Friday, November 16, 2012

Our true dreams

I am a firm believer in the power of affirmations.   Well-chosen affirmations, worked with regularly and mindfully, help us change our habitual thought patterns, addressing and countering internalized beliefs that influence the ways in which we live our lives.  Once we address the internal obstacles that prevent us from reaching our goals, dealing with external obstacles becomes much, much easier.

One particularly powerful--and revealing--affirmation:

I am giving myself permission to pursue my true dreams.

Take a moment to notice all of the resistance that kicks up within you when you say that one!

No doubt memories of external resistance come up, as well.  We've all had the experience of identifying something we wanted to pursue, a moment of clarity in which some important truth about ourselves took shape in just the right words to give us a sense of purpose and direction.  In our heart of hearts, we've said:  THIS.  This is my true dream, my heart's desire.

And in our excitement we've shared our insight with people close to us.  And we've all had the experience of being greeted, not with, "Wow!  That's great!  How can we make this happen?" but with skepticism, discouragement, even ridicule.

  • "That would be nice" -- in a tone of voice that suggests a snowball has a better chance of not melting in hell than you do of attaining your desired goal.
  • "Wouldn't we all like that" -- in other words, why should you be happy when they're not?
  • "Dream on" -- and then wake up to the miserable soul-crushing existence to which they've resigned themselves.
  • "Get realistic" -- with "reality" being defined as the miserable soul-crushing existence to which they've resigned themselves.

Granted, if you think your true dream is to become a genocidal planetary dictator, people will rightly discourage you.  But such "dreams" are not really our true heart's desires; they are responses to insecurity, fear, and a sense of personal powerlessness.

Our true dreams tend to be the things that are so much a part of who we are that we may not even recognize them as our true dreams.  Think of the things that people tend to say about you:  "You're so...," "You always...," "You just have to...."  Not only the things people praise about you, but even--and sometimes especially--the things people criticize about you may be the very things that are most essential about who you are.

When people discourage us from pursuing our dreams, most of the time their discouragement has little or nothing to do with the merits of our dreams and much to do with unresolved conflicts within themselves.  Sometimes they're jealous:  You have the audacity to go after the life you really want to live, while they long ago relinquished any such hope for themselves.  They themselves tried and didn't find a way to make their dreams happen, or they got discouraged and gave up before their dreams could take root, or they got similarly slapped down by someone influential in their own lives and have internalized discouragement as the way life really is.  Sometimes they honestly believe it can't be done, and want to spare you the disappointment of what they see as inevitable dashed hopes.

The only way to attain a desired outcome is to first commit to pursuing that outcome.  Believe in your dream.  Hold it in your vision.  Hold it in your heart.  If you don't believe you have the right to pursue a goal, you'll never make the time and commitment to do the work required to make it happen.  So the first step in making your dreams your reality is to clear away all of the "reasons" people say it can't be done and give yourself permission to follow your dreams.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Casting out fear

For more than a year I and thousands of other Minnesotans have been holding conversations about the marriage amendment.  We lay out our most rational arguments, citing research in biological as well as social science demonstrating that same-sex orientation is a benign, natural variation in human sexuality.  We offer stories of real people who would be hurt by permanently restricting the definition of marriage to exclude same-sex couples.

Many people have been persuaded that voting "no" is the right thing to do.  Staunch supporters of the amendment, however, remain unmoved.  They are not pondering our rational arguments.  They are not empathizing with the hardships and harassment that gay people still endure in many places in our society.

Are they wicked "haters"?  In most cases, no.

Where we opponents see the amendment as an attack on human dignity and civil rights, supporters of the amendment see themselves as defenders of what they hold to be an immutable truth:  the belief that homosexuality is morally wrong.

Their religious assemblies teach that it is sinful to enter into homosexual relationships, and that this teaching comes from God.  Granting legal recognition to homosexual couples, applying the term "marriage" equally, would imply that the religious teaching is not, after all, true.

If this long-standing moral teaching is not true, then what other religious teachings are likewise not true?  When one's sense of identity and security in the world is rooted in believing that one's religion is the ultimate source of moral truth, any challenge to that belief feels threatening to that identity and security.

All of our reasoned appeals to science and research and personal experience are of no avail unless we also address the fear that prevents marriage-equality opponents from being open to seeing the evidence, hearing the reasoning, and empathizing with the cost of homophobia in real people's lives.

In order to feel free to question long-held beliefs, we need to feel safe in doing so.  We need to shift our center of security from faith in our beliefs about God to faith in God.  We can recognize that human perspectives evolve over time as we reflect upon new information, evidence, and experience.  We can allow our beliefs to change as our knowledge and understanding changes and still remain connected with that Presence we call "God."

As we take the leap of faith from fear to trust, we open ourselves to not only believing but experiencing that love and compassion are the very essence of God.  And we become free to extend that love and compassion to other people, including the ones we once believed to be strangers.

And we are no longer afraid.