I was chatting with someone at the end of a recent workshop and in the middle of our conversation they blurted out, “You are amazing!”
I wasn’t sure what had prompted that comment. I had no idea what I had done to merit such a comment (if I had done anything). Silently I remembered what Willie Nelson, one of the best degreeless and credential-less psychotherapists I know, once said when he was being similarly praised, “I can be.”
My next thought was…AND I can also be described as unamazing, petty, small, jealous, fearful and a bunch of other less laudable adjectives. This entire dialog ran through my mind in mere seconds.
I mentioned none of this to the person who had offered me the compliment. I simply and sincerely said “Thank you.” What was surprising was that I felt very comfortable to hold both of those seemingly contrasting views of myself with an internal gentleness, acceptance, and appreciation for who I am, and who I am not.
Not all that long ago I would have either verbally dismissed what the other person had said, or silently done a “If they only knew….” thing on myself.
I’ve come to understand that I, like all the rest of us human beings, have those moments of amazingness and un-amazingness, a flash of brilliance, and moments of ‘no bulb in the lamp”. I can be courageous as well as cowardly. I am capable of loving, as well as hating.
One of my primary goals personally and professionally has been to help end the incessant internal war of words, beliefs and behaviors that have the capability to hurt, maim and kill myself and others. Even those I love (and maybe especially those I love) have been targets.
What do I mean? Go look in the mirror and notice what words YOU would use to describe
what you see.
This “stop the war” campaign began with an awareness I had as I sat in the parking lot of a Quaker church where I was to deliver a presentation. I had prepared a “talk’, but as I looked out the windshield I saw a flag snapping in the wind with the words, “War Is Not The Answer”.
I’m guessing the people who created that flag were thinking about wars between people and countries. In that moment I became aware that war is not the ‘answer’ WITHIN people either.
The answer is not to conduct a never-ending war with myself - it is to begin peace negotiations. Declare a cease-fire and begin negotiations with my joy, excitement, sadness, anxiety, depression…everything that is a part of me. Everything.
The first stage is to acknowledge their presence and then accept that they are not going anywhere. But I CAN change my relationship with them. No more battling them, trying to suppress them, repress them, control them, intellectualize them away, deny them when others tell me they see them (even if I don’t), pretend they are not there, eat them into submission, drink them into oblivion, work them out, medicate them, meditate them away, let go of them, and anything else I might try to do to manage them. If those things worked, they would work, but they seem to be, at best, only temporary fixes.
That became the ‘sermon’ I delivered that spring Sunday morning at the Quaker Meeting. It has informed my personal life and professional work since.
Acceptance of who I am (someone who is capable of doing or feeling or experiencing anything that any other human being has) releases a lot of life energy. The energy of war being turned into plowshares for the soul. The level of this internal war (or genuine peace) is automatically projected out into and upon the worlds (personal, professional, societal, environmental, governmental).
If I am to better love my partner, children, grandchildren and friends, I need to focus on working out a peace agreement with the parts of myself I’m still at war with.
A cartoon character of my childhood, Popeye the Sailor Man, had it right with his tag line “I yam what I yam, what I yam”.
I wish I could say that I’ve made total peace with who I am. At least I can say, I’m not at total war with myself or my world to the degree I once was. I’m far better off for it, and so is the world I walk around in.
So, I was able to hear the “you are amazing”, with Willie’s grace and knowledge that “I can be.” Same goes if someone would say that I am a hypocrite, don’t practice what I preach, hurt them, am selfish, and all the other things I am capable of being. I can and do act like that, but it is only a part of who I am.
Warring nations build belief systems, professions, and technologies to justify, fight and perpetuate a war. The same is true for individuals. All they know (and promote) is war. Internal warfare.
My message to those I work with (and myself) is “regardless of what you have been told, you are not sick, you are not broken, you are simply paying the price for the perpetual war you’ve been waging since about the age of three.” “You were drafted into that war by those who loved and raised you.” “Not on purpose, but you simply joined the war they were (unknowingly perhaps) waging against themselves.”
We know that a child’s sense of self-worth will to a large extent predict the quality of their future. It isn’t long in a child’s life where you will hear them say, “I can’t draw, dance, sing, etc.” By the time they are saying those things they are veterans of the war they were born into and have already internalized the belief systems that will perpetuate the war the rest of their life.
What were the words that came to you as you saw your reflection in the mirror? Some religions would say that what you see is an example of the divine. But for most of us the words that came to mind were the opposite of acceptance. I have learned for my internal peace negotiations to end the conflicts, that I must enter them with acceptance and curiosity about both sides.
We can help change that for the younger generations, but we can’t give them what we don’t have. It must happen from the inside out. Our insides.