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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cognitive Dissonance

What Will We Choose?

I’ve just come home from two days of being relatively unplugged, and feel an initial sense of absolute shock over the insanity around the world.  It’s shocking to many to believe that the sheer amount of ignorance and racism that was displayed in Charlottesville yesterday is still happening in today’s world.  One mark of privilege is the inability to see that equality still does not exist in our society, and to diminish the amount of resentment, fear, and hate that still exists across middle-class, white America.  This is not a Post-Racial society… it never has been.  It’s a choice for the privileged to be color-blind and ignore the stark inequities that still pervade our social fabric.

I stopped being shocked by the actions and tweets of the president a while back because he’s made it very clear that we can always expect the outrageous from him.  However, I still keep finding myself shaking my head when I see how many people sit complacent, or are even ok, with his behavior, threats, and ignorance.  It’s no surprise that American extremists have rallied behind his behavior, feeling that it gives them license to take their beliefs to the streets, and even into action.

We are living in a world of cognitive dissonance: an inconsistency in thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors or decisions.  It is prevalent in every area of our lives, characterized by a stark contrast between our beliefs and actions.  It is the justification that we use when we make a choice, whether it is a choice to eat a bacon cheeseburger knowing that we have high cholesterol or breaking one of the commandments.  It is the shift of narrative, or blame, when we don’t want to see how our beliefs about a civil society should operate perpetuate the very things we are afraid of.  It is the inability to accept the results of study after study on social behavior and phenomena because the results indict our own attitudes and actions.

Cognitive dissonance can be used as a survival tool  for a soldier to justify their actions, or a marketing tool to convince people that harmful products are beneficial to us, or as a sermon that spouts love and tolerance, but goes on to say that they should only be applied to a true believer.  We don’t like it when we see these things in others, but we are all guilty of it in one sense or another.  In the case of extremists, they are acting on what they feel to be integrity with their belief system by choosing the parts that relate to a specific fear, desire for power and control, or rhetoric.  These things usually agree with or support ideas of dominance, exclusivity, or vengeance for perceived or real threats to a person’s belief system.

What we are seeing in the media through constant analysis from pundits, repetition of news, and consumer-driven marketing are justifications for keeping the status quo by re-framing victims as scapegoats and perpetrators as benevolent leaders.  What we see in every day life are the effects of systemic manipulation that keeps us from being able to see our own beliefs and actions as part of the formula for the chaos that is happening on wide-scale levels.  Furthermore, we are being traumatized daily by repetitive violent footage on the news and images in our entertainment that drives a low-level of anxiety which we feed through consumerism, addictions, and further justification of our own belief system as righteous and good.

It scares me to think of where our society is headed when we look at the big picture… enough so to sometimes make me want to crawl under a blanket and hide.  But it scares me even more to think that there is something that we can do to change our trajectory, yet the majority will continue to buy the lies that the problem lies outside of ourselves, in the latest and greatest demon, while we stay in our bubble and stop challenging our own perspectives, beliefs, and actions.

Can we challenge our own ideas and beliefs to see how we are perpetuating such ignorance in our own lives?  Can we challenge ourselves to do more than repost memes on social media decrying the actions of the other without direct action to hold our leaders responsible for their actions?  Can we challenge ourselves to double-check our media sources and look for facts over opinions or conspiracy?  Can we challenge ourselves to speak out when we see injustice on any level, instead of sitting back and allowing it to persist on both personal and global levels?

What will we choose?

 

Artificial Lives

Sometimes we just need to see a hero cry

before they pick themselves up

and go on to save the day…

but we prefer to seek hidden truths in cliche

confusing revenge with justice

facades with truth

and righteousness with morality

until our eyes are so damaged

that we can’t see the rawness that makes the

art of being human

worth celebrating.

© HAWilcox 2017

 

 

Getting Real: Empathy and Narcisism

There are a lot of blogs going around the Enlightened community regarding Empaths and their relationship to Naricissists.  But I haven’t seen much written on how both can exist in all of us, with only a choice and the ability to be aware of our thoughts and actions being the difference between normal and pathological behaviors.   The difference lies in how we approach and give to the world, what we expect and want from it, and the beliefs and behaviors we practice to get there.  Neither have I seen much written that addresses the responsibilities of the Empath to address their own part in these relationships. The Empath/Narcissist connection is often used as a new-age package for understanding the age-old issue of co-dependency and how the effects of abuse can manifest in our relationships.

Growing up with multiple forms of abuse taught me to become highly attuned to the moods of those who had positions of control or power in my life, so I could navigate those cycles with a (hopefully) less destructive outcome as a survival tactic.    I was so tuned in to the moods and reactivity or volatility of my abusers to avoid or subvert punishment that I suppressed my own emotions and needs and began to do this with most people who crossed my path.  In crowds, I would feel overwhelmed because there were too many emotions from too many people for me to be able to stay calm unless I found something upon which to focus.   Over time and with a lot of therapy and self awareness, I learned to use those same survival tactics toward more positive ends.

