Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Sun is brighter than the candle

Our life is like a candle. Sometimes it is lit and we feel happy, full of light; other times it is dark and we feel sadness or suffering. But when the sun comes into our lives, it outshines the light of the candle and the candle becomes irrelevant. The sun is the spirit and light of God. This is our true life, our true joy. May we all strive to bring the transcendent light of God into our hearts and lives so that the changes and chances of this passing worldly life serve only to strengthen our trust and faith in Him, the Source of our being!

“Do not grieve at the afflictions and calamities that have befallen thee. All calamities and afflictions have been created for man so that he may spurn this mortal world -- a world to which he is much attached. When he experienceth severe trials and hardships, then his nature will recoil and he will desire the eternal realm -- a realm which is sanctified from all afflictions and calamities.”

--from the writings of the Baha'i Faith

Thursday, January 8, 2009

More hurt, more love

The person who is more sensitive and aware, who sees how people are not being loving, and gets hurt by it, must be the one who is more loving, tolerant, patient, and accepting of less-than-loving behavior. This is the suffering prepared for those whose hearts are open and tender, who are ready to receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit. These souls will feel more pain, but will be more loving. For their love will be the love of God which they will call upon to comfort their broken hearts. Know that God is close to these souls and He will protect them from the darts of the worldly-minded.

"Cleanse ye your eyes, so that ye behold no man as different from yourselves. See ye no strangers; rather see all men as friends, for love and unity come hard when ye fix your gaze on otherness. And in this new and wondrous age, the Holy Writings say that we must be at one with every people; that we must see neither harshness nor injustice, neither malevolence, nor hostility, nor hate, but rather turn our eyes toward the heaven of ancient glory. For each of the creatures is a sign of God, and it was by the grace of the Lord and His power that each did step into the world; therefore they are not strangers, but in the family; not aliens, but friends, and to be treated as such.

Wherefore must the loved ones of God associate in affectionate fellowship with stranger and friend alike, showing forth to all the utmost loving-kindness, disregarding the degree of their capacity, never asking whether they deserve to be loved. In every instance let the friends be considerate and infinitely kind. Let them never be defeated by the malice of the people, by their aggression and their hate, no matter how intense. If others hurl their darts against you, offer them milk and honey in return; if they poison your lives, sweeten their souls; if they injure you, teach them how to be comforted; if they inflict a wound upon you, be a balm to their sores; if they sting you, hold to their lips a refreshing cup."

--from the writings of the Baha'i Faith

False self or real love?

One important reason people feel they cannot be emotionally vulnerable around others is that they are afraid to feel the pain of rejection, abandonment, shame, or criticism that came as children when they were vulnerable to their parents and failed to receive the proper love and acceptance from them. There is no real and solid love in them which would give them the sense of safety needed to be emotionally open to someone else. So we create a false self, one that fits into society's standard of how one should be, and as adults we use this fabrication to win the acceptance and validation from others that we failed to receive from our parents. As a matter of fact, the seeds of this false self began as children, as we conformed to our parents' and early caregivers' hopes and expectations of us, and molded our fragile personality into a shape which would give us the sense of being liked and loved. But we were not really loved, because this love was conditioned upon upholding this false self-image at all times, in order to feel safe around those whose praise and approval we thrived on.

Most of us don’t realize we are doing this. Our society has been so conditioned by patterns of denial, deception, and emotional protection, many of us cannot even entertain the idea of being emotionally vulnerable for too long, lest we risk losing our ability to function and succeed in our practical worldly responsibilities. Indeed, it will take a herculean effort of several brave souls at first in order to create the kind of sustained safe space needed to change the course of generations of socialization and overcome the resistance to conformity. For this, we need to find real love!

