I have had inequality on my mind a lot lately. My failed marriage, my struggles with finding connections with friends, removing people from my life, the whole freaking money problems, the lies my ex tells about me and how he sent one of his friends to ambush me at work. It is difficult to avoid feeling the unfairness of it all. The lack of justice. Expecting fairness and justice is an exercise in heartbreak. I need to create those for myself in this new life. And, it is no surprise that it is safer to think about all of this because the mess of leaving and the divorce are on the cusp of being over.
My life is extraordinarily wonderful now. I am moving forward, seeking education and opportunities. I am the maker of choices that are mine and not the old compliance to what someone else wanted me to do or be. This comes with new stresses and I am dealing with them as best I can. To be honest, having this new life is a little unsettling. The new and the beginning of things are pretty much the full content of therapy sessions and what I share in my groups.
I am not dwelling or obsessing, I am working. I keep telling myself that. Some days I feel so wonky and unsettled, which I guess I should expect to be for a while. PTSD has a long recovery time. Still, I sometimes become impatient. And, one of the ways I am trying to cope is with meditation and reading, and whilst I did not read about them recently, the Shakers have been on my mind. What I remember about them might not be accurate, and I suppose I should spend some time finding out if I am remembering well.
The Shaker Quakers. Who shook. Who danced in their worship. Who exalted the spirit and the body, with rhythmic movements, dance and song. Who respected all living things. Who are properly named United Society of Believers in the Second Coming of Christ. (Disclosure: I could not remember exactly what they called themselves and looked it up.)
The desire for religious freedom brought many people to this country, along with all manner of wannabes and hangers-on, people who had no agenda or need beyond their own, personal need to make a change of geography, often to avoid moral or legal entanglements. But, that is another story. And, I have to wonder if my ancestors came from that latter group of miscreants.
I have always admired those early Shakers for two main reason. The first is that they held the belief that God could carry the natures of both male and female. The second was their equal treatment of all people, a kind of nearly effortless acceptance and support, something that seemed to come naturally to them. An important aspect of the time was societal and personal issues concerning black people, and they sheltered fugitive slaves and helped them travel to safety in Canada. In their practices of equality, slaves were not the only beneficiaries, women were as well. I have read that their belief systems and actual practices supporting groups of people not honored by other people and belief systems did not endear them to others in their communities.
I have been thinking about the Believers, as they called themselves, a lot. Their spiritual and life practices resonate with me, have since I first learned about them. I think that my knowledge of them may have helped form and support many of my core beliefs. You know, that whole I am not alone in my weirdness and differences from those around me, and that is fine and it is fine with me that other people have their own wonkiness.
I grew up in a racist family. I mention this only because of recent news stories and because those experiences formed me as well. From an early age I heard every type of racial, cultural, gender, age and appearance slur, comment, opinion and rant. Everyone who was not in the group that mattered was judged and found seriously lacking. That part of my life is too complex for sharing now. I know that I will have to face it someday. Just not today.
As for what is being reported, from the death of Trayvon Martin, to celebrities making racist remarks, to the Supreme Court, to our prayers and support of Nelson Mandela, all are important issues and I think that the most important aspect of any of this is that it is an opportunity to open dialogue about prejudice, generational racism, any belief or behavior that attempts to invalidate the existence of anyone person or group.
Race. Culture. Age. Gender. Appearance. Belief system. Anything.
Bullying. Aggression. Assault. Belittling, demeaning, minimizing. Being or doing anything that is different from the person making the judgement.
When I was a child, I knew that I did not hold the beliefs of my parents, their families and friends. Powerless, I had no way of expressing how I felt, much less understanding why what I felt was so different from those around me.
And, this next thing is a confession about one of the most shameful things I have ever done. From my early environment, I grew up, moved out and moved on. Got an apartment and a job and made friends, most of whom were different from me and my background. When my ex and I were planning our wedding, and I was writing the invitations, he recognized one of the names. It was one of my black friends and he became upset. He told me that if any of my non-white friends (I am paraphrasing here because I do not, have never, used that kind of language) showed up at his wedding, that he and his friends would beat the blank out of them and teach them a lesson about trying to mess with things they should leave alone.