When this goes on long enough for anyone, a person will operate on a constant level of anxiety and hyper-awareness that mimics the symptoms of PTSD, even if they don’t have some of the larger defining symptoms of the disorder such as nightmares or flashbacks. Other behavioral patterns may also appear, such as substance abuse or other addictive behaviors, depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and even the possibility of becoming an abusive person.  For myself, I would get to a point where I was so overwhelmed by the emotional demands I felt from those who held a position of power in my life and were needy that I would snap and become irritable and self-absorbed.  I would whine to my coworkers or snap at my kid when things felt out of control, especially when they were feeling overwhelmed, or I would launch into berating my partner with a list of their faults when I just couldn’t take their lack of attention to my needs any more.  One day, I saw the look on my child’s face when I snapped at them and realized that I was being emotionally abusive by putting my own frustration and needs ahead of theirs.  Although I didn’t physically hurt or belittle them, my behavior caused emotional damage that I had never intended.  Similarly, whilst in a relationship with a narcissist, I found myself in a codependent mode with a twist; I would take care of their needs, but when I attempted to take care of my own or my childs’ needs, my partner’s sense of overwhelm and neediness that would surface would trigger a tirade of their faults from me as backlash.  Luckily, I chose to end that relationship when I realized that it wouldn’t change, my child’s needs and my own would not be met, and my partner would never lift a finger to help themselves when someone else could do it for them. After ending that relationship, I began to get in touch with those qualities in myself that describe an empath, but I couldn’t ignore how my own behavior reflected that of the narcissistic people in my life when I snapped.  Like it or not, the snappiness and the fact that my partner’s needs came before mine and my child’s were forms of abuse.

Many of the characteristics that define a narcissistic person are almost stereotypical behavioral patterns in many Americans.  What makes narcissism a true disorder is that these are so exaggerated in the person exhibiting them that they go through life hurting others around them and literally caring about no one else.  These people are completely oblivious to their own behavior and how it affects others, and cannot empathize with the plight of others.

This is not always true for all abusers… but the effects on their victims are the same, and many of these traits cross over into other personality disorders and addictive disorders as well.  It is semantically incorrect to label all abusers as Narcissists.  However, it appears that most, if not all Narcissists are abusers.  The reason I focus on this difference is that it is the package, using pseudo/pop-psychology terms, that is being sold that can be harmful to those who don’t understand the true nature of trauma cycles and how ongoing trauma affects various people.

Some articles are written from an empowerment perspective by removing the blame from the “Empath” and placing it on their abuser so the Empath can move forward and try to assume control of their issues.  Others are written to paint the Empath as a victim so they can learn better self-care.  My concern is that few of these offer solid advice such as seeking therapy to deal with the symptoms they are experiencing and the underlying reasons they end up in such relationships (especially if there is a pattern of these). The most harmful part is that the blogs and articles do not address the fact that every relationship, even an abusive one, takes two people, with two sets of faults, and although the power dynamics in the relationship are grossly unequal and harmful, both parties have a part in how these relationships play out, and if a victim of abuse leaves one relationship and doesn’t do the necessary work on their own issues, such as co-dependency, inability to be assertive, reactivity, depression, etc., they will attract the same kind of person and have a very similar experience.

Another thing I rarely see in these articles is how the Empath or traumatized and sensitive person is sometimes the abuser in other relationships.  It is extremely important that we stop looking at these issues as black and white, and see that Empaths may become abusive (even if occasionally or unintentionally) towards others, especially children or other people in their lives who are needy or dependent on the Empath.  My own experience shows me that this can and does happen.  It is also extremely important that we recognize abusers and narcissists as traumatized people as well.  They most likely won’t identify as being traumatized, as what they have experienced has been normalized in their minds, especially when taking gender roles and expectations into consideration. Most of the Empath and Narcissist examples we see are highly gendered, with the Empath as feminine and Narcissist as masculine (even in same sex couples or in couples where women are dominant over men, both of which are less common and sometimes more damaging due to the extra stigma involved).  When we discount the experiences that led to an abuser’s behavior, we move away from the compassion that is needed for healing.  That is not to say that we should forgive them in order to stay in such a situation.  It is important that we get out of the situation and do the deep self-work that is necessary to avoid repeating the cycle in the future.

This deep self work is multi-faceted, and should be tailored to a person’s individual needs.  I have found that starting with therapy and support groups is a good tactic for most people.  I caution though, with support groups, to find those that focus on empowerment and personal responsibility rather than blame.  We are never responsible for how an abusive person treats us, but we are fully responsible for getting ourselves and our children out of such situations, and doing what we need to avoid repeating the cycle.  Along with therapy, an awareness practice such as meditation or restorative yoga helps us to be more aware of our reactions to the emotions and behaviors of those around us.  Awareness and spiritual practices help us do the shadow work… getting to know our negative and sometimes destructive side, and learning to accept that as part of our humanity and transform it into an asset.

I have found in my personal experience that it is important to call out a problem for what it is.  Sometimes things can be extremely convoluted and in the search for easy answers, we fall prey to the latest pop-psychology or new age fads to explain ancient problems that are new to the collective experience because the stigma attached to them that has subverted them and blamed the victims.  When we address these problems both individually and socially, we need to be aware that dressing them up to help people become aware can have negative repercussions and connotations if the people involved (especially the victims) are not seeking professional help.

If you are in a situation that is emotionally, physically, financially or sexually abusive, please seek help.  There are many resources available, starting with the national crisis line 1-800-273-8355, and local resource numbers such as 2-1-1.  Get help.  If you have tried something for a significant amount of time and it isn’t working, it’s ok to seek another source.  Don’t give up… be a tiger if you need to.  But please take care of yourself and do the work necessary to change your experience and that of those you love in your life.