Gratitude, Patience, and Compassion

A friend of mine called the other day sounding distraught, and left a message saying that I’m one of the most grounded people she knows, and of course, my mind immediately started arguing with her statement instead of accepting the compliment.  Strangely enough, she’s one of the most unfailingly positive people I know, so I guess that makes us even… if we’re playing that game.  We constantly compare ourselves to those around us, and fail to recognize our own attributes.  There is value in comparison, but it is important to maintain perspective.  In this case, I mean a realistic and positive perspective about our own value and inherent worth.  For me, this starts with the ability to be vulnerable and feel safe.

We want the safety of being vulnerable with others, but we rarely allow others to be vulnerable with us… or perhaps we don’t recognize vulnerability when it hides behind a mask of anger, anxiety, or frustration. Paradoxically, we are often more compassionate with others than with ourselves; yet we place people on a pedestal, and when they act human, unless they are in our “circle”, we demonize them for being so.  I meet women every day who admire so much in others, but don’t recognize their own worth… I’ve been that woman too. It still sometimes shocks me when another woman tells me that she admires me.  Those people we have placed on a pedestal are our role models, and we can’t bear to see them as fallible, vulnerable human beings, because our own self-image might be shattered.
We are socialized to always look like we have it all together, and we spend enormous amounts of energy on self-deprecation and striving to be more like the people we see around us.  We are taught from an early age that we must work three times as hard as the guys, and not receive praise or validation for our work, and that we must compete with other women for validation from others.  We are taught that our value is not inherent, but dependent upon our relationships to others…  daughter, sister, girlfriend, wife, mother, grandmother.  But Never. Just. Woman.

Perhaps it’s time to be more of ourselves… warts and all, and more accepting of the same in others.  As long as we are constantly comparing and competing, we will never be happy.  I’ve found this to be true for myself…  I’m not competitive with others for the most part, but I’m constantly competing with myself, trying to be better, do better than I have before.  When I slip, I find myself in a spiral of self-deprecating thoughts intended to motivate me, but often does the opposite.  This is that vulnerable space of which I speak. What I’ve found is that gratitude is the key to being patient with myself and with the world around me.  When I sit in a place of gratitude, even for the negative experiences in my life from which so many opportunities have taken root, I am able to hold space for the patience, curiosity and tenacity necessary to nurture those opportunities into fruition.  In this space, I find a sense of awe and wonder that feeds the compassion it takes to work through those places in which I feel stuck so I can move forward.

It’s often easier to hold this space for others whom we love, but not for ourselves or for those with whom we experience conflict.  So there is my new challenge for myself.  I hope you will join me in finding ways to practice more patience and compassion for ourselves and for those with whom we are in conflict, through gratitude.  And perhaps, our own vulnerability will lead us not only to compassion, but to seeing that connection which binds us all in the space where “other” does not exist.

 

Recharge

Some days we feel helpless
against the tide of lists and details
which plague our existence
our livelihoods
our thoughts
Needing to create order
to induce a sense of control
Order is a neurotic symptom
and control an illusion…
There must be a point on this spectrum
where my need for these is sated
Where the routines and constants
that enable the quiet contentment in the soul
are not disrupted
even as the world rushes by
or as we run to catch that bus headed for success
Where we can sit
right where we are
and start with whatever is right in front of us
and make order
of that place in the universe
which we occupy
in any given moment.

©HAWilcox2017

 

Priorities~ A Rant

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but it seems that every time something important is happening in Washington DC, most corporate and social media outlets re-direct our attention to scandals and frivolous details instead of the main story.  This week, 3 main stories are happening, but only one is flooding social media and consistently mentioned in the news.  First, Hurricane Maria is no less devastating than the recent Harvey and Irma, but because it hasn’t hit the US Mainland (just one of those pesky territories), it’s not at the top of anyone’s list.  Second, the current ACA Repeal bill, the Graham-Cassidy bill, will be put to a vote within the next few days, and if passed, will deny millions of Americans basic health care and strip some of the protections for women’s health care.  And third, many NFL players are joining Colin Kaepernick in silent protest of police brutality against African Americans.  All three are life threatening, but only one is receiving major attention by our president and media, and that one, though no less devastating or important than the other two, is the one that has been twisted into a free-for-all debate over free speech rather than honoring the actual intent of the protest, and which overshadows the immediate threats to millions of American lives (including Puerto Ricans and American Citizens living on the island in the case of Irma and the millions who will not be able to get healthcare without the ACA).

