Trust is Possible: a Thanksgiving Blog

Over the last four and a half years, I’ve written here about the beauty of the broken heart, some painful, enraging truths about the patriarchy and its toxic effect on the 51%, lots of self-reflection, and different stages of my own journey through the tangled woods. Sometimes the tree branches seem to come alive and grab at me, darkly, as if I were none other than silly Snow White looking to be saved by tiny, ineffective fictional creatures. At other times sun dapples the forest floor and shows me the way through, so I can make my own story.

Looking back, most of what I remember about my life is having a hopeful, joyful heart. The bubbling gratitude that returns to me again and again. Not despite the bad stuff of life, but because of the deliciousness that fills in all the spaces around it.

But I still trip and stumble on my way. Identifying my own internal roadblocks remains part of why I’m here.

This year on the day of giving thanks, I am most profoundly grateful for a recent shift inside me.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, my daughter and I lit a small fire in a micro-pit (loaf pan) by lighting baking soda and rubbing alcohol. (Life hack if you need a ceremonial fire and don’t have a fireplace or outdoor firepit.) As the fire flickered on the coffee table, we quietly released into it things that we could identify that were clearly not serving us, and invited into our lives the opportunities, attitudes, beliefs, and people we wished to see manifest. Releasing fears, sorrow, limiting beliefs, and welcoming in joy, transformation, and most of all, love.

As we did this familiar ritual, in companionable silence, I had a serious epiphany. You know how epiphanies can be. A sudden “woke” moment when what you have “known” all along is suddenly clear. For me, it usually means that words appear, elucidating the truth so I can look straight at it. What was an unidentified feeling or belief becomes a statement. The words give the belief visibility and shape. If it does not serve me, the words cause it to lose some of its power so I can deal with whatever it is. If it is an epiphany of empowerment, I can own it and consciously, affirmatively accept it into myself.

On this particular day, these words formed in my mind: “Men always disappoint me.”

Harsh. I might have winced (literally) as the thought formed words and opened up inside me.

Though these words were never spoken by me or even in my head before that moment, I realized that my body lived them. The belief, like a miasma, filled the little innocent spaces in me so that as I opened myself to love, experience, and the men in my life, I was sabotaged by it.

“Limiting belief” is an understatement. This belief was a threat to my happiness and well-being.

Lucky for me, I have a toolbox I can whip out at a time like this to begin the uprooting process. But I knew instinctively that I might need to bring in the big guns this time. I called upon a fellow traveler and dear friend, shaman and healer, to guide me through the discovery, the releasing, and the healing.

Knowing where this belief originated was not technically necessary to expunge it, but I’m a curious sort. I like to know, and, for me, knowing with my head is usually (though not always) a key to a door that allows healing through to my heart and the rest of my being.

My experience, in any particular lifetime (choose one), of being silenced or abandoned or assaulted by a man or men in power, is hardly unique. It is the story of women. We all take these lessons into ourselves in our own ways. But they are just stories and can be rewritten.

The individual men that I love or have loved, from my father, to my son, to my brothers-in-law, cousins, friends, lovers, are inside me. Some have brought me nothing but warmth and love, others have done their worst. But what I realized is that society as a whole, going back to almost the beginning, is so infused with the unbridled, unbalanced energy of the yang, so dominated by the male of the species, that attempts to silence or squelch, deny, ignore, oppress, force, or disempower the yin are all around us. They are the overwhelming, overarching reality for all of us. In some countries and cultures, this energy is more intense and unavoidable than in others, but let’s be honest. It is unavoidable until things change for good.

Those sweet, gutsy, humble, strong men who see the forest for the trees, who understand the toll our world’s way of doing things takes on half the population, they are the ones we fall in love with, right? The ones we want to surround ourselves with. The ones we want to raise, marry, hire, elect, along with the women we also raise, marry, hire, and elect, obviously.

So what the hell does any of this have to do with Thanksgiving? Gratitude, of course.

