People ask me all the time, sometimes sadly, sometimes with determination, always seriously: How do I heal this loss? Fix this marriage, this child, this messed-up world? Become who I really am without hurting those I love?
These are profound questions I often wonder about. And burdens if I imagined I was responsible to come up with the answers. That's not how it works. As a psychospiritual therapists, my job is to empower people to find their own answers - within their own hearts and minds. It most definitely is my job to offer guidance. And since I'm in the business of healing, my clients questions are never far from my thoughts.
So...one night while I slept, my unconscious wowed me with a big dreamed-up how-to for healing. Spoken, no less, by a sort of wise man...or maybe a wise woman...offering no-nonsense, specific guidance. Whether they were a man or a woman didn't seem important. I just sensed immediately that this was somebody extraordinarily significant...and I'd better listen up. Their face was lined and wrinkled and their large round eyes glistened with love. They were short, wore a long brown robe of roughly textured fabric which was belted at the waist. A large hood almost covered their face.
In the dream, I'm sitting at my computer working on a book and other writing projects...like I did most days when I wasn't seeing clients or enjoying San Antonio and my life there. In the dream I'm writing an article for Enjoy Whole Health magazine, a bi-monthly column on spiritual healing for which I contributed articles. My hands pause on the keys. Seeking inspiration from Spirit I ask the question, "What heals?"
Enter Wise One. Who says, Love heals.
In the dream it wasn't surprising that this magical creature had showed up. It felt completely normal to have a sort-of-wise-person lovingly respond when I asked the question, "What heals?" And normal for them to wait patiently as I muddled through their answer in my head...love heals. Well yeah, I'm thinking. But that's not enough...
"Of course," I say to this wise being who seemed to have nothing better to do than to help me find answers to my probing question. "We all know that love heals. Love makes the world go around. All we need is love. But how...specifically...does healing happen?"
The wise one smiles, moves closer - it seems so that I can really hear what is being said - as they begin to explain. Break it down. Make it simple. It goes something like this:
Let people be
Open to Universal Truth
Value yourself as much as you value others
Empty yourself of judgment
Stunned but grateful for inspiration, I thanked the Wise One for answering so clearly. They smiled and nodded as if humoring a small child, and then had something else to say. You're welcome. Now do as you have heard.
Startled awake I rolled out of bed and with morning sunshine streaming into my face, I grabbed for my journal and scribbled the dream. I felt none of the calm I felt IN the dream. I was jazzed. Questioning what this explanation of how to heal could mean, I realized these were rules on the road to becoming a whole human being. How to enjoy whole health. How to heal with L-O-V-E. And...there was that commanding of voice, Do as you have heard. An imperative. Was it a warning? A caution? Or...simply a great plan?
Dream messages are usually meant for the dreamer alone. But this one felt both/and...for me to get it together, but also about my work, my clients. An answer to the questions we all ask. "What heals?" A 1-2-3-4 for how to be healthy.
My head was spinning as I thought through the four proposals that made up the acronym for LOVE. Those four principles of how to behave in the world began to makes a whole lot of sense. Clearly, this wasn't about romantic love. It was about universal love. Both for self and other? And how to do that....
LET PEOPLE BE
And to do so we have to consider limiting time with others whose values are in opposition to ours. This idea was clear. Limiting time, not out of judgment or meanness or because we think we're better-than. Not to be exclusive or territorial. But out of compassion for the other...and for ourself. Otherwise we become controlling. Don't we? We humans are motivated to hustle into straightening people out so we can have a relationship with them. Don't we? Fearing we'll lose love for people if they don't change. And maybe we'll lose, or are losing respect, we try to shape people into our ideal. The loss of respect is the number one relationship killer. So fear drives our need to change people in our lives. When the most loving way to respond to differences is to free them to run their own life. No matter the consequences we fear for the relationship. Or the hard choices we must make. This lesson about relationships hasn't changed since my fierce grandmother used to say to me - a meddlesome worry-wart of the highest order - "Just keep your nose out of other people's business!"
Now translating this Wise One message as it applies to my adult self - our adult selves - I am translating the understanding to everyday relationships in an ideal, grown-up, mature world: Just step away. Smile. Be friendly. Even mindfully kind and considerate. But don't try to make everyone your best friend. Your lover. Your boss. Let them be who they are. Just go on being yourself. No need to edit for fear we will offend...or say something hurtful...or be overly solicitous. Or any of the endlessly creative ways we constrict ourself when we're with people whose values are vastly different from our own.
I am reminded as I ponder this wisdom to let people be, the words of a wise teacher who shaped my understanding years ago. Once in sharing his life story with relationship struggles that might have taken down a lesser human being, Howard Butt declared the effectiveness of: "Not speeding up when people praise. Or slowing down when they criticize. But just keeping steady."
