Keep Your Love Alive, and Stop with the Labels!

I have seen a lot of comments on social media about our need to rid ourselves of “toxic people.” Yes, it is a grand change to decide that harmful relationships are something we may actually choose or reject. Nonetheless, I balk at the implication that any one person is entirely, well, anything. I caution you to beware those who launch into sweeping generalizations about those with whom they struggle. Perhaps they are many bad things, but I am interested in just what role we ourselves play in our choice to dismantle a relationship, to tear away, to burn it to the ground. It seems like a truly spiritual life will entail a bit more than ghosting or blaming or reducing a human being to the status of garbage. This reminds me also of the label, “narcissist,” as though we are all psychologists with the expertise to determine the actual one percent of bonafide excessive and harmful narcissism that truly exists. Offense is not always the best defense.

What about the narcissist who lives in each and every one of us? Can we just have a bit of compassion and dial it down on the unfair and overly broad definitions? I have seen narcissism in a lot of people I treasure. So what? It is my boundaries and my self-esteem that can protect me from all that, not attacking them with ferocity. If you really know who you are, no one is any real threat. And that leaves the door ajar for your loved ones to be flawed and messy and sometimes downright wrong.

The injury caused by these character assassinations is real, but more so, we are neglecting to see that the extremes of a person’s behavior is typically rooted in pain. Fear is another large factor in someone’s poor choices. Perhaps we could just settle down a bit and recognize how deeply this person needs to be loved. It is one thing to distance yourself as you see fit. It is an entirely separate thing to publicly or even privately demonize them.

I’m not just talking about romance either; although that is a biggie. Relationships with friends, siblings, parents, kids and coworkers are just as relevant in our choices to keep on keepin’ on. In fact, the way we walk, talk, think, and feel about all of our relationships is good practice for romantic love. This is about our capacity for intimacy and deep need for all of the varied relationships we hold. The common denominator is within me…or you…as the case may be. How do I behave when someone I care about is being difficult, maybe even ridiculous? My experience is that most people just pull away without any real explanation, and leave that person floundering in confusion.

My modus operandi is to retreat! I have often determined this woman is a wicked slut, or that man is an abusive monster. Generally with a indignant attitude, thus justifying my choice. Today, I see the signs of how I might have done it differently. I am more open to how I could have kept the love alive, even if it meant just having a different or distant relationship, instead of a hostile relationship.

A few things I do today are helping me to stay in relationships without losing my self in the process.

First, gentle honesty. If I am going to jump ship, I try to express what it is that I need and give them a chance to try. At least I can do that much out of respect for what we have been.

Second, I see the struggle as a way for me to grow, to evolve into a wiser and more refined woman. Go ahead, do that thing that I hate. Then I will be forced to review who I am, what I truly believe about myself, and how I can use grace and compassion to speak my truth.

I have people in my life that hold accomplishment and financial wealth as a measure of one’s character, a common American view. This always pricks my heart, as I have turned away from such things and live with less than I could earn. Does this mean people I love see me as a loser? If my kids don’t attend college, much less the best colleges, does that mean we are failures? What if they struggle all their lives with a meager income? Should we carry shame for it?

Let me tell you something. This is not about those who may judge us. This is not about their standards either. This is absolutely and undeniably about my own sense of human worth, dignity, and the fact that I am finally okay with my own life choices and the ways in which I have also not been lucky. If I am truly at peace, they will see it. They will understand that their measurement is no threat to me. I love my simple life and all the struggles that befall me, as they are a mirror for my strength and my own priorities.

Likewise, if someone I know begins to compete with me, sees me as a threat to their own value, I know full well that only my love will make them question it. Only my deep, sincere desire for their wellness will bring down their walls. If that is not enough, then I must detach from the system in which they live. Sadly, I must release them to their own lessons. But damnit, I am not going to angrily shun them, call them names, and declare my superior status. Because I really just need to grieve that they cannot love me and celebrate my strength. They cannot reap the rewards of my love if they persist in their comparisons and their own unhealed pain.

If the people in my life are cruel, I can love myself without hating them. I can even appreciate those parts of them I still love. I can commune with the divine and thank them for allowing me to not defend, not blame, not stonewall, nor dismiss them. I can protect myself and still keep my love alive.

Smoothing Our Jagged Character

In a world of unavoidable negotiations, I am a raw, spiked rock, pushing against others, sometimes even scratching or poking them.

I aim to be a tumbled, smooth, shiny stone.

Those rough edges have been with me since I first learned how to engage with others. I learned a lot of bad behavior from those who raised me, and I come by some of it innately, as if my genetics calls forth some battle or an aggression within. But the truth is I don’t really like certain things about myself. Sometimes, when I leave a conversation, I cringe at how I behaved, and it feels like this is who I am. This is a part of me that I cannot help. This shitty person is me.

