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Love Letters to Humans (no. 23) – I Believe You

Who taught you who deserves to be believed?

No one? Everyone?

How did you come to believe—or not believe—people who exist in bodies of a particular color, size, shape, who have a particular set of parts or pronouns or abilities?

Did you scratch and question and choose it for yourself? Or did you quietly and safely and perhaps unconsciously agree to a social contract that pre-determines who does and does not get a say in the truth of their own experiences? Was it uncomfortable? Is it uncomfortable?

Were you raised, without even knowing it was happening, not to believe some of the very people you say you love?

And you. Do the people you believe look and sound and move through the world
like you do? Were you silently taught to believe that people who come in bodies like yours and have experiences like yours cannot be trusted or believed? Were you raised, without even knowing it was happening, not to believe yourself?

I believe you. I love you. I choose you.

Love Letters to Humans (no. 22) – on Good Love

A thing about love: if we have never been loved well—and by this I mean having been treated with abundant care and respect by someone who is both worthy of our trust and committed to our thriving—it is nearly impossible to imagine what good love feels like, sounds like, looks like.

Overcoming the unfamiliarity of real love can require enormous effort and great leaps of imagination. We know from stories or from watching other people that love exists, but we don’t know that it exists for us.

I do not believe that self-love is a panacea for the absence of a love that we did not receive when we were wee and just learning to navigate the world. Still, my experience and observation tell me that it is crucial to *practice* loving ourselves—even in the smallest ways we know how to express care and responsibility and fondness—so that receiving love becomes a more familiar sensation, so that the experience of being loved becomes, little by little, natural and normal to us.

Because here is another thing about love: once we have been loved well, it is nearly impossible to mistake meager, irresponsible, or immature facsimiles of love for real love, for good love. We no longer wish to give or receive that which is not whole and real and true.

And once we have been loved well, and when we have received loved well, there is no going back and there is no keeping it to ourselves. We want it for everyone, not just some of us, because true love is abundant and expansive.

Love Letters to Humans (no. 21) – on Attraction

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     Photo by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash

I am seeing a bit of chatter around the relational myth of “you attract what you are” being gaslighty and gross, and I have thoughts (not answers).

To start, it’s imprecise. (My glass house is filthy and also I sometimes throw stones.)

I don’t know much about what we attract and don’t attract—that part isn’t entirely up to us. Relationships are conversations, not soliloquies. However, I do know a bit about what we accept and what we don’t accept—we get to choose, because our boundaries are our own responsibility.

It is possible that we attract all sorts of people—awful people, wonderful people, scared people, hurt people, kind people, generous people, and every other sort of people. It is possible that sometimes they are the very same person, because we are complex creatures.

It is also possible that the more emotionally mature and healed we are (that’s also imprecise… we can explore sometime what ‘healed’ means in greater detail), the less we accept anti-relational behaviors from wounded and immature people in our lives. When we do not accept the toxic behaviors that unhealed people employ, we become less and less attractive to them (we tend to repel them, really).

So maybe it isn’t so much that “we attract what we are,” but that we accept from others what we believe we deserve and we repel what doesn’t align with our self-esteem and our own understanding of our innate worthiness of respect, care, and nourishment.

Love Letter to Humans (No. 20) – On Honesty and Connection

Cruelty-free truth-telling is a relational skill.

Pretending is little more than desperation and slow heartbreak dressed up in the robes of connection. It is an illusion, a flimsy disguise.

Pretending not to know what we need, pretending not to know what we feel, and pretending not to know what is happening in our relationships does not make the heartbreak and disconnection any less real.

We are relational beings. We crave closeness and connection because closeness and connection are our birthright.

. and .

Without the skills for cultivating and sustaining closeness and connection, harmony in our relationships disappears as mysteriously as it appeared.

There is no more direct route to deeper connection than honesty, even when the truth is that we need some distance between ourselves and people with whom we are in less-than-nurturing relationships.

When I say that I can help you have more joy & connection and less suffering, I don’t always mean that our work together will immediately (or ever) bring you closer to the person or people with whom you are currently in relationship. It is also true that this realization can come with pain. It is reasonable to grieve the closeness we wanted and did not get in our most important relationships.

Joy is the long game. Connection starts inside us, with acknowledging what is true.

When I say that I help people have “better” relationships, what I really mean is that I help people have more honest relationships. Better is healthier, and healthier isn’t always closer.

Sometimes healthy, right relationship means a bit—or a lot—of distance. Ask a toxic ex… or don’t. There are times when we need a good deal of space from a person or group of people to allow what would otherwise be a rather timid, little love to take root, unfold, and expand without being assaulted by our proximity to nonsense, unmet expectations, or harm. I believe every bit of our love is worth that kind of awareness, honesty, protection, and care.

What are you pretending not to know?
What truth could you tell to yourself or another without cruelty?

Love Letters to Humans (No. 18) – On Love and Responsibility

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Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

I want to love everyone, but I don’t. This is painful to admit.

I love deeply, and want to do it better. My greatest intention is to live as a perpetual evolution toward love. And the truth is that I simply may never love everyone.

Without responsibility, there is no love.

This is not to suggest that we each alone are solely responsible for everything and everyone we love, only to acknowledge that we cannot truly love anyone or anything and still pretend that our actions (and inactions) are without impact.

To the extent that we profess to love another, we must also acknowledge the impact of our very existence on theirs. This is the foundation of trust.

When I witness someone casually profess to love all people while trampling on the lived experience of others, taking no responsibility for creating a world in which all people can thrive, I know I am witnessing someone who has been loved poorly and incompletely, and thus learned to love poorly and incompletely.
To profess to “love everyone” and deny the responsibility of our impact on all of humanity is to diminish ourselves, to diminish the value of our love, and to diminish trust.

