Yule: a time of self-reflection

Yule is a beautiful time of year.  After winter solstice, the days get longer and the nights shorter. The sun god takes over, and the chill of winter slowly retreats. The longest night of the year is symbolic of our inner journey. The deep recesses of our sub-conscious give birth to all our conscious thoughts, words, and deeds. So, going within and training the sub-conscious is a necessary component of mental housekeeping. The season of Yule inspires within me a strong desire to strengthen my inner goddess, to midwife the birthing of a better, more authentic me.

Yule is a time of renewal, re-dedication, making plans for the upcoming year, reaffirming my values, re-committing to the people I want to be connected with, and distancing myself from those who do not have my best interests at heart. It is a time of introspection and self-reflection. It’s a time for noticing what seems to be trying to emerge in my life, and making those changes welcome. There are several things that seem to be trying to emerge in my life right now. I am committed to figuring out how I need to expand in order to allow these things to come forth in my experience.

One of the things that is trying to emerge is an expanded view of love. Often, what passes for love is selfish and self-centered. We go about our lives in a perpetual state of insecurity which we attempt to prop up by surrounding ourselves with other people. However, these people often do not feel free to be themselves because we are using them to achieve something, to protect ourselves from feeling fear, to prevent ourselves from feeling loneliness, or to puff up our own ego-image in the eyes of others. This is not love. To love someone, we must conduct ourselves in such a way that the beloved always feels entirely free to be themselves. We must be committed to their happiness, in the way they define it for themselves. We must be dedicated to relieving their suffering, in whatever way they experience it. This is how I want to be. I want to be a better Lover.

Conversely, another thing that is trying to emerge in me is an expanded way of dealing with people I do not love. It is normal for us humans to want to protect ourselves from people who hurt us, reject us, wish us harm, complain about us, or otherwise cause us irritation and pain. I am no different. Lately I have been confronted with the unhappiness of having to interact with someone who has given me no reason to like them, but who, through circumstance, I have to learn to get along with. Either that, or change my circumstances. Since changing my circumstances would bring about its own level of pain, and since I am on a spiritual path that purportedly allows me to deal with such things, I am choosing to face this issue head on.

Against my Lower Nature, I made an appointment to meet with this person soon. My spiritual practice has been my agent of “tough love” – the knee in my back forcing me to stay engaged when everything in me wants to retreat.  But this is real practice. This is the flip-side (and true test) of True Love. It is easy to love those who love us. But what do we do with those who don’t love us? If we can find a way to love them anyway (or at least put up with them), our practice is working. If we can’t – well, we’ve got more work to do!

Another aspect of Love that is trying to emerge in me is Understanding. In order to love others properly, we have to understand them on a deep level. Often we do for others what we want to do, not what they actually want us to do. We often don’t even listen to people deeply enough to discover what they truly want. People suffer silently, keeping their real desires and needs to themselves, thinking that this is just how life goes. However, if we really love someone, we will go out of our way to understand them.

One thing I’ve been wanting to understand more deeply is gender, and the experience of transgender folks. I don’t know what it feels like to be at odds with the body I was born in. It must be, at times, quite a lonely and confusing experience. I cannot truly say that I love transgender or gender non-binary folks until I understand them better. The only way to understand anyone is to listen. Really listen. I’ve got a long way to go, but with my intentions set, I feel ready to embrace the more authentic version of myself that is trying to emerge. This is part of the beauty that is Yule.

So as we continue to enjoy this season, I hope we can all go deep within and discover the undiscovered self that is trying to emerge. Yule is a time for self-reflection, a time for seeking inner-guidance, a time to embrace those who are near and dear, and a time for gratitude and optimism.

Happy Yule and Best wishes for the rest of the 2016.

Blessed Be,

Raven

The Crucial Nature of Self-Respect for Marginalized Groups

I had the pleasure of watching this archival footage this morning after a weekend of (coincidentally, if you believe in such things) meditating on the supreme importance of self-respect in my own life.

Self-respect, self-esteem, and self-confidence are inextricably linked. They are also persuasive. Our president-elect has little to recommend himself besides a fat wallet and a baffling overabundance of self-confidence. Yet, the power of self-confidence (I’m choosing to use the terms self-respect, self-esteem, and self-confidence more or less interchangeably) was influential enough to earn him the highest honor in the world – the United States presidency.

For those of us with slimmer wallets and rockier childhoods, self-respect is often harder to come by. Members of marginalized groups – women, homosexuals, people of color, those with physical and/or mental challenges, religious minorities, etc. – can have a hard time galvanizing the protective strength of self-confidence in the face of blatant disrespect, discrimination, and mistreatment. It’s great when “allies” come alongside and allow us to borrow their confidence. But that is not a lasting solution. Self-respect is self-generated – even if you didn’t get it from your parents, even if you won’t get it from society. Everything worth having is generated from within.

