Sunday, May 5, 2013

May 5th: Freeing Ourselves

Today -- May 5th -- is also known as Cinco de Mayo, in North America, and Bevrijdingsdag in the Netherlands. Both are celebrations of freedom from tyranny; from oppression; from war. So I find myself thinking about these things, and the ways we perpetuate states of oppression, war and violence in ourselves and our families, and the ways we can free ourselves.

Anger/Love, Fear/Trust

How do we get trapped in violent or angry situations? Why are we angry? What are we afraid of? Questions like these - questions of love and trust and fear - we carry through our lives, and I think that as we find our personal answers to these, we find freedom.

A dear old friend (Bob Bates, for those who know him) asked me a few years ago why I was once such an angry child. I was shocked that he'd noticed! I blandly said I guess maybe I was born that way, but I've been thinking about that question, ever since. I've been fighting my instinct to yell at the people I'm afraid of; to hurt back when I feel hurt, and to shame when I feel ashamed. These are common instincts, but also things I do not wish to pass on to my children. So I hope that, as my children see me take this journey, they manage to escape some of the emotional traps I am trying to free myself from.

These are some of the things I've learned:
  • I can't escape pain. Pain is a natural part of life, and a reminder of my humanity. Pain is OK. I can acknowledge the pain I experience and move on.
  • Because fear causes anger, resentment, and violence, I have to let go of my fears, especially my fear of pain. 
  • Violence (including physical, emotional, sexual, verbal, etc.) ALWAYS comes from a place of vulnerability and fear. Always. That is, when it's perpetrated by me, or when I'm the recipient of it. If I'm the recipient, I ask myself how I am causing a feeling of vulnerability in the other person. Instead of returning fire, I ask myself how I can empower the other person, while not disempowering myself.
  • Having power is not a bad thing. When I am most empowered I feel full of love and generosity.
  • If I want to stop the cycle of violence, I have to stop it in myself. When violence meets true compassion and concern, it is invalidated and usually stops. Example: protesters who, in the face of police brutality, hand out flowers or shout "I love you". I've done this in a protest. It works because it reminds the police that they are human and deserving of love. So then they're empowered to give love. Of course it's not always this simple. Sometimes the angry person is not ready to let go of the anger... then I can walk away and remember that although I can free myself from anger/fear, I cannot free others. It's a personal choice. I can only stop it in myself.
  • Love comes from a place of strength. Violence/anger comes from a place of vulnerability. If I feel my vulnerability and accept it before turning it into anger, I can remember my strengths and more easily redirect my feelings to love.
  • It's incredibly hard to look through the face of violence (somebody yelling/hitting/putting me down, etc.) and truly feel compassion and love for the other person! But it's also the only way to stop the cycle.
Parenting is how we open the book of potential
and delight in its surprises!

I'm pretty slow about finding my answers. I'm not a raging success by any means. But I learn a lot from my children, especially about peace and freedom. And these, after all, are what I've always been searching for. Watching my children grow is like multiplying my own opportunities for growth and learning. All the challenges I face in parenting them; in trying to answer their questions or fulfill our family's dreams help me to grow. I experiment with new ideas and push myself beyond my personal limits because of my children. When their own plights bring me to tears of frustration or sorrow; when their own anger pushes me towards the cliff of my own fears -- I am learning.

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