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.

Just Be Yourself, Whatever That Means

People often say, “Just be yourself!” Forgive me when I scoff at such a flippant remark! For there are great excesses of bold and subtle contradictions in this world. Who I Am is not only constantly changing, but sometimes straight up bad.

When people do a very bad thing, they say, “That is not really who I am.” And I argue that perhaps that is who you are, not wholly, but come on, partially, right? Our true nature is going to be capable of harm. The sooner we understand this, the more we will forgive ourselves and get on with the show.

Just be yourself. But, you know, not that part.

Just be yourself, but maybe just a bit better.

Just be yourself. But you will have to pay.

Okay, but additionally, can someone tell me who I am?

I am relieved to say that I have started to figure it out. And I conclude that in all my efforts to become a defined individual, I have arrived at the humbling fact that I am so much more like everyone else. That is a comfort. There are some unique fractions, sure. Yet, just being myself is basically recognizing that I am not as special as I once believed, and also, the only way to be my own snowflake is to sometimes lift myself up and away from all that society deems worthy, to defy the social constructs and admit in equal measure that the constructs are there for good reason!

So the search continues.

Let us begin with identity at the base levels, including labels and names and adjectives.

Typical American White Girl, privileged and yet honestly traumatized. Menagerie of European ancestors…Celtic, Nordic, German, French. Solid healthy Minnesota stock. Origins in the lumber industry of a river town. Also from a string of writers, artists, scientists, pragmatists, not always conforming, but not altogether oddballs either, passionate people, and plenty of educated smartypants.

We tend to be intelligent but neurotic. What can I say, it’s an uphill battle to overcome ancestral anxiety. Plus, we are largely brave, expressive, and sometimes overconfident. Knowing this about myself can help me to negotiate the crazy part of me, the part that suffers because of Who I Am. I giggle a lot, but sometimes I cackle.

Who I Am is also fluid. I am lazy when it comes to errands, procrastinating when my gas gauge is on empty, or there is little real food to eat. God help me if my tires are low. Seriously, if I were a billionaire, I’d have my own personal errand runner at my beck and call. Errands feel so meaningless after all.

I am highly motivated to charm people into doing what I want. Should I embrace this under the umbrella of being Who I Am?

When I wonder about others being who they are, are they refusing to behave in ways that are inauthentic, saying one thing but hoping for something else. Do you agree to things that suck your soul? Do you even understand what depletes you? Are you trying to laugh when you know it’s not funny? Do you work hard at playing to everyone else’s needs?

Sure, Being Myself can elicit humor, silliness, creative beauty, a thoughtful choice of fashion. There’s got to be something original and heartfelt in there. Yet, always I am toning it down so people will stay in the room.

Be Myself? Huh. I’m not so sure you know the ramifications here. If I am entirely Myself, people will experience a lot of curt replies, a shocking level of brutal truths for which they will likely retreat. And I will tell you things you won’t want to believe, like how I have this psychic ability, and I don’t care if you agree.

Being Myself will, in effect, annihilate half the relationships I hold dear. Because my true self is fantastically insensitive, impatient, and exhausted a lot of the time.

I know My True Self is capable of unconditional love, a fierce love, and a impenetrable loyalty, but also a senseless and grueling war. Deep down, I wish people would completely accept me as I am, but then they would have to understand that half the time, I know what I am saying is absurd. I don’t even totally believe everything that I say, since my brain is already considering the alternative. I wish to be given credit for seeing all of it when all you hear is half of it. I am not saying I am full of untruth, just that I am fully aware that my truth is flexible and I like it that way. You would need to allow my eternal right to change my mind. I’m only saying, when you suggest people should just be themselves, be careful. If you profess that you are capable of accepting people as they are, be prepared.

The Solstice Shadow

The Winter Solstice is upon us! This means we experience the longest night of the year, and it also means that each day thereafter will bring us to a longer stretch of daylight by just a few minutes, until Spring finally arrives! Up here in the northern part of America, we truly feel the depths of hibernation, and what it means to burrow in for an extended period – pandemic or no pandemic.