But how? How can we generate self-respect when everything around us – from society’s structures, to advertising, to friends and family, – seems to be telling us that we really don’t deserve it? How can we learn self-respect, and demand it from others, no apologies, no excuses? I don’t have all the answers, but, as a member of several marginalized groups, here’s what’s working for me:

  1. Remind yourself that you were socialized not to value yourself. Really think about how true that is.
  2. Remind yourself that the dominant culture was socialized not to value you.
  3. Set the intention to forgive yourself – and them – for your collective ignorance. But don’t prematurely force forgiveness. You have to feel the rage first. The forgiveness comes later, if you let it.
  4. Close your eyes and look deeply at who you are. See yourself as a new mother staring at her freshly bathed, button-nosed, newborn child. Smile and cherish everything about yourself. You are both the mother and the child.
  5. Review your mistakes, honestly but without judgment. They were born out of ignorance. Recognize those mistakes as part of that precious newborn. Make amends as necessary.
  6. Visualize who you want to be. Don’t focus only on superficial or cosmetic aspects of yourself. What kind of person do you want to be? See that person in as much detail as possible. In your mind, watch that person move and be in the world. Watch them as they talk to and interact with others. Admire that person’s confidence and poise. Think how proud you are of who that newborn has become!
  7. Spend some time alone in spiritual practice. For me, that’s meditation and walking. For you, it could be prayer, or sewing, or washing the car, or mountain-climbing, or working a puzzle. Be brave and do it alone. Don’t let anyone distract you. This is to allow your new way of thinking to seep into your sub-conscious. Changing mental habits takes a lot of practice.
  8. Commit to yourself. Make a promise to yourself that you will not allow anyone  to violate your feelings of self-respect. You can’t control other people’s actions, but you can control how much access they get to you. You can control your response. Their need to disrespect you shows how fragile their own self-esteem is. Do not internalize their disrespect. Remember, you are that precious newborn and the mother. Protect that baby!
  9. Find someone who gets it and talk to them. This can be hard. Not everyone can be trusted with our hearts. And no one is perfect. But when you find someone who can listen to you, and who supports your journey towards self-respect, let them help you. Allow them to give you what you need.
  10. Once you’ve been practicing the above for a while, it gets easier. Go back to each step as needed. Now you’re ready to help someone else. You can now be a listening ear to someone else who needs self-respect. You have every right to be proud of yourself. You have earned your own respect.

I hope these tips were helpful. The next post will be a poem about the beauty of self-respect.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to live authentically. It’s almost a cliché to say that we want to live authentic lives. What does that even mean when society hands us a script at birth with our parts highlighted in yellow? We quickly learn what we’re supposed to wear, say, and look like. We’re told whom we can love and whom we can’t, what our relationships are supposed to look like, and when they’re supposed to happen. There’s an acceptable range of jobs we’re supposed to have, with an accompanying amount of money those jobs are supposed to earn us. In addition to this general script there are the ever-narrowing scripts doled out to us based on race and gender. This is the music you’re supposed to listen to. This is the god you’re supposed to worship. Here is the list of acceptable activities, and the ages at which it’s acceptable to do them. The only way to avoid going crazy is to pretend that the scripts aren’t there, to tell ourselves that these scripts are our own words, our own choices – the only right way to be.

But…when you commit to a deeper understanding of life, when you embark on a spiritual practice – especially meditation – it becomes harder and harder to accept the script.

A typical Buddhist question to ask yourself is “Are you sure?” In answer to whatever rigid opinion, fearful thought, or cry of self-pity you might have, ask yourself “are you sure?”

"Blue Bird", 12"x 16" watercolor and gouache on paper
“Blue Bird”, 12″x 16″ watercolor and gouache on paper

Are you sure you’re going to die alone? Are you sure you’re supposed to have children? Are you sure you need to make $50,000 per year, minimum? Are you sure you can’t wear a mini-skirt and long hair after age 40? Are you sure that the only legitimate love relationship is one man, one woman? Are you sure the man always has to be the one to propose? To say “I love you” first? To open all doors? Are you sure you have to smile and hide what you really feel, ignoring the elephant who is not only in the room, but who has a favorite chair? Are you sure?

I’m not sure about any of these things. Taking baby steps, I’m trying to question my assumptions, and try something different. I don’t want my script anymore. I want to improv for a while. What that means for me is that I’m trying different kinds of relationships. I’m trying to address feelings as they come up rather than allowing them to eat at me from the inside like cancer. I’m trying to do the things I really want to do, rather than force myself to do what other people want me to do. I’m trying to be there for the people I love, not because they expect it, but because that’s who I want to be. And I’m trying to tell people I love – not just tell them, but describe in colorful detail – how I feel about them, because life is uncertain. I can’t control life or other people. But I can dictate what I allow my mind to dwell on. I can share with people how important they are to me, whether or not I get anything in return. I can do things that help people, that make the world a better place – not just for them, but for me. Because this is who I’m choosing to be. My actions may be misunderstood, but that too is outside of my control.

Living this way is giving me a deep sense of security. That security is not based on what any person or any god or any group thinks about me. It is based solely on what I know to be true. This knowledge comes from the Quiet Place within me, the Me who has never been hurt – that place inside me that truly doesn’t give a fuck – in the highest and best meaning of that expression.

I’m wishing you all a happy week full of improv.

Peace and blessings,

Raven