“Daddy guess what, there is no Santa Claus, my friends at school told me!” Two years ago December, my then seven-year-old daughter Madi came home from school to start Christmas break with the inevi…
Strange how our values become galvanized when threatened.
So, we’ve somehow managed to elect the poster child of hapless, self-serving, demagoguery who has relit the old fire sticks of hatred, intolerance, and isolationism (as if they ever really went out).
So, we take to the streets and we protest.
The Flower Power movement was birthed in Berkeley, California in the late 1960’s as means of symbolic protest against the Vietnam War. Beatnik writer Allen Ginsberg, promoted the use of “masses of flowers” to hand to policemen, press, politicians and spectators to civilly fight violence with peace.
Today reminds me SO MUCH of the nineteen sixties. I remember the images of race riots, bloodied faces, nightsticks, state funerals of fallen leaders, Buddhist monks lighting themselves on fire. Death by gun violence then was two points higher per 100,000 than it is today. I was a few years too young (to my eternal gratitude), but the nation’s young were being forced from their homes, shoveled into boot camps and used as cannon fodder to fight an unjust war.
So, they took to the streets.
In 1967 they protested against violence and the war in Vietnam.
In 2017 they will protest against hatred and intolerance.
When we were kids, whining was not tolerated in my family. If my siblings or I cried too much about something that made us unhappy, we would hear that infamous question, “You want something to cry about? I’ll GIVE you something to cry about!” which was followed by a few swift smacks. It was meant to force us to consider whining as a poor strategy, but it always made me think, “Great, now I have TWO things to cry about!” Whining, you see, is complaint without action, and my parents couldn’t stand it.
The often-maligned Millennial, accused of laziness and whining, a generation coddled then forgotten, suddenly feels that sharp slap and the taste of iron in their mouths.
Now it’s different, now it’s personal. A once lost generation has found its purpose.
For someone like me, it is so deeply painful to watch innocence come of age in an ugly world, but it is equally inspiring. What will they forge in their crucible? What outcomes will they gain–for all of us.
Of all the images my young mind retained in that era, the most powerful and transformative one was the image of a flower stuck down the barrel of a gun. It takes some balls to face down an adrenalin-bathed military guard with a bayonetted rifle pointed at your head and approach with nothing but a flower. The symbology was perfect, “Make Love not War”, and the insight extraordinary in its time–You can’t fight violence with violence. The message of Love did an end run around the mind of violence and spoke directly to the heart of peace.
The protests mattered, and we eventually won.
I’ve been stricken lately with how much the protesters today against ‘he who must not be named’ look like the protestors from 50 years ago. They are just as brave, just as determined, and just as full of purpose. There is a laser focus to their intention that reveals a beauty in them that has lain dormant until now. Adversity reveals true mettle.
I hope they continue to know that you can’t fight hate with hate.
And we’re going to need more flowers.
The world is a dangerous place. Life is unfair. People are cruel.
We must all unite together, stand up and demand change! Politics, the global stage, war, business, arts, society, economy, all are rife with cruelty, abuse, and inequity.
These things have existed since the dawn of civilization, and it is time that they STOP! Join with me and we will make the world the place it is meant to be; safe, secure, prosperous, equal, joyful, and compassionate, once and for all.
In an uncertain world, there is one thing for which we can be virtually certain.
We will not succeed in this.
We can look back upon ten thousand years of human evolution, seeing where we have come from and compare it to where we have come to and know that the world has not changed at all.
It is essentially the same as it has always been.
Despair? Maybe not.
Let’s reframe. Let us take the evidence at face value and concede that perhaps the world is not SUPPOSED to change. This is a high-altitude view, so get your wings on.
PERHAPS, struggle is the nature of the human experience. Struggle is why we are here. Struggle is our gift. The innocent mind will discover the cruelty of the world, rightly conclude that it is wrong, and falsely assume that it is the world that must change.
Maybe, just maybe, in the heart of our hearts, the home of our homes, the self of ourselves, our mission and destiny are only to find our course through this world of marvels and maliciousness, danger and wonder. What if we are here only to learn for ourselves to make the right choices, turn the correct turns, find our own small, safe, and sacred beauty in this world.
