Truth Telling and Other Terrors

August 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Marianne Williamson once famously wrote that “our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure.”

I believe that the power we seek “beyond measure” can only happen when we have summoned up the courage to tell the truth about our lives.  Often times we hide from the truth because we can’t stand the pain that might lurk inside it: Your boss isn’t ever going to promote you, you have a dead end job and no plan for the future, or  the guy you like hasn’t called you in weeks, and you spotted him just yesterday out to lunch with a supermodel.   Often times it’s just so much easier to live in a false reality  (She’ll promote me one day! He’s just scared of love!) than it is to face the truth of a situation and move on.

Maybe we haven’t asked for that raise at work because deep down we know our boss isn’t going to give it to us, or maybe we haven’t applied for that job we really want because we fear we won’t actually get it.  We’d rather live in fantasy…”when I get that amazing job!”… than stomach the pain of a possible failure.

Or maybe we are avoiding talking to a friend or family member about a very important topic because we are afraid of the truth — maybe they won’t change for us or won’t see our point, or won’t even care.  Maybe we know this already but simply can’t stand to face the pain, the anguish of that truth.  When other people won’t change, the only option then available to us is for us to change. And maybe we don’t want to change, or aren’t ready to.    And oftentimes, when we do tell the truth, relationships do change, and sometimes they even end; understandably we’re not always ready or able to deal with that.

So what do we do?  We don’t tell the truth.

Instead we live in fear and hurt, frustration, bitterness, or expectation.  We deny ourselves the truth of our lives and live in a fantasy of what could have been or might one day be.

I would imagine it is kind of hard to be “powerful beyond measure” when we are experiencing any or all of the above.

One of my favorite writers, Sharon Butala, wrote in Perfection of the Morning: “We haven’t yet told the truth about our lives. Until we tell the truth out loud, no matter how humiliating or painful or at variance with society’s version, we will not come to know what we are, what is truly our world of experience…”

What this means, is that if we hide from others, we hide from ourselves and we remain hidden, disempowered… in this situation our true selves cannot emerge. We cannot step into our power because we have not stepped into the truth of our lives and experience.   Until we do, we continue to bump up against that metaphorical glass ceiling.  We hurt ourselves then, and — you guessed it– we also hurt others.

If we are female we probably have this “little problem” to a different degree than men. Let’s not forget that it wasn’t too long ago — and it still happens around the world today! — that women were considered to be the property of their fathers, brothers or husbands, burned or stoned to death in “honour” killings, and burned at the stake for acting autonomously.  And now you want me to tell you the truth of my experience?! Can we as women really do this and not feel at least some of the terror of what our ancestors have felt before us.  In many many ways, telling the truth about our lives and experience is still a very recent and scary concept.

I really believe that when people start becoming honest,  the world  then opens up.  When we are honest we step into our power. We might not be liked very much but at least we can go to sleep at night with the knowledge that we have integrity and are living our real lives.   We might wake up in the morning as our real self.

But please, just don’t ask me to go first.


Marianne Williamson on Forgiveness

August 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

Worth a watch

open heart = alchemy

Action is Key

March 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

I love March. March is my month. Two years ago almost to the day, I found a mythical steel goddess bust laying in the sand on my favorite beach.  And we all know what that means, don’t we.  Hmmm, actually, I have no idea.

Last March, I saw an equally incredible thing, the brightest rainbow I’ve ever seen, brighter than anything I could have ever imagined, so bright I felt I would fall over with dizziness and awe.  It was as though a unicorn would suddenly gallop by, the colours so close they nearly stained my clothes.

Benevolence, healing, the numinous world, the gifts we have no choice but to accept and have done nothing for.

I look forward to March each year.

The rest of the months don’t always manifest such mysteries.   The rest of the months quite often call for action in order to get what we most desire.

There has been so much emphasis over the last 5-10 years on the power of positive thinking and the law of attraction, which posit that we can think or imagine ourselves into the life we want. Anyone who has seen the movie The Secret knows what I’m talking about.   And while I believe in visualisations as an essential step in manifesting what we long for, another, even more key element is action itself.   It seems obvious, but quite often we are blocked to take the action necessary to move towards our dreams.

