So much goes in and at some point it’s satisfying to see what can come out. Shared knowledge and competing theories bombard our worldly brains daily. All of it is diluted and agitated as is clothing in a washing machine. Some bleed and forever ruin others. Some become dull with each repetition of the wash cycle. Perhaps the real value goes unnoticed as the tainted water drains away from each load. The spin cycle borders on violent – all supporting the intention of keeping things clean, odor and stain free. What if we’ve been scammed into believing half truths about the meaning of beautiful or even clean? What if there is beauty along with shadow in all of us and but we have never been taught how to see it all clearly and how to appreciate it.
Drawn to the Paradox Playground, it’s appropriate to feel both excitement and dread. Will the lessons there hurt too much? What if the fear slams eyes shut and ears fold into themselves? Will it then be dark and completely silent making it impossible for anything of value to break free of the logjam? Or will stepping away from the limitations of human senses open the way towards the complete truth? Will there be relief from the relentless stream of incongruent thoughts and feelings? Will it be lonely there or the opposite?
There’s only one way to find out. We need to go and find out. We’ll be gentle.
Family can be the place of unconditional love and acceptance. The connections between family members are straightforward. This one is the parent and this one is the child. This one is the sibling and this one is the cousin. In the cleanliness of a tidy genealogy chart everyone knows the importance of their spot on their chart. Without filling their charted position , others below them wouldn’t exist. This alone gives some a sense of purpose. It can give meaning to lives.
Family can also be a place of disastrous devastation since our sense of worth is determined by the treatment we receive from adults as infants. No need to list the many ways children are harmed by family. There is only a need to note that it happens.
Paradox of family. It’s not either or. It is what it is. It is all of being. It is the Primary Paradox Playground since it is the first place where what feels good and what hurts must be held at the same time. Paradox’s Potential arrives here first. There are always a wide range of apparent choices when it comes time to react: shame, compassion, revenge, healing, kindness, rage, resentment, guilt, love, victimhood, and empowerment. These choices aren’t either or. Typically it’s a turbulent and jostling journey in and out of every choice and every role. The pile of chips in the rage pile may overtake the pile of chips in the empowerment pile. But maybe that rage can be redirected onto itself and the entire pile tossed into its own funeral pyre leaving primarily healing, kindness and compassion. We all experience all of it and then, if we are open to learning, we can end up farther down the path and into the light. No one is immune from the struggle of paradox.
Hey! Wait! Let’s not let our visit to the Paradox Playground turn into a carnival-like whack-a-mole blame game. Instead, hold out both of your hands palms up. If we can see and feel that we each hold what appear to be opposing truths within ourselves and that we juggle those constantly, maybe we can have more compassion for ourselves and others. Let’s see…
Almost all of us have a mixed up, paradoxical attitude about change. Sometimes we think that change isn’t possible. How many times have you heard, “That’s just the way I am.”? We might feel stuck doing things the way we have always done them. Then, aren’t we also often hoping for change with each sometimes insatiable desire for new things, new experiences, and new opportunities? We can find ourselves sometimes hoping for change and fearing it at the same time. We want to believe that change is possible because that means that our lives can be better. But, we can also resist change, even change for the better because of comfort with the familiar.
Are your hands still held out with palms up? Put desire for change in one hand and resistance to change in the other and then juggle! You got it!
Even our most preciously held values are toys in the Paradox Playground. I’ll use myself as an example but I’m guessing that if you look honestly and closely enough you’ll be able find plenty examples in your own life. Some years ago, I became disillusioned with a group that taught the importance of treating all people with respect and dignity. My disillusionment stemmed from observing some of the group leaders only being comfortable with people of a certain social status. It became clear to me to that many weren’t walking their talk. Filled with disappointment, I left the group for about a decade. Eventually I returned for short visits but it took several years of wrestling with my disillusionment with some of the privileged people there before I could see the paradox I had created within myself. I was judging them for judging others. I was doing to them exactly what I was upset with them for doing to others. Oh drat! Good old self-righteousness blinded me to my own paradoxical conundrum.