Does that sound too selfish? Too easy? Instead of only being satisfied with a changed world, can we be satisfied with just our changed self? It’s easier to blame the world than to task ourselves.
The truth may be that we do not own the world and that we may have absolutely no right to it. We may only own and have the right to our individual path THROUGH it. Within the part of my path that touches yours resides my experience of the world. I don’t need to change the entire world, I just need to make your’s and my experience of it better.
We all can make ourselves mad with anger and despair by living with the mindset that nothing is right until the whole world changes. We can split our guilty consciousness with a thousand worthy causes, ten thousand, and ten times that. We can maim our spirits and throw away all belief in the goodness of life by refusing to accept that the world is the way it should be.
What if the world were not the insurmountable “task” we imagine it to be, but a “garden”; a garden of love and fear that we get to pick our path through.
Instead of insisting that the world change for us, that every wrong should be righted, every problem solved; let’s instead, from this high-height, understand that the context of the world will never change. Light the path in front of you, and avoid the darkness.
What would the world be like, I wonder, if we all chose ONE CAUSE that resonated deeply for us, aligned with our own personal destiny, and strove for that one achievable goal, being at peace with the rest; knowing that the rest is for others to choose.
I would rather help one person utterly, than a thousand imperceptibly, and let the collateral goodness fall where it may.
But I guess that’s my path.
Saying “goodbye” and “letting go” are not the same thing. Knowing the difference can mean everything to you.
Cutting ourselves loose from friends and intimates is something that we all must learn to do at some point in our lives, and it’s one of those things that there are no lessons for. We inevitably make mistakes.
Saying goodbye is difficult, but being said goodbye to is much harder, and that is what makes saying goodbye so hard to do. Deserved or not, we are all reluctant to hurt another. We tell ourselves it is for fear of reprisal and discomfort, but that’s not really true is it? We’re really afraid of being wrong, of hurting a good soul wrongly.
I hardly need to say that there are sound reasons for us to say goodbye to another, of removing him or her from our lives. People who hurt us, physically, mentally, emotionally, or those who are a danger to our growth and happiness must be removed—that‘s the no-brainer of goodbye.
Other times, we must accept the fact that we will grow apart from people we’ve had significant relationships with, and understand when someone no longer positively affects our lives. We owe it to ourselves not to let them hinder our growth.
As you move forward in life, you may need to change your circle of friends. Everyone around you isn’t interested in seeing you improve.
Still others may be positive forces in your life that you do not yet understand. Those that challenge you, lead you to face your demons, love you deeper than platitudes, or offer you things you are not ready for. These can be family, friends, or lovers. Saying goodbye to these important people can be more dangerous for you than any of the others. But how do you know?
The worst goodbyes are the ones that neither of you choose; circumstance does the choosing.
My childhood friend Pete was taller than I, a grade up from me, and went to a different elementary school. He was raw, guileless, and wildly creative; we were thick as thieves.
With Pete nothing was as it was, it was always something greater. I grew up in a rural suburb adjacent to a dairy farm and endless pastures. Pete lived just up the road. We were cornstalk fighting ninjas; jungle explorers searching for a lost Goddess; spear throwing aboriginals who flung thoughts with our spears; we braved bat nests and climbed mythic trees; we spent our idle times wondering what the world would be like if we lived it upside down, what colors smelled like and how sound tasted. Pete and I ruled our hundred-acre wood. We would return at dusk for dinner, drenched in glories.
There were only two summers before Pete’s family moved to Massachusetts. It may as well have been Asia. Our parents weren’t close friends and in those days, the only choice for a kid was pen pals. We both knew it wouldn’t due and agreed not too. I stood at the end of his driveway as he jumped into the rear of their packed station wagon. As the window closed I heard him say, “Aw.. goodbye Gar.” I never heard anything so final. He put his hands on the glass as they drove away—and the cord snapped. I kicked the roadside gravel all the way home in the late August dust. I never saw him again.
To this day, that is the image my mind carries as “goodbye”.
Even as an adult, I look to my friendship with Pete for teaching me where I thrive…imaginative, playful souls who cannot forget the child inside. My profession in the arts allows me to collect them, which is a privilege, but true connections are still rare.