Real love means we are loved for our soul, just because we are a creature of God, and for no other reason. And real love is God's love. Love from us is only real when we are surrendered to His love, and our selfish motives are purified. And this purification is an ongoing process—a never-ending one. What we have in the world presently are noble attempts to fool each other and to gain approval for our fabrications by following what is basically an arbitrarily-created set of standards, one that does not reflect the spirit and ways of a loving God, although in some cases it may appear to do so. These standards, created by members of a “lamentably defective” society, create divisions among people. They create deep alienation in the hearts of those who follow these standards, and who give up God's standards. The fleeting pleasures that come from conforming to the ways of the world will ultimately create veils over your heart, and deprive you of the joys of the soul, and the true spiritual pleasures for which God has created us.

Why be vulnerable?

Being emotionally vulnerable with someone means allowing yourself to feel the various not-wholly-physically-caused sensations of your inner body, commonly called emotions, when you are in the presence of another person, including emotions that are specifically a reaction or response to that person. Usually, we are only aware of thoughts and judgments about the person or we are distracted with thoughts about the various aspects of our own life. We have learned to shut down our feelings since our previous experiences of being in touch with our feelings led only to hurt, fear, shame, and embarrassment. And we’ve learned that in order to be a success in this world, we must disregard our feelings. So we have covered these natural human sensations with a thick skin, with veils and barriers, and overlaid them with an artificial personality and self-image, which serve to ward off all the bad or uncomfortable feelings that might come up. And we see others doing the same thing, so it must be okay. As a matter of fact, we seem to get praised for having particular types of personality such as happy, smart, knowledgeable, successful-looking, attractive, spiritual, religious, funny, sweet, kind, charming, sexy. So we modify ours to gain approval and respect.

Now under all these fancy masks and costumes is something else altogether. In the basement of our psyche, is housed all kinds of fear, confusion, anger, hurt, desire, resentment, guilt, shame, hostility, inadequacy, and various aspects of ourselves we don’t like to acknowledge. Most people actually never confront these powerful feelings, for fear of exposure, fear that their whole artificial world will collapse.

One must ultimately reclaim all these hidden aspects of oneself by allowing the repressed feelings to emerge, and accepting them. In order to create love and unity, we must allow the emotional part of ourselves to be experienced, since God gave us these feelings for very important reasons. We can’t just suppress them and pretend everything is fine. We can’t fool God and we should not deceive others in this way. We all want to feel good and feel loved. We need to admit when we don’t feel good or loved, so we can find the answers to the problem of suffering for ourselves and for the world.

It is important that we stay open to all the thoughts and sensations that emerge as we relate to someone. Then we learn what to do with these thoughts and feelings, and what they mean—what they may teach us. We learn about ourselves, and we learn to purify our thoughts and feelings--not exterminate them. We must be loving with ourselves and not too forceful. We offer up what we feel to God, and as we receive His love and knowledge through faith in Him, our thoughts and feelings are purified and transformed, and His light and love envelop us. This brings us closer to God, closer to feeling His love, which will cause us to love others, and will greatly contribute to uniting the world.

Fears and desires

We perceive people through the filter of our fears and desires, as well as through the filter of our conditioning as to how we are supposed to view people. We project our fears, desires, and views onto others, and perceive them through these filters. What is a person really--when we see them without our filters? We don't know. That is the deeper truth, and that is where we must start. Then we can begin to let God guide us to truth.

One obvious example is how a man may see a woman through the filter of his sexual attraction and desire. Or a single woman may see another woman's baby through her desire to be a mother. In a work environment, we may see others through our fear of being fired, or being seen as inferior or incompetent.

We see ourselves according to an image, as well. And much of this image we have acquired through the projection of others, because that is how they wanted us to be--so we became that way to gain approval, and cover up the pain of vulnerability and inadequacy we felt. Since we were not loved for our inner self-- since no one saw that, understood it, or appreciated it, we formed an artificial self which conformed to the image others had of us or wanted us to be, which served their own desires and fears! Mother wants her child to succeed in the world because she never did, and felt inadequate. So she projects that fear of facing her inadequacy onto her child, and must see the child succeed (in the world) to make her feel good about herself. Then the child never feels loved for who he is inside, but only for the manufactured and synthetic image and behavior of a 'successful' person. Inside, both feel inadequate, and even more so because the message is that you're not good enough just being you--you have to be something artificial in order to be acceptable. This is a vicious cycle which must be broken by a few brave souls.

