At some point during the other day, I had a moment of clarity the likes of which I have only experienced a handful of times in my life. I had been listening to the short people in my house and L throughout the day and something was building up within me without my awareness. Like the sky parting after a long and tumultuous storm to reveal blueness so vivid that one swears the sky had never donned this vibrant shade before, it coalesced in my mind in words: negativity. Everywhere around me, the people I love and whose lives I am so honored to share and witness were a teaming bundle of complaints, whining, sniping, and irritability. I noticed it not only in them, but also in myself – either right before I would utter something or immediately after I thought or said it. As pervasive and present as noxious gas, it was everywhere I turned, in everything I heard. Knowing that complaining and negativity is the opposite of gratitude, and only serves to attract more of the same, I became angry; of course, only to realize minutes later that my anger only fed the negativity around me and wouldn’t help to heal these amazing people in asshole’s clothing or the situation so that wasn’t an option. The next part of the revelation occured when I began to pay closer attention to their behavior, to what they said and how they said it. And I found one common underlying theme to all of it: Fear.
I have learned that there are two (I guess technically three, but two are partners and on the “same side”) primary sources whose roots we can trace all of our decisions, thoughts, emotions and behaviors back to: 1) Fear, or its opposite 2) Love and Gratitude. Everything (and I do mean everything) – from what you decide to wear each day to why you chose the career track you did to how you function and interact in relationship – comes back to one of these two concepts. Now, to be clear, I’m not saying all fear is “bad.” Fear, in its true form and not the hyped up anxiety we often mistake it for today, is a survival mechanism. It is one of the managers of the limbic system and the driver behind the flight/fight/or freeze response. But most stress management experts will tell you that our physiology hasn’t caught up with our modern environment. Rarely, unless one works in a dangerous and high-risk profession, is the fear that drives us today based on our immediate survival. It’s leftover from the days when it served that purpose but except in those rare occasions, its roots aren’t planted in survival. They’re planted in selfishness. AA brilliantly acknowledges this root of self- and other destruction in the famous Big Book and its 12-step program. It’s one of the main reasons why there is such a focus on service in the program and why, after one has reached a somewhat stable level of sobriety, one’s next step is to be a sponsor to someone else struggling. As a side note, the Big Book is brilliant in and of itself and I think everyone on the planet would benefit from reading it and walking through the 12 steps as well as learning the 12 traditions. For those of us without substance issues, there are any number of addictions we can substitute, if not the addiction to selfishness as a whole.
For the past several days, when I’m not herding children or cats or trying to figure out some way to not let the people I love make me crazy I’ve been reading a biography about a Franciscan priest who was a chaplain for the FDNY and died during the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. I’m less than halfway through the book, and I can affirm to you that this man whom I never met in person has already dramatically changed my life in ways I am sure will continue to unfold for years to come. It’s called The Book of Mychal if you’re interested. Perhaps it’s the Christians I knew growing up or the one my parents attempted to groom me into becoming or my lack of experience with Christians who seem to truly LIVE their faith that makes the story of Father Mychal’s life that much more moving and awe-inspiring. But more than the type of Christian he was, the book (and he) is incredible because it describes the person he was. (A witchy parenthesis – it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if this man actually was Saint Francis reincarnated. That was a damn cool dude that particular time around to begin with.) He was a man of unfathomable love, devotion, compassion, and service.
So it is Father Mychal I think about when I look around my home and see the state of the people I love embroiled in negativity, weighted down in fear. And again, like a few other times so far in this life, I feel an expansion within myself. If I have the capacity to recognize the state of things, then I wholeheartedly believe that I have the capacity to heal them and make them better for us all. And perhaps that might mean expanding even more, but I fully believe I’m capable of that as well and that the opportunity would not be presented to me if it were otherwise.