Saturday, October 14, 2017

taking the swords out of words

~ sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me

It has taken me a long time to not disregard that rhyme as just plain wrong. Words, never hurt? What about the pen being mightier than the sword? Harsh words can wound us to our very cores. You can remove a sword but you cannot unhear words.

No, I always thought, "Words hurt like hell!" and for that reason have long dismissed forgiveness as a disingenuous attempt to let something go when in reality it is killing us.  First we heal, I thought, and when it stops hurting, then we can forgive, truly forgive.

But I am changing my mind. I still believe there is a lot of fake forgiveness out there, and that it is better to heal organically by feeling our pain, telling our stories and getting a "hearing" which validates our suffering, than to feign forgiveness through gritted teeth.  But now I believe we can dodge and remove the swords through forgiveness.

We live in a world where words are used like swords to argue, prove, debate and sell.  We are always fighting!  When someone offends us, we pick up the sword and fight.  But what if we didn't?

Luke 1:20-21 reads, "You will be silent until the child is born". God took speech away from Zechariah when he doubted his wife had conceived a child. Zechariah could have ranted and raved, and poured all his energy into that, but the child would be born or it would not be. God did him a favour.

Saying and doing nothing is acting without reacting, engaging a situation by disengaging, making peace. With silence we disarm the voices in our heads and enmity in the world.  As the swords drop from our words, we not only make peace, we find it, no longer captive of others' actions and our reactions.

Originally forgive meant simply to give totally, with all one's heart, and it applied to good things like marriage as well as bad things like legal offenses. Give. Forgive. Save your breath, and make peace.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The power of suggestion… NOT!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God
~John (1:1)

God said, "Let there be light", and there was light.  Some utterances fulfill the intention of the speaker.  They are prophetic words, potent words that create realities from the speaker's mind merely by claiming his vision out loud.

There is tremendous power in this. In the human realm, it is called suggestion. And it works.  If you say something emphatically, and repeat it often enough, especially if it is accompanied by a mental image, you can anticipate the future.  This is where the expression "be careful what you wish for" comes from.  Wishes pack the power of the verb*.  This can do good, but- like all power- it can also harm ourselves or others if we do not wield it carefully. 

When my friend's son was just a kid, his dad, well-meaning of course, told him emphatically, “Son, you will try drugs as a teenager and you will like them.”  It was meant as a warning but it came out as a positive suggestion.  He told his son this would come to pass. And, guess what?  It did. As soon as his son turned thirteen, he started experimenting with drugs, and he liked them.

Negative suggestion is just as, if not more, powerful than positive suggestion.

Everyone has heard of reverse psychology: tell someone not to do something and they will do the opposite.  God created the World by speaking it, but Adam and Eve fell because they ate from a tree He told them not to eat from.  He gave the Jews commandments telling them exactly what not to do, but they were a “stiff-necked” people who disobeyed at every turn. When he offered his son and said, “Go ahead, people, sin. Jesus loves you anyway!”, suddenly everyone who believed in Him behaved.  A coincidence?  I don’t think so!

Terrible two-year olds and teenagers predictably rebel against parental imperatives when phrased as commands to “not ” do something.  Just as it is in our nature to go through doors when they are held wide open, it is in our nature to resist closed ones. We are compelled to resist in order just to BE.  This is how we came into the world!  Taboos prohibiting us from being self-directed will surely find their way through the back door…

You can make a negative suggestion even when you are consciously inviting someone to be free.  Depending how you say it, they can end up taking the back door anyway:

Last week, someone sent money to the same friend's son for his birthday with a note, “Do something you wouldn’t normally do but don’t hurt yourself”.  The young man went out Saturday night with the cash to buy some weed and ended up in a dark alley where he got mugged by a group of thugs at knifepoint.  They took the gift of money and all other valuables the young man had, including his brand new jacket.  

The friend unwittingly gave the young man a negative suggestion: he told him not to do something dangerous, and he did it.

Negative suggestion can be as powerful as it is subtle.

I went to a conference on hypnosis once where the instructor demonstrated this very nicely.  He invited a volunteer up onto the stage and held his arm down by his side.  He said, “Try lifting your arm”.  The volunteer couldn’t budge it.  The instructor encouraged him, “Try again!”  And then louder, “Try harder!!” To no avail.  The man could not lift his arm.  The instructor dropped the man’s arm and said, “Relax.”  Then he bound it tightly again and said, “Now lift your arm.” Guess what?  He lifted it with ease.

When you ask someone to “try” in essence you are inviting them to not succeed.  It is a type of negative suggestion!  It is much more effective to say simply, “Do it.”

So be careful what you wish for.  And be as careful about what you wish not for!