Well, that is a lie.

I can change. I can consciously remove these poor behaviors, if I am actually willing to admit they exist. I know I can. My spirit is strong, and I believe that rooting out these behaviors will only set me free. Then I can feel better. I can show up better for others, and I can practice the very things that build a more spiritual life.

Consequently, as a woman who wishes to be her best self, to fully self-actualize, and to love myself entirely, I made a plan. I am going to share that plan with you now. It is my own self-induced 100 Day Challenge!

Behavior #1: Giving Unsolicited Advice

I have been around for 56 years. I have been through a lot. I have some hard-earned wisdom. But no one wants to hear my opinions when they are not even asking. When I launch into the varied ways in which they can solve a problem, or improve their situation, I am letting my ego drive the car.

This has to stop. And let me tell you something: This is not an easy thing to change. I have worked on it a little bit for a long time, but I have a long way to go.

When we decide to stop a behavior like this, we must fill the void with new behavior. We cannot work in a vacuum. So my intention is to start doing something else; in place if my excessive sharing, I will now do three other things. I will listen fully, really zero in. I will ask investigative questions – NOT LEADING QUESTIONS like an attorney who is implying one answer – but exploratory questions, to elicit the sort of further understanding that illuminates the speaker’s feelings, facts, and conclusions. Finally, I will parrot back to them what I have heard. When I tell people what I am hearing, they can either say, “Yes! That is what I am saying!” Or they can correct me, “Not exactly.” Then more information is shared and they get to feel heard. Feeling heard is really what most people want. They don’t actually want to know what I think all that often. In fact, saying nothing of my own thoughts is far more likely going to clarify what they really want from me. I would save myself a lot of energy and time if I stopped assuming they are looking for advice when they simply are not.

Behavior #2: Complaining

When I am stressed, or I feel invisible, or my needs go unmet, I tend to bitch a lot. I complain about everything under the sun. The weather. My body aches. My lack of time. Other people. My plans. My food. My furniture. My chores. Everything. How do I stop that? At the outset, I must shut it up. But then where does all that negative energy go? Just stopping it will only bury it in my muscles and stomach. That causes disease. And if you think I was complaining before, just wait until I have a disease.

Therefore, I have to replace that behavior with a question: Is there anything I can do to fix it? If the answer is yes, I guess I know what to do. But if the answer is no, I must ask for what I need. Ugh. Who the heck wants to ask for what they need? Not me. I don’t like counting on others. I don’t like to impose. I don’t like to be vulnerable. I really don’t like to hear a rejecting no either. So, instead of asking, I complain. My new self is going to start telling people what I need. I bet you most of the time I will get exactly what I need. If I am not getting what I need, perhaps I will learn to accept it, or perhaps I need to find some new friends, right?

Behavior #3: Seeking Credit

I like to pull my weight. In fact, I like to make sure no one ever suggests that I don’t do my share. The issue is not that I am lazy, or insufficient. It is that I want credit for all that I do, so I can glean all the feel-goods of people acknowledging my good work. I want approval. I want to be seen. I want to be valued.

It isn’t enough that I know I have value. I want to know that others think I have value as well. I suppose in this way, I am competitive, and perhaps too, I am keeping score.

So that’s gross.

What will I do instead? I will observe. I will remind myself that I like doing these things. I like to be of service. I like to keep order in my home. I like to be productive. I like being actively useful.

At the end of the day, most people do acknowledge my efforts. Most of the time, I am given a thank you or a good job! I don’t want to spend my time wondering if someone will notice. I want to spend my time satisfied with my own willingness to contribute and leave it at that. Thus, no more waiting for the kudos. Now, I will do these things because I like myself more when I do. If no one notices, I guess they must be focused on more important things.

How will I know if I have become a shiny, smooth stone? I will tell my closest people what I am trying to do. This gives them permission to help me, and to hold me accountable. I will journal every day, recording my progress, download the struggles, the lessons, and the observation of my self. I know these behaviors won’t change just because I want them to. It will be two steps forward and one step back. These things are a challenge; otherwise, it would have changed long ago. I have to not apologize for my slips, but ask for do-overs, to try again. I have to balance being gentle with myself and holding myself to a higher standard. I have to practice. It takes time, fortitude, and pride in the fact that I am trying. Part of my spiritual practice is to be honest with myself about how I am showing up. I am confident I can do better, and it feels right and good.

