In 777 Words: Donald, Hillary and Aiming for Love

It’s political season in the United States, so what better time for an orange analogy?

What does this beloved peelable fruit have to do with politics? Consider an analogy often employed by the late Wayne Dyer.

Wayne liked to point out that when you apply pressure to an orange, orange juice comes out. Why? Because that is what’s inside an orange.

And as the US moves toward electing a new president, what is coming out of so many people? Hate. Why? That is what’s inside of them.

Donald Trump can’t place hatred inside of you. Hillary Clinton can’t, either. Neither can any political candidate in whichever country you happen to call home.

If hatred comes out, it’s because it’s already inside of you. For many of us, keeping this emotion at bay is only as easy as the strength of the feelings that external events stir up in us.

To give an extreme example, no one will ever blame the parents of a child who is murdered for feeling intense hatred toward the person responsible. Thankfully this is a relatively rare occurrence in our society.

But politics? The ideas that exist inside the heads of our would-be leaders? Is it necessary for hatred to pour out of us over this?

I’m not being judgemental. I know what it’s like.

I am a Canadian who spent the first 11 or so years of adulthood enamoured by politics in both Canada and the US. I was the guy watching cable news daily, reading all of the op-eds and subscribing to TIME.

The problem with going so far down the political rabbit hole, like I had, is that it’s easy to fall into an “us versus them” trap.

Pretty soon, people outside of “your” party are seen as “others,” if not despicable. After a while, you prejudge people based on how they vote, or make assumptions about their political preferences: “That dumb redneck voted for George” or “That useless welfare bum voted for Bill.”

I remember finding myself making arguments that I didn’t really believe in, simply because “my” party advocated them. I stopped thinking for myself because of the emotion involved. If you observe politics today, it is evident that a lot of people are doing this; they don’t want to give their “enemies” an inch. It’s one big ego game.

From there, things can grow more extreme, as they have during this current presidential campaign. One day a protester is punched in the face at a Trump rally; the next prominent actor Don Cheadle is sharing his wish that Trump would “die in a grease fire.”

How far will it go? As far as the anger inside of people.

This year, I have taken a huge step back from politics. I stopped watching the talk shows. I have gradually quieted the inner chatter that demanded my political viewpoints be vindicated. I began only glancing at the headlines, rarely clicking on a political article.

I had come to the realization that being so intimately involved with divisive politics is not conducive to leading a life of love and serenity. I want to be okay with whoever wins, and love whoever wins, and that’s much harder to do that if I’m knee-deep in the game and unwilling to consider other viewpoints.

To those who are punching people in the face, or wishing others painful demises, why not just vote for somebody else? Why get caught up in the hate game yourself? Does it feel good? Or do you get an unpleasant rush inside that momentarily satisfies your ego but ultimately drains you?

One of the things about being sensitive is that when you pay attention, you really notice what feels good, or right, and what doesn’t. Dishing out hatred never feels good. Sending out love does. It doesn’t matter who is on the receiving end.

Moving away from anger and emotion around politics is a process that takes time. In my case, practices such as meditation and the Sedona Method (Google for details) have helped a great deal. So has quieting my former obsession with being right.

What this means is that while I still have some quiet moments of glee over this or that political episode, I am detached enough from the outcome that I can be an entertained observer. The idea of loving whoever wins does not seem daunting.

As I put the finishing touches on this column, I got a text from a friend inviting me to watch the first presidential debate with other politicos. Knowing the type of mocking, hateful energy that will be on display, I’m politely declining.

I’d rather aim for love than hate.

In 999 Words: The surprise Empath

All of the clues were there, but until I discovered the term “Empath” in my mid-30s, they didn’t mean a whole lot.

As a young child, I never played with toy guns like the other boys. I cried at the sight of a fish getting caught, and I couldn’t stand to see dinner plates bearing identifiable pieces of creatures.

From the age of 6 or 7, I avoided sad songs (especially “What A Wonderful World”) because I knew they would stir the urge to cry. I watched hockey but couldn’t understand why the players felt the need to drop their gloves and launch their bare fists into each other’s faces – or why anyone would want to view such barbarity.

