Sunday, January 17, 2016

1/18/16—Seeing Through the Eyes of Others

I had a whole other topic I was writing about tonight, but it just wasn't pleasing me. So I went looking for a "classic" post to put up for this evening and quickly came across this one. It just happens to be from this weekend last year. And through no coincidence, I'm sure, it happens to contain insight into the topic I was originally writing about. The universe never ceases to amaze me. 

Anyway, here it  is...

I bookmarked a conversation I had online way back in early December and am only now getting around to writing about it. It all started with something a friend of mine had read on Humans of New York.

For reference, I'll put what the gentleman who was interviewed said here:

"I always remember my mom having this hardness to her. Even if you were at the other end of the house, you could feel her presence. Not like a monster, but kinda. She needed everything to be just a certain way. She'd arrange the towels perfectly and didn't want anyone mess them up. She'd keep these detailed notes on money and daily activities and even her bowel movements. It was a diary of her anxieties. She always needed everything to be just a certain way, and she always had such a hard tone to her voice. But I loved her. I remember walking into her room shortly before she died. She was curled up in bed because she had very bad scoliosis, and she looked so small and vulnerable. And next to her on the nightstand was a picture of her as a little girl, standing with her own mother. And it made me sad, because I knew that little girl had never wanted to grow up to be a ball of anxiety." 

My friend who posted this posed a really interesting question—"how do we get to be who we are? Is there a way back to that little girl we once were before "things happened" that turned us into someone else, some we don't want to be?"

So after marinating on this for a month and a half, I've kinda concluded, for me, this is what our spiritual journeys are about...finding some essence of who we were before humanness rained down on us. And there's a second part to all of this that has to do with forgiveness, so read all the way to the end. :)

Back when I was a kid, I was a troublemaker in school. I was bossy and argumentative, stubborn and just generally a pain in the ass. I remember there was this boy I had a crush on, so I'd knock him upside the head when I'd pass his desk in second grade. That got me kicked out of that class. Then in 4th grade, I was supposed to skip a grade, but because of my emotional immaturity, I didn't skip. Then in 6th grade, I had to spend the entire year sitting behind a closet (I could see the board and all) because I was too disruptive to the other students. That was the end of me getting in big trouble in school, but it wasn't the end of me being an asshole. The ironic thing is that, while I got attention, I didn't get the positive kind of attention I wanted. And my self esteemed flagged as a result. 

Lord only knows what teachers thought about the way I was being raised. It's the kids with the bad childhoods that make all the trouble, right? But the thing is, I had a pretty decent childhood. I was just a kid who craved more attention. Both of my parents worked, I was the youngest of six kids and my demand for attention didn't meet the available supply. Not knowing how to get more, I acted out. Somewhere there was a turning point, because with low self esteem and a bad attitude, it could have gotten so much worse. I don't know for certain when that turning point came, but at some point I veered back on to the higher road. 

What I didn't realize at the time was that, for someone interested in bettering themselves and serving God and society at a higher level, this attention issue was to become part of my life's work, spiritually speaking. Back then, it manifested at tantrum level. Over the years, this need for the ego to be noticed and recognized has mellowed into things like writing long, meandering blog posts about myself. :D I have consciously worked on and let go of many "bad" behaviors around this whole attention thing. I try harder to give others their turn. In some cases, I've managed to channel the energy into something that actually helps others (like the stuff I write about). And some of the behaviors I'm still working on. 

So, to answer my friend's question, I do think there's a way back. Her question went down some different rabbit holes about being raised by someone like the man above's mother and being raised by a mother like my other words, an effed up upbringing vs. a relatively normal one. But it's worth considering that it doesn't really matter. For better or for worse, we get the upbringing that gives us our assignment/s. And the difference between Oprah and Hitler—two people with difficult upbringings who grew up to be powerful thought leaders—is whether you work on that assignment or whether you let it work on you. 

The second part of the discussion with my friend was about forgiveness and compassion. Many times when we have parents or others in our lives who are so broken by their humanness, we put distance between ourselves and them. In fact, we do this with all sorts of unsavory people, not just relatives or close friends. We do it with co-workers and homeless people and people we see on TV who have committed crimes. In fact, there doesn't even have to be a serious issue with someone. All they have to do is disagree with us on something important to us, like politics, and that's it. They're gone. 

We justify this to ourselves as doing what's healthy for us. But is it really? Or is it healthier to learn to open our hearts to these people—to see the little girl who was doing fine until humanness hit her square in the face—and feel compassion and love for them anyway? Isn't that really the healthiest, most evolutionary choice for both us and them? 

While I might not always practice it perfectly, learning how to look at the person beneath the person is something I learned about many years ago on Oprah. When you encounter someone who is different from you or who has done you harm, realize that they didn't grow up with the dream of being reviled by others. That happened somewhere along the line when life happened. And life has happened to all of us. 

Moreover, for the people who are just different from you, realize that they have the same dreams for themselves and their families as you do. Those families in Africa that live in cardboard huts...they have the same kinds of hopes and dreams for their lives and family as you do. If that child turns out to be a thief, that wasn't part of the dream. Everyone, from terrorists to saints, just want their children to be safe and happy and their lives to be as fulfilling as possible. Yeah, even terrorists. 

Which is not to say that I'm defending terrorism. There is no defending that. And some of them may have debilitating mental issues that take them out of the "everyone wants to be safe and happy" mold. But I'm just saying that compassion and forgiveness can be given to anyone, albeit it might take a master class to give it to a terrorist. Because it's not what THEY do that matters in your spiritual practice of compassion and forgiveness. It's only what YOU do and how much you can open YOUR heart. 

Remember Antoinette Tuff, the woman who talked a school shooter into giving himself up? Her ability to do that saved her own life and the lives of countless children. It's rare to find someone capable of seeing the pain in another—especially when that other person is holding an AK-47 to your face—and focusing on that pain instead of the terror that pain wanted to cause. But she did it. And she did it because she understood that, on the way to whatever dream our parents had for their family and the dream we had for ourselves, some people get woefully lost on the trail. She had the humility to look at her own difficulties and see through his eyes and see that what separates her from him was just a few choices that could have gone the other way. 

So there's a lot to think about here. Self improvement. Spiritual purpose. Forgiveness. Compassion. And even self-forgivess and acceptance. We were all once innocent babies with simple, water, shelter, love. Then life happened and all hell broke loose. The difference between you and someone in prison or their own self-sustained misery is actually a matter of a small choice here or there to hold yourself to a higher standard...a choice each of us is handed multiple times daily in life and we usually choose not to take. So perhaps you've taken enough of those opportunities to get by, but you let a lot pass you by. Even you aren't your best all the time. The rest of the world is no different. It's all just a matter of degrees.