“I’M OKAY”

 

. . . aka MY FAVORITE LIE

I feel I was a cherished child.  My 1950’s post-war parents exemplified the classic norms of the era: Dad worked while Mom stayed home to raise us kids.  As the oldest, I believe I got the best Mom had to offer.  She was a kind and nurturing parent and a positive role model.  She made me feel good about myself through praise and by letting me know in countless ways that I was worthy, smart and strong.  Inevitably I suppose I felt compelled to please her and maintain my stellar image in her eyes.

And so it began; I started lying to myself.  It seems Mom’s characterization of me as being “strong” took on a life of its own.  Throughout my life I defined and redefined what strength meant to me, first within our family, later among friends, and finally as a woman.  For reasons I am at a loss to identify, strength became equivalent in my mind to my ability to restrain my emotions.  Of course all emotions are not equal, I thought.  The “good” emotions- affection, love, sympathy, happiness- were safe to feel and display, as long as my behavior was acceptable to my family and myself.  The “bad” emotions- anger, fear, sadness- were to be kept inside as much as possible.  Since doing so is impossible, my tears, rants and rages became an embarrassment, a source of shame.  They didn’t fit my definition of a strong woman.

So “I’m okay!” became my talisman, my little gold nugget representing the lie I told myself every time Life frowned my way.

Many signs over the years suggested my supposedly innocuous self-deceit was causing me problems.  Acquaintances often pointed out that it was hard to get to know me.  Once they did, some said I was cold, while others thought I was “too nice.”  Many said it seemed I always had a smile on my face.  Well!  I concluded others just didn’t “get me!”  Self-deceit runs deep.

Flash forward through LIFE:  nursing, anesthesia, and anthropology studies; the deaths and dying of both parents; divorces; the excruciating death of my first grandchild; unavoidable life changes too numerous to mention.  I WAS NOT OKAY!  But I didn’t know what to do about it or how to change things. Making lemonade from Life’s lemons still seemed to be the best, most honorable, STRONG way to proceed.  I struggled to keep my emotions tucked securely inside while showing only what I deemed appropriate.  So why was I unhappy and dissatisfied???

While no particular event was a “light bulb moment,”  certain insights began niggling at my well-fortified self-concept.  Perhaps my strength is a delusion, I considered.  Or maybe my definition of strength was overdue for revision.  I finally concluded both were in need of deeper examination.  In any case, invoking “I’m okay!” wasn’t working for me because it was a lie.  I realized I had short-circuited the process of becoming okay by declaring to myself I was already there. I had ignored all the work necessary to emotionally achieve the goal to which I aspired.

At an early point in my nursing career, I read a book by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who described the Five Stages of Grief in her book On Death and Dying.  (1969) They are:  (1) Denial  (2)  Anger  (3)  Bargaining  (4) Depression  (5)  Acceptance.  Over the years, those stages have been applied to how people grieve many forms of loss in their lives, including events such as: divorce; job loss; major life changes; cultural changes; self-perception changes.  Though each of us experiences change/loss in different ways, the key point is that grieving is a process which takes time. I finally realized “I’m okay!”  is the end of the process.  To put it at the beginning is not only delusional, it is asking too much of myself.  The emotions in the middle cannot and should not be buried.  But grieving is painful!   Yet once I acknowledged my fear of grieving I found it to be informative and surprisingly refreshing!  Hiding hurts worse than facing the fear.

It sounds like I’ve learned my lesson, but the lesson itself is a process.  A lifetime of using my talisman as a coping mechanism can’t be changed with mere insight; it must be practiced to create a new perspective.  Hopefully the positive benefits from a new perspective will be reinforced through consistent use.  Then eventually, I will probably be okay!

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THE LIE

She believed-
Until the lie was whispered.
She had faith-
Until the lie was confirmed.
She hoped-
Until the lie was repeated.
She cried-
Until the lie was denied.
Then she left
When the lie no longer mattered;
And now,
She lies to herself.

We tell ourselves stories: stories which include part reality, part perception, and lies- tiny lies, huge lies, self-serving lies. Sometimes we even lie to ourselves about why we tell those lies.  So can it be any surprise we lie to others?  Why are we so dishonest?