Hands out with palms up please… Put your values in one hand and put your self-righteousness in the other and juggle away. You don’t think you’ve ever done anything like this before? Maybe you haven’t yet found a way to remove the blinders. That’s ok. Someday, hopefully they will drop away.
Shall we poke around the Paradox Playground just a little more? Sure, why not!
How about this time we just deal with you and you? It simplifies things when fewer people are involved, right? Have you ever felt a need to stay calm and be relaxed? It seems that it shouldn’t be so hard to just relax. But, have you also noticed that the harder you try to relax, the more tense you get? Straining to find serenity doesn’t make any sense but that’s often exactly what we do.
Hands out with palms up please. You know what to do by now. Juggle away!
So how do we deal with all these internal and external paradoxes? We don’t need to whack-a-mole or juggle them. Once we see them, we can own them. What if there really is something that comes off in the wash after we have isolated our personally owned paradoxes. We have dirty clothes in one hand and clean clothes in the other. On the surface it seems that when we put the dirty, soiled clothes in the washing machine and end up with clothing that seems presentable, that’s good but the paradox remains. Without acknowledging the paradox we find that the constant need to juggle and agitate things in life is incessantly and uncomfortably nipping at our heels. What if holding the paradox in each hand without juggling and without agitating was an option? What if by doing that we found value in what normally is sloughed off and is usually ignored like the washing machine water?
The gift is the awareness of the many paradoxes that we hold. If we bring awareness and acceptance to these many paradoxes, then calm has a lot better chance of arriving naturally. Holding each truth with honesty frees us to calming experience peace without agitation
This morning I decided that I wanted to start and end my day with a statement of intention. I wanted to take one of my specific goals and incorporate something into my day to increase my awareness and focus on that goal. As do most people, I have several goals. After some reflection I chose the statement, “My gentleness rests on my strength.”
For the past few years I’ve been working diligently on my physical strength. At the same time, I’ve devoted more and more time to developing myself spiritually. I want to put some awareness to integrating those efforts.
As I have enjoyed watching my body transform into that of an athlete, it has become more and more clear that the stronger I feel in one area the more my confidence and strength grows in other areas.
This awareness causes me to reflect on a eureka moment from decades ago. I used to love fire walking. A group would get together monthly to enjoy some singing and other fun bonding activities. The evening would start with the building of a bonfire. Towards the end of the evening there were embers left in the fire pit. These were raked out so they were spread evenly on the ground. Then one by one people would walk or run barefoot through the embers. No, no one ever got burnt. Honestly, there’s no magic to fire walking. It’s just physics. It’s possible to walk on hot embers and it really doesn’t hurt. It’s scary the first time but soon becomes exhilarating. I have very fond memories of running again and again through the coals. We’d end the evening in a circle listening to each other share feelings about the experience. Over and over people said, “If I can walk on fire, I can do anything.” EUREKA! That was one of the special experiences that taught me that I can accomplish difficult things. I can walk on fire. I can be a very physically strong 65 year old. I can feel confident and comfortable working with incarcerated people. I can live through extreme emotional trauma and still really like who I am. I can travel to a distant, unknown culture and create a successful business with the people there. I can create a holistic healing business and help people find their way to wellness. I’ve done those things because I chose to tap into my strength.
Now I know that I can apply my strength to my spiritual goals. I want to more consistently bring and spread love and kindness in my day to day life through gentleness. I want to be able to stay calm and grounded when around people whose values clash with my own. I want to bring comfort to ease human suffering. I want to have compassion for people who suffer. If I can walk on fire, I can do these things.
Starting today I will begin and end every day with these words: MY GENTLENESS RESTS ON MY STRENGTH.
Since this song set the tone for the fire walking event and because they are so meaningful to me, I want to share the lyrics to below.
How could anyone ever tell you
You were anything less than beautiful
How could anyone ever tell you
You were less than whole?