When I grew up, goodbye was as final as a gunshot, if you didn’t have a number or address that was it. Today our vast virtual connections soften goodbye and makes it too easy a choice. We no longer need to decide, we just fade.
The saddest goodbyes are the ones never spoken. The ones where you never get to hear your crime; what you said, what you did, why you weren’t enough. There is a great difference between hurt and damage. This goodbye does damage. It is a cruelty that exposes what you are left to conclude was a lie; that you were ever truly close, that you ever truly mattered enough to warrant their discomfort. A goodbye needs to be spoken; there is no other way.
A woman I once loved beyond measure told me this before she left my life, “I have decided that you will be alright, that you will find someone just like me and that you will be fine, I know it.” As hard as it was to hear, it was one of the kindest, most loving things anyone has ever said to me. She knew the right way to say goodbye and cared enough to do it. It was her words that allowed me to move on.
Unspoken goodbyes land in me as betrayal. I’ve had my share.
I remember my first marriage counseling session, where after an initial forty-five minutes of me brightly bringing him up to speed on my life, my work, friendships and relationships (who doesn’t like to talk about themselves, right?), I looked up and saw him staring at me, then he said,
“Wow. So. You’ve dealt with a lot of betrayal in your life…”
“Say What?” It was an eye opener for me.
There was no sense or use in wearing that as an identity, but I have become smarter about recognizing it and learned that it is the denial of it that is dangerous. I know its effect now too, for me, it makes me numb and drains all the color from a person. (This feeling is ungood and unfair. Sometimes those who are heartless once cared too much.)
I will always choose to be hurt rather than betrayed. I think anyone would.
No matter if goodbye is your choice or another’s, you still both share it. It creates an absence only; it is then up to you to resolve it. Saying goodbye is different than letting go. You’re never done until you have cut the cords that connected you and bound you to each other.
Unresolved goodbyes eat your cells. They create a “dis-ease” and a host of stresses and mind-body trauma that many believe creates disease. In any case, it is decidedly unhealthy and must be dealt with. Literally dealt with, not mused over, denied and forgotten—that will put you in a cancer ward.
There is an ancient Hawaiian ritual called “Ho’oponopono” that I have used. It is considered a forgiveness ceremony. It is somewhat complicated and counter-intuitive so I won’t attempt to explain it here, but suffice it to say that these cords cannot be cut with anger, fear, or resentment. They can only be cut with love, compassion, and forgiveness. This is the way to let go. (Nothing is easy is it? Yeah, tell me about it.)
There is an advantage here, however, so cut those cords, cut all of them and don’t worry about whether you are wrong about goodbye or not, because an extraordinary thing will happen if you are. The cords you truly need will grow back. You may or may not have that person in your life again, as you or they choose, but those cords that represent truth will always reach and find their way back. Love is not diminished, like Shakespeare said, “It is an ever-fixed mark, that looks upon tempests and is not shaken.”
Don’t mistake this for an addiction to self-damage by way of repeated attraction to dangerous or abusive people. You must learn to discern this for yourself, and if you are one who does it—you must stop that.
I do a lot of reassessing after New Years so I’ve been thinking about all of my goodbyes, the ones I would be glad to have back and the ones I am glad I don’t. All of them, all together are easy now to picture. We are all within social media’s easy reach (though I have yet to find Pete). There are a number of them I have reclaimed, and still others I know I will yet. Even those that have passed on; I can still feel their presence. They’re all still here. So what is real, what is permanent?
If we could be honest with ourselves and face down the real lie, we would know this:
There is no such thing as goodbye.
There is only hello.
Where, and when, and whether you say it is always up to you.
As I have been thinking of my “disconnections” recently, a Beatles song keeps playing in my head—not “Let it Be”—it’s called “Hello, Goodbye”.
Empathy is part of our humanity, allowing us to organize ourselves into community and create society; we all have the ability to empathize, but to what extent do we use it? There’s the rub.
Empathy is the feeling and experience that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings, even if they are far removed from your own.
Empathy in business and communication has recently become a new buzzword; one can readily find people teaching techniques to increase one’s ability to use empathy for one’s self and others. (Not surprisingly, they have found a way of monetizing it.) I’ve been doing some research on this and my personal reaction has been, “What the fuck, you mean people don’t already know how to do this!?” Apparently not.
