All of our diatribes against Donald Trump, against his racism, homophobia, mysogyny, xenophobia, greed, ego, etc., all reveal aspects of our common consciousness. Growing up in America, we are all trained in these beliefs to various degrees: that Blacks are inferior to Whites, that gays are aberrations of nature, that men should be the heads of the household, that foreigners are dangerous, that making it in the world means being rich. To deny your own racism, homophobia, mysogyny, xenophobia, greed is to deny your truth.

In this regard, Donald Trump may be the perfect candidate to highlight our nation’s shadow – that aspect of our common consciousness that is there, but often hidden beneath a facade of good manners. His hate-filled campaign has brought to light aspects of our culture that definitely need improvement. Accordingly, his main-stage presence provides a chance for you to look inside yourself and witness the remnants of your enculturated biases. You can see places where you judge others, where you are biased against some group or person, where your ego blocks you from a compassionate response when others are in pain. Can you let DT be a wake up within your own life to the residual hate that you carry. Can you accept that all of the name-calling towards DT could be applied to you, too, and to all of those around you, even here in our liberal bubble by the Bay. Let his presidency be a time to recommit to your chosen values, to mindfully become aware when some form of judgment or harm-doing arises, and to practice acceptance and kindness more broadly and more bravely.

Mindfulness highlights the fact that whenever you are awake and aware in the present moment, the gift of choice is there, too.  You can choose your next thoughts, your next words, your next actions.  When you are not mindfully aware, then you are propelled by your habits.  In whatever ways you have responded in the past is how you will likely respond again.  Someone pushes your buttons, makes you feel uncomfortable, and your habitual reaction to button-pushing emerges.  

To develop individually and to evolve as a country, you need to wake up to your habitual reactions that are perpetuating the hate, otherization, name-calling, greed, etc.  that you claim to disavow.  These may show up in subtle ways, e.g., avoiding family members who hold views different than your own, tending to veer to the side of the sidewalk or placing a firmer grip on your purse when approaching a person of color, getting caught in the retail frenzy of the holiday season,  claiming color-blindness in regards to racial differences, etc.  

I have always liked this garden analogy.  You hold within you the seeds of love and hate, of acceptance and aversion, of all qualities.  With your thoughts, words and actions, you are constantly watering certain seeds, and thus growing those qualities.  

To stand against racism, homophobia, mysogyny, xenophobia you must be on the lookout for times when you are, even in subtle ways, even unintentionally,  watering the seeds that perpetuate those traits.  And, in recognizing those habits, make choices that cultivate your values of human kindness, equality, acceptance, and generosity.  

Facing the negative within ourselves is challenging, for we don’t like to acknowledge that we are perpetuating the same qualities that we judge in others.  Thus, this practice takes courage to shine light on our own shadow and meet it with honesty and compassion.  

As you approach the New Year, take some time to consider Gandhi’s quote.  What is it you want to represent in the world?  What change to you feel energized to get behind?  What do you see in our country that needs watering?  

I am committed in my teaching to cultivate greater acceptance, of oneself and of others.  Using Gandhi’s quote as inspiration, I wrote a devotional song to share with my yoga classes.  The words and a link to the accompaniment are available below.  

As I was making copies of the words for class, I was waiting in line at the copy store and finding myself upset by the slowness of the young lady working there.  I was cutting it close time-wise, and started blaming her (in my thoughts) for potentially making me late.  Because I had been singing this song in the car on the way to the copy shop, I started singing it in my mind as I impatiently stood there.  The words of the song hit me, and I smiled to myself realizing that here was a chance to let go of judgment, to practice the mindful tool of acceptance, to be compassionate towards this person working on a Saturday morning so I could get my copies, to be the change I wanted to see.  

I hope you take the song with you and sing it.  May it help train your heart to be more accepting and remind you of your ability to CHOOSE to speak and act in ways that align with your values and intentions.  

 

Let Me Be the Change

Let me be the change

Let me be the change

Let me rearrange my heart.

To accept those who differ

To allow what might seem strange

Let me be the change.

We’re all here together.

