“You’re the best!” We all need to hear that. We all want to excel, to be valued and to be acknowledged. I suspect most of us hear it much less than might be healthy for us.
Often, we have a hard time really hearing the accolade, even when it’s spoken to us. The little doubt engine in our mind keeps chugging along with “I wonder if they really mean it,” or “That’s a pity comment. They just feel sorry for me.” Many people, including those with disabilities, can be quite creative in getting jobs done but then worry about whether the work is “as good as” others’ work. It seems the harder it is to do, the more we worry about quality.
I just want to remind us all (I’m talking to you there in the mirror) that you are the very BEST at being you! You are, in fact, the only one of you the world has. There really is no external standard for being the best you. The media, social media and our society in general, holds out nearly impossible standards for being the best parent, best spouse, best ________ professional. We are endlessly comparing ourselves to others and finding ourselves—well lacking something or other.
What does the best you look like? Looking within rather than outside ourselves can reveal where our greatest work lies. And it is where our greatest success lies. The divine imprint within you is not based on someone else—it is uniquely you and at the same time, universally divine. Only you have the power to bring into manifestation the best you. Only you know the direction you desire to go; the gifts you desire to share; the change you would like to see.
Think of three things you’ve done that at one time, you didn’t think you could. Think of the seasons you’ve weathered, the joys you’ve celebrated, the love you’ve known. Just for a moment savor being YOU! Because you’re the best!
“You are whole!” This is the core of Radical Wholeness. I was blessed to receive this message at a very, very early age. It didn’t come from the church, and I’m not sure how it was worded, but it was an insight from my father, against all appearances. Appearances described me as deformed, dwarf, defective. That is not what he saw nor what he believed about the essence of me.
My wholeness is not a gift, unique to me, but rather an expression of the universal wholeness present in each of us. My father’s ability to see my wholeness, and treat me as whole, nurtured my ability to live from my wholeness in a world that would often see me as broken.
The medical community and most religious communities see me in need of healing, my appearance a signal of a fracture in the intended perfection of humanity. Radical Wholeness does not stand for a singular image of humanity perfected but a diverse kaleidoscope of images, each containing the divine wholeness which is our birthright. If we, humans, are created in the image and likeness of the creator, how is it possible that some or any of us are created broken or less than whole?
I am aware of theories in my own faith tradition that hedge around Radical Wholeness and begrudgingly acknowledge each of us is whole—somewhere within—but these theories maintain that appearances indicate we have been unable to connect with that wholeness. Your difference is an indicator of your broken connection. This theory depends on a singular image of humanity perfected and any deviation is the basis for the diagnosis of your brokenness. If there is no secret singular image—if no one person holds the picture of how spiritual wholeness manifests—then we are all whole and able to connect to our innate wholeness, even if we are not consciously aware of our connection.
It is the universal nature of our wholeness which allows me to declare with you, “You Are Whole!” without ever meeting you. Without knowing what you look like or what you’ve done or the direction your life’s path has taken, I know you are whole. Our wholeness is not something that can be taken, diminished or separated from us. It can only be ignored. Ironically, our free will allows us to believe the false messages of brokenness. It is our belief in separation, not any actual separation from our wholeness, that gets in the way of exercising our spiritual power. Radical Wholeness stands for healing as an exercise of our power, not as a requisite for powerful demonstrations. It stands for restoring vitality, opening to abundance, stepping into new opportunities and initiating change in our world no matter how our appearances may be judged by others. All of this is possible because we each have the power to tap into the WHOLENESS we already are. There is nothing to fix before we can begin. Live from your wholeness now, right where you are, just as you are.
Early on, everyone with a disability must resolve how to answer this perennial question. Whether your disability is easily visible and the question is almost a greeting or whether the question doesn’t arise until your disability is revealed, the question comes. Sometimes there is a follow-up: Why can’t you…. If you’ve grown up with a disability, you’ve mastered some sort of answer by the time you are an adult. If you’ve acquired a disability, the sad news is that in the midst of grieving whatever function you have lost, you also have to come to terms with answering this question.