This year I am grateful that I have transmuted my belief about men to an understanding of my own journey through the eons, and an understanding of something even deeper than that. That though it is difficult to trust, trust is possible. And it is still and always has been, for me, easy to love. Love can heal the harshest ache, and I am grateful for love.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

“I Don’t Want to Be a Bother” OR Bullshit Excuses for Stupid Choices

View out my hospital room through the circle of orchid sent by a dear friend to heal me.

A few weeks ago, I “felt off” one evening. My daughter and I were watching a hilarious feel-good movie on Netflix. An hour of not very feel-good discomfort later, the movie was over, and I said, “Worst gas pains ever. Can you clean up the dinner dishes?” Twenty minutes after that, I was having a hard time coping with the pain in my abdomen. I was breathing (sort of) through it, only the pains did not come in waves, like labor. It was just one looong wave… of horrid. Then the vomiting began. The backdrop to this was my daughter being “on it” and texting with one of my best friends, Ann, who happens to be a nurse practitioner and our “go to” for the Western medicine perspective. The two of them were pretty much trying to find a “when to go to the ER” solution I’d abide by.

Why was this a struggle? I was sure it was “nothing.” Looking back, even if it hadn’t been appendicitis – which, yup, it was—it was something damned awful. When the uncontrollable shakes and shivers began, I even had a way of explaining that from a medical felony down to a mere misdemeanor.

My thoughts included:

  • “I just want to sleep.” (Who was I kidding? I could barely breathe!)
  • “I’m overreacting.” (No, actually, I was seriously underreacting.)
  • “What if I go in and it’s just gas and everybody went to all that trouble.” (Forgetting that’s their paid job. Like a car mechanic being pissed because I brought my clanking car in to be checked and it turned out to be nothing much. Not likely, because it COULD have been something big.)
  • “Fucking high deductible insurance….” (…)
  • “Maggie shouldn’t have to deal with this in the middle of the night.” (Even though she was already dealing with it, as in a. BEGGING to take me, b. had already made a 30 minute run to an all-night pharmacy seeking over-the-counter solutions, and c. was fetching buckets, hot chamomile tea, blankets, and engaging in lengthy medical texts with Ann.)

My blurry and haphazard thoughts also included growing anxiety because I was not “coping” all that well and part of me just did not want to have to make this seemingly overwhelming decision. Had our positions been reversed, I, the mother, would simply have put my foot down. But even a fully functioning adult daughter who is used to her mom making all her own decisions did not feel quite comfortable bossing me around.

How is it that I could not make this—as it turns out very important—decision when it was MY wellbeing at stake? So much for my glorious affirmations of my value and worth, taking care of myself, being assertive. All this is easy enough when no one is going to be “put out” to “take care of me.”

I’ll ask for a raise. I’ll stake my claim in a debate about politics, ethics, parenting, climate change, organic food, you name it. I’ll speak up to strangers behaving like bullies in public. I’ll insist (of myself) that I go to the gym, eat right, and get regular check-ups.

Had Maggie not been there, I don’t know if I would ever have made the decision to call 911. But she was there. But what if she hadn’t been? But she was, okay, but … what if she hadn’t been?

Lesson learned. Having been schooled (kindly but sternly) by the ER docs and nurses and (very charmingly) by my surgeon, my own misguided idiocy has been made crystal clear to me. All went well. I meekly obeyed all post-surgical commandments and have healed flawlessly. Life goes on in all its beauty and I have felt no resentment, annoyance, or even a whiff of huffiness in response to my encounter with the vestigial enemy within. Only gratitude.

SUPER flattering photo taken by my daughter a few hours after my surgery with her little caption. She was impressed by my hanging fluids, apparently. I guess considering I’d just had surgery I don’t look TOO bad….

 

Holding onto My Soul

possible

Hope.

  • Listening to Van Morrison singing “Wild Night” It lifts my feet and pushes up through my floating ribs. It reminds me, outside of consciousness, how I am still that same kid, back when hope was just part of my circulation, even when I had to learn the hard lessons.
  • Even if love is withheld, used as a weapon, or indistinguishable from loss, a cool breeze lifts my hair and brings hope.
  • Remembering to raise up my voice along with my eyes. I will be heard, and I will see you.
  • Road trips.

Love.

