Monday, June 23, 2014

Look for ways we are one, not how foreign I seem to you

Do you know why labels like "dumbass" and racist remarks are factually wrong? It's because they put a wedge between human beings that doesn't exist. It's a prefab wall, imagined by ignorant thought and spoken by a mindless mouth.

In the visible realm, the spoken word is only a spray of saliva droplets. Yet for all its misty constitution, it has the power to damage. Think of Agent Orange, the herbicidal weapon blamed for half a million Vietnamese children with birth defects. Careless words can be toxic.

Case study: Last night, getting off the dance floor, I heard a stranger call after me, "Sayonara."

Sounds innocent. Well intentioned, even. I considered the source: a young man, early 20s, among a group of exuberant 20-somethings who are a rare sight at the nightspot in town that caters to the mature crowd. (It even proclaims it on the outside wall.)

I can understand why he might have chosen to say it. I'm mistaken by the Japanese as one of them, so imagine how much more convincing my seeming Japaneseness looks to a white guy—the phrase "you all look alike" comes to mind.

Maybe he was seeking a connection. Maybe he meant something like, "Hey, I speak your language. I know one word, but at least I'm trying." Clumsy, but not uncommon in the younger set.

I pretended I hadn't heard. Because how it struck me in that moment wasn't kind.

I felt like while I had been enjoying myself among friends, someone had been sizing me up and putting me in a box with a label that looks different from those of the rest of the crowd. A big fat yellow label.

It was the first time I registered that I was among only three Asians there that night—literally a minority. And that's never a comfortable feeling when it's externally imposed. Not to mention it was the wrong label! I'm not Japanese, I'm Filipino. If you're gonna stick a label on me, at least get it right. If you don't want to make the effort to verify, shut up. If you don't know that Asia is a big continent with many, many different cultures, stay 100 feet away from me, because I'm just here to dance, and I'm not your f*cking high school geography teacher or cultural exchange student.

OK, rant over. Peaceful mind resumes.

What's that you say?
"To a hammer, everything looks like a nail." (attributed to everyone from Abraham Maslow to Mark Twain.)
To which I retort,
"Like a hammer, ethnicity can be used to build a solid structure, or whack somebody to death on the skull."
And I attribute this pithy quote to someone called vox_rowan, who left a comment on A Complete Guide to Hipster Racism.

As you can tell by now there's lots of baggage weighing me down about this. Immigrants like me often live through "start-up pain," as a friend of mine calls a new experience. Our lives in the United States are marked with episodes like the time my husband's side of the family had a houseguest from Arkansas who, on the ride to the house, categorically stated, "Like should stick with like." Then he met me, and was on the bus home the next day.

But I'd like to think that after living more than half my life here—nearly three decades now—the "otherness" of me is a non-issue. It is to me. It only becomes an issue when someone decides that the person I am is based solely on my ethnic (to them) appearance. I am not "ethnic" among "my people"—hello, I'm just another woman. Some people really ought to travel more often, and not just because cruise food is excellent. There is poetic justice in the fact that Americans in the Philippines will always be referred to as "the foreigners" no matter how long they've been expats. I recommend traveling to those people who use that term, too.

I don't mean we should all ignore the obvious details—that this person is tall, this one Asian, this one has two left feet. But do we have to open our mouths and make it the very first thing we say to someone? Could we maybe take two breaths, in and out, and refocus? Find something we have in common, even if it's just, "I'm here with my friends, too. We like to dance." Then we're not inadvertently putting distance between us even as we attempt to make small talk.

What makes this little case study a bit more nuanced is this: In the lead-up to last night's thought-provoking non-incident, I had been grappling with the yogic philosophy that we are all one. How can that be, I thought, when everything in my Christian upbringing had pounded in the exhortation to be "set apart" from the world, to keep my spirit sacred. The world, per my worldview, was just itching to soil my heavenly robe.

I get the oneness with God idea. My spirit is a shard of the divine, and when the container that is my body breaks, it will flow back to the Creator (Consciousness, in yogispeak). I asked my friend and meditation teacher, Dennis, about this failure of mine to understand the concept of oneness with all created beings.

To his credit, Dennis didn't launch into a sermon. He simply suggested that when I look at a person, I seek my Self in that person's eyes. That resonated with me. I get the Self with a capital "S" bit. I know there is a core in me that remains unsullied by circumstances, poor choices, and lapses into selfishness. Being reminded that if I have that core, other people do, too, set me at least on the outskirts of the town called Everyone is One.

Not long after I posed the question, I received a quite unexpected key to the city straight from the mayor. Coming out of a 15-minute meditation session about two months ago, I had opened my eyes halfway when a blanket of knowing wrapped itself around me.

I could see myself the way God sees me. That is the simplest way to put it. It was just a glimpse. Over in a nanosecond. But what a life-changing instant.

When I am being the person God sees me as, beloved beyond measure, fearless, radiating the very love I receive from the source of love, that's how I see other beings, too. There is no room in this perfect being for less than perfect relationship with all.

Too bad most of us who have had such a moment cannot extend it automatically for the rest of our lives. We have to do a little work called meditation to clear out the blinders, and that work must be done regularly. I hear some people are born knowing, having done the work in previous lifetimes, and some have practiced meditation so faithfully that going into a deep state has become a skill. 

