Posted on January 1st, 2017
The other night I lay in my son’s room as he fell asleep. His love of cuddling surpasses still our need for him to fall asleep on his own, and for now that’s okay.
On this evening, a day or two before Christmas, the light in his room radiated in a low glow from the Christmas lights on the tiny tree we set up on a side table by his window. His breath had slowed and deepened and I watched his chest rise and fall, his mouth slightly open, his eyes gently shut, one arm up towards my head with his fingers tangled in my hair, the other on his chest.
My heart constricted, my breath caught for a moment. I love watching him like this, just being with my little sleeping lion. He’s the same kid who exasperates my patience at dinner while he grins mischievously while explicitly doing something he’s not supposed to, but for now, he rests in all his innocence.
As I lay next him my mind wandered to the news. Earlier that day or day before I caught on the radio that the President-Elect announced via Twitter, and I’m paraphrasing here, that he believes the U.S. should expand and strengthen nuclear arms capacity, and that it indeed would be an arms race. I listened for a brief moment to the talking heads attempt to suss out exactly what the President-Elect meant in 120 characters before I shut it off. Then I focused on getting back to the present, not my anger, fear or sadness. Not some horrible imagined non-existent future. The present.
I was driving the car on a grey Pacific northwest day, my foot on the pedal, my breath in my body, the air in and out of my nose. I looked at the intensity of the light. I felt deeply the life growing in my belly, a new child ready to join us any day now. Life is here. Life is around me and within me. If I hadn’t heard the the news my heart would not have twisted in anger and fear, I would not have to make the effort to unkink the unknown future and bring myself back to now, but I have this practice of centering and for that, I’m grateful.
But laying in bed, the news came up again in my mind and the fragility of the life in front of me, within me, twisted me up again, fraught me with a deep sadness and pain.
I lay in bed and started to strip away everything about the world. All the things I do every day, how does it matter if everything I know about the regular world evaporates at the will of someone I have no control over. What will have mattered most in my experience on this earth?
And fundamentally, I arrived quickly at the only thing that matters to me.
When I went through the apocalyptic stripdown of everything I have, I saw that all I want is to keep the feeling and experience of love for my kids, my husband, my friends and family, and to know that no harm or pain has come to them. I want for them to feel that same loving kindness. I want the same for those who are unlike me. And I want us to have more of it, always. For that to be the focus of our experiences.
We live in such a world where it is the deprivation of love that creates a deep need, and creates behaviors to fill that need that are out of step how we can actually feel and experience love more deeply, every day, in every moment.
A couple weeks ago I attended a workshop in Seattle. The topic focused on “Activities to Facilitate Courageous Conversations on Race”. I’m a facilitator in my work and I’ve been shaping my career the past three years to focus more on culture change in organizations with an emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion. Talking about race is hard, deep, emotional work, wrought with anxiety for many. Totally questioned by some, and fought for with straight-laced radical action by others. Structured and well-facilitated conversations to help identify without attacking individuals around race and racism in our society are incredibly helpful tools to help people come together across differences, to learn and to find understanding and common ground. To create the common language to help us come together.
One of the activities we worked with at the workshop continues to come to mind as a powerful tool for reflection, both within race related contexts and life in general.
It worked like this – take a sheet of paper. Draw a line down the center of it. On the left side label it “Core Values” and take a few minutes to think about your core values – those unshakeable tenets that you try to live your daily life by. Those things to which you can say “I’m all about this…”
On the right side, write “Deepest Needs” and think about what you need from other people to validate your self-worth. Lastly, on the back of the sheet, write the behaviors you enact when you don’t get your deepest needs fulfilled. Are you living your core values – or the opposite of them to fulfill your deepest needs?
Let’s say my core values are love, integrity, honesty, and understanding. Let’s say my deepest needs are to be seen as intelligent, to be viewed as an expert in my field, to be accepted among my peers, to be validated in my thoughts and opinions. Within my deepest needs, what will I do to ensure that I am seen as intelligent, viewed as an expert, and accepted among my peers? What if a few people don’t show me somehow, that I am all the things I want them to see me as and it twists me up in knots? What kind of behaviors would I exert to get what I want? Would I start to withhold information from others so I hold the power and look smarter? Would I depart from my own ideals or values to fit with a group so that I’m accepted? If I did these things – would I actually be living out my core values day to day?
Deep needs are rarely, if ever, fulfilled by others. They’re a game in insecurity. In doing this activity I realized how much I’ve learned and also how important it is to reflect like this. If I’m acting in some way that feels wrong – that is angry or attacking another person – or I’m feeling resentful and bitter and my actions are stemming from these feelings – what’s really going on? Have I compromised my integrity, honesty, understanding and love for myself and others? What am I showing to the world about who and how I am? Is it even close to what my core values are? Am I out of alignment with who I truly am?
It was a striking example for me, of what plagues so many of us in this modern world, and indeed, much of the human condition today. We’re always doing things to have our needs met within families with deep political or religious divides, across race, gender, sexuality, everything. Marketing and advertising devour us with this every day, tapping into our deepest insecurities and getting us to dish out our dollars to buy our way into whatever we need to have fulfilled.
Knowing this, and reflecting on this, I can take the control back. I can be aware of my deepest needs and my core values and understand when I start to fall out of alignment with myself. A strategy I use is to stop, breathe, and remind myself that my feet are on the ground. That it’s 2 o’clock on a Tuesday. My purpose isn’t to shame and hate and control others, to manipulate them into everything I want them to see me as (they never would that way, anyway). My job is to stay true to myself and bring light to what’s hiding, structure conversations and dialogue around tough issues to bring together understanding. And I won’t get there with everyone I talk to – but I will try – and it is hard, but I will try to do it with love.
I recommend, as an act of humanity and society, that we take some time, 25 minutes, the length of one sitcom streamed on Netflix, to look within and identify our values, needs and behaviors. I recommend we practice a strategy that causes us to pause when things start to feel sideways before we start to to do things that are harder to undo later. We are each responsible for interrupting behaviors that contradict our core values. We are responsible for interrupting our own internal oppression (insecurity) and only from there can we honestly move forward across our many differences. And it won’t be perfect, it won’t be a kumbaya moment, but it will be honest, real and authentic. This is what will move us forward.
And so, in a bizarre way, I’m grateful to have been pushed, because of the news, to look within again, at my core values and what I want to do, how I want to live. Not how I feel because of the actions of a person I can’t control, but what I can do when I’m in control of myself and acting in alignment with my core values and treating others with the honesty, integrity, understanding and love I expect for myself. Especially if we don’t agree. My job is not to convince, it is to create opportunities for more light.