This year, I will make a special effort to honor the benefits of this quiet time. Today, I will intentionally walk in the daylight, all bundled up, even for a brief time. This evening, I will eat the warmed crusted breads, salted nuts, dried fruits and savory meats of my ancestral heritage, setting out a plate on my windowsill for the divine gods of the greater realms! I will ask for enduring strength and unwavering hope. I will light candles, tell stories of remembrance, and read poems of the bards! I will sway and twirl to Celtic drums and flutes! I will hold my cats among bells and pine boughs, and dream my mugwort dreams. This is a sacred night.

One of the beautiful notions of the winter solstice is that our shadow self is embraced. That part of us that has suffered and battled and longs to heal, waiting for the light and its warmth to return. Within each of us is a balance of our glory and our struggles. We must not deny the darkness, but go into the parts of us that need solitude and the salves of love. We recognize that we, like winter, are only here for a spell of time, and we are meant to accept our fleeting time on earth, we begin to treasure all that life brings. Nature is wise and relentlessly powerful. Let us accept our true, human nature, that which can only experience glory because of the struggles. No struggle, no glory. And the struggles are not only beyond our individual shells, but often a mirrored internal one, which requires our greatest courage and an iron-clad faith. The winter solstice reminds us to stop, rest, and reflect.

In December, the ice now thickens and protects the earth, so that come Spring, we are blessed with a melting saturation, the water needed to drench the soil and restore its growing once more. These cycles, these aeons of time, bring renewal and the fortitude to once again unfurl. We put our past to sleep, then we awaken to a new beginning.

The Ferocity of Trust

Whom do I trust? Ultimately, to be honest, no one. Not that I don’t choose to trust certain individuals under particular circumstances. I trust my sister to show up five minutes early. I trust my partner to tell me if he is annoyed. I trust my girlfriends to respond when I reach out.

But I am always aware of how humans are vulnerable and can be manipulated, easily pulled to even subtle levels of dishonesty, small white lies, omissions, and hidden agendas. People can be seduced and pressured, and then they fall. They fall from their own values due to secret longings or most often their fears. It is ridiculous to fully trust people when one has been repeatedly betrayed. I have always trusted too many too much and it was foolish. The lessons and even the trauma never leaves. We become suspicious. We may even project our fears onto those who have every reason to be trusted.

We can ruin our relationships because we refuse to trust, waiting around to prove we are correct in our fears, thus pushing people out. No one likes not being trusted. I have battled with trust for years. I even purposefully put my energy into those I knew could not be trusted just to avoid all the promises I was sure would be broken anyway. No trust, no shock of betrayal.

However, as I grow and build a new life, I can see that trusting no one is deeply painful, bitter and lonely. I have come to see that no one can earn my trust. I must take a measured risk and choose it. I must act as if. I must live without investigating them. Being a detective means learning things I am not supposed to know. And if I am supposed to know, it will naturally surface.

Yes, yes, of course I will be far more discerning now. I will observe the people in my life. I will note who says the very things that give their intentions away. I will recognize when someone tries to reason with me but their actions suggest otherwise, even when they believe themselves. It is impossible to convince me that you are trustworthy, since I have seen beyond a doubt that all people are capable of betrayal. I no longer try to convince myself of their purity or their devotion. I have room for small betrayals now. I still forgive easily, but I know what I will no longer tolerate.

So how do I find joy in such a dark belief?

I am learning that the best way to trust others, a lot or a little, is found in the decision to trust in myself. Trust in my ability to be okay even if. Trust my intuition. Trust the solid boundaries I set. Trust in fate.

