Love Thy Enemy

Our society has grown to be very antagonistic.  Us vs. them.  As a former president once proclaimed, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” Conservative vs. liberal, pro-choice vs. anti-choice, Christian vs. Muslim, pro-gay vs. anti-gay.  It’s become a war between differing opinions.  Each side convinced of their own righteous.

I will openly admit that I am guilty of this mentality.  I have found myself unjustifiably angry at people that do not share my views of the world.  During the last election cycle I found I could not stop myself from thinking everyone that badmouthed the president was a flaming idiot and that everyone that blindly supported him was brilliant beyond belief.  When the election was over and my candidates were successful I recognized how ridiculous my beliefs were.  Now, had they lost I would more than likely still be licking my wounds, much like many conservatives are still.

What I find most disturbing about my thought patterns are how closed minded I can be when someone doesn’t agree with me.  Why can’t I see beyond this differing of opinions and see the person for who they actually are.  Confession: my father, brother, step-mother, and sister-in-law are staunch conservatives and we rarely agree on anything politically. For them I often find myself softening my own views and demurring for the sake of peace.  But, this is my family and I find very little worth destroying the love we hold for one another.

So, the question I often pose to myself is, why can’t that sentiment pervade the entire country?  I have been pondering this post for several days.  And I couldn’t figure out the answer to that question.  These differences have caused different factions to put up walls. How can anyone spread love when there are obstacles blocking the way.  We tend to congregate with like minded people; often too afraid to open our hearts to others.

One thing I have discovered with the us vs. them mentality is the feeling that if our side doesn’t win we are somehow “less than” the side that was victorious.  I vividly remember when Al Gore ceded the 2000 election.  I was distraught.  How could we be cursed with George W. Bush for 8 years?  But, on the flip side I know many conservatives in 2000 that were saying, “thank God, our Clinton nightmare is over.”  Now, I’m not here to argue politics.  In fact, I’d like for everyone to give up “arguing” about politics.  It’s not a win/lose situation.  It’s not a game.  When we see it as a win/lose strategy game we make enemies of our brothers, our friends, our co-workers, our partners.  Is it really worth it?  Can this not be approached with an open heart and mind?  When you think mindfully on this idea you cannot help but think of a 3 year old that does not get their way.  How many politicians, acquaintances, friends, family, loved ones, have you seen, throwing a childish tantrum because they did not get their way. (I think I our recent government shut down was the perfect example, no matter which direction you lean politically).

A New Earth

A New Earth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eckhart Tolle teaches us to strive for the death of our ego.  This desire for “our side” to win at all costs is nothing more than ego telling us we are better than “them” if we win and they have humiliated “us” if we lose.  These self-defeating thoughts must be purged. The ego cannot gain control.  It has no place in our spiritual life.

Ohhhhh, I talk a big game here.  My Mr. Know-It-All rears his ugly head.  And, I recognize that it is far easier said than done.  I know for a fact that my ego is deeply entrenched and I still focus on the us vs. them ideal.  My greatest us vs. them that I cannot let go of is me vs. Christianity.  I have had a bad taste in my mouth for a long time when it comes to “Christians”.  I am ashamed to admit that I have so often thought that anyone who is a self-professed Christian is automatically weak and a bigot.  I remember in high school my favorite teacher often told me that organized religion was for the weak of mind.  I held on to this idea.  I still have not completely let it go, but I now see it as a fault of my ego, not of my Christian brethren.

What has stemmed this dislike and distrust of Christians?  Their long held belief that I am somehow flawed for being gay.  Growing up hearing you are an abomination who is doomed to the fires of hell does not place those that proclaim this in your good graces. Logically, I know that not every Christian believes this.  Logically, I know that when I think of Christianity and Christ as bad words that deserve my derision and not my respect that I am allowing anger, disappointment, hurt, and ego to lead my heart.  I still find my self cringing when someone professes to be a Christian.