We all feel love and pain

On the surface we may differ.

But beneath we’re much the same.

 

So,

Let me be the change.

Let me be the change.

Let me choose from love not fear

And not respond to hatred

By adding yet more hatred.

Let me be the change.

Not man vs. woman

Not black vs. white

Not christian vs. muslim

Not left vs. right.

Let me be the change.

Let me be the change.

For

We’re all here together.

We all feel love and pain

So let us, let us be the change.

So,

Let me be the change. {choose love}

Let me be the change. {not hate}

Let me be the change.

Abiding Difficult Emotions

It has been a turbulent week for most of us.  And we may not know the best way to hold the feelings of fear, anger, resentment, and despair evoked by this Trump win.  These difficult emotions can easily propel us into unskillful actions, where we are more likely to cause further harm to ourselves or others.  How do we step above the impulse to just meet fear with fear and hate with hate?

I’m writing to remind you of some of the mindfulness tools in your toolbox that can help you navigate your experience more gracefully and compassionately. 

First, begin with Awareness.  Notice how you are feeling in any given moment.  Painful emotions are uncomfortable, and may lead you to distract yourself from them through a myriad of avoidance strategies, e.g., eating unhealthful foods, consuming mind-altering substances, binge-watching Netflix, shopping, etc.  The mindfulness practice invites you not to run away from direct experience, but rather to be with it as best you can.

Second, cultivate Acceptance.  Allow yourself to be angry.  Allow the tears to flow.  Allow sadness to be okay.  That which we resist persists.  So, let it flow.  Let it be.  Give yourself some space to experience whatever shows up.  Remember Rumi’s Guesthouse and invite it all in, “even if its a crowd of sorrows that violently sweeps your house empty of its furniture…still, treat each guest honorably.”  If you try to control or suppress your emotions, they only get stuffed under the rug to pollute your system.  Better to let them out.  Remember the eternal law of impermanence.  Everything comes and goes.  Allowing your emotions doesn’t mean you’re stuck with them forever.  This, too, shall pass.  You are only asked to accept what is present in this moment.  Ask yourself, “Am I okay right now?  Can I allow my present experience to be here?”

And in the space of acceptance, next Choose how to direct yourself.  With the Choice tool, you have unending options, but you are making a conscious choice how to proceed, instead of just sliding into an automatic habit response.  With difficult emotions, one good choice to incorporate is the Peaceful Pause.  When you speak or act impulsively out of anger and fear, you often are adding more hate to an already difficult situation.  Though it may feel good to the ego to make yourself right by pointing out how the other is wrong or by blaming someone for your discomfort, we don’t need more divisiveness right now.  If you know your words will cause harm, refrain from speaking them.  Can you express your point of view without causing harm, without judging the other person’s experience?  Challenge yourself to speak from kindness.  

It is within the choice tool that we grow our value-based life.  For example, if you have the intention of harm-reduction or the intention of promoting kindness, you can filter your choices through that intention by asking:  Is this kind?  Does this cause harm?  

The Peaceful Pause also gives you space to take care of yourself.  Put your own oxygen mask on first.  Breathe deeply.  Thich Nhat Hanh offers practices for transforming fear, including this simple breathing meditation:

“Breathing in, I know that a painful emotion is present.  Breathing out, I calm that painful feeling.”  

Even with difficult emotions, you have the capacity to soothe yourself within the span of each breath you take.  That breath may not eliminate the pain, but it can soften it, and in doing so, help you recognize your own efficacy in dealing with challenge.  Instead of being the victim of your emotions, you learn to work with them.  

Intentional Self-Care

Now more than ever, it is important to take care of yourself.  Make a plan on how to be kind to yourself.  Get to yoga classes.  Take a hike in Nature.  Cook some healthy food.  Dance!

Below, I share my Wednesday-morning post-election practices that helped me stay more grounded and calm amidst my upset from the unanticipated election results.

 

I woke up at 2:00 am and debated for a second whether or not to check my phone for the results.  I checked.  I was shocked, and felt a mix of fear, anger and disbelief.  My fight or flight response was off and running, and I wasn’t able to sleep any more that night.  Due to a cancelation in my morning schedule, I had a few hours to tend to myself and work with my emotional upset before I had to go teach.  