Monsters Need Boundaries

Confession: There is a monster living inside me. She is a lurking, tricky, messy girl. This dark, fiendish one is a part of me. Right now, she is small and almost completely harmless. She sits like a tiny seed inside my brain and has the capacity to break open and sprout. If she is watered with attention, she springs forth an invasive species, consuming me, choking me, and spreading her wretchedness toward everyone I love.

Her name is Suspicion.

Like all shadowy beings, my monster is born of pain. She used to trust people too much. So when the tower of security came tumbling down, she learned fast: Do not be so naive; do not be so cocky. Be something else. Be suspicious.

Then a new day dawned. Years ago, as I became more invested in my then romantic partner, my monster took over my life. I began to investigate, and I began to snoop. Once I had a taste of uncovering secret information, I couldn’t get enough. It became an obsession. The monster now dominated most of my thoughts. It’s sole target was my lover. I knew something was up and I proceeded to prove it. I would wait for him to leave and I would read his journals. I began sneaking onto his phone when he was in the shower, or visiting with others on the patio. At first, it was just a few pages, or an overview of his texts. It was strangely exciting. It made me feel empowered. Eventually, I took great risks to view his photos, his social media messages, his journals and belongings from his past. Suspicion was in charge. Not me.

I learned so much too. I learned that he had been cheating on me. I learned he was hiding drugs in my home. I learned he had almost zero interest in me. He had noted that I was terribly unremarkable. It turned out that my search for the truth was fruitful. The monster inside me was relentless now. I felt justified.

But I wasn’t justified.

I was a monster.

My monster was destroying my spiritual core, the knowing that everything will go as it will and I will be okay no matter what. I had come to think I had to control the outcomes. I no longer believed that fate was going to intervene on its own.

Once I was single again, there were a few lessons I came to understand when I finally contained the monster, having crammed it back into it’s little space, hopefully never to be poked again.

I learned that the facts are not always necessary to justify how one feels. Just feeling that way is enough to demand a change. I don’t need to prove to someone that they cannot be trusted. I need to honor that I do not find them trustworthy, period.

I learned that when someone hides things from me, it is not mine to reveal. It is theirs to carry. They can walk around with that filth. I can just keep living my life free of such burdens.

When a person refuses to mind their own business, they shatter what is sacred – another person’s privacy, sure – but more so their own self-worth. The madness that ensues from distrust is horrific and staggering. The craziest thing about my own situation is that I slowly realized he was purposefully leaving his things out, tempting me to look, and thus sabotaging us in some twisted form of righteousness. You see, my investigations only proved how important he was to me, in fact, more important than my integrity. I’d have benefitted from caring a little less.

Today, I know I am separate from others and their choices. I can keep my dignity. I won’t let Suspicion take me over anymore. My monster is bored, but I like it that way. I know deep down that she is just waiting in there.

Tap tap tap.

Nope.

This Land is My Land: Our Souls Amongst the Ruins

“The Piers”

When Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman raced across the plains of America in 1992’s film “Far and Away,” they were there to stake their claim on a parcel of wilderness they would then call their own. I was both thrilled with their victory and equally disturbed by the undertones of a pioneers’ entitlement to any land at all.

My ancestors, like so many people across the earth, have usurped the property of those native to the land. Pride and shame, blood and bones are part of the soil, and from that springs a brave new world. The Natives of America dream of taking it back entirely, understandably. Many foreigners today both resent us and wish to be us. It’s a dirty business. I secretly wish we had stayed in Scotland, that we still did sacrificial rites and hunted under the moon.

Recently, my own circumstances have left me temporarily homeless. I am now a nomad, a transient. Yet, I am hopeful that I will once again find a home to call my own, where I can furnish it and color it how I please. I have the eventual means and the fortitude. Nonetheless, I am gaining spiritual ground from this plight.

On the one hand, I have everything I need. I have family and friends to give me tenure. I have my health and my wits. My duty to others is covered; my cats are being cared for elsewhere and my children have the security they require. I don’t really have serious worries, as I am privileged to sleep indoors and lug my essentials from place to place. I mean, I do have a plan.

But this roaming is a pain in the ass. I can’t paint right now, the one thing that has brought me consistent joy for two years. There is too much to carry and a mess is always made. I have very little privacy. Personal hygiene has been pared down to a raw and most natural level. I miss my cats. I spend a lot of time strategizing each activity or period of rest so as not to intrude on others. I am restricted by the dominion of each landlord. I am a tenant, not a governing faction. I have become an indentured servant, both grateful and uncomfortable. I miss entertaining guests. I miss getting coffee in my underwear. I miss tossing out garbage in a robe. I miss my own garden, where every flower was planted with my own hands.