If I feel powerless over the choices that others make, I must fall back on who I am. I must remember myself. I remind myself that I am a warrior spirit. I am a fighter with two feet planted. I am a survivor. If the worst happens, I will accept the disappointment; it is not a reflection of my worth. I will pick myself up in the end. I will rebuild. I will eventually thrive beyond any wreckage someone left in their wake. There are some fundamental reasons I will heal: I like myself. I like my life, the one which does not rely upon any singular human. I will continue to live and find joy despite them. And it is a comfort. The beauty I create is soulful. It is not dependent on so-and-so being in it.

I remember that moments of love with another person are a gift. Laughter with my children. Intimacy with my lover. Fragile moments with the elderly, the healers, the magical sprites of the world. These gifts are not meant to be permanent. Even we earthlings are not permanent. And in this way, I can treasure them, instead of clinging to the inane idea that it must always be this good.

When I look back on the people who have left or lied or betrayed my trust, I don’t beat myself up anymore. I gently review the peaks of glory or tenderness we shared. Those things were real too. I can be grateful to have known that part of them that wished to know me and played with me for a while. We will always be a part of each other.

I can have boundaries about what I will allow and take responsibility for the risks I take. I must avoid overly enmeshed relationships. I must declare to my loved ones that they are free agents and not mine to shackle to a self-righteous moralism. Go and do what you will.

Free will is the reality of our time here. I must let others have free will to do as they see fit. It is not my job to judge it or control it. It is my job to be honest in it. I will hold people loosely and show compassion for their journey. If they falter in their trust between us, I can protect myself by showing them forgiveness and compassion. I can cry if it hurts, until it doesn’t hurt so much anymore. I understand that to love someone is to accept that they may not always serve my needs, but the divine universe will always provide.

I am able to love you, here, like this, because I trust in the divine orchestration of my life. I trust in myself fiercely.

5 Ways to Build Self-esteem

People tell me I am confident. Brave. Self-assured.

I often wonder how they would see me if they knew what sorts of things I think about, how I worry about being rejected, especially when I am being my authentic self. Or how often I have felt misunderstood. Or that I largely believe I will be betrayed. I wonder if they thought I was brave when I was terrified to simply go get an oil change, and how I wish my bird legs were more athletic. I wonder what I do to create an image of self-worth when so much of the time I have to work at a fair estimation of Isa.

Generating a solid sense of self-worth takes work. It doesn’t just happen. I was not born with it. Self-esteem is not built because one decides he wants it. We must build it with action. Esteemable acts. It is true, I have a solid sense of my worth today, but it isn’t a permanent experience. I have to work at it daily, sometimes hourly. We are not marble statues after all. We are fluid and evolving and impacted by current variables.

How we see ourselves will influence every single iota of our time, our perception of others, and every choice we make – from the brands we purchase to our general attitudes to the people we love and how well we love them.

Therefore, I have been vigilant in the practices that have helped me along the way. There are a few crucial acts of esteem that prove effective in building self-esteem.