  • It is my superpower.
  • It lives in my body and can’t be banished or defeated.
  • Love built my babies, pushed them out, and grew them strong.
  • Love hurt me, and healed me, and taught me how to be strong and soft all at the same time. You too, maybe.
  • There is lots of it in the world. Do you think it’s hiding, or even gone forever? It isn’t. Look inside yourself and you’ll know I’m right.
  • I love the me that loves the you.

Desire.

  • Buddha said it is the root of suffering. Probably. But it fires me up. The wanting and the longing and the excitement. It’s kinda like being on a tall tower, knowing you can fly, and that as soon as you drift off to sleep… you will.
  • I want to hold hands. Whisper into the ear of a lover. Lie on the floor to look up at the Sistine Chapel. Swing my hips. Breathe.
  • Rare air—icy on the mountaintop, salty and soft from the bayou, or warm from the lips of someone who just kissed me for a long time.
  • And then there’s desire for justice, equity, valor, and passion.

Righteousness.

  • Because: it exists.
  • It rolls like water. A mighty stream.

Joy.

  • Hearing music. Let’s start here: STEVIE. Have you listened to “Do I Do” lately? It will make your synapses tingle with happiness. “Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan. The lyrics really are sketchy but it just feels so good inside my body. What else feels good is “Love (Never Felt So Good)”—that thing Justin made with Michael after Michael was dead. (Must dance.) The Proclaimers proclaiming they’d walk 1000 miles to fall down at my door. (YES, thank you.) “Coyote” by Joni – especially the version from The Last Waltz. (The driving rhythms of this song and the voice—it is a truly flawless thing.) And so very very many more. As George Eliot said, “Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.”
  • Sexual abandon. Rare and exquisite. The certainty that every moment is, was, and will be delicious and full of tangles.
  • The middle of the afternoon. Nowhere to be. A city street, the smell of food, rain, or a woman’s perfume: a faint whiff. Boots made for walking and maybe later I’ll meet up with a friend, a loved and precious friend.
  • The unplanned for.
  • Laughing till I pee my pants. Red faced and bleary teary I am at my best in these moments of helplessness.
  • Road trips (reprise).

Activism.

  • As much as backing into the cave of soft darkness and yellow firelight is a temptation of monumental proportions, being cold and wind-smacked outside the White House somehow feels better, in the end.
  • Speaking my truth.
  • Risking love on the rock-strewn mountainslope of truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be the Sapiosexual You Want to See in the World—Smart is Sexy! *

 

smart-is-sexy-image

Sapiosexual.

If you know what that means, I’d probably like you. If you consider yourself to be sapiosexual, I might even love you. And if you’re a guy, I’d date you.

I didn’t know what sapiosexual meant until a while back when I saw a man describe himself that way on his dating profile. Excited to find a word I had not heard before, I was immediately hooked. I was pretty sure I knew kinda what it meant. Sapio—from the Latin verb “sapere” (dare to be wise) from which we (however accurately) derived sapiens, the second half of homo sapiens. Aka animals with thinking brains. (Yes, this is super species-centric and assumes we are the only ones with thinking brains [in itself a profoundly stupid assumption], and a case could be made that we might actually not be that smart after all, if you look at it a certain way [aka the fate of our planet and all the creatures upon it], but regardless, sapiens basically means smart.)

The Urban Dictionary tells us that “a sapiosexual person is someone who finds intelligence and the human mind to be the most sexually attractive feature in the opposite sex” (or same sex if you are gay). Glory be!

I am automatically going to swipe right for any man who says he’s a sapiosexual. Why? Because I grew up in a world that tries to convince women and girls that their brains are 1. Not that important 2. Probably not as good as those of the dudes 3. Something to downplay on a date and I could go on. All of which is 1. Wrong 2. Sexist 3. Likely to be the end of civilization as we know it if we stick with those made-up, ridiculous rules. I love the men who love my brain, because to me they are 1. Confident 2. Smart 3. Fun to be with. Oh, and yeah, 4. Sexy as hell. (And also probably not afraid to admit they are feminists, and in case you need a reminder that means they believe that men and women deserve equal rights and treatment. Not that radical.)