Here's one radical method for a small group:

Two or more people sit in a circle. One gets in touch with his immediate fears and desires, and verbalizes them. It may be, "I am feeling fear and anxiety right now. I want to say something smart so I appear competent and confident. But inside I just feel I want to be liked and accepted by you. I am scared I will be judged and rejected. I'm afraid that even saying this is wrong, and I feel ashamed about myself for even opening up like this. I have been running away from this place of neediness and vulnerability my whole life. Opening up is just bringing me more fear, but I guess since I feel safe to share it, it also brings comfort and trust."

Then you remember God's love and presence--that He is there listening and ready to take away the fear and replace it with healing love. The other person speaks as well…

About feelings

These are some of the feelings that we could have underneath the personality we use to relate to people: fear of getting/being hurt; need/desire to be liked/loved; guilt for past wrongdoings; shame; feeling inadequate, deficient, flawed, unworthy, worthless, unlovable; fear of being seen as wrong or bad or not good enough; fear of being rejected; anger/resentment towards particular people or towards no one in particular, or towards everyone; desire for all kinds of worldly security especially good health and material comforts; fear of illness, loneliness, death; afraid of making mistakes or being seen as weak; fear of God's punishment; various other unnamed and unspecified anxieties, fears, and desires.

Even if we speak about these fears and desires with someone, we often don't actually let ourselves feel the emotion as energy in the body--we are too busy explaining ourselves to the person. And when we're alone, we rarely are aware of deep emotional sensations, since our lives are filled with ways to distract ourselves from uncomfortable bodily sensations, especially ones that have a strong emotional charge.

Some would say what's the point of feeling things deeply? Well, what's the point of tasting things, or seeing things, or hearing? These senses are part of the body and have important functions. Same with emotions. They are put in our body to receive and reveal to us all kinds of information about the external and internal environment of the body, and they are used to respond to and relate to other people, to ideas, and to things all around us.

An important function of the emotions, I believe, is to apprehend the spiritual reality. We need to feel love, don't we? It is not just an idea in our mind. We feel hurt or loneliness, and then we want love, lasting love, is this not so? We feel an anxious feeling if we do something wrong, don't we? These are emotions revealing to us a response that we need to consider for our physical and spiritual survival.

Emotions have a magnificent and complex functioning we have yet to understand. Science is just beginning to appreciate the power of emotion in our lives. Too bad in the current social and economic system of frenetic struggle for material security and rampant escapism, we are unable to value emotions and regard their place in our lives. We have not learned how to manage feelings, and we are not taught their purpose in our lives. So we learn to ignore them, repress them, or appease our suffering with quick fixes to squelch any negative or painful feeling we may have. After all, we have an image to uphold for others, and this is the way we procure material advantage in this society. God willing, one day soon this trend will be reversed and we will learn how to manage and integrate our feelings, listen to their wisdom, and allow them to add depth, wonder, and healing to our lives.

True healing

In this individualistic culture, we like to think we can get healed and become whole so we can pursue and achieve our goals and dreams of marriage, family, career, and service. But we will never be healed and whole until everyone on the planet is healed and whole, since we are all connected and are as one soul and we are intimately affected by each other. And it will never happen that everyone is healed and whole in body and mind. There will always be illness and suffering of various kinds. We should continue to research, discover, and implement all kinds of material remedies for body and mind. But we must realize we will never completely eradicate suffering and we can never become healed and whole through material means alone, and our healing is dependent on the healing of every other soul on the planet. If you want true healing, become entirely surrendered to the Lord and Creator of humanity, and become whole through the breaths of His Holy Spirit. Then if our body is sick, or our feelings are hurt, or our mind is exhausted, we still have an eternal peace and comfort, and with this spirit we can serve and have our marriage and our work in this world.