Sunday, October 23, 2016

10/24/16—Missing A Part Of Me

This past week I unexpectedly connected with a lost part of my youth. And it brought me great joy, as well as a good bit of insight. In fact, it felt divinely arranged for me.

It happened when I saw that Hillary Clinton's campaign was hosting a live, online fundraiser from Broadway. It just seemed to happen out of the blue. I mean, it was clear a lot of people were watching from how fast the comment feeds were moving, but I think most people didn't even know it was happening. And if you didn't watch it live, you're out of luck. I've only been able to find part of it online since it happened. So the fact that few people knew about it and all evidence disappeared as soon as it was done, it felt like maybe it happened just for me. 

Anyway, it was FABULOUS. I missed the whole first hour, which is why I keep looking for it online. But the two hours I did see were entrancing. Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Jessica Parker, Emily Blunt, Bernadette Peters, Billy Crystal, BARBRA EFFIN STREISAND...I mean, my god. The performances were such a treat! I was captivated and filled with joy.

You see, when I was a little girl, in the mornings, as my mother was getting ready for work, she would play one of two things on the stereo—Tony Martin, her favorite singer, or show tunes, usually Hello Dolly. And I would sing along with her. After the age of 10 or so, she would take me to the Kennedy Center or Broadway to see live shows. Then as I got into my teen years, I was in all the school plays and musicals. I minored in Theater in college and studied voice all four years. I even won the National College Theater Festival one-act playwriting contest my senior year...a national award.

By the time I graduated, I kind of lost the theater bug, though. It began to wane earlier in one of my acting classes, then took a nose dive in one class in particular. It was a Shakespeare class. I got the only A in the class. Acting finally clicked for me in a big way that year. I did a Lady MacBeth monologue and completely blacked out while I was doing it. Tierney left her body and returned when the scene was over. Afterward, the teacher asked me "what were you thinking about when you were up there?" And I said, "I don't know. I can't remember." And he replied, "that's because you were doing it right."

You'd think I'd have have celebrated an achievement like that, but it really kind turned me off entirely. It was probably my first conscious encounter with "Tierney likes to maintain control." See, when you embody a character like Lady MacBeth, your body and emotions go through her body and emotions. It had happened to me once before in another scene in another class which involved rape and sexual assault. And I didn't like that. I didn't like checking out, then checking back in to deal with the physical and emotional aftermath of some sort of unconscionable trauma.

Up until then I thought my limitation in the acting world would be my large size. But when I experienced this, I knew ultimately my limitation would be my discomfort in having something else inhabit my body and not being in control. When I meditate, I'll also leave my body. But nothing else inhabits it while I'm gone. It's not the leaving of the body. It's the not being in the driver's seat. So that's when I gave up theater. There were no wistful goodbyes, either. It was more like, "OK, I'm moving on." And that was that. Frankly, it always bothered me that I had dropped it so easily.

So I probably hadn't seen a live Broadway performance in 20 or 30 years until I saw this fundraiser. I really hadn't had the desire. Which is why seeing this was such an unexpected pleasure. And also frustrating because one of the acts I missed was Hugh Jackman singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning", the song that opens Oklahoma! One of my all-time favorite scenes in movie musicals is Gordon MacRae's performance of that song. 

Anyway, as I was thinking about all of this, I realized that, as my mother was dying, so was my love for theater. That had never occurred to me before, because I thought I knew why I had lost my love for the theater. I thought it was the story I told about Lady MacBeth. But now I realize it may not have been that simple. Two days after she died, I won that awardfor a play I wrote about my dying mother. And while my love had been waning for years (as my mother was waning), that pretty much marked the end of it for me. How did I never see the correlation before?

Leading up to the Broadway fundraiser, I'd had a couple of signs that were curious to me...a white moth had taken up residence on my front door. And there was a bird in my house. Both can speak either of death or spirits. My mother's birthday is in less than a week. I think all of this is connected. I mean, I'm usually pretty ADD when I'm online, but I was entranced by this livecast. 

It's true that you never stop missing your mother. Mine has been gone for 32 years and it still brings me to tears. It was easily the greatest loss of my life. She and I could drive each other mad. And we could also be best buddies. At no point did I ever question her love for me. She is the only human that I ever felt loved me unconditionally, so I've lived most of my life without that. 

I'm not sure what this all means. I went more than 30 years of my life without realizing the correlation between the loss of my mother and the loss of my love for theater. So, what else may I not be seeing fully? And what if all of this...the bird, the moth, the livecast, the upcoming birthday...was brought together via divine means? Certainly there is something important in there for me to learn, but I don't know what. Yet. I do feel this is a time of great transformation for me. I wonder what other mysteries the future will unfold?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

10/17/16—Putting Assault in Its Place

Let's talk about my first sexual assault.