The Sufi’s, the mystics of Islam, say that for every step we take towards God, he takes two steps towards us.  That is heartening; it means that if we put in a little effort we can potentially manifest the big and beautiful things we dream of.   Of course, not all stages of life call for action, and action can only happen when we are ready and able.  Aimless action is often destructive, and addictive, while intentional action coming from an inner clarity about what we desire and why can be incredibly fruitful.

Jungian analyst Marion Woodman says that “perfection [think about that beautiful rainbow] belongs to the gods; completeness or wholeness is the most a human being can hope for.”

Conscious action, when we are ready and able to take it, can bring us closer to the wholeness we seek.


News Flash: Goldfish Found Innocent

February 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

This week, I had some breakthroughs.  Call them spiritual, or otherwise.  Spiritual happens to be one of my most favorite words in the world. I think it is one of the most beautiful nouns (or adjectives) ever penned.

Spiritual happens to also be a lot of work, it’s the work I’ve put at the forefront of my life for the last three years.

One of the things I have struggled with deeply is the question of whether or not someone can hurt me on purpose. I guess I’d never consciously considered this question before this week, but I see now it has been the undercurrent of my thinking for a long time, perhaps even forever.

Can one person hurt another person on purpose?

Feeling instinctually that there must be a spiritual answer to such a human dilemma, for the last three years, I have tried to find my way to “No.”

Every spiritual tradition speaks about forgiveness as the key to happiness.  Spiritual traditions since the beginning of time have talked about our innocence.

And yet, as human beings, we usually don’t feel innocent; and we rarely ever see others as innocent either.

Using my Byron Katie exercises ( as well as turning time and again back to the principles of Non Violent Communication (NVC), I’ve fumbled my way towards answers.

Marshal Rosenberg, who developed NVC, declares that all actions committed by a human being are done in an attempt to meet what he calls Universal needs.

Universal needs can range from a need for connection to a need for touch to a need for self-expression to a need for friendship.   There are dozens of Universal needs, the thing that makes them Universal is that they apply to people across culture, country, age, gender, and socio-economic status.   At any given moment a human being may be lacking in one of the Universal needs, or, happily, she may feel that her needs are being met.

Hurting someone is not a need in and of itself, but rather, the byproduct of trying to get a Universal need met.

Hurting someone is never, not under any circumstances, a Universal need.

And yet, we all know it happens, and with surprising frequency and even conscious intent.

We may say in the back our mind, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, “I want revenge, I want to hurt this person.” We may have experienced someone else saying this to us either directly or through their actions  (it’s interesting to note that because we believe other people aren’t innocent, we consequently will sooner or later come to believe that we are not innocent either — voila, the origins of guilt and shame).

Precious things might get broken. Hearts might get wounded. Money might get distributed unfairly.  Someone might get ignored, disregarded, silenced, discredited.  Someone else might even be hit, or worse.  We all know the sordid details of the human condition. We all know the suffering of our world.  We’ve all seen the sad cycle of human behaviours, turning across an imperfect planet.

So now take the question really close to your heart.  Can someone hurt you on purpose?

Remember this?  The New Testament implores, “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.”

Perhaps being hurt by someone is something that happens out of a lack of consciousness, a lack awareness for how someone’s actions — her attempts to meet needs- are affecting other people.

Take it away Lauren Hill:

Hurting someone is never, under any circumstances, a Universal need.  Hurting someone, in other words, is never the true motivation for what has gone down.

In fact, if we were conscious, we would see that we have never really wanted to hurt anyone at all, that we were all along trying desperately to meet a Universal need of which we were unconscious.  If we try to hurt someone “on purpose,” (which is impossible) this is our  last-ditch desperate (and often tragic) attempt to get a need met. Sad, isn’t it.

Rosenberg even goes so far as to say that violence is the expression of a longing for deep connection.

And right there, just from that understanding alone, you are going to feel some relief.

People can recover from almost any kind of natural disaster — from an earthquake to a forest fire — psychologically unscathed.  But getting slapped by your parent one day, or having your boyfriend cheat on you, can throw you into therapy for years.  We are tormented by the idea that someone might have consciously tried to harm us or hold us back in some way.