I have been loved poorly, incompletely. I have also been loved well, completely. I give thanks for those who love and have loved me enough to show me what responsibility looks and feels like, to correct me when I am irresponsible, and teach by their example what a perpetual evolution toward love is and what it is not. I give thanks for your impact on me.

Q: How are you taking responsibility for your impact on all that you profess to love?

Love Letters to Humans (No. 17) – On Love and Disobedience

Bad Dogs, Good Girls (and Your Preferred Airline Doesn’t Actually Love You)

Rewards and status are not love. Validation is not love. Being good will not get you love.

Our dog, Lucy, is decidedly not a good boy. She is a sweet, sweet devil running around in a furry skin-sack, a willfully terrible mutt, and an integral member of our family. We love her endlessly. Also, she is woefully disobedient.

She doesn’t have to be good.
We belong to each other.

A good boy is a well-behaved dog, according to a household’s rules about how a dog is supposed to behave. Good boys behave in a predictably acceptable way. Good boys get treats (rewards).

Good hair is well-behaved hair. It easily arranges itself according to the dominant culture’s standards of beauty. It does what it is supposed to do, mostly predictably, without fuss (or it at least appears to). Good hair garners compliments and envy (rewards + status).

Good customers are well-behaved. They purchase according to the dominant culture’s standards of consumerism and brand loyalty. They do what they are supposed to do, mostly predictably, and get rewards and status (uh… rewards + status).

Good girls are well-behaved women. They carry themselves according to the dominant culture’s standards—mostly of beauty (we can talk about this more). They do not act in ways that are unbecoming (unattractive). They do what they are supposed to do, mostly predictably, without fuss (or at least appear to). Good girls—in theory—get protection, if not real safety, and respectability, if not actual respect (rewards + status).

Good bodies are visually well-behaved, arranging themselves according the dominant culture’s standards of attractiveness, ability, size, color, proportion. They are predictably productive in any number of ways (available to be consumed), and *appear* healthy (regardless of their actual state of health). Among other rewards, “good” bodies get to exist in public spaces without derision, judgment, obvious physical discomfort, or stigma (rewards). They are held up as examples (models, if you will) of the superior discipline to which the rest of society may aspire (status).

In a context of oppressive systems where punishment and rewards are the basis of our relationships to society, to one another, to God, and to ourselves, goodness and obedience are generally synonymous. Rewards and status are mistaken for love.

Let us de-couple love and obedience, and remember instead that love and belonging are inextricably tied to one another.

Let us love, celebrate, nurture, and protect each other (not just the “good” people)… in all of our unruliness, in all of our disobedience, because we belong to each other.

Love IS. It cannot be earned and thus is an impossible reward for a goodness we can never achieve. Let us stop withholding it from ourselves and others in punishment for not being good (enough).

May we refuse to settle for the meager, fleeting rewards of goodness, and instead create the true safety, connection, and joy that can only be found in belonging to each other.

Love Letters to Humans (No. 16) – On Difficult Conversations

All difficult conversations are uncomfortable. Not all uncomfortable conversations have to be difficult. 

I have uncomfortable conversations for a living. It is a passion, a calling, a practice, a way of navigating the mysteries of this life. They scare me and I crave them. Even so, like everyone, I find some conversations difficult, and I am thinking on what makes them so. 

I believe the ease or difficulty of a conversation rests in the safety we are able to create and experience—the degree to which we are certain that in a particular interaction our humanity is a given, respect is mutual, and violence (verbal, emotional, physical, etc.) will neither be employed nor tolerated. 

An uncomfortable conversation is, very simply, a vulnerable one. We can have uncomfortable conversations with grace (and I would argue that we must) because they are inextricably tied to our growth, evolution, connection, and liberation as relational beings. But a difficult conversation is clumsy; it takes our vulnerability and treats it with a lack of skill, care, and curiosity.  

An uncomfortable conversation becomes a difficult conversation when we are unwilling or unable to be with our own discomfort, or with someone else’s, without disconnecting or inflicting harm – attacking, defending, controlling, or avoiding. An uncomfortable conversation becomes a difficult conversation when we anticipate disconnection or being harmed – defensiveness, attack, control, or avoidance – and we do not have the skills, boundaries, or leverage to navigate our experience.  

It is never too late to learn and begin to practice the skills, care, curiosity, and willingness to be with discomfort that will bring us more connection and less suffering. This is good work. 

Love Letters to Humans (no. 15) – on Spiritual Bypassing

Unless we are willing to forego connection, growth, community, and joy, I don’t believe we ever get to stop doing the deep work of self-inquiry and being with the uncomfortable feelings that accompany it.

-and-

Our labels and identities are contextual. I repeat, we are relational beings, and our identities exist in the context of our relationships to each other.

It seems to me that getting free of being vexed by our own identities starts with understanding and getting very honest about the power dynamics and social constructs and contexts that impact our perceptions of ourselves and others.

When we bypass, try to skip ahead to “peace and oneness” and ignore context, it is like insisting that we are capable of flight without taking the reality of gravity into account. No amount of flapping around and imagining the wind on our faces will overcome our refusal to understand physics… we will either never get off the ground, or we will launch ourselves off high places and then gravity will remind us of its very real presence in our human experience. Without acknowledgment and informed analysis, we remain at its mercy.

If you want to deepen your understanding and analysis of the social contexts that we currently live in, I wholeheartedly recommend Freedom School with Desiree Adaway.

If you want to work on the internal “stuff” in a way that does not bypass social context, Staci Jordan Shelton’s Unraveled sessions are life-changing.