I have always been afflicted with this ability (and you’ll see why I ruefully use that term later on), so it has been hard for me to realize that it is not as pervasive as I have assumed. How easy it is to simply assume that everyone else holds an ability that you find natural?
One evening, when I was just out of college and pursuing my plan of being a famous comedian, I had an extreme experience of empathy that taught me a lot. I was living in a rented room at a friend’s house, broke, in the midst of a college town in Syracuse New York. Barely surviving, head full of dreams; I took a walk one balmy evening down a quiet street of lovely turn-of-the-century homes that knew generations of families long forgotten, now used for frats and college life, and some few families still raising their children as their immigrant elders did. It was dusk, just that time when the lights from within each house illuminated the rooms inside, allowing you that accidental glimpse of the lives they harbored.
I loved looking inside as I passed. Like a wind-blown skirt exposing a hidden thigh, I couldn’t help but look. I loved environments and what they revealed of the lives that created them. As each one passed, I’d step further outside of myself and into those rooms; the pictures on the walls, the keepsakes on the mantles, the arrangement of furniture, the mislaid clothing, all drew me into the feeling that they were my home. This favorite chair was mine, that picture full of my memories; before long I could see a half-open bathroom door and know that behind it was a bathrobe, a belt hanging, and a cap on the hook behind it, out of my view but known to me. I felt the people who lived there as if they were I; all of the joys, the troubles, the love, back through time, were mine, were me.
I was overtaken that evening by a genuinely indescribable feeling, uncoveyable—but I will try. Each of these houses were like illuminated books on the self of a great library; rows of cardboard comfort, and I knew all of the lives, all of it, and I made the singular realization that, “everything was alright.” Not only that, but everything had always been alright, and everything always would be. All at once, the light of every hearth was made known to me; I stopped, doubled over, my knees weak, my breathing difficult and halting, my vision blurred and my head (and heart) felt like it was about to explode. The best way to describe it is that it was the exact polar opposite of an anxiety attack. I almost fell to me knees but managed to stay standing. When it subsided, I thought, “I am standing in ‘town center’ of college coed angst, depression, and uncertainty, and here I am blissing-out over interior decor—what a weirdo.” Such is the power of empathy.
All of us have the ability to empathize, but some of us are what they call an empath. (Also known as clairsentient.) It took me a long, long time to recognize and deal with this. There are people who can teach you how to cope with this, but most empaths have to figure it out for themselves. I am not a true empath; I have some annoyingly pronounced empathic tendencies. There are really very few empaths around—only a tiny percentage of the population.
Empaths can have a difficult time in life if they don’t recognize themselves as such and understand it. They must learn how to work with their clairsentient ability without getting overwhelmed, and need to accept that they have a more sensitive nervous system and that this has implications for how they lead their life.
Here are the traits of an Empath: See if any of these sound familiar to you. If they do, I recommend researching how to control the skill:
- Random mood swings even though you have no idea why. You search for possible reasons why you may be feeling the way you do and attach labels that don’t really fit. (You don’t realize that they are not your emotions; you are feeling the emotions of others.)
- In crowds, your emotions run high and change often–you get anxiety-ridden, panicky, frustrated, angry. You may want to be in a large crowd, but every time you do, you end up feeling tired (and it’s because you emotionally run a marathon of different emotions). You can even feel physically ill or have intense headaches.
- People seek you out to confide in you.
- People like being around you, but every time they are, they end up talking about their problems/issues and yet, your problems/issues are rarely spoken of, if at all.
- You have a need to make everyone feel better/feel happier and take steps to make it happen.
- You somehow just “know” what people need to hear in order to feel better about themselves.
- You have difficulty expressing your own emotions and much prefer to focus on someone else.
- You often ignore people’s bad treatment of you–explaining it away because they need you, and on some level, that’s enough for you.
- You are the natural healer, helper & you always sacrifice for others. You NEED to help people. (This is because their need and pain feels like your own.)
- You are a magnet/receptacle for negative energy. Not because you started out feeling negative, but because others need a place to put their negative energy (and there you were, ready to receive it!).
- You don’t like feeling bad/down/negative/sad, but you feel resigned & believe it to be part of your lot in life.
