Shame Culture

Dearest Readers,

On the morning of Thursday, June 16th I arrived in Vancouver for meetings regarding the latest creative project I’m working on. It was a beautiful sunny day but a cloud was hanging over the city. The night before, riots had rocked the downtown core after the Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins.

Everywhere I went people were talking about what had happened. Most were disgusted, some were saddened, all seemed to be in shock. The city itself felt like it was steeped in shame.

When I walked by the storefronts that had been destroyed and looted by the ones who lost control I saw something I did not expect to see. People had gathered together to clean up. Scores of young and old were picking up garbage, sweeping up glass and scrubbing the black soot from the fires off the sides of buildings. Vancouverites were washing the dirt of anger clean away.

The boards that had been erected where window glass had been smashed were now covered in a new kind of graffiti. Words of love and encouragement, apologies and remorseful reflections, poems of positivity and sonnets of strength. “We love you Vancouver.” “The Canucks came in second. How awesome is that?” “We’re sorry.”

As I walked by the scene I was struck by a wonderful sense of hope. How powerful is the Human Spirit’s desire for good, for order, for right action and right thinking!

Yesterday, on my way back home after a weekend program at the Naramata Centre, I passed through Vancity again. This time the news headlines announced “One million photos turned in to the police.” People were continuing their efforts at trying to restore justice to the chaos of what had happened.

One young man had come forward, turned himself in, and issued a public apology. Instead of honouring him for doing that, he and his family were being threatened. They fled the city, fearing injury or death. The young man’s lawyer made a comment that the same mob mentality that created the riots was now unfolding in the realm of social media, where people were now vilifying this kid and his earlier actions. His shame was not enough. “Shame him further!”

Why? What gives us the right to shame another person? To decide how much shame a person has to feel before he is forgiven?

As a person who has spent years recovering from shame-based thinking I am more and more appalled by its negative repercussions on our culture. I would go so far as to say we are a shame-based culture. “Shame on you.” “You ought to be ashamed.” Our individual shame keeps us imprisoned in harsh self-judgment and judgment of others. Our collective shame keeps us isolated from our fellows, segregated from other cultures, prejudiced and fearful of the unknown.

How can we respond with compassion to those who have acted in harmful and destructive ways? How can we practice forgiveness when someone says they are sorry? How can we employ acceptance and tolerance when we encounter human behaviour that frightens us? How can we seek to understand rather than be understood?

When we point our finger at a fellow human being we must look down at our own hand and see that there are three fingers pointing back in our direction. We have all done things for which we are ashamed. This means we do not have the right to shame another.

Inspiring Message of the Day: My desire for a perfect world with perfect people is so big that it makes me see others as small. Help me to recognize that we are broken people and that we all need healing. Help me to respond with compassion.

Sticks and Stones

Dearest Readers,

A couple of years ago I posted a video on YouTube of a speech I did at a Toastmasters Conference. The speech won first prize. Recently I received notice in the ol’ inbox that a new comment had been posted on the video’s page. I’d like to share this comment with you now.

Here it is:

“You do realise it’s EXACTLY the very people claiming to have relationships with supernatural beings who are materialists and killing people over it !?? Depravity in the name of spirituality, that’s all it is, that turkey day is not celebrated by a majority free thinkers, that convicted criminals in jails are disproportionately followers of “higher powers”. Stop lying will you. Just say openly you’re a blind god follower, blind to the harms religion and “higher callings” cause humanity!”

Naturally, I was shocked. I’m not used to getting comments like this. Immediately I began to think about how I might reply, defend my position, stand up for myself. This turned into a mild obsession and so I decided to let it go until I had more clarity. It’s now been a week since I got the email and still I’ve not responded.

What strikes me most about this person’s message (who, by the way, calls herself tallard666) is that it is so angry. Though I didn’t respond to the comment on the YouTube page I did share a post on Facebook that day saying, “Some people are very angry. I understand. I know what it means to be angry.”

And I do. I’m dealing with the release of some old anger issues right now, as a matter of fact. And I, too, get rageful at the idea of people killing in the name of God. Whenever I hear someone like George W. Bush mention the war in Iraq and God in the same sentence I feel steam start to blow out of my ears. Or if I read something about terrorists blowing people up for God’s glory I experience great despair.

In this sense I suppose I agree with tallard666. People who do violence and simultaneously claim to do be doing God’s will scare me. The God (or Universe or Higher Power or Creator or Spirit of Unity Back of All Things) I believe in is one of Love, of Peace and of Justice. And by Justice I mean Equality, not vengeance.

I’m not sure where tallard666 has gotten her statistic about convicted criminals. I’ve done volunteer work in prisons and jails on and off for the last almost 12 years. My experience is that convicted criminals are most often deeply wounded people who have been terribly abused by poverty, addiction and mental illness. Some, but not all, have found healing through some kind of a Higher Power and have changed their lives for the better as a result.

Let us all be allowed to believe what we would like to believe. Let us not hate other people for believing something that we do not. Let us learn to express our anger in useful and just ways. Let us accept one another without judgment. This is Higher Power at work: Love and Tolerance.