The fight or flight system releases a barrage of neurochemicals that prepare you to fight or flee.  Our ancestors expended a lot of energy running for protection or defending themselves against a predator or foe.  This energy expenditure would help metabolize the activating neurochemicals, like adrenaline and cortisol.  If you just sit on those emotions when fight or flight is activated, it takes much longer to release those chemicals, and they keep you keyed up and anxious for a much longer period.

I started my day with my usual morning meditation, but then did an hour of Zumba to dance out some of my adrenaline.  I love to dance, and it always helps me reconnect with joy.  

TIP:  Do something you love this week.  Burn some calories to metabolize any residual cortisol or adrenaline that’s still mucking about.  

Nature is also a great tonic for the addled soul.  I next took a long hike in the Chabot Park with Sophie, my dog.  Breathing with the trees, feeling the sun, noticing my feet connecting the the Earth, watching Sophie gallop down the hills all helped to ground me in the present moment.  I noticed that, at least for right now, everything was still okay.  My mind was projecting doom and gloom into future moments, and those thoughts were further stimulating my upset.  But, the truth was that in that moment, I was alright.  

TIP:  Get out in Nature.  Focus on the present.  Remember that acceptance is for the here and now.  Can you accept this moment? 

Fear also makes the ego more prominent in our thinking and actions.  I was personalizing the result and fearing what a Trump/Pence win might mean for my newly-legalized marriage, or to my sense of safety as an out gay man, not just here, but traveling to Red States.  

One remedy to get out of the ego, is to connect to common humanity, and remember that other people are having a rough time, too.  By taking perspective, we can often see that what we are calling problems are just blips on the radar compared to what others are facing.  I feel for people of color in rural areas facing a president supported by the KKK.  I feel for people of Arab descent in a country filled with such fear of Muslim terrorist.  I feel for women in a country who just elected a man with reported sexual assaults against women and whose language promotes rape culture.  

Relativizing your own fear can help bring you out of fear and into compassion.  Remember, we are much more the same than we are different.

During this thought process, I remembered the student who had cancelled that morning due to illness.  So, I made up some homemade chicken soup and took over to his house.  

TIP:  Doing something nice for someone else can soften you own aggravated feelings, and help you reconnect to kindness and love.  If not in action, think of others and their situations.  Hold them in your heart with compassion.

Accepting the Shadow

More on the tool of Acceptance.

On the path of self-improvement, we need to notice what needs improvement.  Your ego functions to make you feel like you are always right, always good, always just.  The ego can distort your perception of the world and your role in the world.  Your ego can distort truth to bend it to its own agenda.  It hides inconvenient truths of your short-sidedness and your own wrong-doing.  

All of our diatribes against Donald Trump, against his racism, homophobia, mysogyny, xenophobia, greed, ego, etc., all reveal aspects of our common consciousness.  Growing up in America, we are all trained in these beliefs to various degrees: that Blacks are inferior to Whites, that gays are aberrations of nature, that men should be the heads of the household, that foreigners are dangerous, that making it in the world means being rich.  To deny your own racism, homophobia, mysogyny, xenophobia, greed is to deny your truth.  

In this regard, Donald Trump may be the perfect candidate to highlight our nation’s shadow – that aspect of our common consciousness that is there, but often hidden beneath a facade of good manners.  His hate-filled campaign has brought to light aspects of our culture that definitely need improvement.  Accordingly, his main-stage presence provides a chance for you to look inside yourself and witness the remnants of your enculturated biases.  More generally, you can see places where you judge others, where you are biased against some group or person, where your ego blocks you from a compassionate response when others are in pain.  Can you let DT be a wake up within your own life to the residual hate that you carry.  Can you accept that all of the name-calling towards DT could be applied to you, too, and to all of those around you, even here in our liberal bubble by the Bay.  Let his presidency by a time to recommit to your chosen values, to mindfully become aware when some form of judgment or harm-doing arises, and to practice acceptance and kindness more broadly and more bravely. 