But before we do, a little background. The US Department of Justice defines sexual assault as "any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient." They go on to list everything from uninvited fondling to rape.

In response to the Trump audio where he bragged that he can grope a woman and get away with it because he is a celebrity (aka sexual assault), a woman named Kelly Oxford (@kellyoxford) started the hashtag #NotOkay. She asked women to tweet about their first sexual assault..."first", because so many women have been assaulted multiple times. During the first 14 hours, she estimates she received 50 tweets per MINUTE.

Trump's comments clearly conjured up a whole lot of emotional stuff that women had shoved away in a corner—unhealed, unaffirmed and, in many cases, brushed off by society—hopefully never to be dredged up again. Even I, a woman who has escaped relatively unscathed, have had a lot to think about this week.

It's estimated that nearly one in five women will be raped in her lifetime. And, after talking to friends and reading accounts and googling statistics, I estimate nearly every woman will be stunned and/or traumatized by otherwise unwanted, uninvited and inappropriate sexual actions from a man. It is not rape, and in some cases, is not even sexual assault. But that doesn't mean it's not damaging, intimidating and completely inappropriate.

So here are two of my stories. Like most women, I have more, especially if you include the category of "inappropriate sexual behavior". My first story is one of those. I was 16 and walking back to my car in a mall parking lot. When I got to my car, I look over and see the man parked next to me jacking off. I still remember it clearly 35 years later, because it killed a little piece of me. It wasn't violent, nor was it even directed at me, but right or wrong, it was an introduction to "men aren't safe".

This episode left me feeling vulnerable and scared because I didn't know what it meant. If he was doing that, would he try to attack me? I didn't know. So it was also the first time I felt sexually vulnerable and endangered by a man. An innocence and trust was lost. It was, for lack of better words, heartbreaking. At that time in my life, I had not even had a boyfriend yet. Read a few accounts from other women and you'll see that 16 was kind of old to encounter behavior like this for the first time.

My second story fits into the category of sexual assault. It happened in my early 30s. I was on a city bus I rode to and from the Metro every day with pretty much the same group of people getting on and off at my stop. So one evening, a man swoops into the seat next to me. I'm at the window, so I'm blocked from exit. And he starts running his hand up my thigh and into my skirt.

I'm shocked. I had no idea what to do. So I stand up and push past him to change seats, and he tries to lift my skirt as I pass. I get to the next seat and sit on the outside so he can't get next to me. Passengers get off the bus and he takes the seat across the aisle from me. He reaches across the aisle and does it again. I scream at the top of my lungs, "What the eff is wrong with you?" He then gets up, pulls the cord and runs off the bus.

To add insult to injury, the people I shared that bus with every day just sat there staring straight ahead. Nobody came to my aid. Not one came up to me afterward and asked what happened. As we were walking back to our complex after we got off the bus, not a word was spoken. Worse, when I told my best friend about the situation, she said, "That's what you get when you wear short skirts."

I felt traumatized and alone. And I had no idea what to do with that trauma. When the first person you tell blames you, and when everyone who witnessed it pretends it didn't happen, you learn not to reach out. So you cry and try to make sense of it alone. Eventually, you shove it into some corner of your psyche where you can't see it as it ferments over the course of a lifetime...until something like recent events happens and it comes up again. Until ALL of them, from inappropriate advances to assault, come up again.

So if you wonder why some women don't say anything, that's one reason. You've already been traumatized enough, so why risk being traumatized again by telling the story to people who blame the victim, cops included. Or maybe the abuser is an authority figure in your life and you're scared of the consequences. Or a family member. Maybe you've been threatened with harm. Maybe you're ashamed and self blaming. The reasons why we never tell are many. But make no mistake, not telling does not mean it doesn't cause permanent damage and pain that goes unhealed. Approximately 70% of rape or sexual assault victims experience moderate to severe distress—more than for any other violent crime.

Rape is the most under-reported crime in this country. It's estimated 63% of all sexual assaults go unreported. One third of rape victims contemplate suicide. False claims are estimated to happen 2% to 10% of the time—there is no accurate data for that. When you consider the kind of abuse women risk by reporting these things—being called a liar, being told it's your fault or being called ugly and unworthy of sexual assault by your assaulter—the chances of a woman lying about this on an internationally televised stage just so she can "get attention" are probably pretty slim. It's your word against the man's, and when the man is a famous comedian or running for president, it's an even greater risk.