Smart IS sexy. It just plain is sexy, sexy, sexy. I’m not going to want to rub up against someone I can’t talk with. Deeply. I mean, whatever your thing is, it doesn’t matter: quantum physics, mechanical engineering, 17th century poetry, neuroscience, international politics, Cajun cooking, the history of fashion design, ornithology—I’m interested in it if you are, and I want you to be interested in my stuff too. I mean, why not learn something while you cuddle in front of the fire in the ski lodge, lie naked under the ceiling fan after a day on the beach, or sip yummy wine at a sexy little hole-in-the wall in the West Village.

Part of attraction/love/desire is being excited, right? If I’m excited about a book I just read or an idea I just had, it’s going to light me UP, and make me desirable and sexy. If you are turned on by your work, your art, your ideas, that thrill you feel will make its way to me and I’ll get… turned on too. See how that works?

Be the sapiosexual you want to see in the world. If you want to be fulfilled in the long term, don’t hide your brilliant fire under a bushel to get a date. If you do, you’ll be stuck pretending to be somewhat dim for the duration, and you’ll bore quickly or resent the person who liked you in spite of being, well, dim.

Shine forth!

  • Being smart means you are open to the fact that you don’t know everything. Think of the fights you’ll avoid by not believing you know everything. Smart people know better.
  • Being smart means you actually will read a book or have a conversation that might change your mind. Do you know how amazing it is when you send a link to an article to a guy you kinda like and he a. reads it and b. can’t wait to talk to you about it? Amazing in this case = sexy.
  • Being smart means you never have to say or hear (or say) the words, “There, there, dear, don’t worry your little head about that.” So much better to hear/say: “What do you think? I really want to know.”
  • Being smart means you may well be on your way to falling in love before your hands or lips ever touch. SO HOT.

The deepest loves (and sexiest) I’ve had have been the ones where something—a circumstance of one kind or another—allowed friendship and intimacy to blossom fully before that first sexual moment. The hunger and subsequent thrill that comes on the heels of that slow build-up is indescribable.

Are physical compatibility and attraction important? YES. But honestly, the men on dating sites who say “send me more pictures” or call me “cutie” without knowing a thing about me don’t interest me in the slightest and, in fact, turn me off. The ones who tell me something interesting, and ask to hear what I have to say—they will get me to keep the conversation going, every time.

*This blog also had a guest appearance on the blog of Betty Russel, BeFreeToLove.com. Thanks, Betty!

 

The Case Against Kvetching OR Don’t Be a Miserable Cow

amazing things

Saw the above meme today. A friend posted it on her Facebook page. It’s a reminder—perfectly humorous and perfectly true.

I’m trying to break the kvetching habit. The bitching, moaning, oh-my-god-can-you-believe-what-happened thing. It’s so easy to do and when it’s happening, for a minute or two, it seems like it feels really good. Especially if the person you are kvetching to is as outraged as you are. Or is sympathetic to the Utter Horror of the situation you are describing.

Did you ever notice that most complaining is about other people? I guess that makes sense since very few “situations” are immaculately conceived. I mean, people conceive and birth most all situations in life.

Maybe because of the fact that it’s about other people, at some point in the middle of a big kvetch-fest, it starts to feel not-so-fun. Plus you end up feeling like a total victim and that sucks.

At first, we are fascinated by the very fact that someone could be stupid or clueless or selfish or mean or insecure or bitchy enough to do whatever the Unacceptable Thing was. Or not do whatever thing we thought should have been done. We become personally insulted by this person’s actions. We are offended, shocked, hurt. We must tell someone. Now that person has to share in our fascination/hurt. If things go as planned, now both people, kvetcher and kvetchee, are caught up in the negative energy of the kvetch-fest. It builds on itself.

Even after it stops feeling good and actively feels pretty crappy, the bemoaning continues. (Have you ever eaten the last quarter of a bag of chips, even though you feel overwhelmed with salt and grease and your stomach is objecting? And you say, “They’re almost gone. It won’t be long now.” Like it’s a chore you must get through. It’s like that with complaining. “I’ll just get this off my chest and I’ll feel better,” while really you are wasting valuable time you could use to write a poem or take a walk or build with Legos.)