As for being “blind to the harms religion and “higher callings” cause humanity,” I can only say that the opposite is true. Religious abuse makes me feel sick. But Religion is not God. It is a way to worship God and so religion is neither good nor bad. It is a path. Some religious people are wounded and so they wound others. Other religious people have helped to make the world a better place. Mother Teresa. Martin Luther King Jr. Saint Francis of Assisi.

Am I a “blind god follower”? Au contraire. I once was blind. But now I see.

Inspiring Message of the Day: Today I will continue to do the work of Love. I will respond with compassion to those who have little or feel none.


Dearest Readers,

Let us turn now to the subject of speaking up when it is unpopular to do so. For example, you are in a group situation and perhaps someone has brought a child. The child is a lovely creature and on her best behaviour but is nonetheless disrupting the meeting and making it difficult for people to listen and stay focused. No one wants to say anything for fear of offending the parents and yet the situation is calling for something to be said.

What do you do?

The choices are simple: 1. Let it go. 2. Say something.

Letting go is always a good thing. But what if the discussion is extremely important? What if there is someone there who needs the information so badly that her sanity actually depends upon it? Is letting go really the best option?

Saying something will cause friction. It may even cause resentment. People won’t like it. They may even start to dislike you. But the group is being disrupted and people are getting annoyed. Many people would like to speak up but are fearful of the repercussions. Someone does, in fact, need to step up to the plate.

Would you be that person?

I’ve been both the “let it go” person and the “step up” person. The letting go works but provides no real solution. The stepping up opens the door for communication and problem-solving but causes some angry feelings to arise and enter the mix. Neither option is easy. Especially the latter.

Why? Because someone, inevitably, will decide you are a jerk. You will then have to live with the reality that someone out there doesn’t like you. If you are a person that says, “Who cares?” to this statement I applaud you and celebrate your insouciance. I’m not there yet.

But I am getting there! Slowly. It’s been a long and winding road so far. Here are some of the more pleasant pit stops:

  • Don’t take things personally.
  • Validate yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to do it.
  • Give yourself a pat on the back (literally — reach up and pat yourself on the shoulder).
  • Look in the mirror. Meet your eyes. Say, “You’re doing great. I love you. I really love you.”
  • Remember to hold your own heart tenderly.
  • Respond to your actions with compassion.

Whew! Lots of great tools. All beneficial. Some more challenging than others. Especially for the recovering perfectionist.

In a similar situation to the one above I recently stepped up and said, “This is not working and we need to discuss it.” Afterward, I came home feeling anxious because I knew I’d offended someone. The voices of dissent charged in and started their attack. I bought in for a while and started to beat myself up but then I took charge and used those tools of self-validation to calm myself down and celebrate the courage it took to speak up.

Not everybody is going to like me. And that’s okay.

Inspiring Message of the Day: Today I will give myself the validation I seek from others. Today I am good enough and I am loved enough because I give myself the love and compassion I need. I believe that I am worth it!

Burning Questions

Dearest Readers,

It’s been thirteen days since the burn and it’s healing very nicely, thank you very much. I was given a new insight about the incident this morning and as much as I cringed when I heard it I think it’s worth exploring.

My own interpretation of the “why” is that I am being taught compassion on a whole new level. (When you pray for freedom from judgmental thinking, look out.) But in a conversation earlier today a friend said, “Perhaps it’s not so much about judging others as it is about judging yourself.”

My first response was, “Of course.” I mean, I know that. But knowing something and really being willing to take a look at it are two very different things.

In what ways am I still judging myself? I’ve come so far and made so much progress in learning to love myself that it’s easy to think I’ve graduated from the sickening school of self-loathing. So where am I now lacking in compassion for Celia?

These are deep questions and not easily answered in a few paragraphs. But now that I’ve been given the opportunity to investigate them I will take the time to do just that and get back to you.

Inspiring Message of the Day: When someone has a personal insight to offer me I will accept it with an open mind. It may not be easy to hear this kind of “advice” but my spiritual well-being will no doubt be given new depth by the offering.

Post 611

Dearest Readers,

In yesterday’s post I wrote about having a grieving session for all the pain and sorrow in the world. Last night, a woman I’ve come to know over the course of this last week on the ashram gave me the gift of one her hand-painted cards as a token of our new friendship. The card depicted the image of Guan Yin.

On the back of the card it reads:

“Chinese Goddess of Mercy and Compassion. Her name means ‘She who bears the weeping of the world.’ She takes away our anguish, our sorrow, and our pain. She watches over the children of the earth and answers our prayers.”

When I was crying so deeply the other day I was experiencing the strangest sensation of bearing the weeping of those who could not weep. By doing so I felt as though I was somehow helping to take away their anguish.

Now I am in no way suggesting that I am Guan Yin but perhaps I was channeling her Energy. When my friend handed me that card it certainly felt like something Greater than a simple Celia sob session had taken place.

The ashram is like that. Things happen  to make you go “hmmm” all the time. The Yogis would say, “Of course.” The Vibrations are very high here. Makes sense.

Does it make sense to think that there is a Chinese goddess watching over us and answering our prayers? Perhaps not. But who needs sense when you have Guanyin on your side?

Inspiring Message of the Day: When we allow ourselves to experience real grief we are allowing a Greater Power to work through us. Often, this Truth will be revealed in the aftermath through a coincidence. I will allow these moments of Mystery and Connection to deepen my trust in Higher Guidance.