We emerge from these experiences extremely confused. How is it possible that someone who I have loved so deeply could do something to me that would hurt me so much?

The answers we give ourselves are usually the creepiest we can muster: he wasn’t a good person after all,  I never really loved him, she was using me that whole time, he’s a horrible person, she can’t be trusted, he’s just a liar…  yadah, yahdah, yahdah.

And while all of these judgements might be true, in the relative sense (ie. relative to what we consider right and just in our culture), what if there were another way to see things?

What if we saw people’s actions for what they actually are —  attempts to meet Universal needs?

Can it be that he cheated on me because he had a need for connection, intimacy, or even safety?

Can it be that she hit me because she had a need to be heard, considered, cared for, and a need for love and connection that had not been met for years –  or perhaps ever?

Can it be that she ignored me and disregarded my feelings because she had a need for security, safety and comfort?

Can it be that I stole that chocolate bar because I have a need for excitement and belonging?

Can it be that I didn’t follow through on what I said I was going to do because I have a need for gratitude and consideration?

Can it be that I don’t feel like helping because I have a need for unconditional love, consideration, inclusion and acceptance?

Our needs don’t make our actions “right” or “acceptable” or even “tolerable”; our needs simply point to our motives.

In fact, our needs always point quite clearly to our innocence.  We are, in a needs-based universe, constantly trying to find our way home to emotional homeostasis.

Often, when we are so focused on meeting our needs, we forget about the feelings of others, and of how we are impacting others.  We close down to other people’s feelings because in the frantic search for need-fulfilment other people’s feelings simply stop mattering. We are trying to survive.  Some of us who haven’t ever had our needs met, might not have even developed basic capacities for empathy and understanding, or we might not even know what we are feeling at all, being for so long closed off to our own feelings as well.

As the people in our lives try to get their Universal needs met, we are surely not always going to be happy about this, especially when our needs collide.

We’re still going to feel the hurt and the grief and the discomfort when our needs conflict (for example, if I have a need for freedom and you have a need for loyalty), but with the right understanding, we can start seeing these conflicts for the innocence that they are. We can start seeing others and ourselves for the innocence that we are.

We might one day discover that everyone involved, including the attack goldfish, has been found innocent.

Special thank you to Sharada Filkow and Ralph Miller, PhD for their teachings along this path.

Can I Love?

February 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, I finished Joan Didion’s work of non-fiction, Blue Nights.  The book was written in the years following the premature death of her daughter and is an account of their lives together and reflections on aging, love and death.

There is a passage in the book that haunted me.  It was the moment when Didion went to the hospital to meet and take home her baby daughter, who she adopted just a few hours after her birth. She looked at the perfect face of her beautiful child, and was struck by the question, Will I be able to love this child?  Is this not the question, that every parent-to-be wonders in the darkest hours?  she asks.

Is this not the question that all of us are called to answer each and every time we enter into any relationship.

We know this is the most important question, and that, as Rilke wrote, “for one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been given to us, the ultimate, the final problem and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.”

When we look into our baby’s face we’re not just asking, Can I love this child? But, more importantly, am I able to love? Do I have what it takes?  Will I succeed at this difficult task of being human?

Yesterday I met a friend in the library, who told me about his misgivings about love.  He mentioned all the externalities: what if I get a job offer in Sweden and she wants to stay in Vancouver? What if after two years I’m not attracted to her anymore?  What if I find someone else?  What if she does?

This is the shaky ground we stand upon when we talk about love, if we look only at the externalities of the person with whom we are engaged.   I could completely relate to his anxiety, as this is exactly the way I used to think about love and relationships too.  I could also tell that this friend was raised in a divorced family, as these are the kinds of questions children of divorce face, because we have not had solid, safe, or secure models for love, family, and relationships. We have, instead, learned to associate love and relationships with loss and chaos.   It means that the foundation for thinking of ourselves in relationship has not been built from the ground up. It means that we are called to rebuild it ourselves, in our own way. The path is longer, though, optimistically,  perhaps the road becomes more conscious and authentic if indeed we are successful (a recent study of children of divorce revealed that only 30% of those who had experienced a divorced family before the age of five went on to ever get married themselves— eek! frightening statistics if left unexamined and if we remain unconscious to the unique challenges we face in our lives).