Think about it. When we hang out for too long with people who don't share our values we become testy, defended and downright ornery. Maybe especially with family. We adapt in disingenuous ways. Either by acting unkind, or it's fake and phony opposite, ingratiatingly people-pleasing. You how we are when we're with people who rub us the wrong way, but with whom we're trying not to be a bitch or bastard. We can pull off pretending and acting fake only so long. And then we break under the strain of falsehood and become the problem we were trying to avoid.
On the opposite side: People who think and feel as we do about critical issues - especially political and religious issues - are easy to be with. We breathe deeper when we're with them. We're not on edge. We relax. We don't have to be so careful, to control ourselves, to be hyper-vigilant so we don't mess up and reveal who we are. Or strain at image-management. With like-minded people we can be authentically who we are. And they are freed to be the same.
Even so, allowing relationships to breathe means a degree of distance and change. Change is hard and we resist it with all we've got. Commitment to people we once considered our closest confidantes, devotion to a group whose values we once agreed with, and dedication to an organization that once claimed our loyalty, may disintegrate over time as we personally grow and transform. That's sad. But it happens when we grow throughout life. Separation is inevitable with some people. And miraculously sometimes we're able to maintain lifelong friendships and associations. What a treasure. Hanging out with harmonically resonant souls requires little effort.. While struggling for common ground with ideological strangers takes a toll on the personality. Saying goodbye to a previous relationship form is wrenching, and sometimes essential for emotional well-being and peace of mind. Most importantly, reacting truthfully to our core beliefs and feelings toward someone makes us authentically congruent with our True Self. If we aren't our best friend first so we are filled-up with something to give, all sorts of hurts are inevitably on the way.
This whole concept of letting people be is difficult. But it feels so right. Fearing loss is the primary reason for co-dependently controlling others. And yet...when control is the basis for a relationship authentic LOVE can't exist. Right? Non-conditional acceptance of someone is the oxygen that breathes life into LOVE. And for real, it's impossible to love everyone or for everyone to love us. And to be healthy and grow throughout life we must find some way to reconcile this truth. Which leads right into examining the second principle Wise One teaches is necessary for whole health.
OPEN TO UNIVERSAL TRUTHS
Open is the opposite of closed. Open to new beliefs...not cynical, closed and narrow-thinking. Universal truth...an expansion of individual truths.
What is truth anyway? Is that with a capital T, Wise One? There is my truth. And your truth. And THE truth. Is this how it goes? How can anyone say that something is THE TRUTH? Isn't that thought form narcissistic? Countries have their truths. Families believe their ways of being are a true path. Science. Religion. Theology. Cosmology. Archeology. Biology. Psychology. Physics. Metaphysics. Journalism. Mysticism. Shamanism. Truths are everywhere. Could it be that Opening to Universal Truths means we have to be alert...and possess beginner's mind...well-read...educated...curious...interested in the pursuit of TRUTH. A student of life. Am I? Are you?
What do we think of when we hear the word truth? For Americans, someone in an argument eventually points to our founding documents to justify or deny some position. Can we rest on truths therein? Our Bill of Rights proposes that there are certain unalienable rights which we hold self-evident. The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Self-evident? The definition of our rights is constantly in flux...and under the scrutiny of The Supreme Court. Depending on the political demographics of the court, about one-half of the country will be at odds with rulings. Our Constitution often feels for some of us as if the Law of the Land and truths self-evident are anything but.
World religions? Are there Universal Truths here? How different would the quality of life on our planet feel if we studied each other's sacred beliefs and chose several tenants of faith that are truths we can all agree upon? And then we allowed those truths we disagree with to just be?
What about the Ten Commandments? Are they Truth? The Christian Founding Faith of our American Fathers (yep...no Founding Mothers...already there is something wrong with this picture) supposed that there are two great commandments on which hang all the law and the prophets: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Can we all agree on that? The Lord your God? Not everyone believes in a singular deity. Or in deities at all. For some people it's Dark Matter, and the scientific evidence that something indefinable binds the Universe together.
The Jewish Kabbalah proposes that all things are connected above and below. Therefore, when we understand our connection to all things we tend to treat all things as if they are not separate from us...and we feel compassion for everyone. No doubt not all believers of this faith practices compassion for everyone. A divided Israel/Palestine tells the truth. Self-interest gets in the way. And yet...in theory...the basic belief in compassion goes down fairly easy. Doesn't it?
