FAST WISDOM™ NEWSLETTER
By Lonner Holden
Healing the "Other"
“Hi, how ‘ya doin’?”, I cautiously asked. Rick, whose name I was about to learn, looked up at me from the nomadic urban nest of shabby clothes, dirty shoulder bags, grungy backpack and tread-bare boots he crouched in, smiled and replied, “OK, I guess,” as he received the grapefruit from my extended hand.
It has been my annual ritual to pass out grapefruit to the homeless around this time of year. But this is the first year I have taken unbracketed time to also sit down on the dirty sidewalk and engage with them about their lives - how they got into this situation, what is working for them; what is not - meet more fully their humanity with mine.
It took an election like this recent one to shock me into more honest reflection and confront my own prejudice, fear and judgement. It took the extreme mirror of someone like Donald Trump to awaken a more committed intention to heal those qualities in myself. The process has been humbling; seeing my own ugliness has been very uncomfortable. But realizing that projecting those unhealed qualities in me out into the world has caused much more cumulative discomfort directly or indirectly to others than to myself has kept me motivated. I do not want to be the cause of suffering for anyone.
I trust that inner peace in myself will become reflected as peace in the world. So I persevere.
In previous years, I would simply hand a grapefruit to a homeless person, wish them well and leave. Yet recently it became obvious that I was marginalizing struggling people, putting myself higher than them and justifying this to myself with the image of doing a pious act. Once I asked why I was letting myself get away with this deception, dropping my mask became easier - I had come close to homelessness three times in my life. I had almost become one of “them”.
Those experiences had terrified me, so I repressed the fear, made the “me” who almost became homeless the “other” inside of me. Habitually avoiding those extremely uncomfortable emotions made it effortless to make these men and women the “other” for decades, believing they were humanly different from me.
I have been seeing many “others” inside myself. Prejudice is an “other” when I feel insecure about how to behave around people of a different ethnicity or religion than I and don’t want to admit it. Fear is an “other” when I mistrust my own capacity to protect myself and don’t risk trying. Judgement becomes an “other” as a way of controlling another person when I avoid being honest about feeling helpless or shame in their presence. In each case, I create these “others” inside me when I avoid their associated emotions.
It’s a simple and useful method for staying isolated, safe and comfortable. It works really, really well. Especially since our natural empathy can evoke so often a similar response in the other person. I judge you, so you judge me back in reactivity. It can be so easy to feel “right” then, so I don’t need to question myself. There may be a single source of conflict and alienation in the world - being “right”.
If I am to know my deeper humanity, it is essential I touch the humanity of others I had previously believed are different from me. How else will I abolish the threat relationship I can have with people I may perceive as the “other”?
So how I act is a consequence of whether or not I have healed the “other” within me. I can be an agent of what contributes to humanity from my own humanity or an agent of what takes from humanity from what I have denied within me. I am always an agent of one or the other. During this time, in this nation, I choose to be an activist from what I can identify is healed or healing in me, not of what is not healing. I choose to be an agent of peace.
We are all interrelated and interdependent. What Rick and many other homeless men and women have given me these couple of weeks is encouragement to heal the “me” afraid of homelessness. After all, if they can survive living on the street and smile with genuine gratitude at a stranger bridging the “other” divide with a grapefruit and a little conversation, what in my privileged life of having enough so that I am not homeless do I not have to share with them? Being with them brings light into my dark corners, healing the “others” of prejudice, fear and judgement inside of me. In this way, these “others” outside of me who reflect my shadows become my liberators. Even Donald Trump.
Quote for Healing the “Other” within:
“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. " Rainer Maria Rilke
“If there is light in the soul,
There will be beauty in the person.
If there is beauty in the person,
There will be harmony in the family.
If there is harmony in the family,
There will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation,
There will be peace in the world.”
Poem: The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
- Wendell Berry
PICKS OF THE MONTH: Links to thoughtful messages
Jack Kornfield Essay
Allison Luterman Newsletter
Michael Meade Essay
Mary Reynolds Thompson Newsletter
Rick Hanson Essay
Karim Sulayman “I Trust You” Video