(This was originally published in the July 26, 2017 editions of the Cheyenne/Woodmen Gazette Community News, with the headline When Truth in Identity Sets You Free. I do a quarterly column for them.)
Loving-kindness toward ourselves doesn't mean getting rid of anything.... We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to change ourselves. Meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It's about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is whoever we are right now, just as we are. That's the ground, that's what we study, that's what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest. – Pema Chodron
Recently, while visiting mom in Austin, TX, I stayed on the comfy couch downstairs. My first morning, I was still sleeping soundly when around 630 AM I heard a repeated thwack coming from outside. Whatever was making the noise was determined to keep on making it, it seemed, until I got up.
In exasperation, I half rose and looked out the window to see if I could spy the culprit ad find a way to make it stop.
Imagine my surprise when I saw a small, red cardinal hurl itself at the window—thwack --- only to be bounced to the ground by the unyielding glass and then, once it got its bearings, launched himself at the window again.
When I told my mom what I had seen she said he does that every morning. My sister, Kari, shed some light on the reason. She had googled what causes that behavior; it seems the male cardinal mistakes his own reflection for another bird and aggressively attacks it.
Of course, the enemy turns out to be his reflection and all that he gets is a bump on the head.
The colorful, pint-sized Don Quixote continues his morning battle for the rest of my stay. I learned not to look; it was disturbing to see.
But it made me think of how often we humans engage in battles against imaginary enemies, only to find we are railing against our own hidden shadow side. If we aren’t fighting against it, we’re shamefully trying to hide it, not willing to acknowledge the darkness within us, as well as the light.
Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron shows us another way: radical self-acceptance and self-love. This means embracing all of who we are, acknowledging all our flaws, our fears, our insecurities, our biases, our ignorance.
There’s a well-known Christian scripture in which Jesus says, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. (John 8:32) Another meaning for the Greek word, know, is allow, be aware of. And doesn’t that make more sense? We do know the truth of who we are and we fight against it, hurling ourselves at its reflection in our lives over and over. It’s only when we allow the truth though, that we are set free to deal with it, study it, come to know, as Pema suggests with tremendous curiosity and interest.
Just think if those of us who are queer didn’t have to struggle with our truth, didn’t have to “come out” but rather welcome people into our deepest truths. Or if those who are in unhealthy relationships or miserable jobs didn’t have to put on a happy face or pretend everything is fine but rather allow the truth to set them free. Recovering addicts know all about allowing the truth of their addiction to be acknowledged and finding freedom.
Imagine if that cardinal just stopped for a moment to gaze at his reflection rather than fight it; just think what a beautiful creature he would see. And so would we, if we only do the same.