From catcalls to "carjackers", in the eyes of a woman, even the less criminal acts are intimidating. Men are, on average, larger, stronger and more violent than women. And the types of men who do these things clearly think they're entitled. Often, our court system reinforces that belief, as we saw recently when a judge didn't want to "ruin a young man's life" just because he violently raped a woman. So these acts of intimidation meant to debase and degrade women for the man's pleasure are often deemed acceptable. And when a presidential candidate brags about it and demeans his accusers, whether in a locker room or bus, whether he actually did it or not, it further promotes a culture that says this kind of behavior is OK. It's a threatening affront to both the women and decent, upstanding men of this country.

There are a lot of people out there who think all this talk of assault is a "political distraction". Instead, it's an under-voiced issue of REAL concern in this nation. Most women have a story to tell regarding this and, of course, men can also be the victims of sexual assault. This is a population—possibly a majority population—who is being criminally victimized in this country while people look the other way. It's an issue that knows no political divide. 

If we can obsess over the threat of terrorism in this country, we can obsess about this more frequent, more likely and equally traumatic issue. For many, this issue is long overdue for discussion and just as relevant to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." To dismiss it as a distraction is an insult. In fact, calling it a distraction is actually the distraction. The reason it's not going away is not because of some vast global conspiracy. It's because society has finally evolved to the point that behavior that compromises, insults and victimizes others is simply #NotOkay.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

10/10/16—Confronting Aloneness

I've been confronting the reality that I'm alone lately. And, at times, "alone" has been confronting me back.

I'm not talking about loneliness. That's an emotion. I'm not talking about not having a lover. Or about being friendless, because I am not. Those are states. I'm talking about the reality that, no matter how many friends or social interactions we may have, and regardless of being connected to a soul mate, in the mind's quietest moments, we're in this thing alone. Most of us have experienced sufficient personal challenge in life to know aloneness is always there, waiting in the darkness for that moment of silence when you notice it.

Each of us is here for whatever reasons we believe we're here for. The variables of life's experiences and the things that magnetize and repel us are so numerous that it's impossible for two people to share the exact same history, paths, roads to the paths, experiences, etc. We may know, say, a sibling all our lives. But even with them, we merge or diverge in terms of relationship at different phases of our lives. So nobody can truly ever be in your head well enough or often enough to make it so you're not ultimately alone.

Each of us is on a fully unique trajectory in our time here. And we may have long-term companions as we travel on that trajectory. But we each have a unique secret mission to accomplish here on earth. It's so secret, we're only conscious to parts of it on a "need to know" basis. But intrinsically, intuitively, we know what to do and when to do it to further the mission. And, while some may help us out here and there, that mission is ours alone.

I could argue that those who believe in a higher power or a collective consciousness are never alone. But that—whatever that is—is a higher source. A spirit source. A disembodied energy. And you are human. Your soul came here specifically for you to occupy a body. Your soul can connect to that higher intelligence through prayer or meditation or the power of faith, but as comforting as that connection may be, you are still alone. That is spirit. You are human. Spirits exist on another plane of consciousness. And you are here. Alone. 

It sucks. And it's depressing. But we can either confront this reality and make peace with it...even embrace it. Or we can avoid or deny it by staying so occupied—or drugged, distracted or otherwise numbed—that we don't have to face the awkward and fearsome task of being alone with our aloneness. And there's nothing that says we have to confront it in this incarnation, anyway. So why risk it? 

Aloneness knows WAY too much about us. It even knows we're afraid of it. So it doesn't try to lure us in. It just waits for us to come to it and confront it. Or, by acknowledging it, allow it to confront us.

I've been conscious of this aloneness all my life. It has frightened me. It has depressed me. I have pushed it to the side, ignored it, preoccupied myself, avoided it—you name it. That's what has been most common. And then there are stretches where I see it, and it doesn't phase me. I can walk alongside it, in acceptance and silence. Then invariably some crisis comes along and the aloneness burns me ever deeper in places I thought I'd healed—or didn't quite realize were there—and I feel vulnerable or scared or lost or in pain. And I either confront aloneness or it confronts me. And I eventually make peace with it until the next time.

So I have traveled the full spectrum of aloneness many times. But I just can't seem to figure out a way to embrace it. There is no circumstance under which I can imagine saying, "Woo hoo! What a joy it is to be here with my aloneness! It's the ultimate high! What took me so long to figure this out?" I see wisdom in making peace with it. Even of "forgiving" it...not resenting it. But I can't find any wisdom in embracing it.

Maybe I can't see it until I peel off a layer or two of some onion. Or maybe the last layer is to be able to walk alongside it, conscious, at peace and in acceptance. Familiar. Some higher wisdom guided my soul into this incarnation for a reason. May as well trust in that. And maybe that's a reason to embrace it. I can't say right now. 

All I can say is I've been confronting the reality that I'm alone lately. And, at times, "alone" has been confronting me back.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

10/3/16—Building Our Mosiac

When I was a girl, I had a recurring daydream—that I would one day be wealthy enough to have a "mad room" in my house. It would be soundproof and filled with stacks of china. And when I was angry, I could go in there and throw as much china against the wall as it took to get the anger out.

