Hatred

“If you nurture hatred toward yourself, it won’t be long before it shows itself as hatred toward others,” writes Richard Rohr in his new book, The Universal Christ.

These words leapt off the page at me partially because of last week’s blog and totally because of this week’s news. What week are we not inundated with the news of another shooting or terrorist attack? Each of these incidents has at its base people filled with hatred toward others — some specific, scapegoated group, like communists, blondes, women who cover their heads, men who don’t shave their chins — really, its ludicrous. Any identifiable characteristic can be the start of a campaign of labelling, judging, accusing, blaming, and hating. I am mindful of Donald Trump’s mocking of a reporter with a disability. Really? We hate “the other” because he or she has a disability, or too much ability, or a different ability?

I doubt that any of you will argue with me that hating others begins with hating the self. But where does hating the self begin?

My high school and college summer job was working in the nursery of Easton Hospital in Easton, Pennsylvania. I got this job through nepotism. My aunt was the head of finance in the hospital. I know I should have been ashamed of getting a job I didn’t deserve,  but, I loved the job too much to ever say a word. Plus, I worked harder than anyone else in the nursery because I knew I didn’t deserve this cake position — holding babies –so when everyone was asleep I worked. We had the cleanest nursery in any hospital in Pennsylvania. (I can’t prove this.)

But when I asked where self-hatred comes from, I wanted to establish for you that I know what I’m talking about when I say with absolute certainty that we are not born hating ourselves.  In those six years of working with babies, I never met a hater. We are born vulnerable and craving connection and attention and love.

There’s a song from the musical South Pacific that goes: “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, you’ve got to be taught from year to year, to hate all the people your relatives hate, you’ve got to be carefully taught.” Hatred comes from those around us, those entrusted with raising us and teaching us and leading our scout troops and ministering to us. Those who should be most vigorously committed to teaching us to love are those, who, because of what they do and what they don’t do, teach us to hate and fear.

Let me give you an absolutely benign example of the “teaching.” I volunteered for a while at a near-by soup kitchen (stay tuned for that story). One of my fellow-volunteers was showing me pictures of her granddaughter’s first birthday party. There sat a little girl in a high chair and covering the entire wall of the dining room behind her was a rebel flag — the flag of the confederacy. I was so stunned that without realizing it I asked, really quite innocently, “What does that flag mean?” The woman said quickly, “Oh, its not hatred. It doesn’t mean anything about hatred. It’s just history.”

Isn’t it always fascinating how we, all of us, give ourselves away? “Oh,” she said immediately, “it doesn’t represent hatred.” What an odd answer when I asked what that flag hanging in the dining room of her house meant. Oh, she assured me, it doesn’t mean what I think you think it means. She, of course, had no idea what I thought it meant. Actually, on this whole topic of confederate memorabilia, like statues which have been around for more than a hundred years, I would have assumed that they did simply signify history. Now I am pretty sure that the one year old learning history is also learning hatred.

So, we are taught to hate others because of what our parents/teachers/ministers teach us. But they teach us to hate ourselves by how they treat us. We learn to love ourselves if we are loved. That first benevolent, tender glance from our mother/father/grandparents is the beginning of our valuing ourselves because it becomes clear to us that we are valued. I remember one friend I had in graduate school telling me about her father. She sort of smiled abashedly when she spoke of him: “He practically thought I breathed better than anyone else,” she teased. “He just loved me dearly.”

If every human on the planet could say they were dearly loved by one or both parents, we would have a peaceful planet for sure. But not many of us have been given that gift. Instead, our self-hatred started with the way we were treated, increased with what we were taught, and settled into our bone marrow, spreading like a flea infestation.

I think there is much freedom and redemption in understanding that we can unlearn any lesson which no longer serves us. We don’t have to be haters of ourselves or others. We are free to make healthy, healing, harmonious choices. We are free to befriend ourselves and then befriend everyone with whom we come in contact.

Hatred is lonely. You always have to wonder if the next person is one you should hate or fear. Better to just stay to yourself. Love is so much less complicated. “Love grounds us by creating focus, direction, motivation, even joy –and if we don’t find these things in love, we will usually try to find them in hate.” Richard Rohr, who wrote these words, gets an awful lot of hate mail, interestingly, because he believes everyone and every living thing belongs to the family of God. When did love become so suspect and so radical?