The question of whether or not I am able to be in a relationship is directly tied to the question of whether or not I am able to love at all.  Do I have that capacity inside of me?  Am I prepared?   What I mean by love is acceptance of another person for who he or she is, truly caring about another person’s happiness and life,   and the ability to set aside narcissistic tendencies and games that hurt people, in an endless quest to satisfy one’s own shifting needs and moods.  It means can I allow someone to be whole and do I respect his or her life and calling?   I am not convinced that any of this is possible without a spiritual practice of some kind and a strong and healthy (in many cases, healed) sense of self and spiritual purpose.

The question of whether or not my partner will want to take a job in Sweden one day, seems to me infinitely less important than the question of whether or not I have the capacity to love another human being at all.  And then, the question of whether or not we will stay together on the shaky ground of circumstance, seems infinitely less important to me than the question of whether or not I am sufficiently healthy enough to rise to the task of loving.

None of this is easy, it is, “the most difficult task that has been given to us.” But learning to love is not just the task of relationships, it is the task of being human, and like all things human, requires that we tend to what is inside us first.  On top of it all, it goes without saying that we are living in a very tumultuous time in history, our relationships with one another and with nature are often dysfunctional; it is very hard to know where to turn to understand what this life is all about and how we are supposed to be living it.

That’s why I try to make my spiritual practice primary, and relationships, and what they hold in store for me, secondary. Doing things the other way around has simply never worked out for me.  My spiritual practice makes all other things possible.


December 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

This year, wishing for the strength to move away from what feels bad, the courage to move towards what feels good, the wisdom to know the difference.

Whatever living beings there may be — those seen or those unseen, those dwelling far or near, those who are born as well as those yet to be born — may all beings be happy, free, safe and protected.   

May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness, freedom and the root of freedom, love and the root of love, safety and the root of safety, protection and the root of protection

May all beings be considered, seen, heard, and cared for

May all beings Love and be Loved

Life by Memory

December 12, 2011 § 3 Comments

In elementary school, we learn the times tables by heart, through a process of rote recitation.  It doesn’t take long before we know that 5 x 4 equals 20, or 10 x 10 is a hundred.  This knowledge becomes so embodied, that even 10, 20, or 50 years later, the memory of it hasn’t gone away.   It’s the kind of knowledge that lives inside us, like our name, langauge, where we come from, and who we love.

If we stop to think about it, most of what we know to be true about life is based on memory – not just the kind of memory that tells us about a phone call that we need to return, or what’s on the calendar for Saturday night, but memory that makes sense of the world and gives us an identity within it.

There is perhaps nothing more sacred than a memory.  Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can return to certain people, places, or objects that remind us of what we hold most dear: our memories of how we want to be loved, our memories of a childhood long past, our memories of a country to which we can no longer travel, or our memories of a dream we once hoped to fulfil.   We return to city streets, to trees, beaches, and to one another, to regain what has been lived in, and lost to, the past.

Culture is passed along through memory also, and so is knowledge, but so are other things even less tangible like safety and love.  When we have these feelings we know that our memories have being cherished and protected by our family, culture, and society.

When I was living, working and travelling through Morocco in 2005, I was continually amazed by the relics of Jewish history I stumbled upon in dusty corners of mountain villages, or down narrow corridors of medieval medinas in large sprawling cities.  And yet, the Jewish comunity in that country has long since disappeared.  After the founding of Israel, and then the Six-Day War,  generations of Jewish life in that country came virtually to an end, as Moroccan Jews began a mass exodus to far-flung lands such as France, Canada, and Israel.

