Category:Rev. Emily Wright-Magoon
April 2, 2017
Come into this space, where today we consider the surprise, the surrender, the gift… that is part of the process of transformation.
Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the plowshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring, and reserve a nook of shadow for the passing bird; keep a place in your heart for the unexpected guests, an altar for an unknown God. – Swiss philosopher and poet Henri-Frederic Ariel
Once upon a time, a stream, from its course in far-off mountains, passing through every kind of countryside, at last reached the sands of the desert.
Just as it had crossed every other barrier, the stream tried to flow across the sand, yet as fast as it ran into the sand, its waters disappeared.
It was convinced its destiny was to cross the desert, and yet there appeared to be no way.
And then it heard a murmuring from the desert itself. A whisper: “The wind can cross the desert, and so can the stream.”
The stream replied that it was flowing into the sand, and only being swallowed: that the wind could fly, and this was why it could cross a desert.
“By trusting in your usual methods, you will never get across. You will either disappear or become a quagmire. You must allow the wind to carry you to your destination.”
“But how is this possible?” the stream asked…
“Ah…By allowing yourself to be absorbed in the wind” came the answer.
This idea was not acceptable to the stream. It had never been absorbed before. It did not want to lose its individuality because, if it lost it, would it be able to get it back?
“The wind,” said the sand, “performs this function. It takes up water, carries it over the desert, and then lets it fall again. Falling as rain, the water becomes a river once more.”
“But can I not remain the same stream I am today?”
“You cannot remain so,” the whisper said.
“Your essential part is carried away and forms a stream again. You only think you are what you are now because you have forgotten the essential part of yourself.”
When it heard this, certain echoes began to arise in the thoughts of the stream. It vaguely remembered a state in which it — or some part of it? — had been held in the arms of the wind. It also felt that somehow this was the right thing to do, even if it didn’t seem to make any sense at all.
So, with yet some hesitation, the stream raised itself into the welcoming arms of the wind, which gently and easily bore it upward and along, letting it fall softly on the roof of a mountain, many, many miles away.
And because it had such grave doubts, the stream was able to remember and record more strongly in its mind the details of the experience.
“Yes, of course,” it said as if waking from a dream… “now I know who I am.”
– A Sufi story
Transformation is in our church mission statement. We seek to transform lives.
Many religions would say they are about transformation.
But the Catholic priest and teacher Richard Rohr says that too often on the religious or spiritual path, we get stalled in what should just be the first phase. In this first phase, he says, we find stories, practices, and beliefs that give us meaning and a sense of identity as moral, enlightened, or whatever our preferred sense of worth may be. He says:
This [first phase] is good and needed. That’s how you get started. As psychology would say, you have to have an ego to let go of an ego. You have to have a self to move beyond the self. But most religion stops [there.]1
Religion of transformation isn’t just about saying the right things, or believing the most enlightened ideas, or being informed and articulate. We may just be going through the motions.
True: sometimes going through the motions can help us get there. “Fake it until you make it,” as they say. But we won’t make it if we do not allow those practices and beliefs to transform us.
Richard Rohr quotes the philosopher Ken Wilber:
Religion has also served — in a usually very, very small minority — the function of radical transformation and liberation. This function does not fortify the separate self, but utterly shatters it – …not complacency but explosion, not comfort but revolution — in short, … a radical transmutation and transformation at the deepest seat of consciousness itself.2
Think of the analogy of starting an exercise regimen, or any new habit.
I know that, for me, in the early stages I am usually having to push myself into new behaviors – drag myself out the door, resisting at every step. But if I keep at it, and if I’ve chosen some kind of exercise that I might enjoy once my healthier lungs and strengthened muscles can support it
…I begin to enjoy it. I even crave it. I start to prioritize it.
That’s not just behavior change; that’s transformation.
And I don’t mean a transformation of our physical bodies into sculpted physiques, but a transformation of our desires and our will.
Similarly, I’ve heard of people who love sugar but then cut it out of their diet. At first it’s excruciatingly difficult, but then they say they don’t even like sugar anymore. Personally, I can’t imagine that for myself! But I trust that, for them, their transformation is real.
But leaving behind the metaphors of diet and exercise, let’s return to that deeper transformation.
Richard Rohr says:
The [transformative] experience occurs when God or life destabilizes your private ego, usually through some form of suffering. It will feel like dying because it is the death of the false self. …The True Self is all about right relationship, not requirements. It’s not about being correct; it’s about being connected, which you always were — you just didn’t realize it.3
This is what happens to the stream in the Sufi parable I told. The stream has to die to what it was. It must open itself to something beyond itself. It must trust and surrender.
…And then in the process of transformation, it discovers – it becomes – a fuller, realer self beyond the small self.
WAVING THE WHITE FLAG
Most of us only surrender – only finally wave that white flag – if and when we “hit bottom.”
My brother hit bottom two years ago. He had to drink while my dad drove him to rehab because the doctor said if he didn’t drink, his body would start to fail. When I showed up for family week, and in the months that followed, I saw someone who had surrendered in ways that at first felt jarring to me: uncomfortable. He had changed so much, I didn’t know where I fit.
But eventually, I, too, let go, stopped being the older sister trying to fix him, and surrendered to his process. In the many conversations that have followed, he’s told me that it’s not just about not drinking, it’s not just about doing the 12 steps and going to meetings – although all of those are necessary. It’s about a spiritual transformation – not once and for all, but daily. Over and over again.
Perhaps that sounds grueling…?
WE WORK SO HARD
But that’s where most of us get it wrong – me included! We make it grueling. We get perfectionistic; we work at it. But listen to these words by the theologian Frederick Buechner:
…to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst — is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed by the holy power that life itself comes from. You can survive on your own. You can grow strong on your own. You can even prevail on your own. But you cannot become human on your own.