  1. Choose your friends and time with family carefully. Spend time with those who lift you up and especially those who respect you. For many years I chose poorly. Not always, for I have had some great friends, but often enough to keep me down in the dirt. Each time I shared something for which I was proud, my old friends would take it upon themselves to knock me down. If I used big words, they would roll their eyes. They felt that I would benefit from knowing I was not important. They did not honor my need to be important. These sorts of friends are not your friends. They are competitive and measure themselves by remaining just a little bit better than you. They make jokes at your expense. They tell you in subtle ways that you think too much of yourself whenever you begin to feel like maybe you are worth something. They lecture you, or dismiss you, and they expect you to behave in ways that serve them. Get rid of them. Cast them off. It is actually better to be alone than to be with them. Pay attention to those who listen and validate and guide you with compassion. With whom do you feel safe? With whom do you trust to remind you of your worth? Do they support your choices, or do they control your choices? Regarding family, be sure you are not seeking love from those who want to keep you in a box, or expect you to make choices that do not serve you. Stick with those who recognize your growth and respect your autonomy. Sometimes family revolts when we change and no longer play familiar roles. Family can make your life about them. Well, you are in fact that one who has to live it. So be sure it is what you really want. This “push back” is not yours to fix. Demand that people honor your choices when you know the choice is your true calling.
  2. Practice saying no. Be selfish enough to care for yourself. One of the greatest leaps in my esteem has come with my willingness to tell people that I will not do something just because they want it. I have determined that my needs are just as important as theirs. Additionally, I feel less compelled to justify it. People don’t actually want a huge explanation as to why you will not appease them. Keep it simple and show up for them when you can do so without harm to you.
  3. Make a list of the internal things you like about yourself and read it aloud daily. When I first tried this, it was difficult. I was afraid there was nothing. I was afraid of being too big. Today, I can list and recite openly those things that are simply true. I am reliable. I have a keen sense of humor. I take risks. I give honest feedback. I take care of my body. I am smart. I am caring. I am curious about others. I am fun! External things are great, like being popular or pretty, yes. But the internal stuff is not dependent on anything outside of our true nature.
  4. Find a spiritual path that constantly encourages your divine nature. As you struggle, and we all do, your higher power will be all around you and even inside of you to balance your challenges with comfort and power. When I am feeling worried or insecure, even inferior, I imagine my goddesses whispering in my ear, holding my hand, sitting next to me. Sometimes I imagine a giant span of wings attached to my back, or a crown of sparkling light over my head. I tap into the notion that I am a magical being with a soulful depth of power. I am divine in and of myself because I was created by a divine source. That source runs in my blood and sits in my bones. It emanates off my skin. I decide that I am going to move about in this way because it helps me feel I am worth knowing.
  5. Lift up those around you. The fast track to self-esteem is to celebrate the strengths and wins of those around you. Show them you are not threatened by their power. Recognize them. Compliment them. Soothe them. Help them feel loved. Choosing to actively inspire and appreciate another’s gifts and success is setting the stage for mutually supportive relationships. If those around you meet this behavior with distrust or dismissal, pay attention to whether or not they really have the self-worth to match you. They will either slowly get on board, or they are not someone you can count on with regularity.

Loving yourself will bring a beauty and an energy to your life and to others. As spiritual leader Marianne Williamson suggests, “Your playing small does not serve the world.” We are born to shine, so let’s get to it.

How to Love an Addict

It’s dicey, I’m not gonna lie. Loving an addict takes knowledge, skill, courage, and a healthy dose of clarity. Loving an addict is understandable too, since they are by and large charismatic, full of a life force that emanates undeniably! Many addicts are significantly accomplished, creative, and intelligent. They are straight up lovable people. Addicts don’t just crave that which destroys them; ultimately, they crave everything. They crave knowing the very essence of your soul and that which will fill the tiny crevices of their being. They can be quite…magical. If you are like me, you are drawn to addicts like a moth to the flame.

An addict will only find peace when they learn to seek that which brings life instead of that which brings death. But, statistically, most never do. According to American Addiction Centers, almost 20 million Americans struggle with substance addiction, influenced by genetics, environment and culture. Addicts present a risk and the Center for Disease Control suggests that only 10% of them will seek help in their lifetimes. Even if an addict recovers for over a year, they will always hold the potential for relapse. Many addicts underestimate the work needed for lifelong recovery, and the mental power of their addiction literally works against them as soon as they retreat from that work. The numbers for lifelong success are ambiguous due to lack of long term studies beyond the first year, but it is agreed the numbers of success are quite low, even below 20% of those 10% who do seek help.

Shall we then remonstrate the addicts? Cast them off for our own survival? Well. It is not that simple, is it? Some addicts are family, for one. Some are not living in addiction until long after we fall for them. Others may show signs, even extended periods of respite from their fantastic capacity for destruction. Hope surfaces. We try to love them some more.

Also, there is the keen awareness that some recover for life, and carry on superbly. This is the possibility, and that very possibility can carry us for years.