I had kind of forgotten about it, until I saw Iyanla Vanzant dedicating an entire room of a home in Iyanla Fix My Life (a TV show) to one of those heavy bag punching bags and a bunch of bats. It was a series about angry women, many of whom had been victims of abuse—verbal, emotional, sexual, physical—all kinds. And when the overwhelming pain would come up, they'd go in that room and beat the crap out of the heavy bag.

It was the same kind of idea as my room filled with china. And it got me thinking. What was I even mad about back then anyway? As I write this, a million things come flooding in. In essence, though, being a kid didn't come easy for me. I didn't easily fit in—not with other kids and not in my family. And that was made more difficult because we moved every two years. The kid I was just wasn't well equipped for a nomadic life.

And on top of that, I needed more than I got from my parents...from my family. I'm the youngest of six kids and both my parents worked a good part of my life. If I were one of, say, two children, I might not have felt so starved. If I were a different person altogether, I might not have felt so starved. My parents were normal parents and we lived a normal life, so it's not like I was poorly treated. But the person I was felt unheard, unloved, misunderstood and invisible, yet remarkably visible when there was something to criticize. I had way more feelings than I knew how to handle, and I felt like there was nobody to turn to—nobody saw or cared. 

And the truly angering part was that most of this was not in my control. I had no control or input into how often we moved, where we moved to or how available my parents were. I didn't really fit in or have a friendship with any of my siblings. The ones closest in age to me were males, and they would be protective of me, but they weren't confidantes. I felt lonely and alone a lot. I cried a lot. I got pissy. I would act out at school and at home. I would scream into my pillow. And, occasionally, the pain would be too big for a pillow, and I would feel so intensely I thought I was losing my mind.

It's possible that the role of family and the purpose of childhood is to break you into pieces so you can spend the rest of your life putting yourself back together again. And all of it made me want a room where I could get the shattering out of my body and onto the wall and floor. Just like those ladies were getting the abuse out of their bodies and into that heavy bag.

I know the "dream of the angry room" seeped into my adulthood, but I don't know when it stopped being a legitimate goal in my life...haha. Somewhere along the line, I have found other ways to deal with pain and anger. I meditate. I talk to friends about it. I blog about it or journal about it. As I've written about before, I mow. And occasionally, still, the pain is too big for a pillow and I feel like I'm losing my mind.

I wish I could say I've put all my broken pieces back together again, but I haven't. Some of those breaks and cracks have been healed and have made me stronger. And some of them keep me stuck in cycles I now have control over, but choose to remain in in self-sabotaging ways. I both mourn for and celebrate what the shattering has done in my life.

We arrive on this earth intact. And we leave here a mosaic of all the times we've been broken and healed. Each person that hurts you takes a shard and each that loves you leaves a shard to help you heal. We not only get to choose which shards we use to build our mosaic, but we also choose what kind of shards we leave behind for others. How we use those pieces—to create something strong and beautiful or something fragile and inconsistent—is entirely within our own control.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

9/26/16—Calling Out Our Fears

There is something that anyone who reads this blog or who has ever seen my Facebook knows about me. I love dogs. I had them my entire life growing up. And when I bought a house, a dog moved in the very next day. I named her Passion, because that’s how I feel about dogs. They are my friends, my children and my protectors.

My brother John, on the other hand, went to his grave fearing dogs. He was mauled as a child and being around dogs triggered him. He, of course, had to live with dogs as a child, but he never warmed up to them like the rest of us. He's the only one of six children to never have a dog as an adult. To him, they were dangerous, unpredictable beasts.

There are lots of people out there like that. And they don’t have to have been attacked by dogs themselves to feel that way. Maybe a family member was attacked. Maybe they grew up in a neighborhood with some vicious dogs and learned to fear them. Maybe they even have a long family history of dog anxiety that has been ingrained in them, probably for good reasons. They’ve likely been told that dogs can sense and play off their fear, in a co-created, escalating kind of way. Let’s face it, dog lover or not, if you encounter the wrong one (or worse, a pack of them) they will rip your throat out and there’s nothing you can do about it. So dogs are a hazard that those with bad experiences try to avoid.

So imagine if you feel that way about dogs and you’re cornered and growled at. Conventional wisdom might tell you to respond in one way, but your inner fight vs. flight mechanism—your fear—may very well tell you something different in that moment. It’s not about staying calm and rational, it’s about survival and whatever your brain tells you will get you there.