And p.s. you don’t feel better. Not even a little bit. Don’t kid yourself. You have just RELIVED The Horror. Whatever it was. The Unforgiveable Thing that happened/was done to you. You’ve relived it in words, which are like tiny nails that hammer that Unforgiveable Thing even more firmly into your brain and body. You now feel the hurt/insult/offense all over again.

It’s a weird thing that happens inside the human body when we wallow. And believe me, everyone has wallowed at least once. It’s like marinating a piece of meat in a balsamic and red wine mixture with lots of garlic, black pepper, and cumin. Pretty soon the meat is so infused with all those flavors that it can’t be un-infused. We are now “one” with the bad shit that happened. Why do we do this to ourselves?

I once thought we humans were naturally inclined toward kvetching, but I’m not so sure. I know people who never do it. I know people who taught themselves not to do it. I’m wanting to unlearn the habit and I feel like I’m actually making progress. So I don’t think it’s innate. I think it’s learned. We grow up surrounded by people on the subway, in line at the deli, in our own living rooms, and we hear, “You’ll never guess what insanely offensive thing HE DID NEXT!” or “Wait till I tell you this truly horrible thing that HAPPENED TO ME.”  As if we can’t wait to smear our misery all over our nearest and dearest.

So here is the super-simplified list of what complaining does to us. I got this info from this very comprehensive article full of links for further study, and I recommend you read it because it’s awesome.

  • Repeatedly thinking negative thoughts makes it easier to think negative thoughts in the future which is all brain science and has to do with synapses and stuff. It means bumming out makes it super likely that being bummed will be your default. You can rewire your brain to be dark… or light.
  • Being with negative people can rewire you too. Our brains seem to be so empathetic that other people’s emotions go into us like they are our own. Who you surround yourself with really can change your life. The good news is that happy people can rewire your brain in the direction of love, love, and some of that love.
  • Angry and negative thoughts weaken the immune system, raise blood pressure, and increase your risk for diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Because stress. Which is a killa.

How do we navigate life while communicating and being open but avoiding the truly damaging effect of complaining? I do not have an answer to that. It has been proven that the “ya just gotta vent” theory is dead wrong, but on the other hand, you might want to casually mention to your mom/friend/husband/cat that your boss is Darth Vader in disguise…. So I’m thinking that if we

  1. Don’t take shit personally (remember Don Miguel Ruiz and the Four Agreements?) which means we…
  2. Understand that when people do crappy things it’s all about them, not us, which means…
  3. It can’t “marinate” us and we can…
  4. Do what my friend Teri suggests and say, “Isn’t that interesting?” and then let it go….

A nice buffer against the negative stuff, the kvetch-fest, the marinating in damaging emotions= gratitude. When you see how amazing and helpful and hardworking and kind most people are today, it helps you notice it tomorrow again too.  Another probiotic for life is love. (The Beatles got that.) Look at a picture of your kid… or look at your kid. Or put your face against the purring furry side of your dozing cat. Or watch a blue jay flit from branch to branch outside your window (as I am doing now). Or make a call to someone who loves you as much as you love her or him. Or remember peanut butter. (Better yet, go eat a giant spoon of it.)

I’m really working on this. I’m lucky that my default mode is one of optimism. I get excited about things and I have hope for the future. I can take no credit for the way I was born. The fact that my mother was a mentally ill narcissist could well have fucked me up but good. It didn’t. Not in any ways that really matter. Plus, she was pretty badass too, and that’s the stuff I like to remember. And my brain chooses to remember the good stuff almost all the time. But we can all do better. I’m trying to figure out how to extricate myself from other people’s need to come into my space and vent. A kind and polite extrication. (Any advice? I’d be grateful.)

Baby steps. For now, I’m grateful to have a Sunday morning to write this blog and make friends with the blue jay outside.

