“Life is a gathering in. Death is a scattering out.
Therefore is Man—the dualist—suspended between the two.
For he would gather in, but only through scattering out.
In scattering he sins against The Law (of Love)
and Death is his bitter prize.”
~Mikhail Naimy, The Book of Mirdad
I’m awakening to the sad, health-sapping, death-inducing blindness in myself: all my life I’ve been guilty of scattering.
It began early. I was taught from the time I was a child to fear, despise, and reject “the world,” lest it lure my soul (or that of my loved ones) into eternal separation. I was faced with a seemingly simple choice: Separate yourself from people you don’t know right now so that you can be with people you do know always. These “threatening” people I didn’t even know anything about included (like I need to spell it out) atheists, new agers, relativists, homosexuals, liberals, hedonists, drug and alcohol addicts, sexually promiscuous, those from any other religious traditions, and any influences that might possibly pollute, God forbid, my otherwise lily white soul.
What’s really ironic about the aforementioned is how I was taught in church that it was my greatest calling and unfailing responsibility to love these people “like Jesus did,” (and to make them into “one of us”), yet I was taught at exactly the same time to fear their toxic influence and to keep myself away from them. It was made clear to me that I could never actually love like Jesus because, well, Jesus is God and I’m not, so better to err on the side of caution and not get too close. Fear rooted in eternal loss was a far greater influence than the small possibility of Love’s victory.
In recent years, I encountered my first taste of inclusivity when I discovered that I really could love all “those kinds of people” without any fear whatsoever (because I am Jesus). I found that the people I had once categorized as dangerous from my previous diabolical “us vs. them” mentality were actually really wonderful, nonthreatening, loving, everyday people…a lot like me.
There emerged, however, a dark cloud on the horizon of my enlightenment. When one awakens to the beauty of “the other side,” there is a risk of trading one duality for another. This is my story. In the wake of liberation from my religious heritage, I began to distrust and reject the people who represented what I used to be and the system that once controlled my thinking with lies and half truths. I began to despise the old closed-minded, unquestioning, intolerant way of life and all the damage it had caused others around me in the name of preservation. I took offense to those who I observed rejecting the people and groups I now felt a deep connection with and appreciation for. I began to feel more comfortable around those I used to fear than around those people who helped create and perpetuate the fear.
Suddenly, I found myself once again ensnared by an “us vs. them” mentality, only this time it was toward the group who I had once considered family. I recognized it, but I also felt somewhat powerless over it. I did not want to be associated with my old scattering, dividing, rejecting ways, yet in judging and distancing myself, I became my old scattering self once again.
I was soon to find out that, within myself, I am a microcosm of this real-life diabolical drama.
A couple weeks ago, I was feeling depressed about the lack of loving feelings within my daily interactions. Though love is not necessarily a feeling, it is certainly nice and self-perpetuating when it is. Otherwise, it feels a lot like pretending to be something I’m not. Words and acts of kindness can become mechanical and even burdensome—a terrible misfortune in my job as a health care professional. I noticed that, for quite some time, the old judgments and criticisms of lifestyle and motives had resurfaced, and there was not the pure conviction of serving others from an awareness of oneness or connectedness.
“Why God? Why do I not feel love for people? Why does my heart feel as cold and dormant as the winter landscape?”
“You can’t love others when you don’t love yourself,” the Voice whispered. “A house divided cannot stand.”
I don’t love myself. Well, yeah, that’s right. I don’t love myself. How could I? I’ve been taught my whole life how terrible it is to love myself. What selfishness! What arrogance! Yet, here is God, telling me that the secret to loving others is found within, by first loving me. And the point is to love all of me, not just the pretty, easy, pleasant stuff, but the other stuff I’d rather lock away in the dark and never have to look at.
I thought about the biblical definition of love. If I were to love myself, it would mean I had to be patient, kind, unconditionally accepting, and fair to myself—not angry, insulting, accusatory or critical. I would have to bear patiently with the good, the bad, and the ugly I observed in myself. It would mean believing in the God in me, hoping in the best of every cell, every neuron, and every thought proceeding from myself. To love myself would mean patiently (joyfully?) enduring throughout my gradual, painstaking evolution of becoming. Love does not fail, right? Even when it is applied toward myself.
This has been far, far from my reality. For most of my life, I’ve been my own worst critic—berating, degrading, criticizing, and holding myself to impossible standards. My poor body. My poor heart. My poor self. Being me is more often comparable to working for an impossible-to-please, critical taskmaster than a generous, kindhearted mentor. Who wants to show up to work for an ogre every day?
It seems when God is ready to speak, there is no escape. A few days ago, I came to a “coincidental” passage in the beautifully inspiring Book of Mirdad:
You are the Tree of Life. …Beware of fractioning yourselves. Set not a fruit against a fruit, a leaf against a leaf, a bough against a bough; nor set the stem against the roots; nor set the tree against the mother- soil. That is precisely what you do when you love one part more than the rest, or to the exclusion of the rest. Whatever be the fruits upon that tree; whatever be its boughs and leaves; whatever be the roots; they are your fruits; they are your leaves and boughs; they are your roots. If you would have the tree bear sweet and fragrant fruit, if you would have it ever strong and green, see to the sap wherewith you feed the roots. Love is the Sap of Life. A yellow leaf upon your tree of life is but a Love-weaned leaf, Blame not the yellow leaf.
No love is possible except by the love of self. Therefore is God all Love, because he loves himself. So long as you are pained by Love, you have not found your real self, nor have you found the golden key of Love. If you would be honest with yourselves, then must you love what you hate and what hates you before you love what you love and what loves you. Even your bodies, perishable as they seem, could certainly resist disintegration did you but love each cell of the with equal zeal.
Similarly, I read this awhile back in John O’Donohue’s, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom:
Each of us has a wonderful but precarious freedom in relation to our inner life. We need, therefore, to treat ourselves with great tenderness. …Some people are very compassionate to others but are exceptionally harsh with themselves. One of the qualities that you can develop, particularly in your older years, is a sense of great compassion for yourself. When you forgive yourself, the inner wounds begin to heal. You come in out of the exile of hurt into the joy of inner belonging. …That which is scattered has no unity, whereas that which is gathered comes home to unity and belonging.
See any patterns here? All my life, I’ve been judging, rejecting, polarizing, dividing, and scattering myself and others. I’m only beginning to realize how this has led to so much coldness in my heart, perceiving parts of my own self and others as merely unrelated, disposable fragments. But now I find, much to my relief, I have been wrong. It is all about gathering and joining together all in the perfect harmony of its entirety.
In her book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, Debbie Ford said, “We live under the impression that in order for something to be divine it has to be perfect. We are mistaken. In fact, the exact opposite is true. To be divine is to be whole and to be whole is to be everything: the positive and the negative, the good and the bad, the holy man and the devil. When we take the time to discover our shadow we discover its gifts and its treasures.”
Last night I took the opportunity to apologize to myself and then to thank myself—body, mind, and spirit—for all the years of faithful, relatively uncomplaining service to an unappreciative, critical scatterer. Hence, my only New Year’s resolution for 2013 is to learn to be kinder, gentler, more forgiving, and more appreciative of myself, inside and out. It won’t be easy to change four decades of negative mental patterns—patterns that come as easy to me as breathing—but if this is the key to becoming a thriving, fruitful Tree of Life and agent of Love, count me in.
“I say to you, there is not God and Man, but there is the One.
However multiplied, however divided, it is forever One.”
~The Book of Mirdad