I’ve thought about this a lot and have come to believe the answers reside in our egos, our images of ourselves.  We all wish to believe we are good people, and we each have an internal definition of what that means to us.  I believe our stories to ourselves and others reflect our definition, and if it conflicts with an unpalatable reality, we vary the stories we tell. We align our stories to match our self-perceptions.

I suspect many would argue against what I’ve said.  But I suggest it is because we even lie to ourselves about what constitutes a lie.  Just for the sake of argument, let’s accept the approach used by the judicial system in the United States regarding truth-telling.  When one goes to court, s/he  swears to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  Fine for a few hours in court, you think; but not so in the real world!  Nevertheless, accept the definition as an ideal at least, just for consideration.  If we can truly imagine this ideal, it will become evident to us just how much we lie.  Very sobering.

What are the consequences of all our dishonesty?  On the plus side, of course, our self-image is preserved.  On the negative side, this creates a “fool’s paradise.”  While we’re patting ourselves on the back for being such a “good person,” we always have the little tingle inside which says, “well, not exactly.”  Unless we become so oblivious as to become firmly entrenched in our perceptions- or misperceptions- we know our stories are not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Which begins to erode our self-image.

So far I’ve concentrated on the internal stories we tell.  Add another human being and the effects of our stories increase exponentially.  What we tell ourselves cannot help but be reflected in the ways we relate to others, how we act and the stories we tell them.  When our stories contain some dishonesty, none of the effects are positive, at least not in the long run.  Of course positive short term effects seem to outweigh the negatives for many of us.  At least for a while, our stories are believed and our reputation and self image are preserved.  When disbelief creeps in, our worlds can crumble.  As we are forced by another to finally admit a truth we tried to evade, the relationship we have changes forever.  Unfortunately, many of us respond by blaming the other person for the distrust created.  We allow ourselves to be seduced into believing the delusion that our lies were warranted, even necessary under certain circumstances.  Preservation of self-image comes out on top.

There is a solution to dealing with our dishonesty, and it’s NOT to be an open book to everyone we meet!  But we can be an open book to ourselves. We can decide to live consciously. First, we need to see ourselves as we are: people who don’t always think things through and don’t always choose our words and actions wisely.  The “Serenity Prayer”  written by Rheinhold Nieburh is a good place to start:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

By incorporating the prayer in our definition of who we are, we can begin to accept our occasional lapses while also appreciating the holiness of our humanity- which doesn’t let us off the hook regarding honesty (note the second line of the prayer!)  But it does allow us to be realistic about what we might expect from ourselves.

Second, living consciously demands we pay attention:  we pay attention to what we think, why we think as we do, and how and why we act as we do.   We would do best to try and understand ourselves and our motives, and tell ourselves the truth in all matters.  It can be challenging at first to recognize when we are lying to ourselves, yet it’s definitely worth the effort.  Whether you’re nine or ninety, you will be sure to discover things about yourself you didn’t know before.

Third, as we learn more about who we are and become more comfortable being honest with ourselves, our empathy for others will be enhanced.  We will have created an internal platform upon which we can build our approach toward honesty in all our interpersonal dealings.  We will recognize that truthfulness need not be hurtful or unkind and can be told to another with compassion.  “Brutal honesty” is more about being brutal than being honest, reflecting anger and frustration.  As we become more comfortable with our truth, we will become more adept and caring in the ways we relate it.

Last, we can consciously define our relationship to all those we encounter and decide how much of ourselves we wish to reveal in each case.  Most of us do so in some way or another already.  But we can include honesty in all our relationships by simply acknowledging to another (when necessary) that certain aspects of our lives are not open for discussion in order to avoid lying as a means of maintaining our privacy.  In business and acquaintance relationships,  this is usually accepted by most parties.  With families and friends, issues of privacy can be negotiated.

We tell ourselves stories; those stories should be as honest as humanly possible.  By deciding to live consciously, we can learn the value of honesty.  Over time, I believe we will realize how incorporating our new understanding will positively affect our sense of self-worth and all our relationships.  We will have taken one more step toward serenity, peace of mind . . . and ultimately, living our very best life possible.

