It is incredibly easy to start an argument these days. Declare your allegiance to a political party, voice your opinion on an issue, talk about who you voted for or why you didn’t vote for the other person, accuse someone of not caring because they don’t share the same convictions you do.
I am amazed, but not really, how terribly divided our world, nations, states, communities and even our families are over matters of the mind and heart. We are so quick to pick a fight, defend our position, be suspect of anyone and everyone.
I was reflecting today over what it will take to bring us back together again. Then I wondered if we had ever, truly, been together. Maybe all the hate and vitriol had been under the surface all along and we couldn’t keep it hidden any longer. I don’t like thinking that way. I’d rather believe we, humanity, are going through a rough spot and, in time, something deeper will bring us back together. To be honest I don’t have much hope in what’s deeper being what’s better. Throughout human history we have hated, warred, fought against, killed and used one another to further our own goals with little thought of how it impacts the other.
Wisdom teaches humility first. Serving, helping, putting our neighbor (hint: everyone’s our neighbor, including our “enemies”) and their needs above our own. It doesn’t seem likely to happen soon, if ever, but it starts with the choice to love, be kind, refusing to see the other as separate, apart from us. We are human. If we could only find our purpose, our “being”.
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I was listening to an incarcerated man speak about his children last week; “This is my life. It is what I’ve always wanted. Not jail but respect. To get the respect I had to do things which would take me to jail. When my boy grows up if this is the life he lives I will respect him and we’ll rule the jail together.” To hear him hurt my heart. He had decided there was a certain path he, and his family, had no choice to follow to achieve his goal; respect. He didn’t realize it but he was talking about fate.
The dictionary defines fate; “the development of events beyond a person’s control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power.” For this man, the family he was born into, the house he grew up in, the neighborhood he roamed as an adolescent, the laws and societal norms he broke to fit in, powers beyond his control, all came together to put him on the path of being incarcerated. It was his fate and the presumably the fate of his children as well.
Wisdom tells us there are two circles; a large one and a small one. The large one is the things we cannot control; events, tragedies, positive occurrences and negative influences, most of life fits in this circle. The smaller circle are things we can control; choices, habits, reactions, responses to the negative influences and the positive occurrences. There is much out of control and life can seem overwhelming and chaotic. How do we find the right path in a world full of greed, hate, and evil? How do we know what’s right when a lot of things seem headed in the wrong direction? Or, are we fated to walk a certain path because of where we were born and to whom, grew up, genetics, role models?
The power to choose, to react, respond to the life that is given to us is great. It cannot stop tragedies, events, life from happening but it can decide how these things which are out of our control impact us. Life seems easier for some than others. Privilege is real. However, it doesn’t define us unless we allow it to set our course.
I listened to a conversation this week where the person told another, to their face, that they hated them. “I hated you when you left,” they said. “It took a long time to not hate you anymore.” It was an honest and startling admission. Most times people are adept at not showing the person they hate their true feelings.
It left me with a question; “Have I ever, in my life, hated someone?” I define hate; as the inability to see the good in someone. As I reflected on the question a person came to mind. If I’ve ever hated someone, according to my definition, this man fit the criteria. I had the hardest time seeing the good, the light, the benefit of his existence, the unique expression of God in him. It was, at times, impossible to not be suspicious of his motives, think of the worst outcome of his decisions, belittle his beliefs and talents. Then, one day, ranting in my head about something he had done the question came from out of the blue; “Can you see any good in this man?” My mind stopped dead in its tracks. The answer was “no, I couldn’t.” It was then I realized the problem wasn’t him it was me.
I’d love to post about how this moment fixed everything but it didn’t. However, it did give me a new way of looking at this person and my role in the frustration, anxiety, and chaos within me. It took me a long time to forgive the hurt and betrayal he had caused but I began focusing on what was going on inside of me instead of what someone was doing on the outside. This made all the difference.
“You will never see God until you can see Him in every next face you see.” #SaintMotherTeresa
The River –
“Imagine yourself sitting on the bank of a river. The river is your stream of consciousness. Observe each of your thoughts coming along as if they’re saying, “Think me, think me.” Watch your feelings come by saying, “Feel me, feel me.” Acknowledge that you’re having the feeling or thought. Don’t hate it, judge it, critique it, or move against it. Simply name it: “resentment toward so and so,” “a thought about such and such.” Then place it on a boat and let it go down the river. When another thought arises—as no doubt it will—welcome it and let it go, returning to your inner watch place on the bank of the river.”
#ThomasKeating, “Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel”
One of the greatest and most difficult realizations is the truth that we are not our thoughts. We are not our actions. We are not our egos. True, each of these can reveal things about us and to the world but we are not these things.
The problem is we’ve been taught the opposite most of our lives. The famous quote; “Reap a thought, a word, an action, then a destiny,” seems right but our thoughts do not have to lead us to who we ultimately become. We can choose to go deeper, change paths, refuse to be captive to our thoughts by breaking free of them.
