls. Everyone in the circle held a slip of paper except for me. “Come on, Mrs. Katz!”

I took the last slip to a chorus of teasing laughter.

Sally put the hat on her head, Mistress of the Ring. “Whatever that paper says is what he will be to you.”

One girl started laughing immediately. She’d already looked. “He will be your worst nightmare,” she read.

“He will be a good friend,” read another.

“He will be your ex-husband,” read a third.

“I want to know what Mrs. Katz got!” said the girl sitting next to me. She was already bored with the game.

“Yeah, what did Mrs. Katz get?” Everyone looked at me.

Reluctantly, I unfolded the paper in my hand. I felt the blood rise to my face so violently that I was lightheaded. I couldn’t speak.

“What? What?” the girl next to me demanded. She finally took the paper out of my hand and read, “He will be the father of your children.”

“Oooooooooo!” heckled everyone in unison. Someone threw a Jolly Rancher at me. “She gets all the candy!”

“Or all the Katz scratches!”

Everyone broke into uncontrolled laughter while tears burned my eyes. It wasn’t just that they were teasing. It didn’t feel like a game to me. He didn’t feel like a game to me. I felt so trapped in my longing that I could barely breathe. I pulled my crutches to me and got to my feet with as much dignity as I could muster. I left the room, locked myself in a toilet stall, and cried. In the midst of my tears, I pulled a quarter out of my pocket and scraped a heart into the paint. By then, the girls were ready to go to bed and knocked on the door, impatient with me.

When I returned to our room, Sally was not there, but the slip of paper was. It was carefully laid out on my desk, peeking out from under one of my notebooks. She had scrawled “SORRY!” on my note pad.

No one else apologized to me for that night. No one ever asked how I was, or why I was crying over such a silly game. But the next morning, and many mornings thereafter, the heart in the bathroom stall grew. Someone traced a bigger heart over my small one. And someone drew a bigger heart over that. There were probably fourteen of them, rippling out from the one I drew by the time the stall was repainted.

I kept that slip of paper for much longer than I realized. I carried the same backpack even after I left Connecticut and spent my senior year at a school in Atlanta—oddly, the same city where Jonathan, who was a year ahead of me, had ended up at university.

One day, I heard his voice again. I thought I was dreaming, but it was persistent, and it was definitely not the universe whispering. When I turned, I saw him, hanging half out of the passenger’s side window of a car that was stopped at a light. He was shouting my name loudly across three lanes of traffic. Our eyes met, and I felt that flame. It was deep, and it was hot. There wasn’t time to say anything more. The light changed, and he was gone. I sat on a bench outside the sandwich shop where I had just bought my lunch and cried. After a time, my brother appeared beside me.

“Your girlfriends said you were sitting down here crying,” he said. “What was in that sandwich?”

“I just need to go home.” I was 18, but I had not been allowed to learn to drive. My brother, who was two years younger, drove us an hour back and forth to school every day.

“It was Jonny, wasn’t it? Doesn’t he go to school around here? You have to go home because you saw him? Did he even see you? What? Did he finally look at you?” He couldn’t keep himself from laughing.

I nodded. Tears were streaming down my face, and my nose was running. He offered me his shirt tail to wipe my face.

“You’re insane. You know that, right?”

“Yes, I do. Don’t be an asshole and rub it in.”

He got up and indicated the open door to the car, which he’d parked illegally at the curb. “Asshole at your service,” he said. “Let’s go home.”

I stole a campus directory. I tried to call him. I never let the phone ring long enough for anyone to answer. I dragged the phone and the cat into my room and dialed the number fifteen times in three hours. And then I cried. Because I wasn’t brave enough. Because there was no way to get to that place I felt in my heart. It was the end. Stars and slips of paper held no magic after all.

After graduation, I packed my luggage to travel to California. I didn’t plan to return home. I also didn’t plan to take that old backpack, but there were a few things I simply could not leave behind. And there, in a pocket meant for a key, I found the slip of paper, that secret yearning I had hidden there so many years before. I read it once, twice, twenty times, before I could let it go.

I burned it on the patio outside my bedroom. It was a beautiful night. A thousand stars I no longer trusted burned in a sky that was much bigger than I would ever be. The flame released the paper, and the ash flew up, but I could not release the flame inside of me. It became deeply buried, and I grew up around it.