Simultaneously, my family’s land has diminished. Resting on the St Croix River was once a small kingdom of nine homes on a square mile, free access to the water, ski trails and fishing ponds, vast acres of tall pines my great-grandfather had planted 100 years ago, and a communal respect for how things are done. Older generations died. New generations sold off their parcels for monetary gains. Now the government allows a few of us to remain on federal land and only two homes remain side by side nestled into the bluff. I don’t live here, but I always expected I could. I am a stranger to the majority, not the familiar daughter of JoAnn. Furthermore, I can still visit Pioneer Park, but it was once my family’s yard and home. No one at the park knows or cares. I am nobody.

We have evolved into something less important. The legacy feels forgotten. It is a humble thing.

I never understood why a person was attached to a place and refused to leave. Now I do. I appreciate the lesson.

What is left is just me. My body, my meager possessions, and ultimately my soul. What I do, how I behave, my memories and my dreams are the intangibles of a wanderer. How I think of these things, how I feel, and the scope of all we really have are the core components to a spiritual life. I can sit in self-pity and rage against the loss, or I can rise. The gods give and the gods take away. So be it. I am forced as a survivor to relinquish the material and embrace the very thing no one has taken yet, the warmth of my smile, my growing intuition, and the power of being alive. After all, I am still breathing. It must be the way it is supposed to be. Even my breath must come and go.

The Identity Challenge!

“Unapologetic”

When I was a child, my mother’s best friend changed her name from Ginny to Gina. Born as Virginia, she had outgrown the innocent nickname, which then felt too small, too girlish for this feminist fully grown woman.

It took me a long time to adjust, and I secretly resented the change. Where was the lady I had known in my ten years of life?! Who was GEE-NAH anyway? I corrected myself with misgivings for a good year. Yet, today, I barely recall “Ginny” at all. Gina is stronger, and more sophisticated, which she had always been in my memory. Changing her name to Gina was brave, and she must have known her worth. She understood that our discomfort was not her problem.

Then I changed my last name, due to four marriages and divorces, exactly eight times, back and forth, back and forth, until many people would ask, “What is it now? I can’t keep up!” Sometimes, when an old last name is still on old business accounts, I cringe a bit. Sometimes an old student will call out an old name, and my internal response is a direct read on how much peace I have gained. I have learned to graciously correct them, and keep my humor about it. What can I say? I am willing to change; there is no shame in it.

At the end of my teaching career, I began to correct kids on the use of MRS. when I had been Ms. all along. I guess Gina wore off on me. My marital status is no big secret, but if men can hold their autonomy, so can I.

The LGBTQQIP2SAA Community seems to have sprung a leak on the dams of gender identity, but more power to them. This is quite the learning curve for me. Yet, I work to understand and respect that these people are serious about the image they promote. It is important that what may seem simple to me, is simply not. Apparently, my ignorance is once again challenged.

Additionally, I sat in court a few years ago as a witness to the name change of my old friend Nate, who became En. When a mutual acquaintance made a public joke of En’s new name, I could see that the man had little regard for the depth of En’s new identity. It made me sad and also angry.

I noticed in the last year that my choice to change my name to Isa Glade, from the blandness of Kim Pauline Thompson, has brought a new wave of discomfort. I hope to keep my legal name, but promote the affection I feel when people say, EYE-SAH! It has never been easy to share Kim with 50 million others, both first and last and gender neutral as well. Nothing unique is happening. I treasure Pauline after my great-grandmother who was a writer like me, a woman I loved and admired. Thompson bears a link to a father I barely knew, so the link was something of a reminder that he did in fact matter.

Nonetheless, Isa Glade came from the origins of my spiritual path, one that transformed me into the Celtic Witch, artist and woman I am today. Spirituality is indeed the most important part of my life. Even the word “witch” is powerfully misunderstood, as it was a perceived threat to certain domains, and it took me a while to come out of the broom closet and truly own it. I am the 11th child of my father’s 14 offspring, and Isa is the 11th of the ancient runes. It has the icy quality of stillness, and the capacity to melt into springs of renewal. Glade is a middle name given to many of my family members, and the forest opening seems fitting for the warm solitude I have grown to enjoy. Isa tells the world that my identity has changed, and I really like the way it feels when a new friend has no idea that any other name exists. They see me more as who I am now than what others maintain, some version of how they once knew me.

A lot of people still call me Kim, mostly because I have not demanded they recognize my new identity. Sometimes I think they feel affection for how they already knew me. I love that younger person, Kim, and all she had endured. I love her because she is a part of me. Yet, it is entirely true, I prefer Isa. Isa is how I see myself. And who wouldn’t want to be seen as such? I suppose I will have to find a way to declare to the world how I wish to be addressed. People tend to rise to the expectations set before them.