As a pre-teen, I prayed to God (and I wasn’t a prayer) for a particular Hollywood film to be a hit, as I felt bad for the aging, seemingly out-of-touch star. At school I felt sorry for lonely and unattractive teachers, even if that didn’t stop me from seriously misbehaving in their classes.

As a young adult, I cried when coworkers I didn’t get along with were let go. One man was dismissed largely because he did not treat me with respect, and even my deep-seated anger toward him could not mask an underlying sympathy. It felt so bad to hate him.

Further into adulthood, I attended counselling after it appeared as though a close friend had been sexually violated. My anger toward the apparent perpetrator never felt genuine, because it was difficult for me to genuinely harbor such intense feelings of hate. At one point I told a counsellor, “I hate hating people!” to which she assured me that it’s perfectly okay to hate someone who has done something bad. She had no problem doing what was tearing me up inside. I knew I could never be like her.

I often thought there was something wrong with me. Perhaps I was depressed, weak, numb or just didn’t have what it takes to be in this life. I took things so seriously, felt emotions so intensely and for long periods of time.

But another part of me thought I was normal; that the things I felt were what everybody felt, and if they said otherwise they were just acting macho and denying their emotions. It never occurred to me that someone could actually be malevolent or use someone else with no remorse. Wasn’t I in for a shock.

The experience that finally set me on the path to discovery about my spiritual nature (and it’s still a little weird for me to write that) was a painful one. Without getting into the gory details, a woman I thought was a loving friend used my compassion and strong emotions against me to hurt, inadvertently on my part, an innocent person.

What should have been my strength, my compassion, was twisted into a disgusting weapon. No one around me could understand why my involuntary act of hurting an innocent person wrought such emotional havoc. They’d remind me that I was a good person who had been duped, but inside I was overwhelmed by what had happened. I was completely shut down.

I began a search for wellness that gradually led down a spiritual path – and to a spiritual healer. Soon enough, the term “Empath” entered my world.

At first I was unsure whether I was an Empath. I felt unworthy of such a beautiful description. I also wondered whether I was a spiritual hypochondriac, self-diagnosing and slapping a label on something I knew nothing about.

For months I went back and forth between “yes” and “no” on the Empath question. The evidence never seemed clear-cut, no matter how many online questionnaires I filled out or how many “ah ha” moments I had while reading books on the subject (there were also plenty of “nuh uh” moments).

I definitely wanted to be an Empath. To me, a guy long fascinated by the powers of the mind, to be an Empath was to have a super power, which I guess is another clue that the term did indeed apply to me. I mean, would a non-Empath really read a list that includes items such as “can feel other people’s emotions” and think, “You know what, I wish I could do that!”?

But I also had a past. I had misbehaved so badly as a teenager that I more than once brought my mom to tears. I stole and vandalized. I picked on kids who were socially beneath me. I drove recklessly. How the hell could an Empath do such awful things?

Of course Empaths aren’t perfect. And they don’t necessarily come into this world knowing their true identity right away. Learning this helped me appreciate how much more complex this subject is than the Empath checklists you find on spiritual websites.

When I really delved into the matter, there were simply too many additional “ah ha” moments to dismiss. Even the tingling I experienced in my head in 2013 took on a new meaning, as this can be a symptom of a spiritual awakening rather than the confusing bacon metaphor a doctor provided me at the time.

Recently, I had an experience where it seemed like I may have picked up another person’s annoyance as my own. A few days before that, the love I am cultivating inside spontaneously comforted me during what would have otherwise been a moment of self-hatred. So things out of the ordinary have been happening as I move into acceptance of my gifts.

Yet even as I write this, I only accept the statement “I am an Empath” at about 80 per cent. It still feels a little too good to be true that I am part of an army of Lightworkers, that my sensitivities will serve some healing purpose. I often ask myself, “Are you believing this because you want to believe it or because it’s actually true?” I’m increasingly leaning toward the latter, and it feels good.

In 999 Words: (Rightfully) Angry Birds

It was sometime in November when I got the call. My Mom’s friend, Kerri, contacted me at work to propose we join forces to buy my Mom a couple of birds for Christmas. Apparently Mom loved Kerri’s birds, so why not?