PRAYER FOR ALL

Whispering Wisdom,
Whatever your source,
We welcome your light
Blazing from beyond the heavens.
We open our being
To your message
Of unity and love:
We bow to each other
As we see the self in every soul,
Cherishing our abundance.
Our only plea
Is to continue living
In the light.

WHAT DO WE BELIEVE?

There are three major monotheistic belief systems in this world of 7.4 billion people: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Together, they comprise over half the world’s population. All base their beliefs on the Old Testament of the Holy Bible. The three part company with the birth of Jesus Christ. Who was he?

Jesus, called Isho in his native Aramaic language, is the son of God, a Jew born of the Virgin Mary and part of the Holy Trinity called God, according to Christian tradition. Jesus’ followers believe he was crucified then rose from the dead to join his Father in Heaven. This series of events, called Christ’s Passion, represented Jesus’ sacrifice for all mankind; he died to atone for all human sin (including original sin, into which we are all born) so his believers might be forgiven their sins and go to Heaven. Christians further believe no prophets were born after Jesus.

Judaism referred to Jesus initially by his Aramaic name, then later in Hebrew as Yeshua (Joshua). Jewish tradition does not accept Jesus as the son of God, and the concept of a divine trinity is considered polytheistic. Judaism also rejects belief in original sin and the idea of a savior dying in our stead to redeem the sins of man. A Messianic Age lies in our future, according to Judaism; it is believed this age will bring a series of changes in our thinking and in our world, including a return of Israel to Jewish people. This age will be led by a messiah, a great human leader. It is thought many false messiahs will present themselves throughout history; Jesus was among these.

Islam refers to Jesus by his Arabic name Isa. He is believed to be a prophet, but not the son of God. Muslims do however believe in Jesus’ virgin birth. According to Islamic tradition, God’s divine guidance was revealed to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel, over the course of 23 years, until Muhammad’s death in 632AD. The Qur’an documents these purported final revelations to humanity; Muhammad is thus believed to be the last (The Seal) of the prophets.

The divergence of these three monotheistic traditions has been important among the causes of endless savage controversy in our world. Yet all have a common origin, a unifying set of beliefs based on the Holy Bible’s Old Testament. It is important therefore to understand those beliefs, beliefs that begin with God as Creator of our universe. Who is God in the Old Testament (OT)?

The OT recounts God’s creation of the universe over the course of six days; the seventh was a day of rest. On the sixth day, God created man (Adam) in His image, from whom He took a rib to create woman (Eve). God gave them the gift of free will while admonishing them to obey His commands. They chose to disobey and God punished them, casting them from their home, the Garden of Eden.

Throughout the OT, God is said to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, pure love. Yet also throughout the OT God is anthropomorphized- described as having human traits. He is said to be wrathful and vengeful, expecting us to worship and fear Him. He gave us ten commandments we must honor during our earthly lives, threatening us with eternal hell and damnation if we disobey.

I personally believe the two sets of descriptions of God completely contradict one another. In my opinion an omniscient god knew we would “sin,” while a loving god would not have set us up for failure in such a way. I think the contradictions reveal the hand of man as authors of the OT.

Most who believe in the OT view of God consider the human authors to have been divinely inspired, yet perhaps the authors’ humanness couldn’t help but creep into their writings. Some questions come to mind. Did the OT authors believe God has human traits like anger and a desire for our adoration, or were the authors simply incapable of conceptualizing God’s perfection? Could they have been writing to an audience they believed was too unsophisticated to understand their ideas and divine revelations? Did the authors believe instilling fear in the reader was necessary to accomplish compliance with God’s commandments? Or is it possible some had self-serving motives for their own enhanced esteem?

Such questions are thought provoking, yet the question which troubles me most is this: why do over half the people in the world believe the portion of the OT description of God which so resembles that of a cruel tyrannical dictator? There seems no room left for the perfection, the divine, the holiness in such a depiction.  Perhaps we need to be enlightened.

. . . which is the goal of what scholars call Hinduism, the third largest belief system in the world. The one billion adherents to Hinduism believe “the divine exists in all beings and all humans can achieve union with this ‘innate divinity;’ seeing this divine as the essence of others will further love and social harmony.” {Swami Vivikananda} Through Dharma, the “right way of living,” we can personally experience a oneness with the universe, which is called enlightenment. Hinduism does not have a specific creed and allows for diverse beliefs. It predates monotheistic religions (originating ca. 1200 BC) yet the Dharma includes ideas of how to live one’s life which are suggestive of those described in the ten commandments.