Upon returning to Canada and spending time with Jewish Moroccans who had decided to leave their country of birth forever, it struck me as profoundly fascinating that this community had such an elaborate and well developed tradition, culture, language, and religious expression that had developed in a county that was no longer accessible (either by choice or by fear).   For most immigrant communities, the culture of origin is still accessible through a place on the globe, and the culture often remains deeply embedded within a particular landscape.  In comparison, in Morocco, most synagogues have become museum pieces, if they are not left to crumble into ruin, and the traditionally Jewish neighbourhoods have been all but vacated, stripped and mined of their treasures and left derelict. It occurred to me that this immigrant experience was a life lived by memory, as opposed to a life lived in direct access to the living landscape of a culture and its traditions.

Since this year of discovery and travel, my creativity has been inspired and enriched by Jewish theology and stories.  I see Judaism as built upon a theology of longing to return to particular land, and ultimately, to union with something greater than ourselves — the ultimate homecoming.  Judaism is a spiritual life and community that thrives in exile (diaspora).

But the more I have looked at these ideas, the more I have seen them as, not only specific to Jewish history and stories, but as universal truths that live inside of the hearts and experiences of all people.

One of the most tragic things about being human, I think, is that we can’t go back. In every moment, we are asked to let go.  We are asked to move into something else: a strand of hair that has turned from auburn to grey; a smooth patch of skin that has started to wrinkle; a garden that has transitioned from abundant to brown, like the unstoppable journey of seasons who visit us and then leave.

One of the worst things you can do to another human being is deny her the sanctity of her memories. This is why wars are fought. We don’t fight so much over the resources themselves, like water and land, but over the sanctity of our memories that are found within them – the place we had our first kiss, birthed our children, spoke our language, said good bye to our parents.  Land becomes sacred because of the lives we have lived there.

Through our connections to landscape, and even to objects (an old torn sweater, a photograph, a piece of jewellery, a painting) we remember the past and sometimes, we think, if only we held on tight enough we could bring it with us and into eternity.

The Future

December 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

“The question is not the future of humanity, but the presence of eternity”  

-Jack Kornfield

What Do You Deserve? Part 1

November 30, 2011 § 1 Comment

Our lives shrink and expand in direct proportion to what we think we deserve.  Oprah says, “when you know better, you do better.” And, if I may add two cents to that, when you deserve better you are treated better.

When I talk about deserving, I’m not referring to popular notions of the word in our culture, i.e. “You deserve a pink sweater!” or “You deserve a vacation in Paris!”  Deserving is something deeper;  it is not material, though sometimes what we feel we deserve does get reflected in our wealth or livelihood.

Deserving, as a concept, is based on principles of love, equality, and inclusion.  This is the foundation of all human rights movements, from the suffragettes to civil rights, to the end of apartheid, to legal reforms allowing for gay marriage.  It may be that for 90% of our lives we grin and bare  injustices –or worse yet, the discrimination–  we experience with bitter acceptance, until that light bulb of deserving switches on!   We cannot, under any circumstances, make changes in our lives, until we believe that we deserve the outcomes.

This is why, for me, feminism has always had an important spiritual component.  By spiritual, I mean, there is something larger than me, something that existed before my culture and language, history and circumstances, that wants my equality and inclusion. It means that equality is my birthright and the foundation for my existence as a whole person; it means there is a greater good — a kind universe, perhaps — that wants the full flourishing of my personhood, talents, ideas, happiness, and contributions.  This is a “vertical” relationship with life, rather than a “horizontal” relationship with our friends, family, culture, and history.  What I mean is that at some point a person has to feel her own value within herself, regardless of what she is getting from the people around her.

Feminism for me is not about what men did or didn’t do, or about the differences between men and woman; it’s rather an internal inquiry into what I feel I deserve, and into the worth, purpose, and potential of my own life.  From this inquiry, the next steps become clear. I try to work on myself in the hopes of a better world, rather than the other way around.

A woman will not end a relationship with an abusive partner because her friends or relatives tell her she “deserves better.”  A woman will not feel beautiful simply because she is told so by her boyfriend and culture.  And a person will never, ever, feel loved until she believes that she is loveable.  What an amazing realisation!   Inner transformation -a deeply felt sense of the right to exist — is the only path to true equality.

When I was living and working in Morocco for one year, I saw some instances of oppressed and physically and emotionally abused women on a scale that I had not seen before in my life; these images and encounters have haunted me since.

One woman’s story, in particular, stands out.