Kerri said she would supply the birds if I purchased their cage. I was in my early 20s then, and I knew this was a bad idea. I knew that taking tiny creatures meant to fly and trapping them inside a prison for human amusement was wrong; in fact, it made me feel anxious and sick inside. And I seemed to know it would be especially wrong to place those imprisoned, tiny creatures in the care of my Mom.

See, my Mom does not know how to bestow unconditional love. I’m not saying she can’t love or doesn’t love, or is a bad person, but hers doesn’t make you go, “Alright, this love is solid, no matter what!” It’s the sort of love that feels, from a sensitive child’s perspective at least, dependent on not pissing her off, either through bad judgement or for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My Mom knows judgement, anger, yelling, screaming and withdrawing love. She knows hitting. That’s how she was to me growing up, and that’s how she was with our long-gone family dog, Precious. My Mom knows “I don’t like this” and then reacts accordingly. She does not know “I don’t like this but I will let things be.” Please, God, don’t let these birds be chirpy. Don’t let this turn out how I think it’s going to turn out.

I went along with Kerri’s plan to get the birds, because who was I to say this was a bad idea? Maybe it was a good idea that just felt wrong to me. In any event, with my purchase of a small, metal-barred cage from Walmart, I was now an accomplice. Kerri brought two fragile, innocent white birds to their new home on Christmas Day.

The birds took up residence in a corner of the basement. At first, Mom was able to overlook and forgive their incessant chirping. I think we all presumed that once the birds were “house trained,” they would behave in accordance with how their human captors demanded. Surely they wouldn’t be this annoying forever.

But as the weeks and months went on, it became apparent that the birds were not going to shut up just because Mom (or me, I admit) wanted them to. They had already been denied the right to fly around, save for the tiny wing flap required to jump from the feces-lined floor of their cage up to their hanging wooden swing. Now, apparently, they were expected to sit in complete silence their entire lives, too.

“Quiet!” Mom would yell after the first or second chirp while she attempted to watch TV. When the birds would inevitably not be quiet, she would hit their cage, frightening them. When the fear wore off and they would chirp some more, they would be sworn at or threatened. Yep, that’s right, threatened. This was their life now. They never learned to be quiet. Mom never learned not to be an evil bitch towards them when she didn’t get her way.

We would regularly spot tiny eggs in the bottom of the birds’ cage, beside their dried drops of white feces. Bird owners know that part of the deal is stealing their eggs so you don’t end up with more birds. But when my Mom would do this, it felt particularly vile. It was like the final brutalization of those innocent little creatures Every goddamn thing they were meant to do; fly, sing and procreate, was taken from them. All for human convenience, without a smidgeon of love sent to them in return. We humans didn’t even draw entertainment value out of the experience, because how much fun is it to watch sad little birds not fly and not sing?

I was still living at home at that time. The sorry existence of those birds hurt me more than I was ever willing to let myself feel. I’m sure part of me felt even worse knowing I had contributed to creating their pathetic lives of captivity and intimidation. I should have just told Kerri it was a bad idea and bought Mom some slippers instead.

I too was guilty of mistreating the birds. When I would watch TV and they would chirp, I would reach into my pocket and fling a coin at their cage just to shut them up. Because, you know, my enjoying some mundane show was more important than a bird’s entitlement to simply be a bird. Coins never worked, however, so I would then opt for the more humane tact of placing the cage in the distant rec room. In the rec room, no one can hear you chirp.

One day, one of the birds was found dead at the bottom of the cage, beside its feces. It wasn’t all that surprising. What exactly does a bird that can’t fly, can’t sing and can’t make babies, and which is constantly harassed and even threatened while trying to make the best of its confined space, have to live for? They say if you’re not growing, you’re dying, and those birds must have been slowly dying inside since their arrival at our home. When the second bird later died, the cage was summarily cleaned and stashed away, never to be seen again. No one missed the birds, and the birds sure as hell didn’t miss us.

A decade or so later, as an awakening empath, I have been thinking about those birds. I have thought about just how painful it was for me to watch and hear their plight, how painful it was to see my Mom be so mean to creatures so innocent.

I love my Mom, but I just don’t understand meanness, or why anyone has pet birds.

In 999 Words: Rejection in a time of trauma

There’s something about trauma that brings you out of your shell. You’re so eager to escape the terror you are experiencing that you discover a newfound bluntness. It’s a technique that delivers distraction, a temporary reprieve from inner anguish.