Likewise, I’ve never been mugged. But I’ve been told all my life anxiety-provoking things like “women are vulnerable to muggings” and “walk with your keys between your fingers as a weapon” and “if you feel like you’re being followed, cross the street.” I do know that, when the moment comes, you’re supposed to just give them your wallet. But what if I’m so afraid in that moment that I can’t move? What if I’m in such a panic over my worst nightmare coming true that I can’t access all the lessons I’ve been taught? What if a voice in my head says “run”, even though, intellectually, I know I can’t outrun them? What if some trauma in my past urges me not to listen to the person with the gun or knife in my face, because I feel this will end poorly, even if I cooperate? Maybe cooperating will help save my life. I mean muggings are usually just that, right? But maybe, no matter what I do, it could escalate from the mugging into a murder. I can honestly say I have no idea how I’d handle that because I’ve never been in that situation. I’d probably rely on my gut in the moment.

Are these concerns about muggings and maulings rational? Maybe. Maybe not. When we’ve grown up and seen or heard about certain dangers, we naturally become afraid of them. I remember being afraid of monsters in my closet as a child. I’m 53 years old and probably still won’t sleep with a closet door open. These things—attacking dogs, muggers, etc.—get filed in our head as dangers and no amount of intellectualization can remove them entirely, especially if they were imprinted in our heads at a young age.

And let’s say muggers were targeting green-eyed women specifically. And let’s pretend I had a cousin with green eyes that had been attacked—that just raises the concern to another level. It doesn’t matter that you tell me that the odds of MY green eyes drawing an attack were statistically small, or that maybe it was just a coincidence that all had green eyes. It would be stupid for me to just blindly trust an “unknown quantity” who happened to notice the color of my eyes. Right? I mean, you wouldn’t blame me for wanting to get out of the situation, even if they were dressed like a priest, for example. Fear and survival are natural instincts within us. They are difficult to override.

So this is where we reach the part of this blog where I actually get to the point…haha. It’s not about dogs. It’s not about green eyes or muggings. Those are analogies that explore the same kind of understandable fear-based thinking and response that set the stage for the point I'm trying to make. So I want to be clear—I’m not likening anyone to a dog or a mugger or anything like that.

The point of all of those analogies is that white suburban folk like me can’t possibly say “I don’t see why black people just don’t listen to the cops” and have that be ANY kind of relevant input. What you would do and what a black person might do is completely different, because your perception and reality are completely different. Your experience with the police is like mine with dogs. Positive. And I’ve been bit by dogs, myself. But I’ve had enough good experiences around them to a) not feel fear b) trust dogs in general and c) avoid being bit.

But if I were my brother, frozen in fear, surrounded by barking dogs with thoughts of mauling going through my head, it would be totally different. Everything I might have been told by my mother about how to handle a situation might be out the window and replaced by fear. If the relevant portion of my dog experience is “dogs bite” I’m going to do whatever I’m capable of in the moment to avoid being bit. That might be freezing in terror, unable to respond. That might be running. And if dogs get me down on the ground, even if it’s to smother me in kisses, I’m probably going to struggle and panic, regardless. Even if I know I’ve done nothing to invite aggression, even if I see tails wagging, I’m going to respond from a place of trauma. I’m going to act like the dogs think I’m a threat, because MY history with dogs says that’s what dogs do. (That's if I were my brother. The real me would tell them to clap their yaps and come over and give me some lovin'.)

Dog lovers can’t possibly relate to what people with a societal knowledge of repeated maulings feel, think or do. Even if it’s only, say, 5% of dogs who attack. They are going to be afraid or on guard 100% of the time. And they should be, just as I should be concerned about a rash of attacks on green-eyed women.

Now that that’s out of my system, I’ll say this. I respect cops and I love dogs. And I’m also going to say these analogies work both ways. Just as blacks have a cultural knowledge of excessive trouble with cops, cops have a cultural knowledge of excessive trouble with blacks—not all blacks and not all cops, but enough that it has created a real issue. Further, white men (not all but in general) have a cultural “caution” against black men, from what I’ve observed. To the black man, that might seem unwarranted. But, frankly, that white man is aware that people who look like him kidnapped, enslaved, beat, raped and lynched your relatives. You might hold that against them and you might not. But they don’t know if they don’t know you. You could be Will Smith and that caution would be there—not out of fear of The Fresh Prince—but out of fear of karma.

This is a co-created dynamic that builds upon itself. A snowball. The more cops profile and have preconceived notions based on color and the more they shoot unarmed black people, the more distrust and fear they earn. And the more black people fear cops and respond in ways that support the policeman’s fears, the more people get shot. It’s a self-feeding cycle that repeats over and over again because neither side is willing to give the benefit of the doubt. Because they are both acting and responding in fear, the consequences of trust feel too great. But, in my mind, when one person is armed and the other is not, the armed one is in the position of power and, if they shoot, they do the greater wrong. So why do we keep placing blame on “untrained” victims, when trained “officers of the peace”—professionals who have supposedly learned best practices on how to respond in a variety of situations—keep losing their objectivity? To be fair, unarmed white people get killed by police, too. But, according to the Washington Post, it's five times more likely to happen to a black person. 