* "verb": part of speech that expresses action or being" (12c.) directly from Latin verbum "verb," originally "a word," from PIE root *were- (3) "to speak" (source also of Avestan urvata- "command;" Sanskrit vrata- "command, vow[the Online Etymology Dictionary] 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

the meaning of sacrifice

~ And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

I'm not a Christian but I have struggled my whole life to understand the meaning of "sacrifice", the mystery of the cross, and the human obsession with offering blood (goats, lamb, body parts or whole persons) to atone for our human condition.

Raised by hard-working parents who loved us well but, like many of their generation, reminded us daily that they bore the cost of our privilege and good fortune, I rejected and was unwilling to pass that burden on to my own children.  So in my twenties, I completed a Master's thesis entitled "Le Sacrifice et la Générosité; Réflexion sur Autrui" that skewered the notion of sacrifice in favour of generosity as an act of giving from the feeling of abundance rather than from the pinch of obligation. If this was not love for another, I thought, at least it was not a need for personal atonement.

Still I found myself drawn to churches, returning over the years with wonder and an inexplicable thirst for what was inside of them.

I could not understand the cross, confession or the ritual of communion, and saw in the expectant lineup of believers nothing more than a convoy of confessed failures and neuroses seeking redemption in a tiny piece of bread that dissolved in your mouth the minute you turned around, and was completely digested and excreted by the following Sunday.

I have prayed to understand.

Today, Labour day Sunday, I had a breakthrough (and I am grateful to my friend Oscar the Wild who let me break down a little last night to allow the light to shine through, because it comes down to that):

"Sacrifice" means SACRED ACT and "picking up the cross" following your heart by listening to that "still, small voice" that just knows what is good, what is right, what is love.

In this we are bound to encounter, in ourselves and the world, resistance in the form of misconceptions, fears and defenses which stand in the way of breaking us open to live that truth. (Hence perhaps the misguided notion that sacrifice is about suffering, and the cross about dangling from nails in perpetuity.)  But the story doesn't end there. It ends with the resurrection, the reunion with the source of life that renews us from within every time we are true to ourselves.

Sacrifice is living.

(Amen to that!)

Friday, September 1, 2017

on dry land

The thing that hurts the most is the injustice.

From the beginning, in response to sharing a vulnerability, a hurt, a need for a kiss, an I-miss-you
To be told:
You are controlling, demanding, ordering, cornering, complaining…
An (always unexpectedly immediate) punch to the belly
At your softest

The pain... is dizzying

You catch your breath trying to wrap your head around what’s just happened
And start to explain, at first calmly:
No that’s not what I meant, that’s not what I said, that’s not how I feel.
He's skeptical so you persevere:
What I said, what I meant, what I felt was…
Trying hard to bridge the gap between you
And shed some light on misunderstanding

But like a swimmer swimming against a current stronger than she is
The shore gets further away and the water murkier
You lose your composure
Treading water and drowning in the words
Don’t go!  Don’t go!  Don’t go…

He remembers that as the start: your panicked desperation
And uses it to justify leaving you alone.

That is the injustice. 

Then in the middle of the sea
For days, not knowing
You think

He loves me
He just doesn’t know
My feet are dangling in the water turning blue.

If he only knew, if he could only see
You just want to get closer
Not to grab him or take him down
Just to be on dry land with him.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Power and our boys

To continue my reflections on power, men and violence toward women...

A traditionally “feminist” critique uses a black and white model to condemn domestic violence.  It attributes abusive dynamics to the deliberate exploitation of power by men whose intention is to dominate and control women, and blames patriarchy for its proliferation. 

Due to the frequency with which I have observed male violence* in intimate relationships, if you subscribe to this model, many men would be deliberately manipulating and hurting the very women they love.  That is too perverse to entertain, and I take issue with much of the literature that comes up in an internet on the subject which would lead us to believe it.

Patriarchy is not men; and violence is not their fault.

It may be true that men are more violent; that they projectively identify their bad stuff more onto women (who have a tendency to introject it) which then justifies their acting out in violence because “she made me do it”.  It may be true that they have more difficulty being accountable for their actions, fleeing responsibility and blaming the victim when they are the ones in the wrong. It may be true that they feel a need to dominate and control more than women do.

But there is no evidence that any of this is deliberate, malicious or intended; in fact, there is much evidence to the contrary.

Whether you are a man or woman, violence usually occurs in a split second.  There is no time to reflect or plan your next move.  It is a knee-jerk reaction to feeling threatened, like a kick or a punch when you have been hit.  You feel angry and enlist power in your defense.  That is normal.

Where men (and boys) seem to differ from women (and girls) is impulse control. They do not have the same ability (usually located by neuroscientists in the frontal lobe) to distance themselves from visceral feedback and reflect before reacting.  Wired to win, they take losing personally, susceptible to the sting of the “fragile male ego”, a reaction I have long thought to be the flip-side of male potency, both from the physiological and psychological point of view.  Winning boosts testosterone and vice versa. 