This morning, I’m truly ashamed of our national priorities.  Ok, so I’ve been ashamed of them since the 2016 Election, but that’s another story.  I think that the question is, Where do we go from here?  Perhaps it’s time that we stop fighting each other over the details of who is more important and which threat is more immediate and what constitutes free-speech vs dissent vs disrespect, and focus on the fact that all of these are important.  All of these point to a system that is inherently racist, sexist, ableist and cares nothing for the working poor without whom our economy wouldn’t exist.  They also point to the fact that our infrastructure cannot support the sheer numbers of people affected by natural disasters, which are increasingly more dangerous and more devastating due to climate change.  Additionally, they show how unsustainable our system is when it’s workers cannot take care of their basic health and work, and those who do not work will not be able to afford the goods or services being produced.

Perhaps it’s time that we focus on the reality that we have so many systematic failures in our current government, lifestyles, economy and priorities that no one will be unscathed in the end, and that unifying for solutions is a necessity if we give a damn about our future as a nation, and even as a species.  There are solutions out there, and many people are doing what they can to be a part of it.  However, the energy that we are wasting over every little distraction and scandal that comes down the line could be better put to civic and civil engagement.

I may be wrong.  I may not have all the answers…  but I’m not giving in to the latest sensationalism and I’m not giving up on our potential to create a sustainable and equitable solution.

Gratitude

Every ray of morning sun is a promise

just beginning to discover itself…

and every sunset, a passionate tribute of that promise fulfilled.

We go through life, trying to catch our breath,

holding on, pushing harder…

yearning, reaching, grasping,

Hoping;

to quench our desire

in the bottomless well

of a human heart.

Every tear is made of crystals of truth

yearning to be set free.

And in every constellation,

lies the inspiration

of legacy and the fates.

Every moonbeam is a reflection of that promise,

allowing us to exhale…

to let go,

of desire’s grasp on the soul,

shedding light on the love that never leaves

when the world changes faster than the seasons can blink.

Each day is a new dance between the sun and moon…

And those shafts of light from the heavens

remind us

that the promise we seek is realized

when we are grateful for what we already have.

 

©HAWilcox2017

Common Sense Ain’t so Common Anymore…

My son and I have been having a lot of conversations about how people communicate.  It is one of those life lessons that isn’t taught in school, or often even at home.  Nuance, sarcasm, reading between the lines, being assertive versus being aggressive or passive-aggressive, feeling heard, re-framing an argument, accusations, tone of voice, expressions, gas-lighting, body language, and the hardest of all, listening to hear the other side.  Unfortunately, most of us pick up these skills on the playground long before they are somewhat addressed in school.  Those who don’t learn them are misunderstood and often disciplined by adults for not understanding what is expected, or left to be picked apart by bullies socially, and often have a low-self esteem for not being able to live up to social standards.

We’ve had tons of fodder recently.  Watching clips of 45’s speeches and his tweets have been a lesson in how a person can twist the truth to accuse others of what he himself is doing.  They’ve been a lesson in how people try to shape our reality by telling us what is real and what isn’t, despite our actual experience, or by telling us that our experience is wrong. They’ve been a lesson in how people over-use words like “Ok” in a forceful way as an indication that they are right, and you’d better understand that point of view, as though you are a 4 year old being told that this is how things are, period.  They’ve been a lesson in every type of fallacy of logic that exists. They’ve been a lesson in mudslinging and character assassination as a tool to deflect responsibility for one’s own actions or emotions.  They’ve been a lesson in deconstructing and separating valid points from the rest of the above, to see the meaning behind the rhetoric and form our own conclusions based on our own experience.  And they’ve held many more lessons.

I’m grateful to have the opportunity to engage in these kinds of discussions with my kid, because I didn’t have them when growing up myself, and had to learn many communication and social skills the hard way.  The assumptions we make about how to interact with other humans can be devastating when we don’t have this kind of information.  It puts an individual at risk for abusive relationships, miscommunication on the job, social difficulties, and being gullible in many areas.  It puts their future families at risk for perpetuating the inability to listen and communicate well, and sets them up for difficulties in getting the most out of an education.  It puts a society at risk for being scammed by politicians, businessmen, clergymen, and pundits who were groomed to manipulate people with language, ideals, and rhetoric.