Peace and blessings, my friends, as we walk together in love. Susan

 

 

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May 18, 2019 at 8:33 AM Leave a comment

Everyone Counts

So, a friend of mine told me a story that is so sweet and powerful, I want to share it with you.

This particular friend, we’ll name her Mary, has a commitment to calling everyone she meets by name. If she is going through a fast food line or talking to a clerk in a grocery or retail store, she always asks their name and then proceeds to talk to them using their name. For stores and restaurants she frequents, she remembers the names of cashiers and hostesses.

So, it happened one night, when she was out to supper with her sister, that she saw a former cashier she hadn’t seen for a long time. She called the cashier by name and they hugged. She asked the cashier where she had disappeared to and where she was presently working. Interestingly, the cashier and Mary’s sister each had the same job at a different branch of the same store.

Mary’s sister had been complaining about the branch at which she worked. The cashier asked which branch Mary’s sister was assigned to, and when Mary’s sister answered, the cashier immediately started talking about how that was the hardest branch. The cashier had only lasted there one day. Mary’s sister had been there a couple months. The cashier, older and much more worldly wise than Mary’s sister, traded phone numbers with Mary’s sister and promised to help her get relocated in a much more friendly and slow paced branch of the store.

Mary’s sister received this guidance and help because Mary makes a point of asking people’s names. One she learns their names, she has begun establishing a relationship.

I complimented Mary on this habit of hers, pointing out the way it helps people feel seen and heard and valued. She said, “Everyone counts.”

People suffer from depression because they feel invisible and undervalued. People suffer from anxiety because they feel alone and unsupported. People suffer from PTSD triggers because they feel they can’t trust strangers. Mary makes sure the people with whom she interacts don’t feel like strangers who are isolated and invisible. And her method for doing this is deceptively simple: she asks people’s names.

Many other ways of making contact with people are effective, also, and provide immense benefits. I remember a police officer coming to our condo association in Akron and telling us the number one way to prevent crime in our neighborhood: know your neighbors. Talk to them. Smile and wave at them. And when you see someone unfamiliar, make sure you make eye contact with them, and smile and wave at them. Unfamiliar people who might be checking out the neighborhood with bad intentions will move on once they have been seen and identified. (Or, perhaps, they’ll move in to this welcoming neighborhood.)

I read an article recently about “shooters,” those in schools, churches, malls, movie theatres and nightclubs. Every single shooter, the article explained, was a lonely person who was disconnected from others and felt invisible, unworthy and isolated. If each of us used Mary’s simple tool, or a smile or a nod, to reach out to the homeless man, the mechanic, the guy at the next gas pump, the person sitting alone at the coffee shop, what a different world we might begin creating. Even just, “Hi.” Sometimes asking their name would be intrusive and feel awkward, but a smile is never intrusive. A nod. Some indication that you actually see that person could literally save a life.

I remember reading a story about a middle schooler who saw someone from his class struggling with a load of books. He offered to help, took a couple of the books, and walked with the other student until they reached his home. They had talked a little and laughed together on the way home. It turns out the kid struggling with the books had cleaned out his locker because he was planning on committing suicide that night and wanted to leave no mess behind him for his family. The fact that another student reached out to him and walked home with him was all it took for him to give life a chance.

Richard Rohr says when we look in the eyes of any person, we see Christ. This is because the Creator, through the very act of creation, puts the divine DNA inside each of us. I guess that’s the most profound reason why “everyone counts.”

Peace and blessings as we begin seeing each other — really seeing each other. Love, Susan

May 11, 2019 at 9:09 AM 1 comment

PTSD is a Psychological Injury

Better understanding of sexual assault trauma (and trauma in general) is desperately needed. The Raleigh News and Observer highlighted this on the front page of the paper last week, quoting an article that recently ran in the Carolina Public Press, an independent, non-profit news organization. The insensitive, incorrect, ill-informed responses to the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during the Kavanaugh hearing highlighted how a lack of knowledge about trauma and what trauma does to the brain is impacting us as individuals and as a country.

The newspaper article was clear that all those who work with or talk to trauma survivors need to be trained and informed about the brain’s response to trauma. Without this background, victims are inadvertently harmed by even the simplest things, “like tone of voice.” Police officers who are taught to “stand over people to assert authority,” for example, can keep victims from telling their stories, limit prosecutions, and re-traumatize an already traumatized survivor.