- You are the natural animal lover! You love animals–they make you feel happy and a love that feels like pure innocence.
- You are a “nature baby.” Being in the country, by the water, at the beach, a good rainstorm, etc.–anything to do with nature brings you a sense of peace that you just crave.
- Those you love feel physically connected to you, even when miles apart. You can suddenly feel strong shifts in emotions; good or bad that you know are theirs.
- You can sometimes see emotions in the form of colors or auras.
- You struggle with setting boundaries because the disappointment, anger and grief (and other emotions) of other people impacts you deeply. It seems that, no matter what you do, it’s always lose-lose for you. Either you stand up for yourself, and get overwhelmed by the negative reactions of others, or you do what they want and don’t feel good about yourself.
- Your body often feels icky, murky, dark and unpleasant, even if you have no medical condition to attribute those feelings to. For that reason, you like to do things that take your attention away from being physically aware of how your body feels.
These traits do not make an empath, rather empaths generally exhibit some or all of these traits. If you recognize some of these, you may have a strong empathetic tendency or nature.
People who are naturally and consistently empathetic can easily forge positive connections with others. They are people who use empathy to engender trust and build bonds; they are catalysts that are able to create positive communities for the greater good. These are the people who inspire others; people tend to refer to them as “a light”, “an inspiration”, “a gift”. They tend to bring people together and bring out the best in people, without really trying. But even if empathy does not come naturally to some of us, we can develop this capacity.
If you don’t recognize many of the above traits, here is how you can increase your ability to empathize with others.
- Listen – truly listen to people. Listen with your ears, eyes and heart. Pay attention to others’ body language, to their tone of voice, to the hidden emotions behind what they are saying to you, and to the context.
- Don’t interrupt people. Don’t dismiss their concerns offhand. Don’t rush to give advice. Don’t change the subject. Allow people their moment.
- Tune in to non-verbal communication. This is the way that people often communicate what they think or feel, even when their verbal communication says something quite different.
- Practice the “93 percent rule”. We know from a famous study by Professor Emeritus, Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, when communicating about feelings and attitudes, words – the things we say – account for only 7 percent of the total message that people receive. The other 93 percent of the message that we communicate when we speak is contained in our tone of voice and body language.
- Be fully present when you are with people. Don’t think of your response while listening to them. Don’t check your email, look at your phone or take phone calls. Put yourself in their shoes; listen as if it is you who is speaking.
- Smile at people.
- Encourage people, particularly the quiet ones, when they speak up. A simple thing like an attentive nod can let them know you understand them.
- Give genuine recognition and praise. Pay attention to what people are doing and catch them doing the right things. When you give praise, spend a little effort to make your genuine words memorable: “This was pure genius”; “I would have missed this if you hadn’t picked it up.”
- Take a personal interest in people. Show people that you care, and have genuine curiosity about their lives. Ask them questions and so understand their challenges, their families, and their aspirations.
The bonds that connect empaths to others are not mere metaphors; they have power, they are actual, visceral, energetic bonds. These connections have real physical/emotional consequence, and can be confusing and problematic for the unwary Emp. Though few have this ability (or affliction, as I jibed earlier), all of us can learn the positive aspects of empathy and use it to make a better society and a better world.
If we can all learn to step outside our own perceptions, beliefs, attachments and behaviors, and seep into those of another, even if we do not agree, and can see, if only for a moment, the world through their eyes and in a compassionate light, we can understand them—and through understanding comes harmony.
Empathetic people are precious and important. Be one.
When we look at the news today, and witness the hatred, intolerance, violence and unconscionable lack of compassion in the world, it is easy to hear the words of that famous 1960’s song sung by Dionne Warwick, “What the world needs now, is love sweet love…”
We can always use more love in the world, but what we really need now is EMPATHY.
“It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of…”
This is a blog about the journey we share. We may be different people, with different beliefs, different life path choices, and even live in different cultures, yet this is about the journey common to us all. This is our shared story of fundamental insight, of growth, of awareness, of our mutual recognition of oneness, and our personal emergence within this unfamiliar landscape we have all been given to travel. It is not about our journey through life, our choices, or careers and relationships; it is about the journey of life, the journey inside.