How could anyone fail to notice
That your loving is a miracle
How deeply you’re connected to my soul.
In a recent group conversation focusing on the topic LOVE, it was acknowledged that loving one’s enemy is oftentimes nearly impossible.
Why? The actions of our enemy represent values contrary to our own. Our enemies can be scary. Many people absorb the feelings of others and we want to stay far away from people whose feelings we don’t want to absorb. We don’t like them. We don’t want to be around them. They make us angry, resentful, frustrated and more! We hate them!
But, what do you do if you really do believe in love? What if you believe in compassion or empathy? Should we only express those emotions when it is easy? But, but, but…..
I told the group about a sermon I heard years ago that really impacted me. The minister told us about a time when she was demonstrating against racism at a KKK rally when she saw something that stopped her dead in her tracks. It was a woman who lovingly straightening the folds in the white robe worn by her young child. While she obviously understood the horror of what that white robe represented, for a flash she saw the humanity of that woman. She saw a person worthy of empathy and compassion. And yes, even love. Confusing.
Why would anyone even want to waste any energy even thinking about loving your enemy?
All the reasons for NOT loving one’s enemy are very easy to understand.
Feelings of resentment, anger, and others are completely normal. There is no value to feeling badly about experiencing these emotions. It’s what we do with them that matters.
But at the risk of sounding grandiose or preachy, here are some reasons for wanting to learn to love our enemy.
Does it make you feel happy to distain and loathe others? Does hate encourage healing or the change that we really hope for? Does carrying hate make you proud of yourself? This is NOT to challenge your good values. Instead, these questions are to help you examine the value of old ways. You really will feel happier if you can live a loving and peaceful life and release hatred.
Harboring hatred is not only exhausting; it can literally be harmful to your health. So, if you think your hatred is hurting the other person, think again! It’s likely that you are harmed the most by harboring your hatred, resentment or any other negative emotion!
Even if it isn’t your intention to change anyone, love and respect are literally powerful tools. Someone who might be used to being disrespected and hated will be shocked to their core if they feel your love and / or sincere respect. This shock can fuel positive change. They may begin to even subconsciously think, “Maybe I can act differently if this person sees me as worthy.” This can be a surprise but potent impact of loving your enemy.
You can feel satisfied about the example you are setting for others, especially children. You know that displaying hatred and bitterness impacts children. Demonstrating how to love, even under extremely difficult situations, is a powerful lesson for others.
It is better for the community. Loving others brings out the best in them. If a person sees themselves as a “bad person”, they will take hurtful actions. If they see themselves as a valued and productive part of the community, they will take ownership for the health of the community.
What does it really mean to love thy enemy? Let’s say it means to set aside whatever it is that makes them your enemy and to muster the feelings that will allow you see the humanity of this person. It doesn’t mean that you need to invite them to your home for dinner or to love them like you love a friend, family member or respected role model. But, there are lots of different kinds of love. The kind of love that we’d give to our enemies would be to open our hearts to them and to have some loving feelings toward this human spirit. It might mean you’d say hello to them and maybe even smile if the situation called for that. A greeting or a smile to an enemy doesn’t mean that you have changed your values. It means that you really do believe in treating all people with respect and dignity. It means that you really do embrace love, compassion and empathy as your spiritual path. It demonstrates that you have the spiritual strength to take action on your values even when those actions will not be understood or even accepted by many.
If you can remember that you are accountable to your own self and your own values, you will ultimately feel comfort in your decision. And you will eventually find internal peace because you’ll feel comfortable with your choices and unburdened by the need to constantly carry hatred and resentment.
Again, we all know how hard this is; almost impossible for many. It’s a very emotional issue. It’ll only happen with people who really want it. Maybe these few words might help someone move closer to being able to love all.
Loving one’s enemy is a life-long challenge. Isn’t spirituality a lifelong practice too? One is a reflection of the other.
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Danger can lurk behind platitudes.