Despite the differences in our belief systems and in our personal beliefs, one thread connects them all: our love for mankind. I share the sentiments of Mahatma Gandhi, who saw religion as a uniting rather than a divisive force, and in his statement:

“ I do not claim to have originated any new principle or doctrine. I have simply tried in my own way to apply the eternal truths to our daily life and problems. The opinions I have formed and the conclusions I have arrived at are not final. I may change them tomorrow. I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills.” (1936)

CHILD SOUL

We knew the Truth before birth
     You see;
We flowed within the sun.
Our tiny hands held galaxies,
Our souls all breathed as one.
But gently we were taught 
     We each
Are separate, alone;
Our unity fled memory,
We lost what we had known.

We knew the Truth as babes
     Of course;
We basked in God's warm heart.
Our love was pure, our strength and source,
A blessing to impart.
Then slowly we were taught
     We must
Guard carefully our prize:
In fear we mourned our loss of trust,
The blinding of our eyes.

We knew the Truth at first
     It's clear: 
Our universe was whole.
There weren't any boundaries 
To our sacred child soul.
Awakened in the womb
     Our birth
Exemplified life's pain:
Transcending lessons taught on earth
To remember once again.

THE HOLINESS IN HUMANITY

THE HOLINESS IN HUMANITY

In a previous essay, I suggested our fixation on using nature and nurture to define what it means to be human may have limited our endeavor to understand who we are.  I further suggested those considerations only address who we are as a physical body with a mind and a personality, and are therefore capable of providing only a limited description of our humanity.  Simply put, many of us- myself included- believe we are much more than those parameters can describe.  Also worth consideration as we try to understand our humanness is that scientists- including sociologists and anthropologists- warn us to tread carefully while defining human nature, as it takes only one exception to disprove any theory.  With these caveats in mind, let us consider what we think we know so far regarding traits shared by the overwhelming majority of humans.

Our biologic and essential social structures are well agreed upon as an initial description of human nature.  We are living organisms who have defined ourselves as Homo sapiens sapiens to differentiate us from all other living organisms.  We have needs, the most basic of which are related to our survival: air, water, food and shelter from the elements.  Yet survival of the individual is less important to us than survival of our genes; our children must live long enough to procreate and ensure species survival.  Also, we have always known our survival is best achieved by groups of people working together, so we have formed communities.  Those in our communities agree to participate in the give-and-take necessary to enhance the survival of all.  We are interdependent.

     Yet our communities enhance more than the survival of its members, which fact is one of the KEY ELEMENTS to understanding who we are as human beings.  Through our social interaction, our communities enhance the quality of our lives.  While we are sharing the day-to-day tasks of survival, we bond with one another.  While teaching, learning, helping and sharing, we care for each other.  Our relationships take on greater meaning in our lives.  We depend upon them for fulfilling emotional as well as physical needs.

A second KEY ELEMENT describing our humanity is our self-awareness. Each of us identifies with a self we believe is “me, and only me.”  We are unique biologically and experientially, yet we recognize a kinship- a “self,” if you will- with/in all others.  Innately, we can comprehend the similarities to ourselves in other people and identify with them- we have empathy- and so we learn to treat others as we ourselves wish to be treated. Our caring and empathy lead us to stronger, loving bonds with each other.  We all have a need to share in those feelings of loving kindness- both as giver and recipient- so we learn and internalize definitions of acceptable behavior.  We develop a conscience.  And so, through our innate qualities and experiential social education, we have become humanitarians.

A third KEY ELEMENT of our humanity resides in our brains and minds.  We seek education, explanation, and understanding pertinent to ourselves and the world in which we live.  We also seek understanding of our origins, how we came to BE in our world.  For the overwhelming majority of the 7.4 billion people on earth, those explanations include the existence of a God as Creator, a Universal Oneness of all existence, a Greater or Supreme Power, and/or a human soul.