Men are infantilized and humiliated for being preoccupied with ego and defending themselves; and millions of boys are diagnosed with ADHD when their "symptoms" are synonymous with being a normal boy. Yet loss of potency in a man threatens his ability to procreate, put bread on the table or win a war.  It spells death.  

Although it may be true that we culturally reproduce gender stereotypes, we cannot deny that genes, biology, brains, neurons and hormones—wherever you believe the locus of gender identity lies-- play a huge part in gender differences.

What does this mean when it comes to domestic violence? 

Violence against women is unacceptable.  But it is not going to go away by shaming men.  We can continue to call out gender stereotypes and abuses of power that do violence to women, but with empathy and a view to understanding the power men struggle with.

*violence is used to broadly encompass what I consider to be the root of all violence (psychological, verbal and physical ): the projection of our “badness” onto others

Monday, August 14, 2017

master or be mastered

More on the theme of violence and domination... with my apologies in advance to those taking issue with my sexist generalizations.

I had the experience this past weekend of being with a puppy who was constantly nipping, to the point of drawing blood. It reminded me of my previous experience with a neurotic (adult) dog who, one year after his rescue and devoted maternal care from me, nipped frequently and ultimately almost bit off my nose.

Two plastic surgeries and one dog later, I have often wondered why I never made a good dog mommy.  I realized over the weekend it was for the same reason that some people, especially women, get abused.

We are unable to assert ourselves OVER another living being.  We coddle and resonate, nurture and coo. We do not dominate.  So we get dominated.  (That logic still does not make sense to me but that is because I live in a non-hierarchical world).

What was happening with this puppy was that she (it was indeed a she) was trying to figure out the pecking order.  She tried nipping at all us of (in this case, four women) but it was the worst with the smallest member of the family.

We were all discouraged.  We were fighting her off, squealing as she sunk her sharp little teeth into our calves, trying to flee or push her away, sometimes being backed into a corner tears in our eyes.

Then we tried something.  When she'd nip at our hands and fingers we would ball them into a fist.  She couldn't get a grip.

Then instead of bending over her and pushing her away, we stood up and froze.  She seemed to lose interest.

Last we noticed that if we struck a pose, fist balled, arm rigid, took a step toward her or backed her into corner, she gave up and walked away!

It was by trial and error, but we shifted our horizontal world into a vertical one, and went on the offensive.

It worked!

We didn't have to fight back or punish.  We didn't have to dominate or attack.  We just had to NOT back up or back down.

We stopped being on the defensive.

Friday, August 11, 2017

seeing through*

I’m gonna say it:
Men scapegoat women
They cannot hear us when we cry,
Just squawking and pecking
Then feel attacked
And bludgeon us like chickens
With stony silence- at best
At worse, words
And worst- their fists

So many stories in their heads
Muffling our real voices
And killing us

It’s not their fault,
Women, you need to know
They’re made that way
The world’s that way
War goes that way
It whores that way
That’s just…
How it is
Because they’re our boys!

They have a great lack
A missing-something…
Compassion, lucidity, wisdom, estrogen…
Emotional intelligence??
Whatever that precious silver is
Lining our hearts
Breaking us open like a blue sky
When we are struck
And hold our loved ones closer

A mysterious padding around our ego
That lets us turn the other cheek
And look past our pain into them
A gift, a huge muscle!
That protects us
From taking it personally
Go figure gals,
We’re stronger.

So reach out to the weaker sex
When he is down, especially when he is down on YOU
Have pity, compassion
Be the bigger person
The bigger SEX
I know that goes against what we’re told,
That we are the victims who need help and they who need a talking to
And “anger management”
But it doesn’t work!

We don’t need help at all
Just patience
And the only thing that works is to hold up
The truth of our own goodness
Like a bright light shining in the dark
Not once but again, and again, and again
Blowing away the clouds of their sad projections
Like a strong wind

They need us
Our strength
To see through

* caution: sexism ahead.  My apologies in advance to men who identify with the female gender used here

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Facing a person expiring you see the wisdom of death concentrated like a black pearl, Sink to the bottom of the sea's inky gaze
And pierce your own bubble
Adrift in the slimy weeds like an unsuspecting octopus

It jerks you awake and pulls you open like taffy
Freeing you from the easy struggle of too many arms 
And the coagulated truths in your over-sized head
No longer clear who is rising and who falling
Or whether it was kindness or envy to point that out

In either case you’re drinking and drowning
And there’s a kind of shame in that as well as the sense that it wasn’t polite to unmoor you
Who wanted to be the anchor 
And not the tears and arms aflailing

But the dying person always knows better
Is wiser, stronger and further along in getting sober
Than you are