But what is a platitude anyway? It’s a statement that is offered as if it is a wonderful, moral, or deep thought. Generally it’s a statement that is overused, trite and therefore empty. But is it just that?
I don’t think so.
Here are just a few of the most common platitudes we all hear regularly.
Good things happen to those who wait.
It was meant to be.
You reap what you sow.
Time heals all wounds.
Everything happens for a reason.
Anything that doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.
This too shall pass.
Typically a lot of energy goes into determining if these statements are true or not. Below are a couple examples of these efforts. I’m not saying that there isn’t validity in the analysis presented here. Instead, I’d like to look at platitudes from a different angle!
Let’s not debate about if this or that platitude is correct or not! Although I do think that danger can lurk behind a platitude, I don’t want to criticize anyone who relies on platitudes. Let’s instead look at WHY people might resort to these shallow bits of un-wisdom.
Frankly, some people don’t have the intellectual capacity to comment beyond the platitude. That’s OK. Everyone is just able to do what they are able to do. No danger here.
Some people have used these statements so often in their lives, that they derive comfort from them. All good. No harm done.
Sometimes platitudes are spoken by capable people during emotionally stressful moments when that person really doesn’t know what to say. They feel awkward. They feel embarrassed. So, they look for something to say that might pass as meaningful. That’s pretty common and pretty inane.
So, where is the alleged danger?
OK. When someone covers up low self-esteem with a steady stream of less than inspiring platitudes, trouble could be right around the corner. Platitudes could be an attempt to cover up feelings of inadequacy. Low self-esteem comes with a built-in negative filter. This filter provides a less-than-helpful negative interpretation of life, people and interactions along the way. As these negative incidents happen, typically a passive or passive-aggressive response is given. During a difficult moment, a confident person would normally respond calmly in a respectful but assertive way. Their goal would be to resolve any misunderstanding so that both sides feel good about the outcome. But over time, inside the person with low self-esteem pressure accumulates as negativity festers. Eventually defensiveness and aggression explode into an irrational and unproductive display. These incidents are dangerous, indeed. They are especially dangerous if these outbursts become a persistent and predictable pattern.
Or, maybe there is a person whose self-esteem is healthy enough but they haven’t yet mastered how to handle their anger. Anger is a normal emotion which can be very instructive or very destructive. If it isn’t used to provide a positive lesson, it can set the stage for an outburst that creates harm in the short term and potentially the long term. Again, irrational statements are blurted out and bad decisions made are often regretted later.
So, what is the point of all this? It’s not to criticize or judge others. Rather, it could serve as a reminder to look at oneself. The only person we can change is ourselves. Ask yourself these questions to see what is possible.
Do I often use platitudes rather than making appropriate and authentic personal comments? Do I listen well so that I can even know what is appropriate? Are my responses to others superficial or sincere? Do I need to learn how to move towards a better self-image? If yes, what will I do now to avoid making unfounded negative interpretations? If I respond in a passive or passive-aggressive style, where and how can I learn how to switch to healthy assertiveness? What I get angry, do I wallow in that anger or am I able to step back from it to look for the healthy lesson? Where and how can I learn how to better deal with my anger?
Best wishes and love coming your way!
It’s shameful but not necessarily shocking that a group of high school students in Georgia are struggling for the right to have an integrated prom. Here’s the story about the black girls and white girls who have been friends for a long time but are STILL not allowed to go to the same prom. Obviously it’s very discouraging to know that struggles with wildly racist notions are still happening in 2013. Read More…
In my bathroom sits this three tiered holder of river rocks. I’m a potter. I made the small bowls myself. I call this simple thing my “tribute to the weirdos”. No, I don’t use that word in any other situation. Just this one… And, when I say this, the word is used consciously and with tenderness. I know; that doesn’t seem to make any sense. Read More…
World Peace is a huge concept.
Sometimes it’s hard to really believe that as flawed individuals we are equipped to create peace.
This seems particularly true on those days when we might be feeling some vulnerability or confusion about how to respond to those personal flaws or challenges. Read More…