The Stories We Tell

One of the central tenets of mindfulness is that it is not so much the people and events in our lives that cause our distress, but rather our reactions to those people and events.  When you find yourself wigging out about DT and the next four years, notice the story you are telling.  

Question your story objectively…

  • Is it true now?  
  • Am I exaggerating how bad it will be?
  • Can I really predict the future?
  • How likely is it that what I am fearing will actually happen?

Wake up to your story, and notice you can choose to change your story to one that aligns more closely with the objective truth of the moment.  Use the fear story as a wake up to your values.  How can they manifest in the scenario you’ve envisioned?  Tell a story that incorporates your intentions and values.  This can help you move away from a fear-driven life, and towards one motivated my love.

I’ll close for now.  I hope these words are a benefit to you.  

May you be safe.

May you be healthy.

May you find peace.

Namaste,

Domonick

The dialogue of scarcity is prevalent for most of us. We might wake up with the thought, “I didn’t get enough sleep”. We look at our To Do list and feel we don’t have enough time to get everything done. We check our calendars and think there is not enough space to take a breath.  
 
Scarcity shows up in other areas of our mind chatter, from simple things like not having enough milk in the fridge or enough gas in the car to more pendulous problems, like not having enough savings for our retirement.  
 
Whatever the topic, this internal dialogue of scarcity cues our anxiety, turns on our fight or flight centers. Simply holding the thoughts of scarcity is enough to send the brain into high alert, and the body responds with troubled breathing, muscle tension, elevated heart-rate, sporadic sleep. 
Overall, scarcity can be one of the main catalysts of anxiety, robbing us of contentment and joy, because we’re so wound up about not having enough.
 
To work mindfully with scarcity, we go back to Awareness, Acceptance and Choice. First, we need to notice when the dialogue of scarcity is present. Simply noting, “thoughts of scarcity are here” or “thoughts about ‘not enough’ are here”. The more we can notice ourselves in those moments of having scarcity thoughts, the more we will be able to apply the next tools to deal with them.  
 
Next, we accept that scarcity thoughts are part of our habit patterns. It is normal to have thoughts of scarcity. We live in a society that emphasizes consumerism and has entrained us in feeling that whatever we have is never enough.  
 
I was reading this year about Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle. By any objective marker of sufficiency, he is well in the green. He has a $48 billion fortune, and is the owner of the BNP Pariibas Open tennis tournament, and America’s Cup-winning sailing team, the 288-foot super yacht, Musashi, an Italian Marcetti jet, a sprawling Japanese-style estate, a large swath of Malibou beachfront property, the Hawaiian island of Lanai, and a Hawaiian airline. Yet, he doesn’t have the sense of having enough. He craves more. He says, “I am addicted to winning. The more you win, the more you want to win”.
 
So, if we wait for that moment to arrive when we feel like we have enough (money, time, health), we’re going to be waiting indefinitely. Instead, we need to develop the mindset of sufficiency with things as they are right now That is, we need to understand that sufficiency is not necessarily reflected in how much material wealth we have amassed, nor in how many vacation days we get from work nor in how many minutes or hours we have between appointments. Rather, sufficiency is a state of mind, an attitudinal adjustment that says, “This is enough”, that says, “I am enough”.  
 
We come again to that truth in mindfulness: it’s not the events, things and people in your life that cause your distress, but rather your reaction to those things. Change how you react, change the story you tell, and you change your experience.  
 
Whereas the dialogue of scarcity makes us feel anxious, the dialogue of sufficiency helps us feel more at ease. It is directly connected to the idea of acceptance. You are accepting the conditions of your life as they are, instead of insisting that they should be somehow else.  
 
That said, remember that acceptance is not resignation. Maybe you could create ease by allowing more time between appointments, or going to bed an hour earlier. However, chasing happiness by feeding the fear of scarcity will likely only reinforce the idea that you don’t have enough already. Embracing the idea that everything you need is already here is a harder, but more fruitful route to contentment. Harder, because you are pressing up against a well-ingrained habit of talking about scarcity and believing in that talk. As you know, habits die hard. So…
 
Be patient and be kind while you work with your habit of scarcity. Don’t beat yourself up when you notice more scarcity dialogue. Congratulate yourself for noticing it in that moment, and realize that in that moment, you can work mindfully to reinforce the habit of sufficiency.  
 