Another thing I’ve heard white people say is “why do black people have to stage violent demonstrations?” Well, most of the demonstrations are peaceful. You don’t hear about them, because nothing bad happened and stories with happy endings don't get as many clicks as controversial stories do. But yes, some of these protests turn violent. And yes, cops were recently killed by a fringe sniper at an otherwise peaceful protest. And they have been targeted elsewhere, too. Which is not OK. NONE of the killing is OK. But consider this…Colin Kaepernick staged a peaceful protest and the country was OUTRAGED, calling him everything from the n-word to traitor.

So the fact is, there is really nothing a black person can do to win when it comes to speaking against this. Society has set it up for them to be wrong. It would seem we want them to just forget, look the other way and be silent despite there being a clear and dangerous pattern of bias out there. White people simply don’t have a right to ask that of them. You wouldn’t ask it of a victim of any other kind of violent crime or inequity, and you sure as heck wouldn’t stand there silent if it were happening to people you love.

Being a white person myself, I can say this: a lot of white people think racism is over. A non-issue. They just want everyone to go on with their lives like nothing ever happened. I wish my brother had gone on like he’d never been mauled, because his kids weren’t allowed to have a dog growing up. I was never invited to bring my pups over to his house to play, either. But ultimately, it wasn’t my place to tell him to just move on from trauma that, understandably, haunted him all his life. He healed a lot of it, but of course his guard was up until he knew, for sure, a particular dog was trustworthy. And while I can't speak for his children, I wouldn't be surprised if at least one didn't have preconceived notions about dogs based on their father's reticence.

His caution was as much a part of him as being family-oriented and a sports lover was. It was woven into the fabric of his being, just as unwarranted violence and bias against blacks has been part of the fiber of our country going back to its very inception.  And the fact there are white people out there who believe that Obama started all the racism in our country is proof. That may be the fringe, but the fringe is always nothing more than an exaggeration of the feelings of a much larger population of people.

I’ll be the first person to tell you I don’t have the answers. I mean, spiritually speaking, trust building is the answer. Heart-centered listening, as opposed to reactive listening would help, too. But the trust took hundreds of years to erode. Thinking you can overcome that with a quick fix is naive, though I think we can knock it out in a generation or two if we start healing it *consciously* and from a place of love right now. That said, I don't think society in general is capable of that at this juncture in history. So I won’t claim to know the fix. My strength is more in understanding what motivates people and what goes on beneath the surface. And understanding is always the first step to healing.

Racism is a thing. Denying it or looking the other way or blaming others won’t make it disappear. That *sort of* worked with the monsters in my closet, but it doesn’t work when there are real tensions, real people, real fear, real guns and real lives involved. It flabbergasts me how many otherwise good people suck at empathy…at putting themselves in other peoples’ shoes. And, to be honest, we can never really do that anyway. But if we are the people, the society and the country we like others to think we are, we have to at least try.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

9/19/16—Standing in Your Integrity

I was out with a friend the other day when she brought up a question of integrity that she had been struggling with. And as we talked through it, I realized she and I had kinda different definitions of what integrity meant. 

First of all, let me state that I think anyone who is questioning their own integrity is doing things right when it comes to personal and spiritual development. In fact, they are probably pretty far along their path. To question one's own integrity means that a person's self-awareness is in a pretty evolved place. That you can know yourself and what you feel is "right" well enough—and have transcended your ego to a point you can identify lapses and worry about it—no God or form of human perfection can ask for more of you, imo. You are definitely in the front of the class as far as seekers go.

So let's define integrity. My friend defines it as the dictionary does—being honest and having strong moral principles, along with being honest with yourself. And while my definition is 90% that, I also define it somewhat by one of its antonyms, hypocrisy. So, in other words, I see integrity as being true to the person you feel you're supposed to be, and represent yourself to be, in the not be a hypocrite. 

It's such a fine line, really. And I'm sure my friend incorporates anti-hypocrisy, too. But the reason I'm making this point is that I think the needle moves on integrity depending on who you are, where you are in your journey and what you believe. After all, "having strong moral principles" is subject to interpretation, and being honest has degrees. If we're REALLY honest, honesty is also subject to interpretation, not to mention the fact that there are situations where honesty clashes with some of your other ideals. "No your butt doesn't look big in that" and "I'm fine, how are you?" are not always honest, but they don't exactly make you a hypocrite or amoral loser, either. In fact, they are fully integrous with other moral ideals, like kindness, non-judgement and social courtesy.

