When asked by an interviewer how we can learn to be less self-critical and more forgiving of our often troubling uniqueness, American contemporary spiritual teacher Ram Dass responded: “I think that part of it is observing oneself more impersonally. I often use this image, which I think I have used already, but let me say it again. That when you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.” Leaving aside how evocative Dass’ words are, what struck me most about this philosophy on life was how quickly, and unconsciously, I’m able to turn on and off my critical eye and judging mind. All this got me thinking about how I can begin to align my actions towards nurturing my uniqueness while leaving behind the mindset of comparison—one in which emphasis is on “preference” instead of "difference".
The past 14 months has been by far the most transformative period of my life. It began with a disclosure that I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, then to an intense period of group therapy and self-reflection, to the place I find myself in today—becoming an advocate for others to find their way out of their own trauma. There has been a very organic feel to this process, and to be perfectly honest, there have been many times where I fought against what was unfolding and where it was taking me. As is the case with many people coming to terms with trauma, disarming emotions become unearthed and percolate to the surface; in essence, they come to a place in which they can no longer be suppressed or denied.
Of all these emotions, the one I’ve found the most challenging is rage, which left unchecked, infuses as a toxin in every relationship in my life. The more deeply I examine this rage, the more I see that frustration is the breath that fuels this rage. I’ve been feeling discouraged lately because despite my best intentions, I periodically slip back into anger. It’s in this space where I need to remind myself that I am reacting to the past from the perch of the present, and as it has been said many times before, “Holding on to anger is like taking poison hoping the other person dies.”
Much of my frustration lies in a self-defeating attitude of Why bother… I’m only one person. How can I seriously expect to change the world? I believe that within all of us exists a darkness—a "feeling" that we spend an inordinate amount of time and energy to bury deeper in us. It’s that part of us that we hide because we want others to look upon us as a “straight, beautiful tree”, not a tree that is beautiful in its own crookedness. So, how do we go about embracing the uniqueness in all of us and softening our judgmental eye? I’ve witnessed this happening in my own life through the power of connecting with others. Bringing that piece of me I’m most afraid of out into the world has connected me to others who are attracted to an experience of truthful vulnerability. This connection helps us understand the darkness in each of us, and we learn that by not passing judgment on another person’s timid exposure, we cast a light, and not a shadow, on that person’s pain. Yes, we are only one person, but each of our faint whispers combines as a voice, and that tremble of a voice has the power to pierce a deafening silence.
The one guiding principle that underpins the bridge that leads to these transformative connections in our life is TRUTH. This can take place when we consciously choose not to wish an experience away, but invite a new perspective to understand a painful circumstance or experience in our lives. All of our numbing and isolating behaviours prevent us from making those connections, and behind that disfunction is “fear”—The fear of having honest conversations. The fear of making changes in our life we intuitively know must be made. The fear that plays like a broken record in our head… “If you knew the real me, you’d want nothing to do with me.” This may sound contradictory, but I’ve come to believe that “truth” is something that is not necessarily an “absolute”—It’s something that changes shape as we gradually peal away more and more of the self-protecting layers in which it is enwrapped.
When I approach it like this, “truth” becomes more akin to a process than to a destination. I can explain this by looking at looking at TRUTH as an acronym. Tenacious because this process is not for the faint at heart. Revealing, in that we may choose to unravel pieces of ourselves as we get stronger. Understanding in terms of our ability to withhold personal and external judgment. Trusting is a critical component because we are experimenting with building bridges where we once had walls. And finally, we arrive at healing, which is the acknowledgment of the transformation acting within us.