The hippocampus and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex shrink and the amygdala becomes overactive when a person is subjected to trauma. This results in an inability to distinguish between past and present memories; trouble processing emotions and a stronger fear response; and difficulty regulating negative emotions, especially when “triggered.” Consequently, when a victim tells his or her story, he or she seems either too cool and disengaged from what is being said, or he or she appears to be “acting” overly emotional. We won’t get a straight linear story which proceeds from beginning to end. There will be gaps in the story because during trauma people often dissociate. Dissociation is a strange, life- and sanity-saving phenomenon whereby a person “emotionally” leaves his or her own body. You have heard about people on operating tables who float on the ceiling in the corner of the room and watch the operation. The same thing happens to rape victims and those who are being abused or tortured. What is being done to them is so abhorrent that their physical body might be there, but their spirit and essence have moved away from the assault.

I am writing about this today because I know that each of you who read this blog is a sensitive, caring person who is aware of trauma and the aftermath. If you, yourself, are not a trauma survivor, you know someone who is. If you suffer from PTSD, I beg you to accept that there are those of us who understand not what you have been through — no one but you can know that — but we know what a brave and courageous survivor you are. Also, we don’t expect you to make sense all the time or to be constantly logical and joyful, carefree and available.

Take care of yourself. If we are your true friends, we will understand. Trauma is something we would not wish on anyone. Let us walk with you and care for you in whatever ways we possibly can. Trauma survivors will suffer from depression and anxiety. That goes without saying. This is not because they are weak or mentally ill. This is because trauma changes the brain. I see this as a gift from the Creator which allows survivors to survive and try to protect themselves in the future from further trauma.

PTSD is a psychological injury. “If you don’t have a basic knowledge of that concept,” said John Somerindyke, head of Fayetteville, N.C. Police Department’s Special Victim’s Unit, “you don’t have any business interacting with a rape victim.” The article continues: “People have long thought a rape victim’s inconsistencies in retelling what happened to her meant she was lying.” This level of ignorance has driven a woman like Dr. Ford into hiding and given a man like Brett Kavanaugh a life-time appointment to the highest court in the land.

May we in the future be less judgmental and more compassionate — with everyone, all the time — no exceptions.

Love and peace as we walk and work and weep together — Susan

 

May 4, 2019 at 9:26 AM Leave a comment

After Easter

So, the news arrives — the good, the bad, the ugly, the health, the wealth, the relationship, the losses, the gains — news all the time. You can read your horoscope, you can listen to CNN, you can peruse Facebook and Twitter, and hear, in the same minute, that crime is down and crime is up — it’s too late to save the planet from climate change and, yet, you must donate before midnight to do just that or all is truly lost.

We are feathers in the wind, my friends, blown from here to there, caught in a constant state of reaction, always trying to get our feet on the ground and our spirit settled. It is impossible to tell what is truth and what is spin, down to the simplest things, like eggs. Are they good for us or not? Should we be eating them? I mean even romaine lettuce recently lost it’s innocent reputation by making people sick in epidemic proportions. Little in life feels steady and dependable.

How do we stay sane and calm in insane, chaotic days?

If I had the answer, I’d be giving a Ted Talk. I don’t have the answer, and I’m guessing there isn’t really much of an answer, but I do have some ideas.

#1: When the going gets tough, we always have to return to basics. Get enough sleep. Move your body so you release the tension in it. Eat healthy food — nothing processed. Have a number of different ways you can relax every day: sit outside for five minutes and listen to the birds; get some sunshine; read a couple poems; doodle or color a picture; acknowledge whatever pain you fee,l and remind yourself no pain lasts forever; wash your sheets; don’t answer the phone; take a nap.

#2: No matter who says what to you or what you read or hear: DO NOT REACT. If you are particularly hard hit by a piece of news, say, Social Security will run out before you die, just take a literal half step back from the news or the news bearer and say, “Well, we’ll see. Time will tell. I’m not going to fret about that right now.” We must teach ourselves the equanimity of Buddhism. I remember a movie where a practitioner of Zen walked through a field where people on either side of him were shooting at each other. He just calmly crossed the field in the middle of the gunshots. We have to learn to do that with all the figurative and metaphorical battles raging around us almost constantly.

#3: Ask yourself if money is involved. Is the urgency and the nastiness and the stress that is raining in on you propelled by someone with “a horse in the race.” Is someone trying to get you upset so you’ll act in a certain way because they have money to win or lose? Take coloring your hair, for an example. Clairol or some other company only wants you to believe it’s an emergency if your roots are showing, because if you believe that, they gain financially. That is true time and time again when someone wants to convince us that something is necessary, imperative, and essential. Be savvy. Do not be lured into adding stress to your life to help someone else become wealthy.