To illustrate this, let's pretend you're a gay man living in Texas. Sodomy is not only illegal, it's considered amoral in your community. So are you acting in integrity by being true to the man you love and having a full relationship with him? Or is it more integrous to refuse your homosexuality and align with both the law and God's view of your love as an abomination? And is that refusal of your sexuality integrous to the "integrity ideal" of honesty? Do you align with accepted moral principles and what is considered the "truth" in your community... or do you align with what is true to yourself and what you know is right based on your sense of what is right and good? I imagine pretty much every homosexual has faced that question in one way or another and almost all of them chose to remain true to their homosexuality. But do they have integrity when they bring their lover to church on Sunday? The ansewer to that question is another question, "who's asking?"

We all feel killing is "wrong". So is it wrong for soldiers to kill our enemies? Are they acting outside of their, say, "Christian integrity" to go against the Ten Commandments? Is it wrong for a vigilante father to kill the man who raped and tortured his daughter? If our country believes killing is wrong, are we being hypocrites by having the death penalty? Also if it's wrong to steal or profit from theft, is Julian Assange wrong to deal in stolen emails? Are we wrong to read them? And if that is right, is it also right to release Colin Powell's—a private, albeit influential, citizen's emails—emails that have no corruption in them, but are scandalous to read?

Integrity is a tricky thing. And it's a personal thing.

Which brings us back to self awareness. In my mind, you can't have integrity without self awareness. You need to be able to examine yourself and be as honest and fair with yourself as possible before you can even determine what is in your integrity, much less police it. 

So my friend's issue involved a behavior she noticed when she was at a group thing. The group leader did something that didn't seem very leaderly. And there was another woman she knew at the group thing. So she contacted that woman and said she wanted to talk about something that had happened that night and her friend, without even knowing what they were going to talk about, told her they could talk, but "just so long as we don't judge others" (which was a principle discussed in the group the night before.)

So this sent my friend into a conundrum. Was her desire to talk about this thing against her integrity? Was it wrong? Would it be judgmental to discuss this thing that happened? So she started looking deeply at *why* she wanted to discuss this thing. Was it to gossip or feel superior? Or was it to get the other woman's read on the situation in order to gain greater understanding so she can be a better leader herself?

I face a similar conundrum when it comes to what some call gossip. Some of it is mean spirited and a toxic way of judging others and feeling superior. I don't want to hear or participate in that shit. But if someone I know, whether I like them or not, has a major life development—marriage, illness, etc.—is it against my integrity to want to hear? Where is the line between "gossip" and "news" drawn?

One of our assignments as humans is to draw or adopt a "personal code of conduct". And my code of conduct and that of someone, say, raised amidst poverty and crime, may be different. I might think stealing is never right and they might think it's right to steal if you're starving, for example. So we all have to decide what integrity is for ourselves. And often when we're asking the question "what is within my integrity?" we're really asking ourselves "what do I truly believe about this?"

On more than one occasion, I've written that, if you represent yourself as a loving and nice person, then it's not OK to bully or deride someone who you think is a bully or an asshole. Either you believe love is the answer or you don't. But it's not really that simple. Doing things against our integrity and then feeling bad about them is how we determine where to draw the lines within ourselves. And, of course, we have to have the accompanying self awareness and self examination to even see where we're being hypocritical in the first place.

I can't tell you how often when writing these posts I change my wording or the point I'm making to avoid being a hypocrite. Seriously. I'll be writing something and know within me that it's not true to me, regardless of whether or not it's true to what I want to represent to you. And it is NOT within my integrity to call someone names as I've done in regard to this presidential election. But if there's any doubt, I see the hypocrisy and lack of integrity when I do it. It is unhealed, angry, and even possibly unexamined parts of me that I'm battling with to understand my own beliefs. Or possibly I'm battling with the integrity of one principle I hold dear against the integrity of another. Calling someone a conman is name calling and judgment, which I don't really like, but it's true to my desire to not be silent when I see something dangerous happening. I can't satisfy both senses of integrity.

And right there is the point at which we all need to be careful. We have to be careful what we justify to ourselves in order to make us right. Which is exactly what my friend was wondering about the other day...was she justifying something to make it right or was she examining the situation with another seeker to assist in her own understanding and growth? A lot of spiritual seekers never even consider these kinds of questions because they are either unaware or don't want to know the answers. 

So my final answer to conundrums like this is they are individual judgment calls within the larger framework of generally accepted standards of honesty and morality. My integrity is mine to decide, not out of stubborn resistance and a need to be right, but out of responsible self examination. And wherever you draw the line (for example, between gossip and news) is up to you. Further, that needle moves between people and moves even within yourself as you challenge yourself to grow. And once the needle is set, challenges may come along to make you question the line. Finally, as with most things in life, the intention beneath something is key.