We cannot transform on our own.
The stream needs the wind to cross the desert and return to the mountain. The caterpillar needs the workings of nature, and time, to transform into a butterfly. My brother needs what he understands as the love and power of God.
To what do you surrender in order to reach transformation?
A GREATER POWER, A DEEP YES
What greater power helps you do what you alone cannot?
If not God, is it the power of community and right relationship that demand we transcend our individual selves? Is it the power of Mystery to which you surrender, that gifts you with humility, an appreciation for doubt? Or is it the workings of nature and time to which you let go and come into alignment?
It may be more than one of these – or all of these. It may be some power I have not named. You may still be searching for it.
We are probably all still searching for it.
The truth is we do not cross our own deserts by continuing to trudge through in the same old ways that we are accustomed.
We need to find what Richard Rohr calls our own “deep yeses” to carry us through – something we absolutely believe in, something to which we can commit. Something in which we can trust, even when the process is painful or frightening, like when the stream lets itself be taken up…
May we find our own “deep yeses” to which we can surrender, so that we, too, can relax into the arms of the wind and transform time and again into our truest, freest forms.
May it be so.
– Rev. Emily Wright-Magoon
Category:Sister Joan Chittister
The Sufi tell stories that say all I think I'll ever know about finding God.
The first story is a disarming and compelling one. It is also, I think, a troublesome one, a fascinating one, a chastening one: “Help us to find God,” the seeker begged the Elder. “No one can help you there,” the Elder answered. “But why not?” the seeker insisted. “For the same reason that no one can help a fish to find the ocean.” The answer is clear: There is no one who can help us find what we already have.
The second story is even more challenging. “Once upon a time," the Sufi say, “a seeker ran through the streets shouting over and over again, We must put God into our lives. We must put God into our lives. "Ah, poor soul,” an Elder smiled wanly. “If only we realized the truth: God is always in our lives. The spiritual task is simply to recognize that.”
As a Benedictine, a disciple of an order historically devoted to the Sacrament of the Ordinary, I know how disappointing, how exhilarating that kind of advice can be. The neophyte seeks to pass the test of spiritual heroics; the wise seek to accomplish only the testimony of integrity. The young think the task is to buy God by their good efforts; the insightful know that the task is to want God beyond the lure of lesser ends, including even the trappings of spirituality.
For my own part, I entered religious life intent on being spiritually intrepid. I wanted something far more romantic than the Sacrament of the Ordinary. I expected to find formulas tried and true, ideas that were esoteric, a life that was mystical, a regimen that was at least duly demanding, if not momentously ascetic. What I found were spiritual manuals that were convoluted and academic, at best, and a community that was simple and centered in God always. The writers had missed the mark; the women were living the life. It was very disappointing. And it was very right.
God is not in the whirlwind, not in blustering and show, Scripture teaches us. God is in the breeze, in the very atmosphere around us, in the little things that shape our lives. God is in the contradictions that assail us, in the circumstances that challenge us, in the attitudes that impel us, in the motives that drive us, in the life goals that demonstrate our real aspirations, in the burdens that wear us down, in the actions that give witness to the values in our hearts. God is in the stuff of life, not in the airy-fairy of fertile imaginations bent on the pursuit of the preternatural. God is where we are, including in the very weaknesses that vie for our souls.
Benedictine spirituality attends to those things, not to tricks and trials designed to make spiritual athletes out of spiritual weaklings. Finding God depends on finding what determines our own lives and realizing in them the power and transcendence that is God.
I learned from holy women before me that finding God depends on four things: a conscious awareness of the presence of God; the sacralization of life; an atunement to the Holy Spirit and a sense of place in the universe.
A conscious awareness of the presence of God requires the development of a sincere and serious prayer life that is more reflective, thoughtful, and contemplative than it is mere rote and ritual. “Going to church’" is not a substitute for putting myself in the presence of God. Turning our minds and hearts over to the God of the universe puts us in the place of That Which we seek. The purpose of prayer is not to make God conscious of us; it is to make us conscious of God. It is to attend to the God in whom we live and whose presence we either ignore or expect to find somewhere else.
The sacralization of life requires us, in the words of Benedict of Nursia’s fifteen- century-old Rule, to “treat all things as vessels of the altar”–to hold every isolated thing in high regard whatever their use, to treat them gently, to take care of them well whatever their age. It leads us to become part of the holiness of the universe by recognizing each and every element of it as a spark of the Divine. It nurtures in us that sense of the sacred in all things so that the presence of God becomes a fact of life, not a myth to be fabricated. It leads us to save and care and preserve and respect the goods of material creation so that we can come to respect the spiritual energy that underlies each of them. It is learning to live in sacred space again so that we can be surprised by God. We are part of a holy universe, not its creators and not its rulers. God has done the creating, God does the judging and God waits for us to realize that.
An atunement to the Holy Spirit enables us to hear the Word of God in those around us and in the circumstances of our lives–in our culture, in our sexuality, and in the racial makeup that is the raw material of our being. It lies in bringing each of those things to fulfillment--whatever the obstacles to each. Everything we are, everything that is said to us, everything that happens to us is some kind of call from God. In fact, everything that happens is God’s call to us either to accept what we should not change or to change what we should not accept so that the Presence of God can flourish where we are. Until we learn to listen to these manifestations of divine presence all around us in life, we need not expect visions.
A sense of our place in the universe is what Chapter Seven of the Rule of Benedict calls “The Twelve Degrees of Humility.” In one of the earliest pieces of Western spiritual literature, Benedict is very clear that the beginning of a spiritual life depends on the realization that we live in the womb of God, that we need to admit our struggles, that we need to accept the inconsequential circumstances of life with equanimity and that we need to cultivate the kind of internal peace that leads us to live gently with the rest of creation, to tread lightly through the universe and to deal tenderly with both ourselves and others.