Love Trumps Trump

Healing-Heart

Some things I know and feel no need to explain how I know them:

  1. Complaining is not healthy, even though we really want it to be. It can be addictive. It can even feel good… at first. But it’s bad voodoo. (Although I know I don’t need to provide a citation, this is a good article on the subject.)
  2. Love is the shit. Like, The Thing. Like… the ONLY thing. It heals. It feels good. It fixes the world.
  3. All humans on the planet deserve all their human rights, regardless of skin color, genitalia, who they want to love, be, or become, where they live, what god, goddess, Bodhisattva, tree, or higher or lower being they worship, whether they worship anything at all, or don’t.
  4. Generalizing may be convenient when running statistics but it sucks when you are talking about actual humans. It’s called bias. It’s called “don’t be stupid, just because a black gay Buddhist was mean to you in 6th grade does not mean all black gay Buddhists are mean.”
  5. The U. S. of A. has some very powerful and wonderful things about it but it’s in big trouble. Still and all, I love it. (see # 2)
  6. The Maharishi Effect is legit. (Again, here’s a cool article about small meditation groups affecting an entire city’s crime rate!) When you get enough people focused on one idea or feeling, things change. Shifts happen. People feel different. And it affects the world beyond and outside. When people feel different, they behave in different ways.
  7. Our thoughts do change us. Our thoughts—and the thoughts we surround ourselves with—permeate us until they change the grooves in our brain (to use an image from vinyl records) so that the needle now goes in those grooves and can’t, as easily, find the groovy grooves. The groovy grooves are where you find love and self-love, acceptance of others and acceptance of self, optimism and fortitude, joy and courage and laughter. Change your thinking, change your feelings, actions, and outcomes.

Many Americans are disappointed in the folks who hold political office right now, and also in most all of the candidates vying for their respective nominations. The majority seem to be ruled by money, and/or racist/misogynistic/reactionary agendas, and/or a lust for power. Is a single one of them ruled by love (see #2)? Maybe Bernie. But he’s pretty pissed off, too, so I’m not sure.

I started to write a blog that was veering towards complaint, anger, non-love. I was going down the path of “we’re kinda fucked” that would create a groove in my brain if I’m not careful. I could become that person. The person who lives her life from the “we’re fucked” point of view. Who wants to be that person?

Don’t want to hide my head from the facts either, though.

What I was going to write, was about how shocked I am that our country is a place where a hater like Trump has a groundswell of supporters. I guess I’ve been fooled by the veneer of civility that has (barely) covered the actions and agendas of politicians who have been spewing hate for years…just maybe not as openly as Trump does. Maybe there are a lot of folks grateful to have someone just come out and say it. Say the stuff that they want to say, hate the people they love to hate. I’m thinking they don’t like the groups of non-them people who get in the way of their special privilege—or maybe that’s what they’re scared of.

But I want to STOP complaining about the candidates—it’s not good for me. I want to acknowledge that everyone has the right to speak, even if the ideas being spoken are about taking away everyone else’s rights. I want to be part of a GREAT BIG HAPPY GROUP THINK that is about love and acceptance. Then imagine a world where the tsunami effect of love will be so huge that it will push away all the hate.

So here’s my question. If I don’t want to become the hopeless, angry person coming from a place of reaction to evil, and instead want to be the person who operates from a place of love, how do I love Trump? How do I love Cruz? How do I love all those who love them? People who, consciously or not, disrespect me for being a woman. Long to take away my rights, so painfully fought for over my lifetime by people who would not accept the oh-so absurd status quo. People who want to build walls to keep out immigrants (not unlike their own immigrant parents or grandparents who made this country what it is today). People who mostly just hate. Hate people not like them. Hate progress towards equality. Hate having to give up their privilege so the underprivileged can get a break. Hate thinking about what they don’t want to think about, like climate change, gay marriage, domestic terrorism, to name a few.

So I’m looking for a way in. A way in to love.

When my children were little and behaving badly I’d say, “I love you with all my heart and always will, but I do not like what you are doing right now.” It was easy to make that distinction. The person has my love, his or her actions do not.

I am resolved. I will send love. I’ll put it out there into the universe, directed at Trump and all the rest of the haters. I will say to myself, “I love this human being. I love this person who was born to a mother like me. Someone loves this person, so I can too.” If we can love a sister or uncle or friend who makes mistake after mistake simply because we choose to go on loving them, then I can choose to love Donald Trump. Love will be my trump card and I’ll play it every day.

(lovelovelovelovelovelove….)