Years later, I heard Jonathan had married and his wife had given birth to twins. I was steely by then. I’d moved on. I’d been in a relationship for many years myself, a relationship I was trying to end by having a passionate affair with a married man. I needed to get away from both men, one of whom loved me and shouldn’t, and the other who had resorted to violence against me. I took money I’d inherited and moved to Oregon without telling either of them. And there I lived, quietly single for twelve years. I tore at the fabric by dating a few times, but it just made me feel more lonely

This time I shouted to the universe before she whispered to me. “So, I just never find love. Is that it? That’s my lot in life?”

If you keep insisting you know what love looks like, you will never see it, came the confusing answer.

And I surrendered everything I thought I knew. I had no idea how powerful this message to the universe was. I fell in love. With a woman. Asha. She became my wife. We began living the life that happens when flame reflects flame. And I forgot about Jonathan for a long time.

Decades of using crutches was wearing on my body. I continued to work, but I started to suffer chronic pain in my arms. I was in a manual wheelchair at first, caring for our infant daughter. It was hard to admit that even the manual chair was too much. I needed a power chair, and we needed a bigger house to accommodate it, along with the second child we planned.

We found a big house, bigger than we ever thought we’d need. It had six bedrooms and an in-law apartment on the lower floor. We fell in love with it and risked everything to buy it. When our son was born, I was 48 years old. I was driving a minivan with two child seats in the back. I was running my own business. I was living the life I’d always dreamed of. I was spinning on an axis of joy. I wanted for nothing. And then the universe started to whisper again.

The social networking algorithms popped Jonathan into my feed as someone I might know. The first time it happened, I said to myself, “Yeah, I know you. I don’t think you want to know me.” I clicked the X that was supposed to make the suggestion go away and not appear again. That worked for awhile, but we had too many friends in common. The algorithm triggered again. And again. One day, I gave in and went to his page. There was that grin, the fire-blue eyes, a little less hair. Okay, a lot less hair, but still my Jonathan. He was in a relationship. For the first time in decades I had to swallow back tears. I turned my computer off and left the office.

There was a torrential rain that day. The windshield wipers couldn’t keep the rain from blurring my vision. And then I realized I was crying. Lyrics to a song on the radio—a song I had never heard before that moment—melted me completely. I was sobbing. It was a deep, body-shaking grief. I had to pull over.

I’m 15 for a moment, caught in between 10 and 20 and I’m just dreaming, Counting the ways to where you are…

A wellspring of grief had opened in my heart. I couldn’t avoid the feeling that Jonathan and I had unfinished business. I decided to write to him. I was prepared to weather his silence, his rejection, his anger. What I wasn’t prepared for was his actual response.

He wrote that the way he’d treated me had always weighed on his conscience. He explained that his older brother had been disabled by a genetic disorder that ran in his family. In high school, he had begun to live his life for his brother. He became the sports star, the achiever, the golden boy his brother could never be. He spoke of love so deep that I felt it in my own heart. When he got to the moment where it fell to him to make the decision to discontinue his brother’s life support following a surgery, I was broken so wide open that all I could do was sob. “I’m sorry,” he wrote. “It was too much for me that you had a disability, too. I couldn’t handle it. I was a coward. Thank you for giving me the chance to say I’m sorry.”

***

“He wants to come for a visit,” I told Asha over drinks one night.

“Ready to stop running, is he?” Of course she knew the story. She’d watched me shift as the truth came out.

“He’s searching,” I said. “He’s lost a job. He’s losing his home. He thinks that’s all he is. I think he needs us.”

“Right,” she smiled. “It’s all about him.” She saw something I didn’t say. It was impossible to hide the “fifteen-for-a-moment” side of me who might finally have him in the same room with me voluntarily. “Are you sure you won’t need help climbing down the trellis outside the bedroom window in the middle of the night?”

There’s nothing quite like being married to your best friend. “No, Honey. On this, I pinky swear. You are stuck with me forever.”

He brought me some things, including a newspaper clipping from the local paper about a play he starred in and I stage-managed—one of the many ways I finagled to be in the same room with him on a regular basis. He was also forced to talk to me if he forgot his lines. It made me blush to remember what a silly little girl I had been.

He chuckled at me. “Wait, wait! That’s not all. I didn’t even know I had this. I found it when I was looking for the picture.”

He handed me a playbill for another play we had worked on together that year. I had handwritten a quote from the play, and addressed it directly to him:

 Dear Jonathan, “…to be remembered if only by someone, for awhile, is a form of immortality, is it not?…”

I signed it, Love, Mindy. My former name. I stopped breathing for a moment. I had certainly written it. I didn’t remember giving it to him.

“Where in the world did you get this?”

“I don’t know. I’m pretty sure one of your girlfriends gave it to me.”