Lastly, relativizing can help quiet the fear brain and engage the frontal lobes in some good, old-fashion perspective-taking. You live in one of the wealthiest and safest countries in the world. We have developed such a level of ease in our lives, compared to what most face around the globe. We have beyond what is sufficient for our own happiness. Perhaps relativizing will cue your compassion and generosity, leading you to share your great sufficiency with those who have less. Giving your time, money or other resources is a great salve for the soul, a true generator of happiness. And, the act will get you out of the thought of scarcity and remind you how lucky you really are.
 
Mantras for Practice:
 
I am enough as I am.
I have enough.
This is enough.

 

It seems ironic that though yoga is about connection (yoga means “to yolk”), it is such a solo practice.  Though we may practice in groups, yoga invites us to focus on ourselves:  my sensations, my thoughts, my habits, my abilities, etc.  Where is the yolking?  Where is the connecting?

Our digital culture also fuels more isolated pursuits.  Even our social time is spent independently staring at our digital devices replying distally to a widening array of “friends”.  However, humans are social creatures by nature, and our increasing isolation is thought to be one cause of increases in anxiety, depression and insomnia.  

Partner Yoga provides an opportunity to truly connect to another person through physical contact, through shared breathing, through shared goals of creating the partner poses.  We learn to listen not with our ears, but with our proprioception (awareness of your body in space).  Partner yoga provides an opportunity to be sensitive not to only your own flexibility and needs in a pose, but that of your partner.  It gives us a chance to tend to another, to be kind to another, to develop our sensitivity to another.  It gives us a chance to connect. 

“Through the practice of partner Yoga, the duality of self/other begins to dissolve and we experience directly the essence of Yoga – union.”

Elysabeth Williamson, 

PARTNER YOGA: THE PLEASURES AND THE PRINCIPLES

One of the reasons Facebook and Instagram are more popular than old-school, in-person interactions, is that they are navigated on our own terms.  We have less fear of messing up, saying the wrong thing, being unpopular, than we do with in-person interactions.  Similarly, fear may keep us from pursuing Partner Yoga.  The practice evokes our inner dialogues of not being enough for our partner: not skilled enough, or flexible enough, or strong enough or patient enough.  


Our willingness to engage in something, even in the presence of fear, represents our courage.  And, courageous action enhances our resilience.  Of course, every pose doesn’t come off perfectly on its first attempt, or second, or perhaps ever.  But, being in the practice enhances our sense of capability.  We learn that we can navigate challenges peacefully.  We learn to express our needs and listen to the needs of our partners kindly.  

And with that sense of ability, our fear diminishes and start to find the joy of being embodied, the joy of moving with another friend in a type of meditative dance.  We develop a sense of accomplishment.  And, most importantly for our sanity and happiness, we experience true human connection.  

I am happy to offer another Partner Yoga and Thai Massage Workshop with my husband, Steven. Come join us for an afternoon of connecting.  Bring a friend or loved one.  Give yourselves the gift of some unplugged time together.  

Saturday, June 11th

1:30 – 4:30 pm

Namaste Rockridge

Register online at Namaste

 

 

Last month, I wrote about the development of the ego and how it creates dichotomous, us vs. them thinking, categorizing everything we do as right, and consequently often making others wrong. This month, I share a moment of my own practice navigating the ego and kindness.

I was recently having breakfast at a downtown diner, and had ordered my meal with tea and water. The waitress brought my meal and tea, but didn’t bring the water. When she asked, “Can I get you anything else?”, I replied, “Yes, the water”.  

I saw her take a moment to parse my request, as most people would simply say, “Yes, some water.” However, apparently part of my automatic response wanted to point out that she had forgotten the water, and I was describing “the water” that I had previously requested. After a beat, she replied, “Of course, I’ll bring that right out”.  