 

 

 

Do Unto Others

buddha muhammad jesus

I am not Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. Nor am I Buddhist or Hindu. Labels seem too small and regularly shaped to accommodate my spirituality, which I came across in my own way, having been raised by atheist ideologues.

This essay is not really about spirituality, mine or anyone’s, but rather about morality. Probably because I was raised by ethical people who believed in no higher power, it never dawned on me that morality required religion to exist.

The concept still strikes me as absurd, though I know that many cannot conceive of a morality outside the very clear constraints of their religious beliefs. There are people who believe that morality is externally imposed by a doctrine or credo, and that it does not come from inside. Thus, they imagine that all the people who don’t go to their church or pray to their god cannot be moral. Many religions lay claim to specific beliefs that predate their faith by millennia.

When I taught Eastern religions for a few years I learned a lot. I learned that the phenomenon of “there is only one true religion” is somewhat unique to the Judeo-Christian world. I am no expert and there is much I don’t know, but I know that the Bhagavad Gita teaches that people can find their enlightenment in their own way, and need not adhere to Hindu ideas or believe in the Hindu “source” to end up there. I know that Muhammad respected Jesus as well as the prophets of the Old Testament and considered himself a latecomer to the Axial Age.

But the interesting thing to me is that the religions that arose around the time of Christianity (the aforementioned Axial Age) were responding quite specifically to social injustice.

‘Tis the season of political campaigns being led by men (mainly) who loudly proclaim their devotion to Christianity, and so I am inspired to peek at a few of the more basic tenets of that religion.

Love thy neighbor. Most everyone living and learning within the Western tradition has heard this moral teaching and most people know that the whole sentence reads: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” (King James Bible) And the greater context is (to paraphrase): Love God with your entire heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as you love yourself and P.S. there are no teachings ANYWHERE more important than these. Which means that loving God and loving your neighbor trump anything from Leviticus that requires stoning your wife, burning a bull in your yard, or calling homosexuality an abomination. This teaching seems pretty simple. Don’t act out of hatred, but out of love.

Love your enemy. Related to the above, but interestingly different. I guess someone who is loving his or her neighbor won’t have any enemies. So maybe Jesus thought, “Well, if they slip, and end up with enemies, I’ll teach them to love their enemies and then we’ll be back to ‘it’s all about love.’” Seems a logical line of reasoning for him, since he wanted to teach love. So he said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” There are many who claim Jesus had the copyright on this teaching, but two thousand years before him, a Babylonian council was on record with this: “Do not return evil to your adversary. Requite with kindness the one who does evil to you. Maintain justice to your enemy and be friendly to him,” proving religion has no corner on morality and that government councils can teach loving kindness. There is a Buddhist teaching that is similar, that I won’t fully quote here but I love this part: “Let us live happily, not hating those who hate us.”

Turn the other cheek. The quote goes like this (again King James, my favorite translation): “But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” This always bothered me because I thought it was about passive acquiescence to evil. But then I learned something important from a scholar and social historian who explained to me that Jesus in that teaching is advocating political resistance –the non-violent kind. According to the customs of the time, the left hand can only be used for personal and unseemly uses, so any blows to the right cheek must be made backhanded—it’s just an anatomical thing. If you use your right hand on the right cheek—it’s gotta be that way. And a backhanded blow is the way superiors struck peasants. Thus Jesus is addressing a theoretical peasant who is being beaten and he is saying, “Give that asshole your left cheek and make him hit you with the flat of his palm as if you were an equal.” So… either the beating stops (unlikely), or he treats you as a peer, which is almost better. The result is a delicious awkwardness and a way to deal with social injustice without violence. (For a very cool explanation of this, including the part of the passage about walking the extra mile and giving the cloak AND the coat, check out this link: turn the other cheek.)

The Golden Rule. Hugely popular with parents and teachers everywhere. My atheist parents used this dictum as the cornerstone of their ethical teachings. I knew the quote—“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”— long before I read the Bible (in middle school English classes). It made perfect sense to me. Where does this genius bit of ethical absolutism originate? Matthew 7:12, you say? Sure. But it was around waaaaaaaaaaaaaay before Jesus explained it to his flock. Also known as the ethic of reciprocity, it can appear in either the positive or prohibitive form. Jesus used the positive: do. The prohibitive, used for example by the ancient Chinese, is more like this: Don’t. Aka, don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you. Like when your mom said, “Do you want Johnny to push you down? No? Then don’t push him!”