So, instead of realizing how well he had begun to groom me (something I did not understand until last year), and taking control of my life, hell, even taking a stand, I murmured something about wanting my friends there too, and then just let it go. When it came to sending out the invitations, I manifested the lack of character and backbone that became the standard for the rest of my life, and I did not send invitations to any of my friends. I was not willing to have to face my friends that were unwanted and had been threatened. I knew that if they came there would be trouble.
So, I did not invite them, did not invite anyone. I ended contact with everyone I knew and quit my job so that I would not have to face what I had done. Despite the fact that my family kept their biases private, mostly so that they would appear to be accepting of others, learning that my ex's family were just the same did not influence my decision to go ahead with the wedding. Even then I pretty much did whatever anyone told me to do.
In order to marry, I abandoned my friends, people who have been loving and supportive and allowed me to be the same for them, and any principles I held. I had absolutely no moral backbone. No matter what my beliefs were, I was unwilling to stand up for them. Seriously, how stupid am I. How desperate to marry. I just walked away from everyone.
The shame I felt back then is nothing like what it has become over the years.
Who am I? I think that I am a good person. I do not steal or lie (very much, just the social lubricant kind of lying). I do not cheat on my taxes or vandalize. I do not litter. I do not gossip very much, and I hold some shame about that as well, even though I gossip only about funny stuff. I am not using that as an excuse, but at least I do not try to hurt anyone. It is about the aspect of trying on which I concentrate even though I know that gossiping about anything is just plain wrong. Working on that.
I am kind. I try to treat everyone well and with respect. I understand that part of my striving to be a good person is because of all the mistakes I have made in my life. I am capable of the most distressing behaviors. I can say the most insensitive, cruel and careless things. I can speak before I think. I can put my wants and needs above those of other people. I can be envious and jealous and resentful. In general, I can be a complete asshole.
I have been all of those things, and more, but no more. For most of my life I have worked at being a good person, and when the occasional unkind thought pops into my head I keep it there. It no longer leaks out of my mouth or manifests in my behavior. I try to live with as little sub context as possible. I am successful more often than not.
Wanting to do all of this, wanting to be a decent person, a good citizen and tossing everything in the meditation bufcket has taken my thoughts in many directions and has brought the Shakers and their practices back to me. I remembered one of their songs or church prayers about simplicity. So, I went to look in my messy files of inspirational quotes and sayings and found a scrap, but it was only three lines. I knew there were more and went searching again. I found the words at the same site I found the name of the Shakers.
Every thing is better now, but I have lost my center and, I think, all of my beliefs. I used to believe in a higher power, a creator, you know, something larger than the self. It has been decades since I belonged to a faith community, but I have always been a deeply spiritual person, immersed in faithful practice. Even without the connections to a church or formal religion, I have been satisfied with what I do practice. Now that all of it is gone, I am surprised at the empty place where faith and belief used to reside.
The place where I have therapy is faith based. One of the directors provides spiritual counseling and when I was there last week, I talked to her about it and asked if we could talk sometime. I have an appointment this week and might be looking forward to that as much as I am anticipating my training next week. The chances are excellent that I will not go all charismatic or become born again...the first time was quite enough.
I want, well, I want everything. Just everything. Now that the fear and disability of that other life is diminishing, I can see that just about anything is possible and I want it, I want all of it. Regaining the faith that most likely helped me to survive is so important to me. I wonder what might be possible if I were able to believe again. In anything.
This is the Shaker song. It is called something more, but I cannot remember and I am finished looking up stuff for today.
'Tis the gift to be simple,
'Tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight
'Till by turning, turning we come round right.
Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr.
Two excellent links on the Shaker Heritage Society of Albany, New York web site.
History of the Shakers
History of Watervliet