Islam and Muslim beliefs have much in common with both Christianity and Judaism. And no wonder. One patriarch Abraham. The desert father of two major world religions. Two women. Sarah and Hagar. Two sons Isaac and Ishmael. Judaism and Islam. Jealousy and entitlement. Both believing in their superior lineage. Both believing in God. If you have faith in God and belief in tenets taught through the Quran - so like the Bible with the same cast of characters and stories - and follow the commandments with good works, Islam faith suggests that you attain paradise. And yet our contemporary Western understanding of Muslims and their religion, that we in the West have represented politically in a harshly negative light, is not the same Islam that is based on common texts about love as the healing potion from which all three ancient religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - all suppose to drink. This struggle is personal. It's psychological. At the core an old grudge unreconciled and unhealed. Of course this is simplistic. But truth here. Yes?
The almost impossible task of discerning Universal Truths for these three primal faiths lies in dealing with scriptures that they each cherry-pick, accepting some and excluding others from their Holy Books. If my book is better than your books...and my messiah with relevant texts make up the true books and not yours...then we will fight forever about who is right and who is wrong. And so we do.
Ultimate religious truth is unlikely to be discerned in the foreseeable future. If we are at all a student of history the outlook for harmony and love to prevail is bleak. And most unlikely to be apprehended through the mind - it seems to me given humanity's track record. Dogma prevails. And does little to reconcile one to the other. But rather, as the mystics, wise men and women of old have foreseen, the universal condition of love and acceptance is most likely to be attained through the path of direct experience. The mystical path itself. Practiced in all the great world religions in some form. Which - truth be told - has become my path. A path of individual revelation inspired by a myriad of ways to simply sit in the silence, listen, dream the dream, walk in nature, lean into a book that resonates deeply to heart, contemplate, meditate, just breathe. However the still voice within speaks, this is the ever unfolding way I discern my truth. Which in itself is an ever unfolding adventure. Rigid people break. You don't have to be a mystic to see this everywhere.
After all, core to all three of these world religions is the true need to be a decent human being. And maybe that's the point: we don't need universal religious agreement. We just need to respectfully and universally agree that all human beings have a universal right to their opinion. Their viewpoint. Their standpoint. Their truth. After the statement and understanding of which we stop the posturing and allow each other to be as we are. Guaranteed my life runs smoother - and I get more sleep - when I let people just be. Surely the right of every human being to respect, for who and what they are, stands up as a Universal Truth...more than the supposedly sacred facts of who, what, when, where, how and why of our holy scripts. Can we be open to and accepting of people just as they are? Can I respect another human being's right to simply be who they are without needing to make them into my ideal? And if not...I ask myself...what is wrong with you? Something. Surely. Please. Go. Figure it out.
I don't want to leave this mind-muddling without considering Buddhism, through yoga and meditation so much now an integral part of our Western society. Buddhism isn't caught in that three-religion might-makes-right tangle of God-Jesus-Muhammad. Buddhist belief suggests that every life has the purpose of achieving supreme happiness through total awareness of itself and of the universe. Buddhism supposes: Who we are today comes from thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build on life of tomorrow. Our life is the creation of the mind. As the big-mind that encompasses mystic understanding rather than the simply the reasoning brain which is limited to thought. Buddhists believe that all suffering is caused by attachment. And attachment to our truth is a whopper.
I think - at least as I now consider and write - what the Wise One might be saying without saying it, is that narcissism - and especially religious narcissism it seems to me - is toxic. Narcissism: Believing we are right and others are wrong...that we alone have a leg-up on the truth. And we're not remotely interested in walking in someone else's shoes. Because you see...they're just wrong. And we are incapable of, and not the least interested in developing empathy. Even if we could. Which we cannot. Because our point-of-view is right. We'll stake our life on it. And do.
Again I am reminded that rigid people break. And break others in their fall. It makes sense to realize that beneath the skin or race, color, sexual orientation, gender, country, politics and religion we are more alike than different. We are all universal citizens. We are all human beings. We are all worthy of love and respect. And when we claim this for ourselves, though this experience of self-love and acceptance and respect, we have it to give to others. And not just our people. All people.
Clearly, Truth isn't a static concept. It changes as humanity changes and evolves through education, research and science, all pressing into new frontiers. Sure...there are hard truths and moral certainties that can't be compromised. Murder, rape, theft...all these are about character. And considered amoral in every civilized country on the earth. There are hard truths and what I understand as soft truths - more about cultural and religious preferences than absolutes across all cultures. For these soft truths - since I'm a Texas girl - it seems to me that far fewer callouses and bruises are possible if we ride herd on ourselves and tend our own fences.