“I can’t believe you kept it all these years.”

There were a lot of awkward silences those two days. I had seen his psychological prison and now he was seeing my physical one. I’d warned him that I was no longer walking on my crutches, but I know the reality was shocking. Sometimes the children interjected themselves into the moments we couldn’t speak. Once, when Jonathan was sitting on a stool in front of our bay window, lost in his own thoughts, our seven-year-old daughter, Wren, perched herself on his lap and occupied herself looking at his hands.

“You’re not wearing a ring. We love you. You could marry us,” she said, full of the childhood innocence of how things can work. We all teared up—Jonathan, Asha, and I. “Why not?” Wren persisted. “Don’t you love my Mom? She loves you.”

“Wren, stop!” Asha and I said together.

“You could be our daddy. We don’t have one.” The memory of that slip of paper came back to taunt me. I wanted to crawl under a rock.

I felt like my past and present with Jonathan was being nailed into the same coffin. “So, this is the way it ends,” I thought. “I am everything he loathes and fears. We won’t even be friends.”

I brought him a glass of wine the last hour we spent together. We were alone in the house, and sunlight was pouring  through the picture window in the living room. My cat had crawled into his lap. His hand shook when he took the wine from me. When I saw that he was crying, I got out of my chair to sit next to him.

“What is it, Jonathan ? Didn’t you get what you came here for?”

“There’s so much love in this house,” he said. “I’ve never been in a home like this. I don’t want to leave, and I don’t know why.”

Tears sprang into my eyes, too. “I don’t know whether to be complimented or insulted.” The truth was, I felt ugly and old, and it still mattered somewhere deep in my heart that I couldn’t be what he wanted.

“It’s not you. It’s just that being here I realize how I haven’t been present in my life. Not for myself. Not for my kids. I keep wondering what you saw in me.”

“I don’t. I wonder less now than I ever did. Now we all love you. You have all of us, if you ever need that.”

“I might,” he said.

The sun shone, the cat purred, and we sat quietly, holding hands, until he had to leave.

There are some connections in life that you can’t break by walking away, and there are some doors, once opened, that can never be closed again. Jonathan returned to a life which had been a safe place to hide but was now a jungle of confusion, and I was left with a feeling of incompleteness in my once-complete world. It took us awhile to admit this to each other, as though if we didn’t say it, it wouldn’t be so. But it was. Nothing was the same.

***

“He’s writing you again, isn’t he?” Asha asked me one night a month later.

“Yes. I didn’t think he would.”

“Not quite as comfortable in his hidey-hole, is he?” She’s pretty unflappable about these things.

“His hidey-hole is a crypt with a street address,” I said. “He uses therapy as an intellectual exercise. He needs people. He needs love. He needs us.” And then, unexpectedly, I began to cry. “It’s like I can’t get comfortable in my own skin anymore.”

“Invite him to come back.”

“I don’t think he would ever come back.”

She laughed at me, “I don’t think he can stay away. Look, ask him or don’t. It’s up to you. The kids love him. We have the apartment downstairs. It’s possible we need him as much as he needs us, you know.”

“I love him.” It was the first time I had ever said it to her. “It’s so ancient in me. I feel like he’s mine, like I can’t just leave him out in the cold anymore.”

“I know,” she said. “I feel it too, because you do. So invite him back.”

I went to my computer to write to him, only to find that he’d written me to ask if he could stay with us for a week in September—the week of my birthday. He wanted to build some ramps so I could get out of the house in my power chair. He could not forget my prison. And I could not forget his.

In late August, there was a storm, a rare tornado that touched down briefly not far from his house. His heart was stormy, too. He’d broken off his relationship. It was the last tether he had besides the phone in his hand.

He texted me, “I’m sitting outside in all this wind. I don’t care if it blows me away. I’m in the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.”

I texted back, “Don’t wait. Just come here now. Stay as long as you want.” And then I said a prayer for the wind to blow him home to me.

To my surprise, the next morning I awoke to an email. He wrote, “I changed my plane reservation. I’m coming in on the 18th. I’d like to stay for six weeks, if that’s okay.”

***

On September 18, 2012, ten days before my fifty-third birthday, Jonathan walked into our house again. It was eleven-thirty at night. Of course I had been waiting for him, staying with the kids while Asha went to the airport to pick him up. A full moon hung low by the window and cast a milky shadow across the floor. I got out of my chair and leaned against the kitchen counter as soon as I heard the car pull in. It isn’t easy for me to stand anymore, but I intended to give him a hug—the kind of face-to-face hug that most people take for granted.