My friend and film subject, a female taxi driver named Zakia, one day took me driving into a poor “bidonville” (slum) on the outskirts of Casablana, so that I could see how people lived in different areas of the city.  We had the chance to visit a woman there who had done some cleaning for Zakia over the years.  She was desperately poor and lived in a shack constructed with found materials, which was surrounded by landfill.  Her beautiful 17 year old daughter “Lara” (names have been changed) had just given birth to a perfect baby girl, though remained unwed, which is highly taboo in Moroccan culture.  Lara would later be obligated by her family to marry the man who she had become pregnant from, even though she didn’t want to.

After I left Morocco from that first visit, I was contacted by a friend and told that shortly after their wedding, Lara’s new husband had beaten her so badly that she had been hospitalised for many days.

Coming out of the hospital, she was forced to move back in with him, as divorce is not widely accepted in her family and community, and her poverty was extreme.

I saw Lara about three years after our first encounter and she was a woman who, from what I saw, had transformed from a smiley and chubby-cheeked young mother, into a gaunt, shamed, and broken spirit.

No human being should ever have to experience such abuse of body and soul.

I send my love and my whole heart to Lara, I continue to grieve deeply for what she has gone through.

I offer these words in the hopes that one day all people might feel deserving of love, safety, protection, caring, equality, and trust, and that one day our governments, families, cultures and societies might reflect back to every one of us our inherent worthiness — it’s what we deserve.

I – You

October 25, 2011 § 3 Comments

I’ll never forget an interview I heard with Leonard Cohen on the CBC quite a few years ago, where he said that we should never throw anyone away.  This is not a perfect world, he said, and if we look at our life through the lens of Biblical history, we can put ourselves in the context of the story of Genesis, and how Adam and Eve first fell from Grace.  We are no longer in Paradise, and life is simply not designed to be flawless.  We are living in an imperfect world.

My struggle is with how to acknowledge the moral and ethical differences I have with people while holding a love for them in my heart at the same time.  My struggle is this: How do I not throw anyone away?

Within most of my relationships, I’ve at one point or another made discoveries that have shocked me. I’ve found out that the person who I thought was standing in front of me had secrets he or she wasn’t telling me, or opinions I didn’t know about.  These discoveries sometimes felt like ripples of trauma moving through my body and mind, as I had so badly needed to see these people as flawless, kind, ethical and honest (conforming to my definitions of these attributes, of course) .

One scenario that stands out for me happened while I was working as a journalist in Morocco in 2004.  I had been hired as a managing editor in order to launch Morocco’s first English online new source. I was intricately involved in assigning articles, covering stories and editing the final texts for publication.  After working there for many weeks, our team — a group of about 6 young Moroccan men and women and myself– had some disagreements about how to write about the death of Yassar Arafat, the Palestinian leader who had died the day before.  In the context of a news article, my colleague wanted to write his name as The Hero Yassar Arafat, the fact that he was a hero was an unshakable truth for my Moroccan friend.  Being educated in a Western Jounalism school, my bias in a news article was towards objectivity in our communication, and so I requested that we not refer to him directly as a hero in the text, since this was subjective and therefore open to individual opinion. It was of course a heated and controversial conversation. I truly didn’t want to make any claim as to weather or not Arafat was  a hero and had little invested in it either way. With my Western journalist’s cap on, my mind had been thoroughly trained in objectivity and fairness and this was my main professional goal.  I was deeply committed to these principles, and this is where the conflict with my colleague and I began.

What happened next surprised me and shook me to the core.

In the midst of an increasingly heated debate, my co-worker launched into a discussion about the Holocaust.  He told me that it had never happened, and that it was simply a conspiracy designed to gain Western power over the Middle East. He had all the literature to prove it.  My other colleagues chimed in, some from their desks accross the room, while others gathered around to contribute to the argument. What unfolded was the realisation that everyone I had been working with for many weeks did not believe that the Holocaust had ever happened.  These people were my friends and colleagues and confidants, and I had no idea what I should do with this new found knowledge. I ran out of the office sobbing, and went to phone my boyfriend.