Awaken, Dear One

Well, it is March and Spring is here. This is a time, particularly in the American Midwest, when nature awakens, an extreme shift in the warming of the earth and a resulting higher vibration in its people. We come out of the mental cave, casting off the cozy blankets and heavy wool. We pause in the doorway to take in the nuances of nature’s greetings: puddles, birds, tiny buds, and longer days. We drive faster with the windows down. We stand outside and talk to people until we are done.

This begs the question: Are you really awake?

I am nudging you now to consider the difference between being awake, and being awake.

This spring, make a choice to truly awaken in the spiritual sense. This means allowing your natural surroundings to tap into what we all possess: the spirit within. There are endless ways in which to do this, my lovely friends. I am going to share a few to get you started.

First, consider your senses. To be intentionally sensual will promote your awakening.

Smell the air and notice the way our earth has melted into a watery garden of brewing life. Smell your mother’s hair when you hug her. Smell your pillows, your skin, your coffee.

Listen to the sounds of the wind, the animals outside your window, and voices of strangers. Give words to the sort of laughter you hear. Let the music move you. Stop for thunderstorms and raindrops.

See the colors your child likes to wear, the things you place on your walls, the way your cat looks at you, and how your neighbor walks across the yard.

Taste the food you are eating. Really consider what tastes satisfying and why. Taste your paper cuts and salty lips. Taste your friend’s name as it leaves your mouth.

Touch the varied textures around you. Notice the rough grit of the sidewalk, the way your pillow supports your cheek, the delicate skin of your belly. How does it feel to have a breeze on your face, or water pressure on your neck, or an orange burst in your mouth?

Let your senses matter. It is the seed of a spiritual moment that must be purposefully planted into your soul. This. This is what it is to be awake.

Next, attach each natural element to your knowing. Vigilant focus on these elements allows a growing awareness of something often overlooked. To be awakened is to pay attention to what we often dismiss, and thus we remain asleep. Don’t miss the lessons of simple elemental experiences.

Fire, in all its forms, conveys your passion, your drives. A candle, a bonfire, a grill, a sunrise, a spark of electricity. It burns and it fuses and it warms and it lights the way. Notice how fire represents our desire.

Water holds your emotions. Boiling, bathing, stirring, flushing, lapping, dipping, splashing water. Consider its temperature, its purpose and its healing quality. Water represents the simmering and pounding waves of emotion.

Air brings intellect. Messages upon the wind. Stillness on the front stoop. Blowing a kiss. Your breathing while you climb a hill. The rising and falling of a lover’s chest. The long deep sigh as you surrender to something difficult. A gasp as you realize something new. Air and breath allow room for ideas.

Earth is the physical realm of the body. Cold grass under bare feet. A smooth rock inside your palm. The ash of a burned log upon your fingers. The blood and bones of a burial. A silk scarf and linen pants. The coffee grounds you pour into the grinder. The raspberry you pluck from the vine. The earth’s soil, rocks, plants and species are entirely connected to the life form of a human being.

It is our divine right to be connected to that which inspires life. Our rudimentary needs are natural, not that of technology, finances, or progress. Spiritual awakening requires the answer to primal callings. Our spirit is fueled by conscious contact with the rhythms of nature within us and beyond us. Make the choice to wake up!

Soul Mates, or What?

I spent my life hoping to find a soul mate, the one person who would feel like pure cosmic energy was zapping between us when we were together, even when we were apart, and still going long after death. I have been both blessed and cursed with many loves, and I always believed there could be many beautiful mates to my one passionate soul. I believe, you know, life is a river, always flowing and evolving, not an isolated lake. But that was all before I found him. As a woman in her mid-fifties, I have come to find that this one is definitely my soul mate. I am not sad it took so long. I am thrilled it happened at all.

Some part of me always knew, deep down, and sometimes declaring to the world, that the men I have loved have never been my true blue. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love them. It did mean I spent a lot of time wishing it was different in key ways. It did mean that when the chips were down, I was utterly alone much of the time. I don’t regret it. It was all necessary, I suppose.

It didn’t mean something was wrong with me. Although, there were lots of things wrong with me. It wasn’t about that. It was about the solid fact that I may learn a lot from this relationship, but we were not meant for an eternal time together. I’d still take a bullet for a few of them. Most of them meant something important to me.

It didn’t mean something was wrong with them. Although, there were plenty of things wrong with all of them. Being my soul mate has never required perfection, nor actually anything even close to that. Perfection is boring and repulsive to me.