As a child, I learned quickly that I was expected to answer this question by explaining my dwarfism was a lack of bone growth. As I got older, I added that God makes everyone different; different sizes, shapes and colors. Coaching children to answer puts two burdens on a child. First, by answering with information you do not challenge the “wrong” part of the question. You answer what is wrong with you. Repeatedly the child hears and absorbs “there is something wrong with me”. Second, the expectation the child will answer with information imprints on the child that they are expected to share personal information with total strangers. By virtue of their difference, they are not entitled to the same sense of privacy and personal space everyone else gets. Honestly, I coached my children in the same kind of answers I always gave. Today, I would teach them differently.
Nothing is wrong with me. Different is not wrong nor is it bad nor less than. If responding to a child, I would add “And your parents should explain that to you.” The task of teaching children about differences is not the duty of all the people around the child who are different than the child. Especially if it is a child-to-child interaction, no child should have to defend their right to exist to a peer. The idea that this applies equally to adult-to-adult interactions should not have to be explained but here it is. I don’t owe you an explanation or information. I will not leave the idea something is wrong with me unchallenged!
I often go to the story in John 9 as a metaphorical guide to Jesus’ response to disability. The story begins with the disciples questioning: Who sinned, the parents or the man, that caused him to be blind? Definitely a judgement that something is wrong. Jesus responds, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” So nothing is wrong. Let’s think about the last portion of the response—so that God’s works might be revealed in him. So why are any of us here? So that God’s works might be revealed in us. Same deal for all of us. People with disabilities do not have some special directive nor are they excluded from purpose and value. Then the story is odd. Jesus puts mud on the man’s eyes and tells him to wash it off. For me, the mud represents all the judgments, limiting opinions, and disrespect heaped upon all of those judged different but especially those with disabilities. Then Jesus tells the man to wash it off. It is an action the man himself takes, inspired and guided by Spirit. “Then he went and washed and came back able to see.” Here is where I feel strongly about metaphorical meaning, not literal meaning. What did he see? The literal and even common metaphorical meaning is that his sensory eyesight was activated. It was a physical healing. Yet the passage says he was a beggar and no one could recognize him now. He was a changed man. Here is what I think he saw—he saw himself as a divine being, worthy and capable. He stood straighter, walked with confidence the familiar paths, he changed his appearance with a sense of self-esteem. The transformation of consciousness is a powerful healing that is possible for all of us. How many of us need restoration of our ability to see ourselves as worthy; as divine heirs of the kingdom? How many of us never notice the mud placed upon our vision, layer after layer, day after day? How many of us are willing to take action when divinely inspired? Or do we wait for someone/something else to act upon us for healing?
During Lent we are encouraged to give up something. Our Unity Lenten booklet lays out a plan to let go of the negative and take up the positive. Let’s give up the mud! Let go of mud we heap upon one another and the mud that we accept when heaped upon us. There is nothing wrong with you; there is nothing wrong with others. If anyone asks what is wrong with you, do not affirm the idea by explaining what is wrong. Challenge the idea! Deny it has power over you! There is nothing wrong with me. We may be different but that does not make one of us wrong! You do not owe anyone a further explanation. Let us take action to wash the mud away, thought by thought, and see ourselves for the brilliant expressions of Spirit each of us is. We are here so that the works of God may be revealed in us. The Divine shines in every single, radically whole, one of us. Shine on!
Reflections on Diversity: Awareness
October is a month of so many “Awareness” campaigns it can be overwhelming. So many of them are directly relevant to my life and touch those I love. It may be just an alignment of synchronicity: Dwarfism, Disability Employment, Infant Loss, SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), Cerebral Palsy, Domestic Violence and more.
In pondering this “awareness” work, I began to wonder what was the point? What is it we hope to accomplish by providing all this information? In all the years of posting, has it made a difference? Is there ever enough information to shift the consciousness that is the source of painful experiences?