Around 2000 BCE, the Egyptians had a thing that went like this: “Now this is the command: Do to the doer to make him do.” It goes along with the concept of sacrifice—give a gift to the gods so they will bestow gifts upon you. Later, around 675 BCE the Egyptians had a negative or prohibitive form of the Golden Rule: “That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.”

Then there is Confucius and Lao Tse in ancient China, each of whom has a version. The Hindu precept, “Make dharma (right conduct) your main focus, treat others as you treat yourself,” is another very ancient example. Then there’s ancient Greece, and ancient Persia… and finally—FINALLY—we get to the Judeo-Christian tradition which chimes in on the Golden Rule.

Where am I going with this? Jesus was a good teacher and his precepts hit at a good time, but he did not make most of this stuff up from scratch. There were people teaching moral behavior before he cast his light upon the Middle East and, eventually (thanks to some great marketing strategies and a few wars credited to his followers), the rest of the planet. But the ancient Egyptians or Chinese from several millennia BCE were not sending messages via bottle or smoke signal halfway across the planet and into the future. The ideas of love, reciprocity, and peaceful co-existence arose independently across the globe over time. Morality is not linked to any particular political or religious system, location, skin color, gender, class, sexual orientation, or social strata. It is simply human.

The social injustice of Jesus’s world created a system ripe for change. His followers, Jews and pagans, managed to incorporate his wisdom into their own religious traditions. It did not seem particularly odd to do so as many of his messages were considered more political than religious.

How many religions have fought holy wars in order to wipe out the non-believers? No history is bloodier than that of a church founded on the teachings of a simple carpenter who taught universal love and peaceful resistance.

How many nations have been founded on religious teachings and turned around and banished, exterminated, or forcibly converted anyone who believed differently? Jesus was a Jew, but I’m pretty sure he did not ask for an identity card when people followed after him to hear what he had to say.

Every president of the United States – a nation that in its founding separated church from state—has to swear an oath on the Judeo-Christian Bible. So how did it come to be that “devout” candidates are allowed to wage holy wars on women’s rights, religious freedoms, and the poor? Their guru, Jesus himself, honored the poor above all (remember the thing about a rich man getting into heaven being harder than a camel’s transit through the eye of a needle?), preached unconditional love (that means no conditions, yo), and accepted independent women among his closest followers. Some believe Mary Magdalene was his first and most important disciple and it is a matter of historical fact that she was not a prostitute at all, but an independent and sexual woman, which the Christian fathers had to translate into “prostitute” to justify their patriarchal religion and its systematic debasement of women. (For more on that check out my blog titled “Scarlet Words—How Women’s History and Power was (partly) Stolen by Changing the Language.”)

Not only does the current crop of talking heads in the republican debates not advocate loving their neighbor, let alone their enemies, they in fact demand anger, hatred, and retribution. They incite us all to carry our guns and shun non-white, non-Christian people fleeing from tyranny. There are even hate groups out there (I can’t help wondering what Jesus, Buddha, or Muhammad would have to say about the very CONCEPT of a hate group) who believe that we should torture and destroy the children of our enemies. They also insist that citizens who love “the wrong people” or identify as “the wrong gender” or, an old favorite, have “the wrong color skin” or religion—that those people should be tormented, banished, killed. The large majority of these hate groups identify strongly as Christians. I want to ask them: “Have you met Jesus?”

What happened? A planetary evolution of millennia upon millennia, a species with no end of wise teachers to guide us and we are still in this place?

Many people may not love themselves enough to love their neighbors and enemies. Yet there are plenty of people out there living good lives, motivated by love and acceptance, guided by the Golden Rule. Spreading love starts at home. A challenge for me and mine this New Year.

No disrespect intended to anyone. This cartoon just fits too darned well with my blog.

No disrespect intended to anyone. This cartoon just fits too darned well with my blog.