This blog post is dedicated (is that a thing? To “dedicate” a blog post? Oh well…I’m doing it…) to those influences in my life (some famous folks that have no clue I even exist, and a couple of brilliant, awesome, and beloved peeps who know me quite well) that have inspired me to practice acceptance not only of others, but of myself, and who’ve also taught me about unconditional love. Thank you DB, Paul, Glennon, Liz, Seane, Brene, Michelle, Traci J.H., and Alecia.
I am currently listening to an audiobook written and read by Seane Corn titled REVOLUTION OF THE SOUL. While listening to it on my walk a couple of weeks ago, she said something that really jumped out at me. She said “Ignore the story. See the soul”. And I thought “oh man, I totally jive with that! I think that really makes sense!” I say to myself, “That completely resonates with me…I REALLY believe that!!” I was on a roll with it. I kept mulling those thoughts around in my mind for a long time, eventually deciding, “It’s true. I don’t really care about your story, Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So, I only care about you. I want to know YOU. I see who you are NOW, in this moment with me. I want to see you for who you ARE. I don’t want to judge my perceptions of you based on where you’ve been, and what you’ve done or not done…mistakes you’ve made, and decisions you’ve chosen. I see you now. Right now.” Yeah…that’s gonna be my new jam; my new mantra…totally….
Several days ago my son Keaton and I had a lengthy and eye opening conversation with our trainer and great friend, Willie. We were discussing the current surge in the Black Lives Matter movement. I asked Willie what he needed and wanted in the way of support from me and my white family and he said something that really struck me. He said, “I just want you to be real with me. I don’t want any B.S. about ‘this movement, or that movement’. I want you to ASK ME questions. I want you to listen to me, and understand more about me, and where I’ve come from. Cuz ya know, it’s not like this is a NEW thing that just popped up last week. And let’s be real, it’s not going away anytime soon, either. When this ‘movement’ is over, I’m still gonna need your support. Knowing we can talk openly about it is a good start.”
I began to really think this through. Does what he’s saying fit with my newfound enlightened concept of saving the world through this whole “I see you NOW” mantra?? Not exactly…So, I began to reframe my thoughts around it.
I was reminded of the simple, yet profound philosophy on life that both the extraordinary Brene Brown, and the remarkable Michelle Obama exemplify and teach. Very simply they encourage others to tell their stories.
And so, I thought of all of my friends, acquaintances, students, and even people I don’t know yet, and I flipped my perspective. I began to realize that I NEED people to tell me their story. It is essential for me to know where you came from. It’s honestly a necessity for me to know your struggles. It is imperative that I attempt to understand the pain that you have been through. I must hear about your past, even if it’s difficult, odd, heart wrenching, or totally unrelatable to me. Can I do that? I mean, can I really do that? That’s A LOT! It’s so much easier to just pretend that everyone around me is okay. Or to simply ignore the stuff that makes me feel uneasy or awkward. Better yet, why don’t I just align myself only with those who are exactly like me? That way, I feel comfortable, and more at ease. Kind of like, if I don’t see it, or hear it, then it’s not happening. I mean, after knowing all of someone’s “stuff”, can I actually say with such unwavering certainty, “I’m going to see you now, as a beautiful human being worthy of love no matter what your story is.” “It doesn’t matter to me what you did, or didn’t do.” “I see you now.” “I see all of you, and I am still RIGHT HERE”. Well…I sure do WANT to react that way, and not go around being Miss Judgy Pants, but am I capable of doing that? The answer is yes. I believe I am. With hard work, and purposeful practice, I can be more open-minded and open-hearted. It’s not easy. What’s easy is putting people into boxes. For instance, “I see you are covered in tattoos; your hair is pink; your skin is not the same color as mine; your sexual orientation is different from mine; your religious beliefs don’t align with mine, etc.” Therefore, I’m going to ASSUME things about you, rather than ASK you to share your story. In order to retrain my brain to think differently, I have to work hard at undoing these patterns stemming from years of unknowingly thinking, “oh, I’m sorry…you aren’t exactly like me, and what I believe in. But don’t worry, I’ll be nice to you, but not REALLY accept you. I’ll keep my guard up–just in case…” You see, our brains aren’t exactly designed to always see the best case scenarios. Our brain’s main job is to protect us. It’s literally the brain’s responsibility to pause and ask, “Wait, is this person safe for us emotionally?” “Is this a good decision for me to willingly step into something that could actually make us uncomfortable?” “I mean, what if we get our feelings hurt, or our heart broken?!” My brain knows its job is to keep me safe–all parts of me. Sadly, we are hardwired to judge. And then, to boot, we inherit ideas, beliefs, and core values not only from our parents and family members, but even from our ancestors. We are shaped and molded by these inherent belief systems to stick with what we know, and be akin to all things familiar to us. Therefore, if someone looks different from me, expresses ideas that are different from me, or shares things with me that make me feel vulnerable, I’m going to naturally shy away from that to protect myself. It takes work to connect with others that aren’t like us.
While I think about all of these people that I’ve read, studied, worked with, am married to, or follow on social media, I have to constantly remind myself that it all comes down to what I think–what I believe. These smart, inspiring, and brave trailblazers that I admire and believe in have laid the groundwork for me to take what I’m learning and culminate my own set of ideas. Write my own story. Formulate my own beliefs. I desire to use my story to be a gateway for being open and willing to hear ALL sides of the stories from people that I interact with. I need to LISTEN harder. I must leave room for grace in allowing others to be vulnerable, too. In order to see your soul, I want to know your story. And then do you know what I want to do? I want to love even more openly and fully BECAUSE you’ve suffered. Because of all of the choices you’ve made–not just the ones I approve of. Because your heart has been broken. I desire for our differences to be a bridge between us–not a wedge. I want to let go of judging, and be more open in my mind and in my heart.
While this emotional endeavor, or quest that I’m on, is applicable to accepting and loving someone who’s political, religious, and personal lifestyle choices differ from mine, I’m understanding how this is so much more than just that. I’m currently being pulled back to that discussion my son and I had with Willie. As I think about it deeper, I can feel how this all connects for me. During this hurtful and loud time of so much social and racial injustice I plan to have continued conversations with many of my other non-white friends. It would be easier to just assume they know I care. I mean, they know I’m on their “side”, right? Nope. That’s not enough. I must keep finding my voice and ask them “what do you need from me? What do you want? How can I help? I’m white. I’m a privileged white person, at that. I’ll never understand what you’re going through, or what you’ve gone through. I don’t get it. I’ll never get it. But can you tell me more of your story? I need to know more about our differences in the hopes that I can offer an empathetic response to the best of my abilities.” Perhaps then I can offer ways in which I can help. And if I can’t help, I want them to know, I’m not going anywhere.
At the end of every single yoga class I close with the word “namaste”. The loose definition of this term means “the light in me sees the light in you”. Or, quite simply, “ I. See. You.” It is then repeated back to me by my students signifying a sense of unity, or connection. You see, on the inside we are all the same. We all have love inside. Our stories may be different, but the light, or the God in us is the same.
I finished the book, by the way. And while I can understand the point from the book about not giving AF about someone’s story, I am convinced that I want to hear more of people’s messy, hard, complicated, and unfamiliar stories, and STILL see their soul. After all, their story is what got them here, and into my life! I very much believe that our stories matter, but WE ARE NOT OUR STORIES.
Your story does not define you. And neither does mine.