For myself, common-sense communication is a matter of asking questions and slowing down enough to listen to the answers, rather than trying to think of the next thing to say.  It’s also about slowing down enough to make sure I’m understood, and to re-evaluate my communication methods and even my position.  This way, it’s not a matter of being right or wrong as a matter of character, but instead as a matter of fact and experience… neither of which can be changed, only redefined (hopefully for it’s meaning for the greater good).  I’m grateful for this opportunity to learn with my son…  and these times are ripe with opportunity and possibility to shift our trajectory, if we only take the initiative to work past our initial reactions to follow the possible prospects for a better experience.

A Nation of Kindergarteners

My political opinions are rarely popular, because I have such a disdain for the mudslinging and schoolyard antics that have taken over our political process, our news, and our collective mentality.  Our news headlines scream a litany of “he said/she said” and “so-and-so slams so-and-so”.  It’s as if we’ve de-evolved into a group of kids taking sides during a playground fight.  Alternative and mainstream media have become ring-side commentators, and rational, critical thought is lost in the diatribe.

What is so bothersome to me about the name-calling is that we have reduced ourselves to the same antics that we are denouncing when we engage in micro-aggressions and attacks on character.  But there is another side to this…  that we are talking about and dealing with the behavior of a narcissist (for lack of a better term).  A narcissist is a person with such high levels of insecurity that they lash out at everything around them to protect themselves emotionally.  We may not have created the circumstances that turned him into a narcissist, but we are continuing to feed the very thing about which we complain.

Yes, I’m talking about the 45th (p)Resident of the White House.  I cannot call him my president.  I cannot show him respect for his position of office that he, himself, does not respect.  I’ve been watching the echo-chambers that have taken over social media lately, and as much as I’m inclined to agree with many of my friends on the ethical and political issues of the day, I’m absolutely stunned at the language used against those who support and/or defend him.  We are better than this.  We have a kindergartner-in-chief who quickly blames the nearest scapegoat whenever he is questioned or challenged about his words, policies, or actions.  By using violent or hateful language against his supporters, his staff and cabinet, or him, we are giving him fuel, and playing his game, becoming kindergartners ourselves.  In doing so, we are giving him an advantage, and (in his and his supporters’ view) making his case that they are victims.

A narcissist will twist the truth and claim that they are being attacked by their own victims.  If we are engaging in less than civil discourse, we are proving him right.  It’s ok to speak truth to power.  It’s ok to call him what he really is…  Narcissist, Fraud, Bad Businessman, Bigot, Domineering, etc.  It’s ok to poke some fun and have a sense of humor about the insanity of current events or about his inconsistencies.  However, when we use language that incites the same hate we decry, it diminishes our efficacy and our credibility.  We are better than this.  We who have experienced injustice, oppression, hate, violence, poverty, bullying, or prejudice are resilient and stronger than the person who paints themselves as a victim of those whom he exploits and oppresses.

For myself, the solution is to stay focused on the solutions instead of the details of the insanity.  To do that, we have to look at the larger picture… our goals, our hopes, our talents and skills, and our ability to be compassionate toward ourselves and each other.  We have an obligation to ourselves and fellow human beings to speak up when the need arises, but do so thoughtfully, from the heart, and with the conviction that we are speaking for millions who are not able to speak for fear of losing their job, home, family, or safety if they do speak out.  We can combine our talents and our creative energy to rise to the challenges with which we are being presented.  We can educate ourselves, engage in civil discourse, and support those in our communities who are willing to take the lead in social justice work.  The choice is ours, and the time for action is now.  Do we want to continue to engage in schoolyard politics, or do we want to take charge of our experience and create a society where we feel safe, supported, and useful to our community?

Well Intended~ A Primer on Privilege

One of the biggest issues we have been facing as a society these past several months is the threat of a presidency that could devastate the lives of millions of people who hold minority status, including all non-whites, non-Christians, non-males, LGBT, immigrants, the disabled, and the poor. About half of our society doesn’t recognize just how devastating this is for a variety of reasons including economic disenfranchisement by neo-liberal policies and the color-blindness (the assumption that equal opportunity is the same as equal access without recognizing the hurdles that minorities still face) that has replaced overt-racism.  It all boils down to privilege, whose first identifying factor is that those who have it often don’t realize that they have it.  Privilege is pervasive, and offers a myriad of excuses, smoke-screens and blocks to understanding the issues that still face minorities.