But that's why labels and racist dismissals are factually wrong. Because they are so surface-based.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why you should never wait for an apology

I lived most of my life telling myself the same story. It began with "I was wronged." Then "They didn't appreciate me," it went on. And it wrapped up with "No matter how hard I try, how much I give, I always get taken for granted and never seem to get full credit."

It didn't matter whether I was referring to my personal or professional experience. Same story. The employers who milked me for all they could then shunted me aside to hire and promote fresh blood. The friends and relatives who dismissed me with callous remarks and thoughtless behavior. On and on it went.

One day my massage therapist asked me, "What do you get out of telling yourself that story?" (She became my business coach—shout-out to Carolina Lopez!)

That ended the story-telling right then and there.

I saw that it was a sick pattern. It's the opposite of empowering when you keep projecting the past onto the present and future. It might have felt comforting at the start to have a place to lay the blame for disappointments and a reason for festering resentment. But then the comforting turns into self-coddling. You nurse your boo-boo too long and before you know it you're stunted. An emotional gnome.

The breakthrough was realizing that it was a story. That's all it was. I could change it. I could reframe it. I could start from scratch if I wanted. And it doesn't depend on whether the people I've cast as oppressors ever own up to bad behavior and apologize. They likely won't.

I can tell that I've moved on, from re-reading this post I wrote on my List of Unjust Utterances back in 2010. It's a short compilation of the mindless things people have said to me that raised the fur on my back. They don't have an effect on me now. Maybe enough time has passed, maybe very few of those people are still in my orbit. 

Or maybe I truly don't care what people think of me. Those people, in particular.

Just for sport, I tried to imagine what it would be like to meet each one again and be offered apologies. Here's where it gets ugly.

Not because I wouldn't accept the apologies—I would, without hesitation. But what I realized was that just to be able to imagine them apologizing, I would have to set aside my long-held judgment of them as nasty people. Whoa! 

Me: good. Them: bad. If I can't tell myself that story anymore, I'd have to...give it up and um, grow!

Easier to just carry around a memory file of them as villains.
Easier to imagine myself taking the high road and forgive them without being asked.

So let's consider this quote from Robert Brault: "Life becomes easier when you learn to accept the apology you never got."

Yes, it allows you to move on. Don't wait for an apology; act as if you already accepted it. BUT: don't paint yourself as the big-hearted hero and the other person as evil incarnate. Leave room for the possibility, if not the probability, that they might wake up and evolve at some point.

We don't hold the patent on sainthood.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

When you ask, "Am I enough?"

 A young, brilliant woman I know via the blogging world posted a question that prompted me to comment. She asked, "Am I enough?" Halfway through, I realized I was writing a blog post myself. This is the unabridged version of it:

I think what you're really asking, Joy, isn't "I wonder if I'm enough to my son?" but "Am I enough to myself?" It's a healthy question to ask. You're in a great position, knowing without a doubt that you are fulfilling to the maximum your roles as mom and wife. Therefore you can come from a place of abundance, not lack, and proceed with grace toward growth, not scratch for survival. Your son will of course express his preference for having unlimited access to you indefinitely. But we know children turn into teenagers, and the preference for having his privacy and his own path takes over. You don't want to wait until then to answer your question.

"We have known all our lives that being evaluated objectively by the outside world shapes our identities, gives us affirmation and boosts our self-confidence and sense of worth." What I've learned (and wish I'd known in my early 20s of SAHMothering) is while the outside world does boost our sense of worth, the true source of that worth is within—the inner world. The tricky part is that no amount of positive talk, e.g. repeating "I am enough" can substitute for experiencing that this is true.

How does one attain that experience? I'm sure there are other ways for other people, but I can only speak from my own experience. I found it in meditation. I was coming out of a regular 15-minute practice one Saturday morning in March. I was just starting to open my eyes, when an inexplicable flash of KNOWING came upon me. I saw myself for the first time as God actually sees me. Nothing about my past (accomplishments, failures) factored into it. Nothing about my future (goals, desires, mistakes) entered the equation. Just me in the present, a sneak preview of the glorious, unseparate Self we are told we revert to when we die in grace.

I hear what my younger self, and possibly you, would be thinking right now: All this is fine and good for someone older, like me, who has already built and walked away from several careers. We have the luxury of having proven ourselves to ourselves and to the world. Yesterday I was talking to a fellow yoga teacher trainee, who is 19. She was wishing me luck as I waited to hear back from a magazine editor on a paid internship. I realized that I was fine with whatever her decision might be. If I get it, great. If not, on to the next challenge. A delicious state of detachment from results while maintaining optimism and confidence.

It is a gift to have experienced my Self so early in my meditative path. It would be utopia if every single person did, because we would conduct our lives and relate to every other created being so differently from the way we habitually do. Instead of competing and comparing, we would collaborate and encourage. But in the meantime, what is a gal to do when she asks herself, "Am I enough?"

I suspect the answer will be "Yes!" when you identify, pursue, draw boundaries around, and nurture your passion(s) in life. These will be apart from your husband and son. There is a great chance that in finding your passion you will realize your purpose in life. Again, apart from being a mother and wife.

"It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing."
~ Oriah Mountain Dreamer

You can read Joy Page Manuel's post on her blog here.