Her name was Gabby. She was, until the fall of 2011, my best friend. We showed each other love through thick and thin, and because of what seemed like terrible misfortune on her part, there was plenty of thin.

When Gabby’s mental disorder finally revealed itself, I was left holding the bag on brutal lies she had told and which I had repeated. It’s one thing to read about personality disorders; it’s another to actually experience one in the flesh. When it befalls someone you love, it’s terrifying. You realize that you will never, can never, believe anything he or she tells you. The person you thought you knew doesn’t exist; their replacement seems evil and sadistic.

After this became true of Gabby, the first thing I did was distance myself. The second was to get tested for STDs, as we had been intimate on numerous occasions. Since I no longer knew who Gabby was, I could not rule out the possibility that she had inadvertently, or even purposely, given me an STD. My mind went right to the scariest one of all, HIV.

It took nine days for the blood test to come back. Nine days of pondering death, of asking God for a second chance, of feeling horror I had never known. HIV is not a life sentence, but when you think there’s a chance you could have it, it sure feels like.

The test confirmed I did not have HIV, yet I was still numb and panicky. I now knew that I was vulnerable, that death wasn’t just a theoretical possibility. I wasn’t sure if I could ever revert to my old, comfortable naïveté. I began fearing things I had never feared before, such as driving a car or swatting a bloody mosquito (What if that blood carried HIV?). And somewhere underneath it all, I was mourning the loss of a dear friend.

It was in this state that I turned to my parents. I was 30 then, and they remained the primary caregivers in my life. I was never one to drink or smoke pot, though during this time I was at a buddy’s house party where everyone except me was high on weed. I was in such a heightened, unyielding state of alarm that I considered crossing my uncrossable line and toking up.

I didn’t smoke the pot, but I did make the mistake of telling my parents that I had contemplated it. That’s the coming out of my shell I mentioned earlier. I was trying to convey to them how fucked up I was. Considering my clean-cut nature, my words must have shocked them.

A few days later, I was at that same buddy’s house when my Mom texted me: “You better not be doing drugs. We don’t want to disown you.” I should have known. That’s the judgmental, love-taketh-awayeth Mom I knew. As absurd as it sounds for a mother to threaten to “disown” a 30-year-old man for inhaling plant smoke in the year 2011, it was very hurtful. And part of a long pattern.

Growing up, it never really felt like I could do right by Mom. I’d shyly interact with relatives in what seemed like an acceptable way to me, only to be told that I wasn’t doing it right. And she was so often angry. I remember being 8 or 9 and bringing a friend over to the house, sensing that when we walked through the door, my Mom would needlessly flip out. She did. Some of her favorite lines (always yelled) were, “I don’t like you right now!” or just calling me a “cunt.”

Meanwhile, my father was a “cool dad,” playing catch and taking me out for ice cream. But like Mom, he was terrible at handling situations in which my behavior differed from his expectations. When I got a bit older and started misbehaving in school, he’d tell me that I was “incompetent” and “ugly.” He mocked me for having few friends. Not every day, or even every week, and probably without malicious intent. But still.

While Dad did his best to help me reintegrate into life after Gabby and my HIV scare, he also found time to judge me for apparently being promiscuous. And he could not handle any concerns I raised that went against his narrow moral compass. I regret talking to him about the whole traumatic episode because his judgment only made me hurt more.

Lately, I have been thinking about how I would treat my child if I became a father. Often the answer is “the opposite of how I was treated.” I’d let that little boy introduce himself to family members however he wanted to. I wouldn’t try to humiliate the shyness out of him. I wouldn’t ask him questions such as “Do you love your father?” Those aren’t questions but rather demands that a child provide a statement that will make adults feel validated. I would value that child’s individuality.

And if my grown son had just gone through an event in which he feared for his own life and lost a close friend? I picture myself showering that man with unconditional love.

I know my parents did the best they could in every situation in my life. And I understand how they let their petty frustrations and repressed emotions get in the way of good parenting. That’s why this morning I quietly took time to forgive Mom and Dad for everything I’ve written about, and more, in my mind. I did this because I love them and I love myself.

I also know this forgiveness won’t be a one-off, but a continual choice. That’s what forgiveness is, and that’s what love is.