I think I’m in love with the electric-heated fleece throw my wife bought me for Christmas. It is wonderful! Especially when it is cold outside like this week has been. Instead of putting over me I’ve tucked it in and around the place I sit on the couch. I come home, turn it on, throw a blanket on top, change and by the time I’m ready to sit down the blanket is warm. It’s like sinking into a soft cocoon of heat. The room and house don’t feel as cold when I am wrapped in the throw.
There are also people and places who make us feel this way. There’s something about their presence which makes us feel good and safe. I’m not a hugger but I love getting hugs from my wife. She’s the type of person who portrays warmth and acceptance. My aunt Evon, who passed away several years ago, was the same way.
In a world which seems to be increasingly divided, we need more warmth, more acceptance, more love. Our crazy mixed up world thinks there are other ways to heal the divisions, start over, bring peace. Truly, only love has that power. It takes more courage to love someone than to hate them, let go of prejudices than keep them, listen and build relationships instead of keeping everyone who disagrees with us at arm’s length.
Warmth. On a cold day in December, it’s a needed and comforting thought.
I have a friend who is dealing with a broken relationship in his life. He has tried reaching out, apologizing, offering to make good on the accused slight he did to the offending party but nothing has worked. The wounded one doesn’t want anything to do with the other, has expressed his hatred for my friend numerous times, and it is bothering my friend something fierce.
He asked the question; “What else can I do?” after he listed all the things he’s tried to do to make up for something he’s not even sure he did. “You’re going to have to let them hate you.” I know this isn’t the answer he wanted but it was the only answer to give. When someone has been hurt by us whether we meant to or not it is not within our power to make them forgive us, to restore a broken relationship. As soon as we become aware of the pain, betrayal, we’ve caused we should immediately go to them, express a contrite and sincere spirit of sorrow apologizing for the behavior and offer to make penance to satisfy the other who has been wronged. If they accept, that’s great but if they don’t accept we have to live with that and though it’s not easy it is our only option.
What we hope for, pray for, look for every opportunity to make it right again in the future. However, for now, we must bear the burden of hate, knowing we have done all things within our power to right the wrong. We live with their hate and the separation hoping a time will come when both can reconnect and restore what’s been torn apart and destroyed.
Someone asked me today to define hate. I knew what they were asking. They were wanting to know if their dislike of another had gone far enough, grown enough to call it the “H” word. I described hate this way; “…an intense feeling of disdain, a lack of love and grace toward another, a set of blinders placed over one’s eyes and soul to stop from seeing anything good about the person.”
I’m not sure this is the best definition but it was one which resonated with my feelings of someone several years ago who had hurt me into the depths of my spirit. I couldn’t please this person, who focused on what I did wrong and rarely noticed what I did right, complained, criticized, isolated me from others and used up everything they needed and then threw me away like an empty beer can, never looking back.
If I’d ever hated someone this would be the person, but as I thought about them today the intensity was no longer there. It takes a lot of energy, passion, time, to hate someone. Hate occupies a lot of space in your brain, emotions, spirit and life. You dwell on the other, fueled by your extreme contempt. Hatred consumes you and there comes a point when you have to make a choice; “Will I allow my pain and scorn to become who and what I am? Or, do I begin to let it go?”
It’s not an easy decision but its the only option which leads to wholeness and peace.
Confession time. I hate going to the dentist! I am not saying that I dislike going to the dentist, I am not hinting that there is something I would rather do on a day off, or alluding to the thought that it is a place I would rather not visit on vacation. I am clearly and emphatically stating so that there is no equivocation, that I hate going to the dentist!
I hate going to the dentist because I am at his/her mercy once I get there. I hate the way they talk nice and then take you into that small room and place you in that chair. I hate they way they tie that bib around your neck so when they begin their torturing they won’t get anything on you. I hate the way they lean you all the way back until you get woozy, then they begin to “explore” by tapping on your teeth with these pointy little metal things looking for problems. I hate how they make you open your mouth in the most painful position possible and continue to poke around.
I hate the shots in the gums, the drilling, the poking, prodding, grinding and sticking other instruments into your mouth that just frankly don’t go there. I hate the x-rays. The pieces of card board they stick inside your mouth and then tell you to bite down so hard you cut off the circulation while they excuse themselves and go grab a burger, watch some television, or whatever they are supposed to be doing, while they are “taking the pictures.” I hate when the technicians come back and say something silly like “Now that wasn’t to bad was it?” If you could talk you would tell her how bad you thought it was, but she knows you cant talk which is why she asked.
But what I hate the most is that dentists are important. When a tooth starts hurting you need to go. Cleanings, check ups, routine visits all of which are vital for dental health. In spite of the pain, agony, x-rays I know these visits have a purpose. Problems are found, issues are dealt with, major work is avoided if I can just bring myself to make the appointments and follow through.
There are enemies to oral hygiene seeking to destroy my teeth. There are germs that want to make my gums recede, foods and drinks that taste so good and yet are terrible for my choppers and each of these things make getting back in that small room and reclining back in that torture device called a dentist chair necessary.
So I figured I got one of two choices. I can either brush my teeth 24 hours a day and not eat anything, or I can resign myself that the dentist is always going to be a part of life.
Sigh….I feel better…I think.
light and wisdom,