We hope that by answering questions and providing information others will finally understand a perspective they may not have experienced. In that understanding, we hope to find acceptance and support for the ongoing challenges of the particular awareness issue we address. In acceptance we hope to gain equity and not only a place but a voice at a table of privilege we may not sit at now. Perhaps we could all begin with knowing we cannot ever understand at a deep level the experiences that are not ours. Not having the same experience as others does not stop us from treating others with empathy and compassion. Make the choice to be kind, it won’t matter how many questions go unanswered. Maybe in deeper connections we actually will learn about one another in a more meaningful way.
In awareness work, I think we hope to make our difference a little less foreign. We try to point towards common ground in our humanity and try to reduce the distancing that happens among us all. We hope that answering questions will somehow quell the fear of difference. Perhaps we could begin celebrating our uniqueness. Difference does not mean “not the same as ____” where we value a characteristic and those without the characteristic are “different”. We are designed to be unique, no two exactly the same. We are all different. Breathe. Be unique and let others be uniquely who they are.
Peace within produces peace without. We are really all afraid of being judged. Awareness campaigns arise out of awareness of the ways people judge us. As much as others judge us, we internalize all that propaganda and we judge ourselves with the same criteria we fear having applied to us. It is the social order, economic hierarchy, biased “isms” we have all been taught. We internalize it and judge ourselves. Love yourself. The funny part of much of the education in awareness campaigns is we attempt to teach that which we have had to learn ourselves about ourselves and those we love. Everyone has something that is their “different”. We all know the rules about success and worth. Toss them out. Find success and worth within yourself and begin to be able to acknowledge it in others.
“To love life truly is to be whole in one’s parts; and to be whole in all one’s parts is to be free and unafraid.” Howard Thurman, from Meditations of the Heart
To be whole in one’s parts, to me, includes all the parts of my humanity, especially those parts others might point to as demonstrations of a lack of wholeness in my spirituality. Wholeness is not present either in my humanity or in my spiritual self but in both my humanity and my spiritual self.
Until I was eight, I had never actually seen another person who looked like the humanity of my body. My first encounter was frightening to my eight year old self because he was a tiny man at my eye level, in a wooden cart on the streets of downtown Lawrence, Kansas, and he was selling pencils. This challenged every aspirational goal in my child mind already indoctrinated with ableism and cast doubt on the way in the world I had been so confident of prior to this encounter. I recoiled at the idea that this was my destiny or how others might see me. Within the next year or so I was introduced to the national peer support organization for people with dwarfism, Little People of America (LPA). At a regional meeting I met people who might not look exactly like me but they were all short. They were teachers, parents, an engineer for Texas Instruments who flew his own plane—they had lives and careers and families. I began to breathe. There were possibilities I could see as reflections relevant to me and my capabilities.
In those early years of LPA, I frequently heard the concept that we had to live in two worlds: the world of dwarfism and the “big world” of everyday life. You could not exclude one or the other in a healthy relationship with the whole of your parts. I observed people who only wanted dwarf friends or spouses; people who lived for the times of conference when everyone who gathered at hotels was under five feet tall. I observed people who denied their dwarfism (seems odd but it happens) and only wanted to associate with and marry people of average height as a measure of their success and “normalcy”. I did not see either exclusive attitude as healthy. The physical reality is that the sea of short statured people in the hotel lobby are my people and, to some extent, how I see them is how other people see me. If I cannot see the individuals in the lobby as whole, worthy and just like me, chances are there are ways I have internalized ableism and do not see myself as whole and worthy in the world. The other physical reality is that I live and work in a world that is not constructed physically or sociologically to support the ease of my everyday existence. How I carry myself and the self-image I have of myself is part of how I navigate the everyday world. I am both dwarf/disabled and live in a world which is dominated by those who are not. I have to be able to see myself as whole in both worlds. If I see myself as “less than whole” in either world or both worlds, I will respond to life as defensive and wounded. Just my opinion and experience.
In Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity work, I have begun to observe a dynamic that advocates either the work is done in the silos of identification or in a mixed community of oppressed and oppressor identifications. Again, I find work in both arenas brings a sense of balance and progress for me. In silos of identification with oppressed groups (dwarf, disabled, female), I find the safety to explore how life experiences feel, the barriers I encounter and how to address oppression. There is a sense of community in shared experiences. I continue to experience interesting interplay in the silos, where sometimes dwarfs (and other identified disabilities) distinguish themselves away from disability in general and where silos of dwarfism and racial identification are intolerant of other silos. I’ve observed intolerance of LGBTQ+ and racial minorities in the dwarf community and I’ve observed intolerance of disability in racial minorities for instance. Distancing is always a byproduct of fear and indoctrination with the “isms” we seek to dissolve—but that’s another blog post. In silos of identification with dominant groups (white, cis-gendered, heterosexual), I find the safety to explore where are my blind spots, how do I actively or passively contribute to oppression of others, how do I benefit from that oppression and how can I be a better ally, both within my silos of oppression and out in mixed community. In a mixed community, I may be primarily a listener, bearing witness and learning from the oppressed experience of others, or an educator, sharing my experiences of oppression. While I do not pretend to know the depth and range of experiences of friends who are Black, I have found an intersection in which most Black people and most disabled people have experienced the “invisibility” of being ignored by White, Abled people when we are standing in plain sight. The response is always, “Oh, I didn’t see you.” It is in mixed community those experiencing oppressed characteristics can begin to identify common experiences. Marriage equality is an issue that remains for those with disabilities who have essential benefits from the government and risk losing them if they marry. In addition to convincing the broad category of able individuals that equality benefits everyone, it behooves those of us with disabilities to have those who have advocated for racial and LGBTQ+ equality to join in the advocacy battle still ongoing. They have known the pain of being told your love is not good enough or worthy of marriage.
In community or the realm of “one heart, one world”, we can join our powerful spiritual oneness with the unique gifts of diversity manifesting through our humanity and seek ways to move forward together; to evolve our consciousness in the direction of “we the people” meaning all people are entitled to and capable of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I do not feel it is contrary to this vision of unity to seek strength and a place to do personal work within the space of those who share common aspects of my humanity. Imagine the freedom and power in allowing ourselves to be a part of both/and as we all discover the wholeness of all our parts.
Image description: Black and white image of interlocking Tao symbols making a whole circle.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (NRSV, Matthew 11:30)
Often, we think spiritual practice is more complicated than it really is. Or we make it more complicated in our heads to justify not trying it or not staying with it.
What is mindfulness? Jon Kabat-Zin is quoted in a Positive Psychology article as offering this: “The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally” (https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-mindfulness/)
The opening quote is from the Christian New Testament so am I saying that Jesus advocated mindfulness? Well, let’s play with that a moment. Jesus talked quite a bit about paying attention, looking for those who had “eyes to see and ears to hear”, which clearly wasn’t everyone. He also admonished those around him not to judge. He said there was more to life than the appearances available to our five senses. Mindfulness is not tied to any religion and for that reason is usually taught as a secular practice. This does not mean that if our practice is grounded in a spiritual foundation, we can’t build mindfulness into our spiritual practice.
A yoke can be the yellow of an egg and it can be a tool to keep two animals working together. While the animals may chaff at the restriction of the yoke, by working together, in alignment, the task is shared and becomes easier. For me, aligning myself or yoking myself to mindfulness, is simply the practice of reminding myself throughout the day that I am more than my emotions and more than what is happening in my life. Although I can’t control what other people do or the events that unfold during the day, like traffic or weather, I can always control the thoughts I hold onto. I can remind myself that in the midst of chaos, there is a peaceful center deep inside my mind. I do not always go there or I’m not always able to get there, yet I know the peace is always there.