#4: Stand up for something or you’ll fall for anything. Last year I donated to over forty political candidates, causes and missions. When I did my taxes a few weeks ago, I was appalled. How scattered and stressed I had been showed up in my charitable giving. I had nickled and dimed myself to a frazzle. I sat down and figured out what means the most to me. I now have three charities to which I am giving a monthly donation. That’s it. All other pleas will leave me unscathed. What do you believe in most strongly? How can you support a few things well, with time or energy or money.

An accounting principle is called first in/first out. Our minds are like a ledger. What we put in is what we’ll get out. Let’s concentrate on putting in peace. I think we’ll be happy with the results.

Love to each of you as we become more serenely loving to self and others, Susan

 

 

April 27, 2019 at 9:38 AM Leave a comment

An Easter Message

Today is Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday, 2019.

This means a multitude of different things to different peoples of different cultures and faiths, and even to different people of similar cultures and/or the same faith.

I’m going to share with you today what it means to me.

A dozen years ago a friend of mine, Linda, introduced me to the writing of Richard Rohr. This introduction has been literally life-altering for me and I am deeply indebted to Linda for giving me such a profound gift.

Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest — a follower of Francis of Assisi, the man who gave up his flamboyant and privileged life, just like Buddha did. Instead of sitting under a tree, like Buddha, who waited for enlightenment, St. Francis headed for the hills and started hugging lepers and talking to the birds. St. Francis saw God in everyone and everything.

This vision of the world and its people is one of the foundations of Richard Rohr’s faith. It has become a foundation of my faith. It provides great freedom and great challenge. It demands that we no longer see “us vs. them.” There is no us and no them. There is only we — we are one — we have to get along with respect and love everyone in our family and our family is the family of man. Jesus taught us how to do this.

“Jesus showed us on the cross,” Richard Rohr wrote in a daily meditation (cac.org) this week, “how to hold the pain and let it transform us, rather than pass it on to others around us.” Jesus was able to say of those who crucified him: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

Richard Rohr continued: “This is how evil is transformed into good. Evil is not overcome by attack or avoidance but by union at a higher level.” Father Rohr imagines Jesus saying of his choice to die on the cross, ‘I am going to take the worst thing and turn it into the best thing, so you will never be victimized, destroyed or helpless again. I am giving YOU the victory over death.”

This may make perfect sense to you, be of mild interest, or it may sound like hogwash. I simply offer to you, this day, a quick encapsulation of the faith which leads me and guides me. Take what you will; leave what you want. Just know this: there are many people in this world who see you as I see you. You are a son or daughter of the One Source and the Creator of Life. You are so precious, as James Finley says, “that God would rather die than live without you.”

Tomorrow some of us celebrate this good news. My prayer for the world is that more and more of us choose to live this good news, that evil is transformed not by attack or avoidance but by union at a higher level. The common word for this higher level of union is LOVE.

Peace and blessings deep in your soul — love, Susan

 

April 20, 2019 at 9:26 AM 1 comment

HOW’D YOU SLEEP LAST NIGHT?

Did you get to bed on time? Did you fall asleep fairly easily? Did you stay asleep? If you woke up, did you toss and turn? Did you stay in bed or get up? Did you get back to sleep? Did you take any medicine or over-the-counter aids to sleep? Did you awaken to an alarm clock or blaring music? How many times did you hit snooze before you could rouse yourself? How long did you actually sleep? How long do you usually sleep? Is it enough? Are you sleep deprived? Does it matter? Do you drive drowsy? Is driving drowsy dangerous? Do you care about any of this?

“Why We Sleep,” by Matthew Walker, is a book recommended by my sleep specialist — a medical doctor with a expertise and training in the science and art of sleep. What am I doing with a sleep specialist, you might ask. My cardiologist sent me to see him. My A-Fib had landed me in the hospital five times. Four of those times I had to have a cardioversion to shock my heart back into rhythm and rate. My cardiologist told me I better pray I had sleep apnea, or my future looked pretty bleak.