Finding God is a matter of seeing God where God is, of seeing the God who is in us to sustain us, around us to touch us, before us to beckon us onward in life. Finding God is a matter, not of learning to become something we are not but of learning to see what we already know, to touch what we already contain, to recognize what we already have. Finding God is a matter of living every minute of life to its ultimate. “Oh, wonder of wonders,” the Zen teacher teaches, “I chop wood. I draw water from the well.” Finding God has little to do with church and more to do with becoming the best of everything we are every moment we breathe.
God is not a mystery to be sought in strange places and arcane ways. God is a mystery to be discovered within us and around us. And savored.
—from How Can I Find God? ed. James Martin, SJ, Triumph Books, 1997
As the Holy creates the world in each moment, the ground level of its expression is the field of vibration. Everything that you can see, everything that is, is made of vibration. Step back from thought, step back from seeing things as objects, and let yourself notice the hum, the vibration, the sensation of existing, of being. Without definition, without evaluation. It is impossible to be wrong. You just are.
It’s a given. It’s the gift of life. It’s the gift of existence. When we stay very close to this ground of being, this simple ground of presence and sensation, the Holy can create through us of its own accord rather than through our preconceived concepts.
We’ve often been confused, searching for a sense of “I” through thought’s eyes. But the sense of being is not in the head; it is directly experienced through your sense of felt existence. When you drop into the vibrating ground of being, into the most fundamental level of existence, the world of the Holy sings to you through the vibration in your cells. And beneath and all around, everything is rising out of and shot through with empty space.
Let yourself sink below the object level of things, toward this felt field. You’ll notice it feels three-dimensional. You’ll notice that attention can move to different parts of the body and you can sense the texture there. You may barely be able to tell that some parts of the body exist at all. They will feel spacious and open. Others will be asserting themselves through tension, often in the belly or the heart, but that tension can be anywhere. And throughout the body you may notice a kind of a felt hum, a hum of life energy, a hum of shakti.
Most of us have been conditioned to have our attention fused to the content of thought, to the reality that the mind creates. We look to thought to define us, to define others, and to define the world. But thought is delusional because it’s a representation of what is, and often many steps away from actual reality.
To allow attention to sink into felt experience is to say goodbye to the world of thought. At first we might take short trips to the realm of felt experience because we’re tired of the land of concept, and we’re willing to take a chance on something new. At some point we may be willing to say goodbye to the past, to the future, to our identity, to where we are, to what we are, to where we’re going or where we’ve been. We may be willing to experiment, to see what exists outside of thought.
Because of the strength of conditioning, we may think we are attending to felt sense when we are actually attending to some combination of felt sense and thought. Notice if any evaluation is happening: “Wow, I’m doing it. That’s my breath.” If there’s anything like that, a kind of reporting from your mind, it will sound like a sports announcer, up in the bleachers, reporting on rather than being immersed in actual experience.
Anytime you notice your attention floating up into thought, I invite you to return it to your felt experience. Let the body have breath. On the felt level of things, breath is a constant, incredibly multi-faceted experience, from the time it enters the body, fills the lungs, fills the belly, to its movement out. And let the body have ground through noticing your weight, softening and sinking. Notice where the body touches the chair, the earth, and soften there. Ground nourishes the creature and allows it to settle.
In your imagination or in your direct experience, let the boundary between body and atmosphere dissolve. Let attention and your felt experience start to feel a like an ocean, or a field, or like a spacious, vibrating cloud. See if you can simply allow yourself to sit there as a cloud of noticing space. Let all that rises come to this awareness that you are, from the feel of breath, to the sounds, to the sensation where your body touches your chair or your hands touch each other. Notice that sounds in the distance arise in your awareness just the same as the sensations in the body arise. When you sit as noticing space, all sensations are equal, though varied in texture. Let yourself not call any of it “you.” Or let yourself call ALL of it you. Sink all your attention into the feel of now, into the immediacy of breath and existence.
One of the biggest perceived obstacles we find when we explore this felt moment is pain, tension, and pent-up emotion. It is basically stopped-up, pressurized and repressed life energy. The potency and power of our life energy can feel uncomfortable, because we have been taught to distract from that intensity. When we take attention off of the mind-created world and sink it into this elemental hum, this creative matrix, we open ourselves to transformation. We say, “Here I am Holy power and potency, have me, have my life, have my creations. Remake me. Dissolve me. Live through me.”
This is not something that upper management would approve of. Wired into your survival system is the belief that your life depends on the continuation of your pseudo-reality and the energy management system that supports it. But your life does not depend on that. This system is obsolete and your life is right here, right now. Not down the road, not yesterday, and it’s not a continuum or a thread. It is a vibrating hall of present mystery–a masterpiece of immediacy, of the unknown, of utter possibility.
Exploring felt experience without the mind’s two cents starts to loosen the sense of ownership which is at the base of perceiving oneself as separate, and is the root of suffering. As identification with a particular “me” defined by particular thoughts loosens, the possibility of stepping into raw being can emerge, a way of being which is apart from having to be defined. To step completely away from identification is called freedom. It’s freedom from the dictates of mind, from the dictates of conditioning. You simply are.
In our culture, we think of knowing as a mental process. We think of knowing our name, our address, how old we are, and what our plan for the future is. Conditioning and that kind of knowing are in cahoots. Conditioning relies on you being divorced from your deeper embodied knowing of this moment, this life, this immediacy here and now.