To summarize, we humans are self-aware beings who have formed communities upon which we rely for our physical and emotional needs.  We have empathy for each other and we form kind, loving bonds with one another.  We have a conscience, we are humanitarians.  Most of us believe our being transcends our bodies, and that our existence is related to a oneness or a power/intelligence greater than our own. All THIS is the holiness in humanity, our true selves- the reflection of our souls.

     I believe by each of us recognizing and embracing the holiness in humanity within ourselves and all others, we will create a new perspective from which we can more clearly understand who we are. Such a perspective will not blind us to the challenges we all face throughout our lives, rather it will help us to discover new solutions to those challenges.  We have the opportunity to remember what we knew as children while taking advantage of life’s lessons viewed with our enlightened vision.

PERSONAL TRUTH

Wandering Soul

Wandering soul, wandering, wandering,
Roaming down life’s endless lanes:
Glimpsing dreams around our corners,
Touching truths at all our borders,
Learning all that life ordains.

Wandering soul, wistfully wandering,
Praying for Heaven’s bolt of light:
Longing to bestow your wisdom,
Hoping to de-bar life’s prison,
Trying to restore our sight.

Wandering soul, please stop wandering;
Your earthly work is not in vain:
We’re ready to revere your guidance,
Feel your presence deep inside us,
Yearning to be whole again.

PERSONAL TRUTH

We have all heard comments similar to:

“Think outside the box.”

“(S)he sees life through rose colored glasses.”

“Walk a mile in the other person’s shoes.”

All are references to the filters through which we view the world and our place in it.  What are these filters?  How are they created?  Can they be changed?

Our world view depends upon what we have learned from our communities, our families, our formal education systems.  Each minute detail of our lives teaches us something. Our experiences direct us toward our beliefs and perceptions, helping us to create our personal truth. While many others in our communities may share aspects of the same personal truth, our truth is unique to each of us.  No two of us are totally of one mind, no two of us perceive life in quite the same way.  Our sight is narrowed, filtered if you will, by our unique combination of experiences.

Does this mean we are stuck with a particular world view throughout our lives?   Certainly not!  We all have many opportunities to revise, revisit, reconsider our thoughts and beliefs.  We never stop learning and incorporating new perspectives into our personal truth. In fact we do so frequently, often in small ways.

I recall a conversation I had many years ago that began when a friend of mine declared, “I learned long ago not to trust women.”  I asked him how he had come to such a far reaching conclusion.  After he recounted several of his negative experiences, I thought for a moment before responding.

“What would you learn if you had a car accident?” I finally asked him.

“What does that have to do with the stories I’ve just told you?” he demanded with astonishment.

“Well,” I began, “some people who have an accident may learn to drive more carefully.  Depending on the circumstances, some may learn to pay more attention to maintaining their cars.  Others still may learn driving is so dangerous that they decide to stop driving altogether.   What would you learn from having an accident?”

He got it.  Based on our filters, we all take something different away from each of our experiences.  While my friend didn’t have a change of heart, this is a small example of how one filter became less opaque.

Often our filters aren’t even recognized as such.  But every so often one jumps out to slap us in the face!  This happened on a grand scale during  the 1960s race riots in the USA.  As many African Americans and their sympathizers raged over racial inequality, our whole nation was forced to think about our personal beliefs concerning racism.  We had to acknowledge a filter existed and reconsider aspects of our personal truth. Then for better or worse, our filters and truths changed as a result.  Today, Americans are facing a similar wake-up call.

But we are human; we still have our filters, we still have our ever changing personal truths.  Is that all we can hope for, all we can expect from ourselves?  Or is there a greater truth, a truth beyond our filters, an unchanging truth that has the power to reorder and transcend our personal truth?  Is there Universal Truth?

If it exists, given our history, it seems obvious that such Truth is not accessible to us through human endeavor and rationale alone.  Authors who address the concept often speak from either a religious, moral, scientific or mathematic perspective to substantiate their claims.  But no one offers anything more than theory about the nature of the universe itself- which means we presently cannot speak with absolute certainty to the existence of Universal Truth.

So yes, we are left with the task of defining truth individually as persons living within the larger world community.  Perhaps our truths will eventually merge into HUMAN TRUTH.   The wisdom available to us through the holiness of our humanity can lead the way.