I work hard every day to overcome my prejudice.  My hope is to open my heart fully, to love everyone completely.  I am not there yet.  But as well all know I am not perfect.  No one is.  Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians; they are so unlike your Christ.”  I have held onto this saying for many years.  I agree with the sentiment for so many of the in your face, judgmental Christians that hold themselves as better than others.  But, I also recognize the ego and hypocrisy of feeling I am somehow better because I do not identify with Christianity.  I am no better by assuming that every Christian I meet is a weak minded bigot.  I certainly know this is NOT the case.  I have met many beautiful and loving Christians.  And my heart turns to them each time I see another so-called Christian misusing the words of Christ to justify their hatred.

Thich Naht Hanh wrote an amazing book, “Living Buddha, Living Christ” that shows the parallels of these great men.  It has begun to lead me on the long walk back into the light of acceptance of all beliefs.  Another great book that has softened my heart is “The Shack” by Wm. Paul Young.  Both books have helped me open my heart to the teachings of the Buddha and the teachings of The Christ.  And it is with this open heart that I go forward. Not perfect, not fully forgiving my past hurts, but forward on the road to love and healing.

Will you join me?  Can you forgive your hurts?  Take my hand and let’s walk together as a family.

Namasté
Matthew

What Scares You?

What scares you?  I don’t mean the things that go bump in the night (though I readily admit they scare me). I want to know what scares you.  What makes you say, “I’m not going to try that, what if it doesn’t work.”  “I can’t do that, what if I fail?”

When I teach lessons in class many of my students, when they are exploring a concept, will ask, “What if…” questions.  “What if I do this…?” “What is she does that…?”  I tell my students, “I don’t deal in ‘What If’s.”  This should become our motto when it comes to fear. No more “What If” scenarios.  Stand proudly and tell yourself, “I don’t deal in ‘What If’s’!”

Now, making that our motto and actually living our life that way are two completely different things.  I have many fears that have stood in the way of my happiness.  Growing up I wanted to perform.  I loved being in front of an audience.  I practically lived at our local civic theatre when I was in high school.  My first two years in college were devoted to musical theatre as my major.  Then, after some financial concerns I moved back to Florida and attended Florida State University.  I was accepted in their vocal performance major and was on the path into their musical theatre program.  It was then that my inner critic began to take hold.  “What if you can’t ever find a job?”  “What if everyone laughs at you?”  “What if they see what a horrible dancer you are?”  “What if you have absolutely no talent?”

I’m sad to say I let my inner critic win.  I am scared of performing now.  I have “What if-ed” myself into a fear of performing.  I used to have no greater pleasure than singing up on stage.  I loved the thrill of the audience’s applause, belting a tune, and holding that final note.  Now, my greatest performances come in front of a group of eleven year olds.  I tell myself that I took the more noble path, that educating children, our future, is far more rewarding than performing.  I try to convince myself that I have let go of my ego by choosing the life I currently lead.  But, that is complete bullshit and I know it.  But, if I keep repeating it, maybe one day, I won’t feel like I’ve cheated myself out of the life I dreamed of.

Once I let the idea of performing go, after listening to my inner critic, more fears began creeping in.  My most crippling one now if the fear of being “talked about.”  It’s that idea of not being able to control the situation.  At times it is crippling for me.  I try not to show the fear.  I hate walking into the cafeteria at my school because I’m convinced that the group of children that are laughing are laughing at me (I recognize the giant ego at play to assume everyone it talking about me).  At times I will allow infractions to pass because I don’t want a student to call me the word I live in true fear of being called, “FAG!” I have been called fag many times by students.  I’m sure I will be called fag many more. But, it has become so derogatory a term that I can’t get beyond it when it happens.  I’m taken back to my middle school and high school days when it was a popular epithet hurled at me by closed minded, small town boys.  And believe me, I am completely aware that the middle schoolers that call me that now hold absolutely no power over me.  And part of me wants to respond, “ddduuuuuuhhhhhhh!” But it is still painful.  And pain is often accompanied by fear.  We begin to fear the pain so much that it breathes new life into the the very object that should hold no power.