  • Privilege says things like “I donate to ________ charity and voted for _______ and they are giving minorities more programs that I’m not entitled to”.
  • Privilege justifies their own disenfranchisement with scapegoating with ideas like “they got my job because they are a minority” or “they stole my job”, or “they are choosing to behave that way/not get an education/not work hard/dress a certain way” etc, and “are holding themselves back from progress” (which is a tactic known as blaming the victim), that holds the minority group to the dominant -meaning White- standards of behavior and values, which unfortunately are no better or worse than those of any other group… they just present in different ways.
  • Privilege looks the other way or laughs nervously when people say racist/homophobic/sexist things, instead of confronting those issues when they come up.
  • Privilege also says “I’m willing to help, but here’s how it needs to be done”, and “I’m going to emblazon myself with symbols to show that I am helping  and sympathetic to you so other people will recognize that I am a good person”.
  • Privilege continues to segregate itself through gated communities and private schools
  • Privilege doesn’t see past it’s own struggle for survival to recognize that other people struggle harder for the same or even less.

Privilege comes in many forms, and until we discover our own privilege and how we exercise it on a daily basis, we cannot be truly effective even when we reach out and want to help.

Those who are white women or LGBT, or are racially mixed but appear white, or who have hidden disabilities are more inclined to understand the struggle of those who have obvious physical features that identify their minority status.  We are usually the first ones to empathize with people who are oppressed because we have felt that fear which could lead to our own oppression and identify through our own experience.  That is not to say that a white lesbian knows what it’s like to be a black man staring down the barrel of a police officer’s gun when getting pulled over for driving a car that appears to be above his assumed economic status; but she might understand what it’s like to be beaten or raped because of her sexuality, and therefore identify with the oppression of violence. However, there are many groups who have extremely different life experiences, and those groups require conversation which includes and open mind and a willingness to admit assumptions and prejudices to reach at least a level of sympathy, if not empathy.   If we can drop the idea that “no one could possibly understand”, and realize that we each have experiences that have shaken us to the core, we can begin to identify with each other on a human level in understanding that we all suffer, and that a large part of the cause of suffering stems from the institutionalization of privilege upon which this country was built.

One of the most devastating forms of denial of privilege is when a working or middle class white man plays the victim to minorities or to women.  He feels a victim to women’s and civil rights because he feels competition in terms of money for education, future employment, and the lack of a scapegoat on which to blame his frustrations.  Not only does he feel victimized or oppressed, he is likely to perceive this “oppression” as worse than that of minorities, although it is likely to be much less devastating in terms of his chances of survival and levels of comfort.  He is angry about his own struggle in life, and sometimes rightfully so, but his anger is out of proportion with the stark reality that millions of people of minority status face daily in terms of oppression, struggle, hate, violence, and microaggressions.

Often this person works hard, holds traditional family and gender role values, and either demonizes or takes social programs for granted (often both without recognition that they are one and the same).  For this person, compassion is extended to family and friends before anyone else, respect is earned, and double standards are invisible.  He simply can’t see how people are treated daily because it indicts his own behaviors and belief system.  This is the portion of America that feels unheard for the past decade in terms of politics.  They don’t see the breaks that life has given them, and there is little that can be said or done to change that perception without a major upheaval to their lifestyle.

We, who are prone to reflection, who have been victimized, who feel vulnerable, are asked by our own value system to extend compassion to both sides.  This does not mean that we don’t stand up to the intolerance, ignorance, violence, and hate that is parading through our communities and government.  This means that we stand up for the victims, and stand firm in our beliefs.  It means that we practice non-violence .  It means that we focus on extending our values toward all others through prayer, meditation, intention, education, and community-based action.  It means using facts and truth to dispell arguements, rather than engaging in mudslinging and demonization of those that are privileged.  It means that we recognize the struggles that they do face, and focus on solutions for the struggles of all people, not just for certain groups.  It means that we don’t engage in the same tactics that are being used against our cause.  And it means that we channel our own anger, frustration, and vicimization into work for all people, by continuing to follow our passions and faith and use them to guide us into what is beneficial for all.