So integrity is a living breathing thing that is a joint creation between society and individual beliefs. And it's not a badge you earn because you do it right in one area of your life...or have some sort of right to because you go to church or pay your taxes...or because you hold on to some stubborn view of righteousness or superiority. It is an evolving thing that needs to be tended to every day through your own self awareness. And it is fed with fruits of good intent and the genuine desire to evolve. Also, once your lines are established, you can't blame others for knocking you off. How well you walk those lines lands squarely on the shoulders of your own integrity.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/12/16—Creating Magic In Your Life

A friend of mine recently introduced me to this book, E Squared. It's a book of nine energy experiments that "prove" your thoughts shape your reality. 

To begin with, and to get this out of the way, it's basic psychology that thoughts shape reality. If you're a negative person, you will naturally notice and focus on the negative things in your life. Meanwhile, someone can have the exact same experiences and see their world through a positive lens. Each viewpoint sets the world up to deliver more of that viewpoint, because you tend to screen out viewpoints that don't agree with yours. So if you're looking for something to complain about, you'll certainly find it.

But somewhere in all of this, for those who believe in things like higher powers and the ability to manifest things in the universe with the help of that higher power, a line gets crossed between basic psychology and "magic". And that line is located in a different place for different people. Some people are all in. Some are non-believers. For me, the line is nearer all-in, but also recognizes that other explanations may exist for whatever phenomena you're experiencing. That said, read tarot or practice psychic development long enough, and you'll definitely amass enough "evidence" that the universe interacts with us willingly, reliably and clearly when you are open to it. 

So the first experiment in this book is to ask God or the universe to send you proof that they exist and are listening, and that proof should come in the form of a surprise or gift. You don't get to say what the surprise will be. You get what you get. This is important because if you think you know what it's going to be, that is what you will look for and you might overlook or even reject the real gift. Besides, who better than God to decide what gift is appropriate to and the occasion?

The book also said to put a time limit on it for two days (which I don't normally do.) Then you're supposed to just let it go and trust. My two days were over Tuesday at 2pm. 

Tuesday at 2pm comes and goes and there's no surprise or gift. This really surprises me (haha, maybe that was the surprise?). After all, I have countless stories of times this kind of manifestation has worked for me and I was extra sure it would happen, because I was so excited. I truly believed something would come to me. But nothing came. 

So around 3pm I had to run out to do some errands. One of the things I hate about my PT Cruiser is that once a year or so, the check engine light goes on. And sometimes it turns itself off. But many times I have to bring it to a mechanic to the tune of $600. In Virginia, we get our cars inspected every year for emissions and safety. You can't get your car inspected with the light on, so you can't just ignore it. 

It usually goes on when it's really hot and pressure builds up in the gas tank. Sometimes just putting in gas and driving a long distance (like 70 miles) will make the light go off. But my light has been on for two months (fortunately for me, it went on right after I got my car inspected.) It mocks me every time I turn the ignition. It makes me regret my choice in vehicles. It stresses me out because it's expensive to fix.

On Monday, that damned check engine light was still on. But when I went to run errands Tuesday afternoon, it was off. 

Coincidence? Perhaps. It does turn itself off sometimes. But for anyone who wants to see more and greater magic in their life, this is a critical point. This is the point where you have to suspend disbelief and, instead of doubting the universe or questioning the "gift", extend your gratitude for gifts received. 

In my case, when 2pm rolled around, I was puzzled. Because I was sure the experiment would work and was anxious to see what the universe had cooked up for me. And when I got in my car,  I didn't even notice at first. But there I am driving around and thinking about how the deadline came and went and maybe I need to try again, and then I noticed. So I even felt like the universe was playing a little joke on an endearing way. 

So anyway, try the experiment yourself and let me know how it goes. Ask the universe to send you "a clear and positive gift or sign" in the next 48 hours. Suspend all disbelief, even get excited about it. And then, and this is important, keep your mind open. You will probably not get something wrapped in a Tiffany box with a bow. You may even wonder "is this really it?" Instead of that, be grateful for whatever good comes into your life. Then do the experiment again, if you like. 

The more you recognize the signs the universe is sending you—signs of good fortune and hope and love—the more of these signs you'll see. Keep it in mind, and you'll weather hard times easier, too. I was in a really bad place a couple of months ago and two powerful "signs" came at a critical moment one day, reminding me that the universe has my back. 

So maybe it's magic and maybe it's psychology. Believing it's psychology makes me less motivated to try. Kinda blah. Believing it's magic makes me want to do all sorts of fun things with it, however. So I'm going with magic, God's infinite grace, universal connection, etc. Who doesn't want more of that in their life?