It’s just that now, it is different. I don’t know if I found him so late in life because I took this long to love myself. A lot of people believe in that. I am confident you can find your soul mate long before you learn to love yourself, and I have seen it happen. Perhaps our soul mate helps us get there.

Yet, there is something quite lovely about finding someone when you finally understand that you are worthy of such an ecstatic love, a love that feels safe and constantly thrilling all at once. A love that will spend an entire day eating and lounging and playing and maybe even challenging each other, if need be. A love that you can just tell is never, ever going to ditch you, or betray you, or think you are embarrassing. A love that erupts in serious belly-aching laughter, in a vessel you can’t seem to stop touching. A love that takes dancing lessons for you. A love that feels exactly that same way you do about that love. The sort of love that makes you smile when they have a funny walk or stupid jokes or likes a song that sounds like a chainsaw.

A love that feels like you just came ashore after epic battles with mythic beasts. A love that is simple but never boring, even when you are doing nothing at all. A love that you just know can never be replaced, no matter how great other people can be.

If I lose this love, to another, or to illness, or to some dark fate, I will be done looking elsewhere. I would keep living, since that is my right and my duty, but to try to love this way again would be a great disservice to anyone new. It would be far better to find other ways to find joy than to spend a single hour searching for something I was blessed to know at all. It would be greedy. I am a realist. I spent a long time thinking he was possible, but knowing I might be karmically fucked. So now, I intend to treat him like a king. I will count that blessing every day, after he is gone, and thank the gods for the fact that I finally got what I had always hoped to get, for however long I could hold it. And for someone like me, a woman of raging fire and unwavering ice, that should say a lot.

The Spiritual Bridge Between Us

There are three roads we can take when we find that someone holds entirely different values from our own. Imagine a giant, impassable canyon between two lands, each side holding fiercely to their own safe, sustainable territory and believing the other side to be one of dark, brutal ignorance. I am speaking first of personal relationships, among family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and community. Navigating those arenas alone is a milestone for most of us. To be honest, I am not equipped to rally on a global or even national level. Today, I am speaking directly to the individual and the others with whom they must personally contend. After that, we rely upon the media and our chosen leaders to give us the truth, and that, my friends, is for another conversation.

One response to our personal fractured relationships is to avoid and judge, which is often swollen with contempt, and taps a deep pain of feeling misunderstood. If you cannot understand me or my people, I will stay away and protect myself. I will build my own army, and there will be only US and THEM. The reason this way looks peaceful is because we stay on our own side and never cross into the land of our enemy. But it is not peaceful. It is a temporary truce with wary implications. We stick with our own, but we vilify those who do not belong. Eventually, divine interventions and occasional human need will catapult us across the divide, and then terror and war will strike.

Another choice is to follow the opposition only when they are around, thus creating an inauthentic illusion of peace. If I don’t like what you stand for, I will just remain passive. I will play nice and secretly abhor your ways. I notice this happening when people say that it is your business if you are gay, or stupid, or colored, or divorced or married, old or young, poor or privileged, or of a certain religion, but I am only tolerating you as a gift of generosity. See what a good person I am! I don’t care what you do, as long as it is on your land and not mine. I will remain inflated and condescend when I must. The two lands remain separate, steeped in superiority, since people generally see right through this tactic.

I suppose I am willing to fight pure, raw evil. Yet, how often do we determine that there is evil within something for which we have almost no deeper knowledge? How often do we declare someone a demon, when we are treading in foreign territory and cannot even speak their language? Too often, I think.

The third option is the most challenging. It also requires our most spiritually fit state of being.

We can do this one if we are ready, but it calls forth some pretty impressive acts of unparalleled love and true courage. There is no room for ego-driven fear or distorted pride.

When I am up against another human being, whom I perceive as potentially antagonistic or vastly contrary to my truth, I am learning to take this rare and effective approach, but it requires something for which I have not always been capable. It requires a deep belief on a grand scale, an eternal longing to bridge the divide, to bring unity and secure a common ground. I don’t do this for the sake of others; although, it can certainly benefit others. I do it to hold myself accountable. If I fall from this state of grace, it is no one’s fault but my own, and I am the one who suffers in spirit. Spiritual warriors can not survive in a state of disdain for others.

Humans are very quick to make false assumptions based on limited information, and they become very ‘all or nothing’, which simply incites prejudice and scorn. We even build a case over time to justify our hostility. We ignore the whole picture: we neglect the act of learning more.