VALUE OTHERS AS YOU VALUE YOURSELF
This suggestion from the Wise One makes me think about co-dependency. A misguided understanding of partnership. And how nobody is valued. Truly valued. I just called it marriage. Where placing personal needs second to the needs of others was the understood standard of behavior. At least in Texas in my neck of the woods. Love = Sacrifice. Or so I understood. When in effect this is a this-for-that game. Giving to get. Who ever heard of the notion that you could give to yourself? Even when you're in partnership. Scandalous. Selfish. That's not how it works. You have to manipulate to ensure that your people are OK and happy. And then you can feel OK and happy. Because if your people are happy then they'll give you what you want. Even if you aren't allowed to tell them directly what that is. Who does that? Speak directly. Unheard of. You have to hint. Or withhold when they don't give you what you want. Punish them a little. And just say I forgot. Or not now. Or you pout. Or spend frivolously. This is a sad story.
My first therapist nailed me with a Codependency diagnosis. This issues was then DSM official as Dependent Personality Disorder. I was miserable. Because of him. And let me tell you about it. He does this. He does that. He doesn't do this. That. It took years until I finally understood that when the therapist asked...and what are you going to do about it...that she wasn't affirming my powerlessness. She wasn't encouraging my resentment. You have choices she said. Did not! Unimaginable. Disempowered and helpless are merely excuses for failing to take responsibility for our one and only life. Say what? That's ridiculous.
Are we conscious that we're doing that? No. Doesn't everybody do it? Isn't that how the game is played? Often. At home. With family. In neighborhood and community relations. At work definitely. Assertiveness training was trending. I signed up. No one will value you if you don't value yourself. Seriously? It was a long haul to get where I needed to be.
Taking-care-of has equated to love - being valued and valuing - through the eons. In the hunter-gatherer days when role definition made sense it was really about allocating tasks so everything got done and survival was ensured. Today role definition is about domination and control. In our modern world, relationships are failing more than they are succeeding. Many avoid committed partnership and are labeled commitment-phobic. But are they? Phobic? Or just noting the clues that love often seems to go downhill after I do. Clearly - with Me Too and a host of unkindnesses in our current political and corporate climate - the form of hierarchical relationships, from personal to business - where partnership and position is license for domination and control without regard for the humanity of the other, has become intolerable to the point of boiling over. And it's not just about men dominating women. Although predominantly, yes. Male and female, growing masses are screaming for a cultural rethink and reboot. What will it take to reinvent the meaning of loving another? Respecting each other? Filling ourselves up so that we have something to give?
When both love partners carry their own load, fill their own bucket, drink from their own well, we are filled-up human beings capable of love and respect. When we know what we feel, want and need, and how to make ourselves happy - and don't have to depend on someone else for doing that - the pressure of relationships evaporates. We are with each other out of want instead of need. We negotiate. We plan together. Nobody is boss. We share. We're happy campers...instead of feeling chained together in strangling partnerships. What a relief. And we need it.
EMPTY YOURSELF OF JUDGMENT
It's a nasty truth: We become what we hate. While condemning others we poison our insides with disgust, and dredge deep neurological pathways of disdain. Peace is not achieved by imagining war. For there to be harmony, equality and love, our battleground ideology has to become extinct. We might one day become intent on finding the middle path...on mindfully focusing our intent toward mutually agreeable solutions...all of us...all of humanity compassionately becoming change-agents for good. Because we've evolved to become peacemakers. Blows my mind to imagine. And why not? What stands in our way? Isn't common decency and compassion for all creatures great and small the forward thrust of Earth? If not we're stepping into the plot of dystopian fantasy movies. Aren't we?
When we're all judge-y inside our heads aren't we offering free rent to the person we're judging? We know how that feels. They are clueless. And we're the gerbil on a wheel spinning and spinning. Unable to stop. Making ourselves and everyone around us miserable. The only person that judgment hurts is us. Filling ourselves with love instead of hate has got to be a better plan. And to do that we sometime have to gently back away..let people BE...with the humble understanding that our Truth is not necessarily THE TRUTH.
Learning to gently step away and walk down a different path seems key to all of these messages for creating healing L-O-V-E. Not speeding up when someone criticizes. Or slowing down when they praise. But just keeping steadily on the path that seems ours to walk.
This dream, the challenge of acting and reacting as L-O-V-E suggests reminds me of Scott Peck's love definition taken from The Road Less Traveled: "Love is the willingness to extend yourself for the spiritual good of yourself or another." We are all spiritual beings in human form. Each of us a unique treasure. As we take care of, nurture, and treat ourselves with respect and love, we have that same measure to share with others. We change and grow not by knowing and voicing what we hate but by discovering who we are and what we love.
Breathing in. Breathing out. Envisioning LOVE as the standard for being human. "And more will be revealed..." I hear the Wise One say.