I realized immediately after she left the table that my “the water” comment, was unkind. I didn’t need to point out her forgetfulness in requesting water. A simple, “Yes, some water” would have netted me the same results. It rarely is a kindness to point out how someone is doing their job ineffectually. The irony, at least in this case, is that I’m sure I couldn’t remember half of the orders she was managing.

One of the ego’s roles in maintaining its own righteousness is highlighting where others are not right. The more instances where the ego can identify other’s faults bolsters its sense of being right.  

The coda to this diner story reflects a failure on my intention to act with kindness, or to ask for forgiveness when I act unkindly. Having noticed that my words had an unkind flavor, I had the opportunity to apologize, recognizing that my comment may have made her feel bad about forgetting the water. However, I didn’t say anything, and instead, just left a big tip.  

I rationalized that she might not have even noticed the implication of my asking for “the water” instead of “some water”, and that she was busy and didn’t have time to process my apology. But, truth be told, the ego really resists owning up to having made a mistake, no matter how trivial. It also avoids appearing not normal, and some part of me thought the apology would seem weird. The tip, basically another instance of “just throw money at it”, made me feel okay skipping the apology, though the apology would have reflected a more complete expression of my practice.  

What was a victory, however, was noticing that the ego had cropped up and created words that didn’t resonate with kindness. I was aware that I had missed the mark of kindness, and had the opportunity to make amends.  

As you continue to explore working with the ego in the context of cultivating kindness, the Observer Self helps bring awareness to moments like this one at the diner. It gives you a chance to examine your habits more thoughtfully, and make decisions that lead you closer to your intentions.  

In the meantime, may you be kind to yourself and to others.

In the meantime, may you be kind to yourself and to others.

The news this morning of the ISIS terrorist attack in Brussels claiming over 30 lives and injuring 200 more reflects the hate stemming from us vs. them thinking.  The concept that me and mine are right and thus it follows that you and yours are wrong derives naturally from our egos.  This dichotomy presents itself in every arena of our lives:  in arguments with our loved ones, in disagreements at work, and so blatantly on the political stage between Democrats and Republicans.  The ego insists that of the 1,000 of Gods represented in our global history, only the one that you believe in is real, all the others are nonsense.  

The ego is dichotomous by nature.  It is created through a process of “I am this, but not that”, e.g., you are a girl, not a boy; you are short, not tall; black, not white.  It sets the basis for all us vs. them thinking.  The ‘us’ is automatically filtered as good, worthy, just, righteous and the other filtered as their opposites.  Accordingly, the ego is a root of inherent racism and xenophobia.

Luckily, we are more than just our egos.  We have the capacity to hold thoughts sourced from the ego, yet speak words that don’t automatically condemn those who differ from us.  We have the capacity to understand that different experiences lead to different perspectives, and that one perspective doesn’t inherently trump another.  

Further, we have the capacity to reach out in kindness to those who differ from us economically, racially, religiously, politically, sartorially, whateverly.  We are not victims to the ego’s dialogue of separate and not equal.  But overcoming the impulse of the ego takes effort.

In the mindfulness tradition, the cultivation of kindness is inherent in the practice, a necessary component of self-development.  The formal practice is called ‘Metta’ or Loving Kindness meditation in which we practice bringing warm and friendly feelings to a variety of people:  people we love, ourselves, people we have conflicts with, our animal friends, and all sentient beings.  Through the practice, we develop the habit of meeting others with warmth, so that our thoughts, words and actions are more likely aligned with kindness.    

Working with ourselves in this way, we create a ripple of kindness in the world.  Our kindness touches others with whom we come into contact, and hopefully continues to ripple out from them to others.

What can be hard, if not impossible, to acknowledge, is that the hate that motivated the attacks today also is within us.  Our egos don’t want to own that reality.  “I am not like them” the ego declares.  But love and hate are universal.  We all hold the seeds of each within us.  We, however, choose daily which we grow.  