There is a certain kind of knowledge that we have in our bones for having gone through an experience. Most of this knowledge is unspeakable, but it fuels deep grounded wisdom. What does a woman know in her body after she’s given birth? What does a veteran know from living through war? What do we know in our bodies after we’ve been through a dark time and come through to the light? The holy informs us through this field. This is why they call sages wise. Sages are beings who have plunged their attention away from the external world, away from the mind, and deeply into nowhere, into the felt hum where presence and sensation meet, and hover around the heart of the paradox of existence. There is an intelligence to this field, and we are, in reality, simply this field expressing itself.
Our life energy through conditioning has been distorted. It does not run in natural ways. Western white culture largely does not respect the intelligence and sovereignty of an infant’s cry, or of a child’s exuberance in the middle of church. We respect an externally created, fear- based order over the organic movements of nature, over things as they are, and over things in their wholeness and in their naturalness. Sages through time have talked about being simple and natural. They themselves have been described as being as simple as children, uncomplicated, and not moving from fear. Their responses in the moment are tailored to the moment, uninterrupted, and undistorted by conditioned ideas. There are layers and layers of falseness and delusion that keep us in prison and keep us using our life energy for something other than the simple expression of the Holy through our bodies.
Returning our attention to felt experience shines a light of love on the body and funds the creature with the treasure of our conscious awareness. The creature of the body takes on the brunt of conditioning–the brunt of stress, of harsh words and insensitive treatment. On top of this disregard for the creature, we attempt to get somewhere other than here that will be “better.” Thus our bodies tense and get sick over time because the queen has left the queendom; the king has left the kingdom. Attention and the rich backdrop of the vibrating Beloved has been abandoned for the god of our conditioning: mentation. The creature has been abandoned for a system of ideas. The body within conditioning is ailing. It is not seen for the amazing instrument that it is.
The body is a treasure to anyone who wants to live from what’s true. As the grosser energies of pain start to be digested, the body can begin to discern the subtle orders of the Beloved through a sense of aliveness. Attention returned to felt experience allows the body’s undigested, gummed-up emotional and energetic systems to be cleared out. When we put our attention on the body, it will tell us what it needs to do in order to untie a knot. The body will tell us how to move, when to curl up, when to dance, paint, stretch, run or weep.
Turning toward the body with tender attention is not for the faint of heart, and is often the last place we will turn. Usually we like the idea of fleeing the body to transcend this human mess. We hope that we can jump out of this humanness and simply be light. I invite the kindness and regard of turning toward and embracing, rather than turning away and fleeing.
This embrace is a way of transcendence through wholeness with nothing left out. In the end, we must be willing to mirror the unseen’s love for the seen by being willing to meet whatever is given at the body level. As we befriend the creature of the body, we discover a sane, felt capacity to open and soften. We can download light into flesh, and feel in the body the worlds of unseen and seen dancing together. This is a sweet way to be here on the planet. It is called the body of God. It is called wholeness. It is called heaven on earth.
SOURCE: "Heaven on Earth" by Jeannie Zandi
—Posted Dec 12, 2011
"He who dares not offend cannot be honest." -Thomas Paine
"Most of us feel that others will not tolerate emotional honesty. We would rather defend our dishonesty on the grounds that it might hurt others; and having rationalized our phoniness into nobility, we settle for superficial relationships." from Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? by John Powell.
One of the main factors that sets great relationships apart from merely good ones is the depth of emotional intimacy. There are, of course other factors that contribute but authenticity, vulnerability and deep emotional connectedness are right up there at the top of the list. When two people commit themselves to the process of deep diving (into the soul or the psyche) they become, in the words of our friend Sam Keen, "psychonauts", who unlike astronauts who explore the outer reaches of space, choose rather to explore the inner reaches of the heart and mind. Both types of exploration require courage, curiosity, motivation, and a spirit of adventure.
The process requires not only a desire to be aware of and in touch with our emotions and perceptions, but a willingness to reveal and share what we are experiencing with others who we trust to accept and honor our inner truth without judgment. Given the fact that most of us have a tendency to be somewhat judgmental towards others and to ourselves as well, this is no small consideration. Becoming a more tolerant and accepting person is not only a possibility even for those of us who are world-class judgment machines, but it is actually one of the greatest outcomes of the deep-diving process.
Connecting to ourselves on a feeling level is for many of us, much easier said than done, but with practice, we can learn the language of emotions and become skilled at recognizing feelings when they arise, identifying them, experiencing them, and ultimately, honoring them through our communications and /or actions. This process not only generates intimacy, depth and genuineness in our relationships, but it also enables us to create the feeling of being complete and whole within ourselves. When we choose instead to deny or repress feelings, as John Powell points out, our relationships and our lives in general begin to feel dry, flat, and superficial. This is the price that we pay when we are more committed to avoiding upsets than we are to living and interacting with authenticity and integrity.
Controlling our feelings is a form of self-manipulation that we perform in an effort to control others' responses to us in the hopes of winning their approval or minimizing the chances of them feeling hurt, angry, or displeased with us. Those couples who share the greatest degree of intimacy and fulfillment together are not the ones who experience the least conflict or the fewest upsets, but are rather those who are the most willing to relate with both honesty and sensitivity. They have developed the skills of good communication and learned how to deal respectfully with the differences that inevitably arise in even the best relationships. They are, as Daniel Goleman would say, "emotionally intelligent”.
It's a package plan; there is no way that we can thrive in the bliss of affection, empathy, tenderness, sexual excitement, peace, joy, and love without being open to our anger, fear, jealousy, guilt, embarrassment, frustration, grief and even hatred. If we want a life in which we thrive rather than whither, we must be willing to accept, as Zorba the Greek says, the "full catastrophe". As we see it, the real catastrophe is to come to the end of your life only to realize that by playing it safe and trying to avoid risk, you took the biggest risk of all, and lost the most valuable thing that you could lose: a life that was rich with meaning, feeling, and joy, one that not only filled your own cup to the brim, but spilled over to fill the cups of others who were moved and inspired by you.
