My dad signaled when he was about to strike.
His round, hairless head turned a bright shade of red, while his lips pressed so tightly together that they lost their color. Like a gazelle looking up in a nature film, my body became aware of an impending danger. It was when Dad’s upper lip virtually disappeared, and his bulging eyes shifted from green to a devilish red, that I knew I’d better start running. His glare was so frightening; I literally felt the wrath of God in it. I ran with the same fierce, life-saving determination of a gazelle that spots a salivating leopard ready to pounce. Nothing stood in my way from trying to escape his rage. I turned over chairs, moved tables, jumped furniture—all with the gripping hope of making it to the door in enough time to open it.
The few times I made it out, I hit the pavement and kept running without once looking back. With tears streaming down my face and my body trembling, I managed to feel a moment of victory. My lungs burned as my pace slowed to a crawl on my way to a sacred spot, a safe place. As I sat under my shaded, hidden tree, my head rested on my bent knees and I let the tears flow with the power of a tsunami hitting land. The reality of my situation left me feeling defeated. That fleeting moment of victory was completely forgotten.
I rarely let my dad see me cry, resolute on not giving him that satisfaction. When he hit, I hit back. And I did all I could do to lessen the power of his contact. I braced for impact. I kicked. I wiggled. I punched. I bit. But my efforts proved futile; I was always overpowered. Still, despite my wounds, I somehow managed to walk away with my head held high and the confidence of a survivor.
The world is a scary place.
I learned this life lesson early on. People cannot be trusted; we always have to keep our guards up. Who knows when someone will strike? Therefore, we must live life with the conviction that someone, eventually, will—even if that someone proclaims love and devotion. Showing any sign of weakness will leave you open for attack; one should live life cautiously. And, even if fear consumes you, never let anyone know you’re scared.
This reasoning served me well throughout the earlier parts of my life. I survived childhood, adolescence and young adulthood through self-reliance. I almost never asked for help and was reluctant to accept it when it was offered to me. My appearance was strong, confident and powerful and it was a false façade. Still, I was able to plow through life. But I was removed from the world; I kept myself distant, watching with a skeptical eye. This was my survival tactic. It was when I was finally ready to thrive and not just survive that my ideas about the world started to shift.
Looking back on those developmental years, it is clear how that time shaped my view of the world. Feelings of inadequacy kept me in a perpetual state of fear, guilt and shame. I constantly blamed others for my unhappiness or pretended nothing bothered me. I was ultimately afraid of exposing my true self because I wasn’t sure it was worthy of connection. We all have this inherent instinct to connect with others because, fundamentally, we know we are all One. But before we can fully grasp this, we must find that connection within. This becomes a challenge when we’re constantly told to look outside of ourselves for validation.
Society persistently tells us that we’re not enough.
We have ideals. We try to meet them because we’re convinced that there is a certain standard to meet in order to be “good enough.” We need to be thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough, strong enough, successful enough. We need to have enough “stuff.” Eventually, we should get married and stay married (with a partner of the opposite sex, of course); become parents and grandparents; have a house, a dog and maybe a cat; and then, if we live up to all of those standards, we may, possibly, be worth something.
And while we conform to all of those “shoulds” to be “good enough,” we have to keep serving a God who supposedly loves us unconditionally, but who will strike quickly if we should break a condition. Why would an all-powerful God create laws that must be adhered to and then give us the option of violating them? It has been argued that it’s a lesson of free will. Let’s consider this: How is “free will” free when that very will doesn’t even originate from us? “Free will,” by definition, means the freedom to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or divine intervention.
The role of parent has been projected onto God. The assumption is that a deity has needs. He needs to control. He needs us to follow his plan. And, he has feelings. He gets angry when we disobey. He’s sad when we don’t praise him. This magical man in the sky is constantly judging our behavior; he rewards or punishes us based on how he feels about what we’ve been doing.
Sounds a little like my father. Is it too grand to believe that the magnificent notion that God is not to be feared, will not judge and has no cause to punish, and then to recognize that this God does not live outside ourselves, but instead resides within?
We have been taught to look outside of ourselves for answers.
By doing this, we relinquish our own power. We believe that we are worth less than the power who created us. We deny our own experience in favor of what we have been told to think. And when we do encounter an actual experience for the first time, we overlay what we experience with what we think we should feel.
We have forgotten (or perhaps never learned) how to trust ourselves. Our inner truth has become so foreign that we barely recognize it. Once we’re able to hold our values up against the light of public scrutiny and admit to ourselves and to the world how we really feel—without hesitating or breaking stride—then we will have reached a point of wholehearted worthiness.
This reasoning brings with it openness and vulnerability.
Vulnerability, by definition, means leaving yourself open for attack. This was certainly not something I was ever willing to experiment with. Then, I began to recognize what happens when we expose our true selves—when we are honest and raw. It is within this state that a real connection unfolds—both within ourselves and with the outside world. It is how we feel when an artist expresses him/herself from the inner core. We embrace that power of connection, which goes beyond the physical and transcends into something much deeper. When we let go of outside expectations and connect instead with truth, we are moving into a place of courage, compassion, clarity and connection. We are free from fear and judgment, and we are comfortable with vulnerability.
An identity built upon false pretenses, like a house of cards, is bound to collapse.
Reaching this inner destination, we finally live in genuine Truth. Life’s contradictions and paradoxes begin to vanish, and are replaced with a beautiful sense of order, meaning, and purposeful simplicity. We live synergistically within our environment. We do not fight it. Clarity becomes effortless, and our world perception has such precision that everything makes sense, and our lives begin to simply fall into place. By releasing society’s expectations and understanding that true strength means embracing vulnerability, we see the world anew for the first time.