This third road to righteous peace creates a bridge across the divide, so that we can come closer to feeling safe and knowing an authentic calm:

  1. Be the curious observer. Enter the realm of the opposition with a sincerely objective and open desire to understand. Watch with the eyes and ears of a scientist. Stop taking it personally. Note all of the behaviors, not just the ones you find offensive. Give credit to the positive where it is due. Record in your mind the reasoning of the opponent. When we understand how someone thinks, we gain grace and wisdom. For a short while, suspend your opinions and learn more about theirs.
  2. Take your own inventory. If I am harboring guilt and shame, I am incapable of seeing others as they are. Worse yet, I am blinded by my own sense of inferiority. When I have done the work to mend my past actions, it is much easier to see others with compassion. It becomes possible to accept that they may never like me, but now, finally, I am more resilient and carry an ease in my heart. Because I’ve addressed my own shit, I am strong. If you think you are exempt from this step, you are sadly in denial.
  3. Validate when you can. When people feel that you have really listened to them, they soften. They need to be respected as humans and that means telling them what you do understand. We recognize where it all makes sense and their emotional world is honored. “I can understand why you feel that way.” This is pure gold on the bridge across the void. When I humbly sit with someone’s truth, I feel my heart fill with love.
  4. Ask questions. One of the most insightful discussions I have ever held was when I learned what it was like to be homeless, why it can be a choice, why it happens, how it remains this way. On the same note, I had just as much to learn about what it was like to live in significant affluence. Both have their own culture, their own codes of conduct, and yes, their own real struggles. This has been a gift as I would teach English to students on both ends of the continuum and could then provide sensitivity to the issues that arose. I don’t ask leading questions or rhetorical questions. I ask authentically interested questions with no idea what I am about to hear.

Any time we come to an impasse with others, it is likely we will have much to learn from each other. I am fascinated with the enemy. I can see that my higher power puts them in front of me so that I can grow. It helps if they wish to learn as well. However, I find that I often need to take the first step across the divide. I often need to wave the white flag and invite scary people to reveal themselves fully. I wish to see the child inside the imagined monster. I also have a full belief that we all have monsters inside. Let me love you anyway. You are no better or worse than me, even if you think you are. I must lead with an honest desire to promote a mutual healing if I am to walk freely in this life. Let me be the bridge. Let me at least try.

Say It to My Face

There are many ways to leave, and among the most heartbreaking and cruel is the scenario of one person slipping away without a word. You know the story: someone comes home and their loved one has taken all their belongings, and simply vanished. Listeners claim there must have been signs along the way, but isn’t that just putting the blame where it doesn’t belong?

This form of abandonment is not just in love affairs or marriage. It can happen with a best friend, suddenly behaving as if you never existed. It can happen to children who lose a living parent without explanation. It can happen at work, when one slowly realizes they have been excluded, uninvited to the regular gatherings of their peers.

Some people do the slow fade for damage control, constantly excusing themselves from your efforts, or canceling plans at the last minute. Some people never reply to your texts or answer your calls. Some people play nice, even hugging you when you unexpectedly show up somewhere. They politely ask if you are well, but then they slink away as soon as they are able.

We, the exiled, are first confused, even deny that it is happening. Then we ask, “What is happening? Why have you moved away from me?” It is a bitter taste when they refuse to discuss it, or worse, lie to your face in an effort to avoid getting real.

I am not sure why people do this thing, but I know it feels absolutely unnecessary, and much like a giant punch to the throat. The word coward comes to mind. Self-serving. Perhaps self-righteous. Even neglect. Yet, these words are too small to match the harm of such an irresponsible act; this is a choice of dishonesty and chaos and lingering regrets for all parties.

Wait! Am I just too scary to confront? I have been told this is true. So I double down and determine to always be calm, humble enough to hear the difficult truths, and capable of a dignified conversation. I make damn sure I am safe and approachable. I prepare for whatever it is. Please, I beg of you, just tell me.

There is little we can do, though, when we are not given the chance to hear it. And we will spend great spans of time wondering how we became unlovable. Somehow, this person you called friend, this person you trusted, decided you were unworthy of an explanation, and you have been robbed of any opportunity to fix it, or even understand at all.

This is why I promise the people I love that they will never have to wonder. I promise to tell them swiftly and directly what has left me disappointed or angry or hopeless regarding our relationship. I honor people enough to say the difficult things, hopefully with grace and compassion in my voice, but at least some honesty, absolutely looking them straight in the eye.

In order to respect myself, I must respect others. Even those who have done some really bad things, or those I must leave for any reason at all. Especially those who don’t even know what they have done, or if they even did anything. Telling someone in person why you wish to pull away is an act of integrity and courage. Life is not fair, I know. But where is your soul?

Today, I seek champions who feel the way I do. I watch to see how they treat those they leave. I watch to see how they behave when they are left as well.

Perhaps people who leave without explanation are merely weak and undignified. I guess I’ll never know.