Living an inauthentic life also denies us the possibility of ever feeling truly loved for who we are, and consequently we inevitably find ourselves caught in a relentless quest for love that can never be satisfied or sustained. How can I trust that anyone really loves me when I haven't shown them who I really am? So when my partner tells me that he or she loves me, that little voice in the back of my mind says, "you love who you THINK I am. But if you really knew who I was, you wouldn't love me", thus the title of John Powell's book.
It's only when we both reveal ourselves fully that the deepest, purest, most soul-nourishing love can be exchanged. The remedy for coming back to engage more fully is to first be in touch with what we are feeling and then to express, rather than repress, connect rather than protect, and reveal rather than conceal.
Like any new skill we are acquiring, it may take a while to learn to live open-heartedly. Old habits, particularly protective ones, often take a while to break. We are not going to be graceful and accomplished right away. At first we might feel awkward and clumsy. It helps to keep this in mind, so that we can each be more patient and forgiving with each other and with ourselves as we stumble towards enlightenment. It's not about doing it right; it's about what the Buddhists refer to as making "right effort". As we become more skilled at emotional honesty we come to know ourselves and each other more deeply. Not just ABOUT each other, but all that is within each of us: the wounds and sensitive areas, feelings of inadequacy, our mistakes and magnificent failures, the guilt, shame and fears, and our tragedies and triumphs, as well as our greatest dreams, our successes, hopes, accomplishments, and our unique and extraordinary gifts.
The joys of connection, satisfaction and fulfillment are beyond measure. It's a small price to pay to feel like a blundering idiot while we are learning the skills of emotional honesty. But be careful, because once you get started on this path you can't stop. You can't go back the superficial life again. Not because you shouldn't, but because the benefits and joys of being real, even on a bad day, so greatly outweigh the prices that authenticity requires that there's just no contest.
SOURCE: Psychology Today:
Category:Sarah May Bates
—April 18, 2016
Sarah May Bates - Founder of Yay With Me a hub of practical tools to create change in yourself, from Podcaster/Author, Sarah May Bates, @sarahmaybee
If you prefer to listen here’s the podcast version of this post on iTunes and Soundcloud.
Why sometimes people aren’t honest with us and sometimes we’re not honest with ourselves.
This one’s written for a person who contacted me who’s newly single and dating quite a bit. He has a few different partners and has had a lot of difficulty saying he is doing so because it goes against everything he wants in the moment.
I want to talk about honesty and dishonesty and how it comes into play in relationships. So if you’re the type of person who dates and doesn’t tell the other person where you’re really at – or if you’re super jealous and suspicious about your partner and it drives you mad, this is for you.
Just to be clear – this is not about the trivial niceness lies that don’t come up often – like telling someone you love the pie they made, or saying you have to cancel plans because of work when it’s really because you don’t feel like going out. This is about emotional honesty – the habits and ways of being that seem small, but actually create who you are and how you form bonds with others. Because the simple act of being honest can change your life in awesome earth-shattering ways.
I am not covering sociopaths and pathological liars – you’ll see that pathological liars lie incessantly to exaggerate their own importance. But if you are wondering if you’re with a pathological liar or a sociopath, please buy the book, “Women Who Love Psychopaths.” Even if you’re a man or your situation is different, this book will be highly educational.
What I’m talking about is kind of like emotional lying – it’s subtler and therefore insidious in how it hurts your life – and it’s tied a struggle with acceptance. What I hope to offer is insight into why either you are “shielding” others from the truth or why others are doing this to you. I’d also like to sell you on the amazing and powerful benefits of being honest and letting go of control. Because that practice has amazing benefits in your life. Without further ado – three parts: what why and how!
Part 1: The What
Emotional Honesty – with yourself and with others. Meaning, authenticity in your way of being. When it comes to relationships – honesty is a sign of wholeness, confidence and self-love. I think of honesty as a synonym for trust and intimacy. It’s powerful in what it does because when you’re totally honest, it immediately makes you closer to others – you show up as all of yourself. A lack of honesty can taint your relationship just as powerfully. Some refer to lying as ‘relationship termites.’
In my opinion, the importance of emotional honesty isn’t quantified by the individual instances or the specifics of one lie, it’s all about the connection you have to your inner compass. It relates to the hierarchy that’s guiding you and your decision-making throughout your life. Everything in life down to a character choice you make as you live now, today in your present moment. Emotional honesty can be tackled by thinking of it as a simple way of BEING. It’s not the individual instances that you must address, it’s your approach to being yourself – who you choose to be and the values you decide to embody. Your values are like the decoder ring for every individual instance you might encounter. Once you practice owning your own truth and values, everything in your life will arrange itself perfectly. You don’t have to try to fix a situation or struggle with how to make things work, anymore. The fear evaporates and everything just gets super simple. It’s a relief – because there’s only ever one truth. It just is, and you don’t have to do anything about it but move through it.
Once you approach your life with honesty, you will begin to confront things as they arise. They won’t be pushed to the side or “managed,” they will just be. You’ll know that things will be difficult or they’ll hurt, and that will just be what it is. Without the make-shift solutions, what happens is your life becomes a purer expression of your truth. Guided by who you are and what you want: in love and all your relationships. Just by confronting things as you need to vs in two years from now when you can’t fix them any longer, you become empowered as the author of your life. That’s the only change that needs to get made: your approach to your present day. Today, right now.