This is not to say that I allow this fear to win.  I conquer it every day I walk into the school house.  It is why I have perfected a “hard ass” persona with my students.  They know I don’t take crap.  But deep down that fear lingers and grips me with it’s cold powerful hands.  I will not allow it to win.  I will not allow any fear to ruin my happiness again.

I have a new dream now.  I want to travel and write.  My inner critic has talked me out of this many times over the recent years.  But no more.  I’m going to push ahead with it.  This blog is just the start.  I will not be taken hostage by fear again.  It is no longer a matter of, “what if I fail?”  Now, I stand strong and say, “I DO NOT DEAL IN WHAT IF!”  Each morning I repeat my affirmation, “I am a prosperous and successful writer.”  Though affirmations may not work for everyone, they are powerful to me.  Find where you can draw power.  Do one thing each day that scares you.  Even if it’s as simple as walking into that cafeteria with your head held high.  Don’t live a life of “What If!”  Stand up now, own your dreams.  Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Namasté
Matthew

How Do You Do It?

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend of mine.  We were discussing how we were both feeling overwhelmed by our personal and professional obligations.  My friend is a passionate educator and a devoted wife and mother.  She juggles her theatre students, shows, her son’s theatre schedule, and her other son’s soccer schedule.  She and her husband have been together since high school.  And through all the storms of life, she makes it seem so simple.  And that observation will drive her crazy.  She related to me, while we spoke, that it frustrates her to no end when people ask her, “how do you do it?” Her polite reply is always, “I wish I knew.”  Her interior monologue is, “what the fuck are you talking about?  I’m barely holding on to my sanity!”

 

Cover of "The Invitation"

Cover of The Invitation

These feelings she shared remind me of an excerpt from the book, “The Invitation” by Oriah. In the book she says, “It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.  I want to know if you can get up, after a night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.”  This is an extremely powerful statement.  Can you?  Have you? Will you?

 

Often we are completely unaware of how we keep going.  We walk through our pain and grief, and despair much like Jacob Marley, weighed down by the chains we have forged in our lives.  The honest truth is I rarely know how I make it through the tough times.  My last major heartache I survived with anti-depressants, alcohol, and a violent temper that ignited far more often that I am even comfortable thinking about.  I am not proud of that time in my life.  And I know we all have those moments that we think back upon and hang our head in disgrace.  But each of these moments is an opportunity to build on our mindfulness to deal with the next moment.  Every pain, every heartache that we suffer is the key we can use to unlock our genuine selves.  Each of these moments in which we wonder how we do it, how we make it through, holds the answer to that very question.  Are we brave enough to look to see the answer?

Some times that answer may be as simple as FDR’s advice, “if you have reached the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.”  All you may be able to do in those moments is will yourself to place one foot in front of the other and keep moving through your life.  But, it is the courage to take one more step that makes all the difference.

In her book, Oriah also wonders, “It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.  I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.  I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.”  Those times that overwhelm us, those times that kick us in the face and laugh as we lie crying on the floor, those moments where we just don’t think we can go on; how have we faced them?  Is it straight on with bravery, compassion, and love?  Or, is it like a zombie that cannot feel pain because it isn’t truly alive?  Or do we face this life filled with anger and resentment?  Acknowledging our true coping skills is the first step.

I readily admit that my ability to face the toughest parts of life with bravery are far less frequent than my zombie approach or worse my anger.  But, as I consciously work to improve myself I find that love and compassion move in more quickly to take the place of the resentment.  I by no means have all the answers.  I often wonder how I have the nerve to write some of the things I write, when I clearly do not have my shit together.  But it is a start, it is a hope, it is a fervent passion to change myself that keeps me moving forward.

I wish for each of us the ability to face our toughest moments with love and compassion. That does not mean we don’t feel pain, heartache, or despair.  It means we can sit with that pain and move forward with a lighter heart.

Namasté
Matthew