Therefore, it is important that we understand some basic tenets of how to love an addict, which is known to a very small portion of people in the world. It requires something that seems to be secret information to the world at large, and it is so simple that it is almost insane. Simple, but not easy.

The true secret to loving an addict is to Know Thyself and to Love Thyself, to know what you are, separate from them, and to know where your boundaries lie. To know where they end and you begin. To be capable of effectively loving an addict is to hold them loosely, and to fully appreciate that they are not in charge of YOU, and for goodness sake, you are not in charge of them. For years, I had awakened thinking, “So, tell me my love, how are we going to feel today?” The addict determined all of my emotions then. It requires a daily ability to detach with love, which is promoted in Al Anon for friends and family of Alcoholics.

However, this lesson may take years to master. In this case, alcoholism is synonymous with all other addictions: Gambling, Sex, Consumerism, Work, Food, Technology, and other potentially destructive activities. Addiction can take many forms, in sinc with substances, or in lieu of substances.

Thus, I wish to give a starting point. For if we are not careful to look at our own side of the relationship, and how we can contribute to their suffering, we have already lost.

Self-care is essential. It is common to let oneself go as we become overly responsible to the needs of the addict, and find ourselves depleted, resentful and sometimes alone. We must insist on demanding the very things that protect our body, mind, and soul. We must not give up our own power and our own needs.

We surrender our control over the addict. Every fiber of our being will wish to dictate the addict’s actions and thinking, but aside from setting our own boundaries, we are wasting our time. We absolutely can not control them.

Do not take it personally. No one, let me repeat no one, can save an addict single-handedly, nor are we to blame. And our way of trying to control can appear in a thousand ways: The silent treatment. Pretending we don’t care. Pretending all is well. Blaming ourselves. Begging them to stop. Begging them to live a specific program of recovery. Lying to others to avoid embarrassment. Lecturing. Making excuses for them. Wailing. Shutting them out. Taking them back. We forget that this disease is not under our control any more than it is under their control. It has literally nothing to do with us. As a result, we need to stop making it about us.

Have compassion. No one wants to be an addict, so stop thinking this person is doing something to you. It is okay to be sad, hurt, angry, but don’t confuse that with self-pity, or worse, indignation..

Spiritual fitness is key. It is not my way to pray for others, but many people do. I believe the gods allow us free will, and I do not like to mess with fate. Disease is a tragic and shadowy part of life. My spiritual fitness asks me to accept my lack of power over the addict, yet it promotes my power over myself and my own choices. I ask for the strength and clarity of how I might be useful. I am reminded that I am a divine child of the universe, and I deserve to be happy. I must know that loving addicts is no different than loving any other human being who faces all of their own struggles and risks, including their falls.

The truth of the matter is, we do all sorts of crazy things in order to love an addict, and much of it will prove ineffective. On the other hand, loving an addict will teach us more about ourselves than we ever could possibly know without them. The choice to love an addict is rarely a real choice. We don’t usually make that choice to love. We just do. But there is a way to be safe and even experience great joy in our lives anyway.

It is understandable to have to leave or avoid or deny the addict, especially if they begin to abuse us or demand that which we cannot abide. But I have found that with mutual support and a spiritual path, with self-knowledge and a relentless desire to get it right, it can be beautiful. I no longer remain close to those who cannot recover. That does not mean I don’t love them. The irony of course is that I am also an addict, and I am grateful for those who have chosen to love me. I do believe I am worthy of it as well.

12 Steps for “Normies”

If you are not a devoted recovering addict or alcoholic, you should know that those of us who are might affectionately coin you a “normie.” We, of course, refer to the normal people of the earth, which you and I know is absurd. No one is normal in my book, but “normie” implies that you might not belong to our subculture tribe of confessed addicts. And we love you. And also we’d give anything to be you, since we could then drink and drug with abandon!