Part 2: The Why
We usually lie or hide from our emotions for one of five reasons:
- To protect someone
- A fear of abandonment
- Control what someone else does
- Control how others perceive us
- To avoid conflict or punishment
When we’re dishonest in our relationships, often it’s a sign of something bigger at play – it comes from a lack of acceptance: of yourself, or what you’re feeling, of what you might need to confront. It’s a way to avoid the truth. A way to CONTROL and ALTER what must be done, so we don’t have to face it.
Dishonesty is the system of controlling what scares us. A fear of loss, a fear of betrayal, a fear of being hurt, of being seen, of being controlled and owned.
When it comes to love, the fears and ties are very primal because they’re linked to our first intimate relationships: those of our family. The fears we feel are encoded by the bonds we formed with our parents. They also change based on the stage we’re at in a relationship because each stage triggers a different element of how we learned ‘couples’ exchange love. I will go through some of the lies we tend to tell during courtship, committed relationships, and marriage.
In Courtship and Dating
- When courting, people aren’t honest when they’re afraid others are not going to like their truth. People might compartmentalize their relationships and the information they give others so that they can maintain control over them and how they’re perceived. It’s a way of maintaining control over the source of love and or pain: they get to choose whether or not they’re liked. It can also be because a person wants to maintain autonomy – not be fully controlled or known.
- However –it’s bad to do that because when you control the experience someone else has of you and the truth, you create a separate reality. Suddenly it’s a bond created in a separate world. In doing this, you remove your intimate experience of that bond, and you remove your trust in someone else and their ability to love accept you. You also put something between the two of you – so you remove some aspect of your own participation in your relationships. It is this effect that keeps you from fully participating in your relationships and enjoying them to the utmost. So not being honest is like a tiny death. You remove some access you have to your full participation in the simple act of choosing to control it. It’s also a way to stay “outside the ring” and protected from being hurt.
Why would someone be afraid to be honest? Here’s a short that my friend Steve Moore made that speaks to this idea nicely. (It pertains to men and women, alike.)
- Sometimes emotional dishonesty comes from a lack of trust in oneself – that what you want is wrong and won’t be accepted. When we think what we want is wrong, it’s usually unconscious and therefore guides us without us knowing.
- Sometimes the dishonesty is simply self protective: a person is so vulnerable and sensitive, the anxiety is unbearable.
- Pervasively dishonest people are usually detached from what they are thinking and feeling altogether. If you find yourself lying often, check in with yourself to see if maybe you have NO idea how you feel – at all. I was like this in high school – I had no idea how I felt about anything because I was totally numb. If this sounds like you, then I believe you have some unaddressed experiences that are painful and scary. It means the connection you have to your inner compass is blocked off from something unaddressed, like an old trauma. You might even remember your trauma and think it’s not affecting you at all – but it actually is working beneath the surface of your subconscious. It’s all a subterranean cycle of running from a secret truth. I highly recommend you investigate further with a therapist!
- We lie about our story to control others, but ironically we are also doing it for ourselves. We want to believe what we’re saying because part of us wants the false reality to be true. So what happens over time is your brain has a natural inclination to believe the lies you’ve told, and eventually you can’t tell where the truth ends and the lie begins. Your own memory gets hazy. This is something you might have done as a child: made up an alternate version of a story and now it’s a blur because your brain has paved over the true history. Lying distorts your view of reality – burying is something your brain is trained to do.
Everyone rationalizes their own dishonest behavior –most of us lie “just a little bit” – just enough to feel like we’re still good people. It’s when those rationalizations take over the majority of your behavior that you get into trouble. It’s in that grey area that we lose sight of what we truly want. We just “become” this cycle of behavior. Instead of choosing in favor of the highest goals, life is built by what we’re afraid to accept or too sad to know. It’s a path that goes in circles, forged by a resistance to what is.
Emotional Honesty is vital to dating for several reasons:
- Misleading people makes you feel like a bad person who has to hide their true self. Not to mention, it makes other people feel like they’re going crazy – and it’s cruel and unfair to remove someone’s ability to make choice in the situation.
- The contrast inherent in your person is what makes you beautiful and sexy. Your darkness and your light. Polarity is the prime ingredient for passion – so to “middle” yourself or react to someone else’s ideals is a waste of your personal gold. To experience a rich relationship, you need someone real: who knows who they are and who they aren’t. Who can push and pull you – who loves and hates. The more someone who will say and be whoever you want them to be, the less of anything you will feel, in return. You need contrast and friction, in love especially – you want someone complete so you can share your full self with them, too. So you can both play different parts and learn from one another. Otherwise, what you get is neutral: a platonic friendship.
Relationships are built around simultaneous and yet opposite needs to be autonomous and intimate, and therefore this is where all couple-conflicts arise. It’s a power struggle between these two needs, hashed out and decided for the first time between two individuals, with two separate ideas of the world, as they come together to form a bond. In a relationship, there’s a constant power struggle between these two ideas and these two opposing needs, as they merge into one story, that is, their relationship.
- Common lies are to gain power in the relationship, for example – you might lie to a partner to support your rightness.
- Emotional dishonesty is also a tool that people use to control behavior of the partner, often these acts are borrowed from their parents. Like withholding information to milk a certain emotional reaction.
- Other common lies are ways to retain autonomy in the face of someone demanding more intimacy. If one person wants to know every intimate detail of your mind and your emotions and you withhold that and intentionally keep it mysterious or confusing – this would be a tactic to protect yourself from being “owned” by this other person. You don’t want to be seen because part of you thinks you’ll lose autonomy and/or that you’ll be revealed as a disappointment. You might intentionally keep your private experiences vague and unknown. On the other hand it might be experienced as a very uncomfortable and confusing communication from your partner – if you can sense that they are not wanting to be seen and known. This might trigger a feeling of deception and a lack of trust.