Turns out the “sleep study” showed I did have sleep apnea. My heart was actually stopping @ 16 times an hour while I “slept.” I had no idea! I did realize that all my A-Fib episodes had one thing in common: I always woke up with them in full roar, my heart racing and pounding, and me a nervous wreck. After three weeks on a C-Pap machine, my heart was only stopping 2.5 times an hour. I think it is continuing to improve. I would say my anxiety has been slashed by about 80 percent. I am off my anti-anxiety medicine and on an herbal supplement, RediCalm, which the sleep specialist approved (when I asked him about it) and which I feel is very helpful.

All of this has led me to an interest in SLEEP. I find my sleep doctor one of the most brilliant and holistic practitioners I have ever met, and so whenever I see him, I ask him for a book recommendation. That leads us full circle to Why We Sleep. 

First of all, I did not expect it to be funny, but it is. Matthew Walker is a Brit, a researcher at USC Berkeley, and a scientist who writes like a poet with a subtle, charming wit.

Here are some of his conclusions: sleep in a cool, dark room with no electronics, not even the readout of a clock; go to bed at the same time every night; get up at the same time every morning; do everything in your control not to need an alarm clock — like going to bed early enough that you naturally awaken, Sleep about eight hours a night. Mr. Walker says the number of people who can get by on less than eight hours a night is ZERO.

People who are sleep deprived do not realize they are sleep deprived. Driving drowsy causes more accidents and deaths than driving drunk. Forensic teams can tell which you were doing by the length of time it takes you to break if you even break.

Do not use sleeping pills. They interfere with the natural benefits of sleep. (Do not, of course, go off any medication ever without consulting your doctor!!!!!)

Do not wake up to an alarm clock. This interrupts the sleep cycles and is harmful

Sleeping well in the beginning of the night helps you remember things you learned that day. Practice doesn’t make perfect, he says. Practice plus a good night’s sleep (to reinforce what you practiced) makes perfect. Fascinating studies cited to substantiate each of these things.

Two final tidbits: NBA players who slept less than eight hours a night were 37% more likely to commit fouls.

Dolphins and whales don’t go into REM sleep because during REM sleep the mind paralyses the body. If their bodies were paralyzed, they wouldn’t be able to come to the surface as needed for air. Seals don’t do into REM sleep when they are in the ocean. Seals do go into REM sleep when they are on land. (I’m fascinated by this adaptation!)

Believe me, this is but the beginning of Matthew Walker’s interesting, life-altering, life-saving, as well as life-extending, research. Did you know sleep has correlations with weight, cancer, heart attacks, Alzheimer’s, appetite, physical appearance, the immune system, and realizing our potential. Oh, and emotional stability.) That’s about all. Nothing too significant. (Right.) I suspect there is also a strong correlation between sleep and the symptoms and intensity of anxiety, depression and PTSD. Just sayin’…….

Please listen to your body/mind when you are feeling tired and sleepy.

Love and sweet dreams, my friends. (My apologies to Matthew Walker if I misrepresented anything.)

Susan

 

 

April 13, 2019 at 9:37 AM Leave a comment

THANK YOU

Hear those words spoken to you: “Thank you.” How does that feel? Speak those words to another: “Thank you.” How does that feel?

If you would pull yourself out of anger, fear or sadness — our Bermuda Triangle of Trouble — there is no more efficient way than moving to gratitude. Gratitude is a heart-changer, a mind-changer, a mood-changer.

My encouragement to you on this grey, cloudy Saturday in North Carolina — not sure how upbeat your weather appears — is to choose a person who is dead and a person who is alive. Think about them both. Think about what you are grateful for. My examples:

Grandma Rau, my father’s step-mother, a woman before her time, misunderstood by the whole family: “Grandma, I want to thank you for a beautiful lesson you taught me. You always kept a light on in your front window to ‘cheer the weary traveler.’ I do the same thing. I do it in your memory and because it is such a kind thing to do.

My friend, Marsha: Thank you. I am wearing the sparkly, blue earrings you gave me, and wearing them makes me feel loved. Thank you.

Then, if we get in the gratitude spirit, we could thank the cashier at the grocery store, the guy who let us into the long line of traffic, the friend who called out of the blue, the postwoman, our neighbors for being such good neighbors (the gratitude will undoubtedly help them be better neighbors). In fact, actually, gratitude helps us be better human beings. Aren’t you more thoughtful and generous when you feel appreciated? I am.

Blessings on you this day. Oh, and THANK YOU for being here — right here, right now — with me.

Love, Susan

April 6, 2019 at 9:35 AM 1 comment

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