Nonetheless, there are plenty of people familiar with the twelve steps originally created by the founding fathers of Alcoholics Anonymous, and they occasionally share their wish for such a supportive program for themselves. They sometimes wish they had what we have – a way of life that gives us some basic rules of engagement.

The 12 Steps do, after all, provide amazing spiritual growth, an awakening of sorts, and the fellowship (imperfect and humanly messy as it is) is priceless! While we evolve as a species, many earthlings hold a curiosity and a respect for the seemingly God-given gift of a 12-step program. Therefore, I have decided to give an overview of how it works for those of you who might find it useful. It goes without saying that there are volumes of literature and videos available on this subject. It is not a secret really. Not anymore. But perhaps this simple effort could lead you to address how universal addiction and addictive minds are now proven to change via a spiritual path.

Although, originally, the steps were written by Christians, I can promise you, they were wisely written to help people of all walks of faith, including the agnostics, who think it might be safer to just be “a good person”. I cannot speak for the atheists, nor do I tend to address spiritual matters with those who deny its potential.

It must be made clear now that these steps are best worked with someone who has worked them as well already. The humble nature of the steps requires us to let others help. There is no room for those too proud.

Step One requires a surrender to the fact that total self-reliance has left you still wanting. The addict (be it to chemicals, food, sex, money, gambling, work, clothing, fitness, or love) must confess he needs help to stop his compulsive obsession. This seems to only happen when we have tried and tried and tried to proudly and defiantly do it on our own, and failed.

Step Two asks us to consider that we have a form of madness, our thinking, justifications and defenses, are out of our own control, we swear to stop but we continue anyway, which might be eased with a spiritual relationship to a higher being.

Step Three suggests that we make the decision to follow what we believe is the will of a higher power. We allow a higher power into our hearts and minds in order that we can gain control of our lives.

Step Four promotes an honest and thorough inventory of our current and past behaviors, fears, resentments, guilts, conflicts and unresolved problems with others.

Step Five requires a confession of Step four – to one other human being and our chosen higher power.

Step Six asks us if we are absolutely ready to change – but only with the help of a higher power.

Step Seven takes some time as we ask our higher power to bring on these changes. This implies that we trust our higher power to bring us opportunities to behave in new, improved ways.

Step Eight is a list, often using our fourth step as a guide, of all the people we have harmed, no matter how much more or less they have harmed us.

Step Nine …ugh, step nine…guides us to make amends. This is a tricky one, since we can go in with good intentions and only make things worse. We must tread carefully to assure we are not causing more undue harm. Sometimes an amends is indirect or lived out with new honest living. But speaking directly, face to face and with great compassion, is often the only way to truly mend the wreckage of our past. This step may take courage beyond any other step. It is a relief that we are only responsible for the effort.

Step Ten allows us to maintain the squeaky clean life we hope to have now procured. We consciously review our behaviors daily and swiftly own our shit when we are wrong.

Step Eleven builds a ritual of daily contact with our higher power, which as you know can be fused with every nuance of one’s day. The closer you stay to the divine, the more likely your spiritual fitness remains. This is not between you and those to whom you preach. This is between you and your higher power alone.

Step Twelve celebrates your resulting awakened spirit, and you must give these lessons away in order to keep it.

The greatest gift of being an addict is the endless gratitude one gains from her recovery. This is why I do not hold any shame for my recovery from addiction. The only reason the program is anonymous is to protect us from those who should cruelly or ignorantly use it against us.

The Soul and The Spirit in Pandemic Form

Ever wake up wondering why you are feeling low? You begin by attributing it to outer realities, like the weather, your current personal predicaments, your relationships, the tasks that preceded your sleep, the experience of sleeping or not sleeping, your physical strength or pain, the looming day’s plan or lack of plan. These realities impact your spiritual state and thus, your emotions.