- Often dishonesty comes into play when a couple goes through a life-stage shift that triggers a conflict in one or both individuals: the roles must change with the state of their life. Some life stages trigger old family dynamics, almost like picking up a parent’s script from an old play. If someone had a family conflict at a certain age, they too might replay the parent’s actions when they reach the same age. Weird, right? Sometimes the person won’t even know their parent did the same thing – it’s almost like it’s encoded in their DNA.
In a marriage, there are some major changes cause the dynamic to change – here are a few, roughly: the end of the fantasy, which is within the first few years of marriage, the beginning of child-rearing, and the end of child-rearing. So these are times when a couple might be most vulnerable to affairs because this is when they experience the most stress – change is traumatic because relationships have to organize around them
- Often a lie will be a way of distracting focus from the real problem: the anxieties over the relationship. The real problem is a threat to the emotional bond itself, which is too scary to examine for both parties, so a lie is a way for a person to lessen the tension. A lie will be a point to focus on that’s removed, and therefore less intense. And the lie can be about anything, not just an affair. It could be a secret habit – like smoking, or having secret pass times, a secret purchase. What matters is it’s a thing that this person can fixate on as separate – it takes on the label of “the problem,” to obsess about or even fight about, without looking at the relationship. BTW! This is all inside the book, “Intimate Partners” by Maggie Scarf – I highly recommend it. It’s all about family dynamics that repeat. Writing another blog about it – coming soon!
- Cheating is a way to avoid facing a potential problem with the bond of the relationship – it often comes about as an attempt to relieve the tension one person feels around the relationship. It’s an unconscious strategy of coping with overwhelming anxieties that the partner cannot face. The reason this would ever become the most viable solution is because all they feel is the relief that comes from the affair. They don’t see it as tied to the fear or even know the fear exists. When we bring someone else outside of the relationship in, it’s a way to triangulate our problems to something outside of the bond – even if that’s a focus on how they’re raising the kids, or conflicts with money. You have terms to fight and therefore vent.
- When people in committed long-term relationships find connections in others spontaneously, the “emotional affairs,” it likely relates to the role they have cast themselves in and their partner in – based on their upbringing. They look for this other cast member to help they define their identity, to themselves. The role they’re casting for is their ideal match: the person who can see them and complete them, who embodies all their ideals. All relationships start with the fantasy stage – when you don’t quite know each other yet, but you view the other person through your imagined ideals. When the stage is over, the person finally sees the reality of who the person is, and sometimes that causes them to feel betrayed or disappointed – like they were somehow sold a raw deal. “You duped me into falling for you!” When in reality, it’s their perception of an ideal that has finally worn off.
A person can perceive their role so strongly that they seek out another person to help them validate it. This is when a person seeks out an emotional affair or suddenly falls in love with someone they barely know. If their role is “rational, strong and emotionally mysterious” and they seek someone “emotionally bountiful, free-spirited, fawning,” they will resent a partner that suddenly has other facets that aren’t affirming to them. We seek others who can reaffirm our parts. When a person goes through a “mid-life crisis” they often seek to buffer their self-image by casting an opposite role.
Often with affairs, people are seeking to replace the first stage of a relationship: the fantasy stage. This is their golden standard of a person, whom likely doesn’t exist because they are an ideal manifested in their mind. It’s the fantasy that they perceive – not the reality of the human being, so falling in love becomes a very short loop. Meet a person, see their ideal, get to know the reality, freak out and break up. The neediness is tied to childhood, so they’ll feel so angry and resentful and cannot reconcile that this ideal doesn’t exist.
In all committed relationships there’s a period of getting to know the truth of a person minus your idealizations. It’s just like when you grow up and you realize how far it is to the store. That’s just a part of growth – growing to know and going deeper than the surface. A relationship based on what you want and they want and what you’re both capable of is what you build together, with love as your glue. The bond evolves between two people, together: you write it as you go, define it as best you can while battling old ghosts of your family relationships. We all choose people based on our fabric, almost via telepathy: we sense in the other a missing piece of ourselves. When we feel comfortable with our partner, we work out our remaining childhood issues. It’s our path to return to ourselves.
Part 3: The How – The Tools!
There’s a little bit of everything in here – for dating, for a relationship, for trying to be more honest.
TOOL 1: Hear Between the Words
Listen for what someone is not saying. This is a tool for those of you who are dating. A lot of the time we get clues and signs from people, but we don’t interpret their meaning accurately because we don’t want the truth to be so. As a habit, listen to what people are NOT saying. Everything is usually pretty evident when we’re not on the path that leads to our happiness, but we just can’t look at the answer. Ask yourself: are there statements that you want to hear that this person is not saying? Are there basic understandings that are not being spelled out? Are you confused but hopeful? Are there terms that you think are implied, but have never been made explicit?
Often when we don’t like the truth, we don’t read to the signs – the body language, the subtle avoidance of certain topics, the gaps in what we know. We want to hear the answer that we are not hearing, so we blind ourselves to the truth by highlighting what gives us hope. All that habit does is cheat you out of years of time that could be spent getting closer to what you want.
When people don’t want to say the truth because it threatens what they have, they usually avoid talking about it. Omission is a way of passively lying. A way to not upset you and also keep you where they want you, knowing that they’re far from stating their truth. It’s the same as lying but it’s much more tolerable because it requires doing nothing: a person can simply avoid taking action vs. actively creating the deception. Also, they can rationalize the sin as not their fault. A lot of people choose to omit/avoid the truth because it’s a way to deny that they’re controlling others – therefore it keeps the guilt at bay.