Struggling to Love – Expected Flaws or Epic Fails?

In response to a friend’s question: How do I love my husband, despite his flaws?

No matter how much we love someone, they will eventually frustrate us to some degree. And if this is a long term, daily relationship, this challenge is likely to become a regular thing. Therefore, it is crucial that we understand what is a small annoyance, what is worthy of fair battle, and what is a deal breaker. Our love relationships are unique and personal and the variables are great. Still, there are some universal truths.

A wise coworker once told me that a marriage should be 90% fantastic and 10% challenge. I admired his marriage and could see that my own marriage was more like 30% pretty sweet and 70% horrible.

People have a lot more grace with divorce these days, but it is by no means an easy exit. It is rife with loss and a painful sense of failure, and yes, there is still judgment from others. Yet, with divorce and major break ups now a more common experience, I have learned that there is a big difference between what conflicts I know are almost nothing to what I know is seriously threatening our earnest promise to exclusive and lasting love.

Let’s begin with the obvious. If someone is living in a way that is soulfully damaging US, such as gambling to the point of unpaid debt, cheating sexually, or using violence to control me, I am out. Most people would agree that this level of behavior must have a hard line NO. Some people will stay due to the vows they made, but let’s all agree, the person destroying the relationship is not the victim. It is the person who first broke their promise to be your support, your ally and your protector, leaving you in this horrid position, forcing you to save yourself.

Then we have the other side of the continuum: The small stuff. Honestly, I have gotten to the point where certain issues are almost not worth a single breath of my time. Leaving crumbs on the countertops, toothpaste on the towels, and snoring. If this person is vegetarian and I love beef and pork, I just get creative. I mostly take care of these issues in silence. Why? Because I love too much about them to give a damn. If my partner tends to laugh nervously when we meet people, or they grow silent at dinner parties, I think my loyalty should override their idiosyncrasies. If my partner likes to watch football and I prefer a foreign film, or he seems more invested in hunting than playing with the kids, it is not a difficult thing to ask for what I need and establish what I can expect. If these are the sorts of things that bother me, perhaps I am overlooking the real problems. It seems like this level of complaint is either smothered by our love, or inflated by the fact that I don’t really want to be in this relationship to begin with. The small things can become big as a decoy from the scary stuff that is being ignored, avoided, deflected, or denied. If I am in a safe and loving relationship, these little contentions are easily resolved.

However, things are not always so big or little. There are subtle ways to threaten the harmony of a significant partnership, and over time can burn away the affection we once held. This grey, gone unchecked, is a growing cause of torturous angst. Perhaps this person misses work too much and spends hours a day sleeping; they’re not pulling their weight in the duties of the home and finances. Perhaps they overspend in unnecessary ways. Maybe your partner has emotional affairs with those who are attracted to them. Some partners hide their whereabouts, or become unreliable with mutual social commitments. One of the most damaging and elusive behaviors is sarcasm and calloused criticism, even the painful experience of being told you are unworthy of love; often these messages are only implied. Some partners grow possessive and accuse us of things we have not done. These grey areas can leave us confused, and we hope the deterioration of our trust and esteem will not ultimately ruin our love. These are the areas in which we wonder how long we must endure it, or if there is hope of change.

I would contend that long term experience with the grey can become unbearable and generate such a level of contempt that one begins to dream of one’s freedom, however that might occur. If we honestly approach them and our partner listens and agrees to change, then continues to do the very things that cause us pain, it is unlikely in today’s world that we will endlessly suffer. We know today that we can leave. We know that we have a choice; unfortunately, it will still come at a price. We spend much time and energy deciding if the price is too high, or if we are better off being half-content.

It seems important then to establish the spiritual nature of a love relationship. Love is not living under the same roof. Love is not having someone around so you don’t have to be alone. Love is not paying the bills and sitting at your mother-in-law’s table. These are the things that happen to support the love that is already there.

The spiritual nature of love is to honor something that occurs between two people, beyond the grave, beyond their choices, and beyond our petty desires. Love is an unconditional grace and resolve. And most importantly, this sort of true love must be matched by how much you love yourself. If someone is hurting me, I must love myself enough to assure my health and safety is first. If I love someone, I must measure my capacity for tolerance. If my partner does not honor my safety and trust, I must love myself enough to leave.

It comes down to these honest questions: Is this person I love doing their best? Are they sincerely trying? Am I also doing my best? Has it been made clear what is going to be enough? Is it clear what is not enough? If you don’t know where the line is, do not expect your lover to know it.

This is all that we can ask of each other in this messy world, and if his best is not enough for me, then perhaps I should step aside and let someone else love him instead.