Oftentimes, the senses determine our moods as well. Is there a jarring noise present? Do you smell the litter box? Are you hungover? Do you realize there is nothing good to eat and must now forage for more?

What is available to us, and also what we seek and procure are the very sparks of energy that inspire us or leave us wanting. This is the case with Spirit. Spirit, or breath, is inhaled and exhaled, granted resources necessary for life. Spirit also breathes into us an energy that comes from the divine source. In this way, we are sponges for sunshine, birds singing, pancakes and a good massage. When we awaken to source, we build a vibration that resonates with all the gifts of our world, both inside a single home, inside the neighborhood, or expanding out on a global level, and finally also into other dimensions for which we may connect through meditation, dreams, and intuition.

Spirit is that which gives us inspiration to act, to fight, to love, to hold someone’s hand, and to rest, to keep going. Spirit is the life force within and without the body we inhabit at this time.

Soul, on the other hand, is that which resides within eternally and independent of spirit. It includes our inner thoughts, an untold or realized purpose, memory – both conscious and unconscious – the history of wisdom in this lifetime and prior lifetimes, the family’s genetic imprint, the current experience as an individual entity, and the future calling to another purpose, even beyond the grave.

When we think of a soul having depth or mass, power, equal levels of shadow or light, it is so often out of our human sphere; it is one of fate and divine orchestration, especially noted only if we are paying attention. Of course soul and spirit are inter-related as well.

In a pandemic, our spirit, or life source, is limited by the experiences which protect us from illness, death, and loss, and questions our responsibility to others. We must adapt in order to keep the vibration at a tolerable, or ideally, a joyful level.

We complain and cry out because we are lost and must fight in this new reality. We are agitated and clawing for the upper hand. We are also comforted when we find that the human collective shares in this. We are then not alone, even if we are alone.

However, in order to adapt, we must also surrender to what is. We must come to know new ways to feel inspired, energized, and hopeful. And let’s face it, we are being stretched, and only the strong will survive. The strong will see that they must evolve with it. The strong will continue to use their imaginations and sheer will to their own advantage. Madness may be inevitable. Yet, madness is on a continuum, and we can nurture ourselves out of it.

We have always freely used the world at our disposal. Now our world gives less of what we know. No more vibrating in massive groups. No more breathing in the collective energy of electric concerts, the drive of sporting events, traveling with abandon, and the aesthetic of movie theaters without great risk of meeting the silent, invisible spirit of death.

The soul lives on and integrates a new piece of what it was always meant to know. This pandemic is only another part of the eternal experience. Lessons are being taught.

The question is clear. How do we keep the breath of spirit moving? How do we now honor our ancient or newborn soul by feeding its own divine nature?

Thoughtfully. Intentionally. Bravely. This pandemic has left us weary, but there is still much time left to endure.

For me, it is one simple hour at a time. What does my soul tell me? What does the divine provide? What will I do, but more so, what will I choose to believe?

I can tell you that I believe in the bigger picture. I believe in me. And I believe in us. I believe in a song. I believe in looking into the eyes of the people I love. I believe in looking into the eyes of strangers too.

I will smile. I will sit in silence until the tears come. I will do the dishes and paint and write and dance. I wlll read and talk with my family on the phone. I will spend an hour just taking a bath or tending my nails. I will allow naps. I will walk outdoors as though on a pilgrimage, seeking new roads I have not yet tread. I will watch a comedy. I will curl up to the side of the few that I can, human or animal; it makes little difference if I decide it. I will close my eyes and listen. I will taste every bite.

When the holidays hit, and I am possibly alone, I will play Little Drummer Boy and drink egg nog anyway. I will keep the rituals that build a divine source of spirit with candles and pine boughs and bells. I will be grateful I am alive in a world that will find its way back to its natural state, a tiny sprout of green among the burnt remains.

I will dream of the day, not so far from now, when a warm mist rises off the morning streets, the children of God delight in the fragrance of lilacs and wet soil, and the earth swells with hope.