Push yourself to look at what you don’t want to see, especially when you’re dating. Assume nothing and remain open to all possible outcomes, for better or worse. Don’t wish things to be different or hold out hope that someone will change: this is just a temporary way to avoid pain that causes you a thousand times more pain later on. If a person isn’t where you are and they don’t want what you want, move on and cut your losses. When someone shows you who they aren’t, listen.
TOOL 2: Jealous of a Ghost
The ghost is a metaphor for an ex who still lingers in the mind of your partner that makes you feel threatened. The ghost isn’t active in your lives, yet somehow this topic inspires all kinds of feelings of jealousy and insecurity. If you’re the jealous type and feel constantly threatened by your partner’s ex’s, even though they don’t hang out with them anymore, this is a tool for you and your significant other to use. It’s to help you create a safety zone in your relationship so these kinds of not-so-fun topics don’t destroy what’s great about your bond.
It might be awkward to facilitate, but if you can both commit to trying this, it works! Make this one issue into a “Task” – basically, reserve a weekly hour of time that you use to focus solely on this icky topic. For example, let’s say it’s Sunday nights at 8 pm: each Sunday, you and your partner sit down and for one full hour you say everything that’s on your mind related to this issue. Your partner must sit and listen to you intently and not say a word back. For the rest of the week outside of this one hour, you are not allowed to bring up this issue in any shape or form.
Here’s why this works: one person gets to be heard completely, the other gets to feel safe from attack while you both go about your romantic life. Tasking also works because it removes the issue from play – therefore it can’t exacerbate a random fight. Again, this issue truly represents the push/pull needs dance that is intimacy and autonomy. In other words, it’s not about what it’s about. It’s a power struggle that has taken on a face and a name.
TOOL 3: Listen to the Baby Ouch
This is a tool for those of you who are currently not honest in your relationships and that bothers you, because you can’t seem to see why you’re doing it. This tool is really about starting to be honest with yourself. Right now, you likely can’t tell what is right or wrong in any given relationship, because the terms are confusing. Maybe you don’t really want to deal with someone else’s emotions, so in your mind, dishonesty is easier for everyone.
There is such a thing as having your private self, and you don’t have to bear that to everyone as soon as you meet them. That’s not what this is about. This is about the part of you that feels guilty when you’re misleading someone you like. It doesn’t feel good – it hurts. What is the rule for when you should be honest with someone? It’s defined only by you – an inner compass of sorts, but right now you’re unable to read it because the feelings you have are conflicting and therefore confusing. The emotions are vague because you haven’t been able to identify them inside yourself, therefore you can’t read your own emotions. This is a tool to help you begin to understand what you feel good about, and what makes you happy.
When something conflicts you, and you get that inner voice that fights with something, rationalizing it back and forth – like, “Maybe I should say something.. but no, I didn’t lie – I like this person, I hope they don’t find out that I’m xyz…” That inner conflict – when something doesn’t quite sit right – let’s call that The Baby Ouch. That tiny, uncomfortable, fearful feeling is a sign that something in your actions is hurting YOU. Your acting out of alignment with who you really are. The discomfort is something in your own being is saying, “This doesn’t feel like me.” THAT Baby Ouch is what you have to start acknowledging, respecting and aligning your actions with – because it means you are betraying yourself and your true values. When you’re not acting in alignment with WHO YOU TRULY ARE, you are abusing yourself. When you abuse yourself, your confidence is lowered and you create feelings of depression. Plus, it perpetuates the behavior that’s not really you.
I briefly want to say thank you to my latest sponsors! Liz on Patreon! You are awesome and I love you! It’s amazing to me that I can create something from my own mind – and books, and post it and then real people like you give me donations. That sounds weird but it’s very humbling to me. A part of me thought that it’d be crazy to post a donate link or make a Patreon page. But I feel very valued and it inspires me to make more content and always give you my best. So thank you so, so much. Back to the blog…
In order to really be the person you aspire to be, you must act according to what you know are your issues. Meaning – you have to take control of them and build the paths you need, so that you can always act from the right place. I think a lot of the most successful personal growth is about seeing your big bad issue and choosing to build a staircase around it so that you can be kind and loving to others. When it comes to emotional baggage, sometimes you have to override what’s built in so that you can grow in the direction of your choosing. Like you’re building an Ewok village of new systems that are healthy and positive around the trees and triggers of the past. Honesty is how we own where we are and confront our truth– and it leads to understanding what we truly want.
When you can see that there’s a misalignment in your life– between your actions and your values, or what you want and what you have – that misalignment highlights the place you have to grow. This is how you spot a change that’s meant to grow you. As soon as you keep your eyes open and accept that sometimes you’re going to have to hurt, you grow into a Super You. As you practice being honest about where you are and what you want, and say no to what isn’t in alignment with that truth, you begin to get good at moving through the pain and fear. Suddenly you realize it’s all going to be okay, and you’re handling it like a champ. You also grow and change each time you move through a challenge or a loss, and each time you gain a new muscle. Very soon after practicing this brave honesty, you become supremely confident – because you know you can and will survive anything, and you will take care of yourself. You also let go of what is not in your cards, and everything becomes so simple – the resistance is what makes life hard. Not the truth.
Best of all, what happens when you choose to accept things honestly, and not hide from them – no matter what – is your life is guided to what it is you’re truly looking for. You take your need to control your fate, out of the equation and you allow yourself to change and hurt and grow where you need to. And that’s when life gets AMAZING.
I send you my love and I hope that this registered and that it helped somehow. I’ll put the related reading on the blog version of this post. Smile lovely friends!! I also wanted to let everyone know about my new podcast with Ellen Huerta of Mend– Love is Like a Plant, our teaser episode is up so hit subscribe if you’re interested in checking it out. Here it is on Soundcloud and iTunes.