He saw me standing. I felt suddenly shy that I had done it. He knew I stood up for him. I could see it in his eyes, which for once were fixed entirely upon me. He walked slowly and purposefully toward me across the kitchen floor. And he kissed me.

Thirty-eight years to the day that I wrote in my journal, “I think he’ll kiss me one day,” across time and space, improbability and impossibility, the star remembered.

Whatever happens now, he’s home.

“I’ll Try” and Other Forms of Self-Sabotage

overcome self sabotaging behaviorDo. Or do not. There is no try.
~ Yoda

Most people who say they want to heal recognize what their primary issues are. If they came from a toxic background, or if their choices consistently lead to the life they do not want, they have some basic understanding of the negative patterns in their life, but they don’t know what to do in order to change them. They may have read books, gone to seminars and workshops, and spent years in therapy, and yet they are still feeling stuck and unhappy. In fact, the longer a person “tries” to heal, the more they come to believe that they cannot heal, which is completely false. Nevertheless, the belief in their inability to heal and be happy becomes their primary form of self-sabotage.

The easiest way on earth to sabotage yourself and simultaneously rationalize that sabotage is to spend your time stating, “I’ll try.” What do I mean by that?

We are all taught that we should try things, and if we don’t try things, then we will never know if we can succeed at them. This is certainly true. If you don’t try to ride that bicycle, then you will never learn how. You have to sit on it and physically move the pedals. Of course, in doing so, you will wipe out a few times, scrape your knees, and acquire a few bruises. That’s a given. You will fall off that bike in the process. But then you must get back on it and do it again.

The problem with “I’ll try” is when it becomes a built-in excuse for failure. “I know that beating myself up is counterproductive, so I’ll try to stop doing that,” you might think. But by saying, “I’ll try,” you’ve given yourself carte blanche not only to fail, but to console yourself with the knowledge that “I tried.” In other words, “Well, I tried all of that, but it didn’t work.” And you give up and remain stuck in your comfortable, if miserable, status quo.

The primary difference between people who are successful and people who are not is their attitude. Successful people do not say, “I’ll try.” They say, “I’m going to do this thing. I don’t know how to do it today, but I’m going to figure it out.” And then they do. When they fall off their bicycle, they get back on. It took Thomas Edison 10,000 attempts to create the light bulb. For some, that would be 10,000 failures. But Edison didn’t think that way. In an interview before he succeeded, a reported asked him if he felt like a failure. He reportedly said, “Young man, why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.” Shortly thereafter, he succeeded.

People who do not succeed are not less intelligent, less talented, or “born under a bad sign.” People do not succeed because they “try” and then give up too easily. Any worthwhile endeavor, particularly one as important as emotional healing and finding your happiness, deserves your total commitment. If something doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It means you have yet to find the method that will work.

Emotional healing and changing bad habits, such as looking at the world through a negative or self-defeating lens, requires hard work and persistence. You must rewire your brain. Literally. Your nervous system is so accustomed to walking the path of self-abuse and unhappiness that you are going to have to apply yourself if you truly want to change. And you can change.

Successful people are committed people. They have committed themselves to a goal or ideal, and they don’t give up until they have figured it out. Likewise, if you want to succeed in your healing, you must commit to it. You must commit to you. You  must leave behind “I’ll try” and say, “I am going to make myself happy, and I will figure out how.” You do not have to know the path in advance. You don’t even have to know where to begin. But you must first decide, for yourself, that you will commit to yourself and not give yourself the ready excuse for failure that “I’ll try” implies. Commit. Or don’t commit. There is no try.

As you walk, stumble, trip, and wander along the path of healing that you have committed to, give yourself permission to “fail.” In reality, there is no such thing as failure, but you may have to adjust your understanding of that. Some days, you may succeed 10% of the time. You may catch yourself in the act of self-abuse and turn it around, say “no” when you need to, and give yourself permission to do something that makes you happy. The other 90% of the time, you may not make it. This is okay. But with practice and persistence, you may find that the 10% of successes gradually transforms into 20%, then 30%, and so on. As you create new neural pathways in your brain, as you experience the results of these successes, they will build on each other. The path will become easier. Eventually, you will find yourself jogging easily down it. And one day, you’ll stop and look back in awe and think, “Wow. I did it!” And it will be because you were committed.

“I know that beating myself up is counterproductive, so I’m going to stop doing that,” thinks the person who eventually finds their happiness. Where there’s a will—and a commitment—there’s a way. That way will be as individual as you are. No two paths look alike. No one else can find it for you. So stop trying and just start walking.