Next month, I will be leading  a 3-week workshop on the cultivation of kindness at Anasa Yoga in Oakland.  I encourage you to consider joining us.   Make a conscious choice to cultivate kindness in the world, as a remedy for the flood of hate we are witnessing.  The practice will help you feel more at ease with yourself in the world of chaos and give you tools to help make a difference for others.  Details for the workshop at Anasa Yoga.

There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies.

My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.”  

The Dalai Lama 

 

 

 

One of the most useful techniques to apply to calm down when you are feeling anxious and stressed is focused deep breathing.  The breath pattern you will learn this week helps to turn up the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, that branch of the autonomic nervous system known as the ‘rest and digest’ system.  Generally, it is sedating to the nervous system, and induces states of relaxation, calm and well-being.  It helps to extinguish the body’s fight or flight response and bring you back into a more balanced state of mind. The general pattern of relaxation breathing is to extend the length of the exhalation, in relation to the inhalation.  For example, instead of 4:4 (in:out), you could apply a 4:6 pattern. sitting-e1439319729729

3:6:3 Breathing

The effect can be enhanced by adding a pause after the exhalation.  The pattern we will practice is 3:6:3 (in: out: pause).  If this pattern feels challenging, then lower the counts to 2:3:2.  It defeats the goal of relaxation if you are struggling to get the counts.  The breath pattern needs to be within easy reach of your abilities in order to assure its effectiveness.

page_breathe

sidebendI found myself crying over my chicken pot pie breakfast this morning, as the marriage equality news from the Supreme Court came in. In part, the tears were of joy, celebrating the evolution of marriage to embrace a greater swath of our community. Opponents of marriage equality have argued that changing the definition of marriage to include LGBT Americans would destroy the institution of marriage, which has been the same for hundreds of years. However, history shows that the institution of marriage has been evolving for a very long time in this country. For instance, before 1724, marriage was only for White Americans, and then in 1724 Blacks could marry only with the permission of a slave owner. The freedom to marry someone of a different race wasn’t fully available across the US until 1967. Marriage has also evolved to reflect greater gender equality. Under the centuries-old doctrine of coverture, the laws of marriage conceived the wife as property of man and their union was viewed by the State as a single, male-dominated unit. Not until 1900 could the wife own property in her own right, and not until 1975 could she have her own credit. Surprisingly, in some states the man had the right to non-consensual sex (marital rape) with his wife up until 1993. Thus, as equal rights have grown for people of color and women, the institute of marriage has evolved to accommodate those changes. Today, another step has been taken on that path of evolution towards freedom and equality for all Americans. My breakfast tears were not just joyful, however, as I also experienced a deep sadness that has been festering within me for a long time. The years of living in closeted fear and shame seemed suddenly to bubble up. It was like a sweet release – a lancing of a boil of subconscious self-hate. The sadness surprised me, given the context of such good news. But we all are enculturated into the norms of our society and carry the messages of our communities deep within our subconscious. Just as women and people of color get the messages of second-class citizenship, gay, lesbian and transgender folks learn of their worthlessness. Instead of facing the hate that is directed towards us, it’s sometimes easier to just stuff it away and pretend it’s not there. The court’s validation of our relationships did more than simply allow us to hold a legal union, it supported, at least for me, the process of dismantling that internal programming of worthlessness, of abnormal, of unloveable. I felt like some self-hate was washed away, and in its place some room was opened up for more joy. It was a clear moment of insight, witnessing the power of acceptance on our well-being. I feel thankful to witness so much development in LGBT rights in my lifetime. I was reminded this week by a friend that much of the world still suppresses the rights of gays and lesbians to live open, safe lives, even individually, let alone in couples. A friend’s friend from Nigeria was telling recently of his attempt to get a divorce from his wife. The judge needed a reason for the divorce, so he told the judge he was homosexual. The judge said, “No, no. Go back to your wife. She can fix you. Nigeria just passed a law in 2014 stating if you are an admitted homosexual the sentence is 14 years in prison.” So the man left the court and remained married, rather than face a jail sentence. May we use yesterday’s news as encouragement to recognize that change is possible. May we use this progress to engender further progress in equality for women, people of color, the transgendered and all others who suffer oppression because of who they are. May all beings be free.