My boyfriend at the time was Jewish and the grandson of Germans who had fled the camps on the last boat to leave London for Sao Paulo, Brazil. His life had been deeply affected by Nazi history, and, I believe, as for most Jewish people with this past, the impact of the Holocaust continued to affect him on a soul level.  Only months before, we had travelled to Berlin together and had visited the Holocaust Memorial site in the centre of downtown Berlin, as well as the Jewish Museum; we had even visited churches  where Jews had been rounded up and held before being sent to the camps, and historical synagogues that were now, in the absence of a thriving Jewish community, simply museum pieces, albeit heavily guarded 24 hours a day.

In previous years I had studied Chomsky, who wrote a sentence that haunted me throughout this time: “To deny the Holocaust is to deny your own humanity.”   I’d studied documentary film at McGill and in one of our classes watched archival footage of the ditches where the bodies of thousands of people were thrown in the days leading up to the Hitler’s defeat in 1945.  These images had made me so nauseated, I had to run to the bathroom and throw up.  Nearly a decade later, still very much identified with the Jewish story, I’d undertaken a Jewish conversion program.

So there I was alone, in the centre of Casablanca, on a pay phone, crying to my boyfriend in Montreal.  I wanted it to be a perfect world.  I wanted to share the same values as my colleagues.  I needed compassion for a history that I knew was true.  I needed to know that my boyfriend and best friend (also Jewish) would always be safe.  I needed to know that morality would always prevail and that eventually there could be peace in our world and protection for all people.

A deeper dilemma was how to now relate to my job. Should I stay and work it out?  Should I discuss this difference of opinion? Is it wrong to talk about whether or not the Holocaust existed? Would I then, in the process of opening up this question, lose my own humanity?  I knew in my heart that any dialogue at all would give credit to an opposing position, and this felt intolerable to me.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to spend much time thinking about what to do next, because I was dismissed a few days later. I don’t think that my dismissal was  directly related to this event or to our differing opinions; my boss told me there simply was not enough “team magic” to warrant me continuing.  That was an understatement (getting paid for my two months of work would prove a challenge as well, but that is a story to be told another time).

So here I am today, faced with dilemmas that are not the same, but are dilemmas nevertheless.  How do I maintain a friendship with someone who I have witnessed abuse an animal? How do I hold love in my heart for someone who has hit a woman?     Do I maintain a relationship with an ex-boyfriend who lied to me?  Can I have a relationship with that fun new friend who is homophobic?  Do I sacrifice my own boundaries and moral convictions by opening up my heart or my life to people whose ideas confront my very sense of self, my moral identity?

When I address these questions with an authentic heart, in the context of my spiritual life, I have to recognize that I love these people, and there is nothing I can do about that.  I can try to push the love away, but in a life of inquiry based on spiritual goals, love continually comes back to haunt us, even when we don’t want to admit to it.   How can I love someone who has done something so terrible?  Does compassion for a perpetrator condone his actions?

I know at a gut level that closing my heart to anyone simply means a world in which more hearts are closed.

I know that even when I have opinions that are so drastically different from other people, we both, at our core, share the same humanity, and the same desires for safety, connection, flourishing and self-realization.   These thoughts bring me to a place of grief, grief for the times when my own heart has closed, grief for all the suffering that has ever happened in the wake of a closed and hardened heart.  Grief for the realization that every time I have hurt someone, I have carried the burden of those actions inside of myself and felt the hurt too — that whatever I do to you, I do to me.  Grief because this is a far-from-perfect world. Inside my grief, my heart expands into an aching acceptance, a surrender to the complex and messy living moment.

My personal goal is for what Martin Buber called the I-Thou (or I-You) relationship, which means simply that we stand before people with a presence that is not muddled by fear or judgement.  We hold a space for the entirety of another human being, for his or her suffering, confusion, pain and strivings, and we hold this space for ourselves also.  We become witnesses rather than arbitrators.  Our relationships then become whole and they become sacred.

The question then moves from one of whether or not I can tolerate another person’s opinions, and what I should do about them, to this:  Do I have the capacity to love?  Can I find a path to love in an imperfect world?

Today, years after that warm afternoon in an office in Casablanca, I am still struggling to find this path.

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