In the midst of pain or “dis-ease”, in the midst of depression or uncertainty, without judging that human condition, I can notice it and choose to invite my mind to seek out places in my body and my life doing well. Gratitude can lighten the load of sorrow as I inventory the comfort I sit in, the food available, the flowers on my patio, the delightful way my heart keeps beating. I have to be “on purpose” to direct my thoughts in specific ways. I have to bring my conscious awareness to a directed focus rather than let my mind wander in unconscious ways down a familiar rut of suffering by comparison and judging my human condition. There is some effort to stay in the yoke and then I notice the weight lightening. From a spiritual perspective, I can add the awareness of the endlessly creative “Radical Wholeness” within me that arises knowing I am created in the image and likeness of the divine.
Not broken or left out. I direct my awareness to the web of energy I am a part of, physically in this moment and eternally, in every moment. The barrier of my body thins as time becomes less relevant and the now expands.
Try on the yoke of mindfulness and see if it lightens your burden. Image description: a yellow-orangish sunflower with a brown center against the background of green tree and bright blue sky. The rough and prickly stem has two leaves and a bud.
In the fifth chapter of John we find the story of
the man healed at the pool of Bethesda.
The man laid by the pool, “waiting for the moving of the waters; for an
angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the
water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was
made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted”.
I have rarely been referred to as an angel but I am
often observed to be “stirring things up.”
Sometimes it seems to be a positive observation but not always. I have difficulty not speaking up when I see
behavior or hear language which I perceive as not honoring others. This inclination is the impetus for Radical
Wholeness; as an idea, first appearing in an article and then taking on a
ministry of its own. Honestly, I try not
to be critical or dissident just for the sake of being disruptive. Others, at
times, have felt I was too vocal, too fierce, just too much. I honor their feelings. What excites me about this fifth chapter
account in John is the premise inherent in the story that troubling the waters
creates an opportunity for healing. Ah! There is the aspiration in my agitation! When I call upon changes in the status quo or
remark upon the impact of our habitual unconscious way of thinking and speaking
as limiting, I am seeking to move in the direction of the wholeness we were
created to express. Isn’t that true
Silence is acquiescence. I want to be a part of revealing divine potential in everyone! I hope to be a light on a path where individuals find their own power and “take up their mat”. For me, this is the activating healing that takes place anytime anyone begins to make decisions and take responsibility for their own lives. No more waiting by the pool for someone else to make my life better. No more telling people they need to be lifted into the pool by others or that they lack what is required to change their lives. Not to confuse the metaphor here of “troubling the waters” but the man was healed without getting into the pool.
Any individual with a label—also called a diagnosis,
condition, physical difference—has the opportunity to challenge the limits
others associate with a label. There is
no label that makes you less worthy of respect and of access to a life of
dreams and purpose. Each of us is called
to trouble the waters of complacency when we encounter the bias, the prejudice
and the oppression of practices and beliefs that would consider anyone broken
or less than whole in our essence.
As I reflected on “troubling the waters,” I realized sometimes I have to stir up my own beliefs. It is easy to fall into old patterns of thought. It is convenient to blame others for ingrained messages that I could be “less than” others. Once I shift blame away from myself, I also give away my power to change the message I hear inside my head and claim the divine ideal of wholeness and worthiness which is the truth of my being. Caught in ingrained lies I’ve heard for years, I may consider myself broken and less than whole. I may act in ways that communicates to others I consider myself broken and they simply believe what I tell them. Each of us must take responsibility for the ways in which our challenges arise from our own thoughts, beliefs and choices. Whatever anyone else says about me, if I consider myself broken, this belief will have the most impact on my life. When I am able to touch an awareness of limited beliefs in my mind driving my behavior, I am called to trouble the waters of the pool of my mind and allow healing into my innate, radical wholeness to unfold.
Troubling the waters, whether within my mind or in the activities of the outer world, invites me to be brave, to be strong and to be centered in the peace of faith in a divine power greater than myself. There are times I let the invitation pass by me. I understand I only delay my own good, just as the man waited by the pool for years. Grace is the gift of the Universe to continue to offer invitations for me to trouble the waters and create the opportunity for healing to unfold in me and in the world.