Shame (Part II)

Who are you?

Is your identity established at birth, where every decision and every moment is another opportunity to awaken the “real” you? Is your identity the sum of all the choices you’ve made; in fact a living, changing entity that can be good or can be evil depending on the day, month, or year?

Imagine purchasing a can of tomato soup.
What happens when the soup I purchase has much more salt than I enjoy?
Is it still tomato soup?
What if the process Campbell’s uses is much different than the process Progresso uses?
Is it still tomato soup?
What if it wasn’t red?
Is it still tomato soup?
What if someone crossed out “Tomato” on the label and penciled in “Chicken Noodle” or even had it printed in the correct font?
Is it still tomato soup?
What if the can was punctured in transit and became moldy and therefore completely inedible.
Is it still tomato soup?
What if someone’s attempt at making it from scratch ended up being something I would put on spaghetti rather than something in which I would dip my grilled cheese?
Is it still tomato soup?
What if it wasn’t made of tomatoes?

We aren’t cans of soup, yet maybe we can relate. Do you define yourself by or with your words? How about by your upbringing? What about your skin color, size, shape? How about the people who said you wouldn’t amount to anything? What about when you made that huge mistake or completely ruined your reputation? What if the shoes you’re meant to fill are actually too big?

If one’s identity is actually inherent, even though he/se may stray off the beaten path, the momentum of his/her fate would bring them to where they belong. If one’s identity is a compilation of actions and decisions throughout one’s life, I wonder how a person would measure opposing actions and desires (i.e. action without desire to do it versus a desire to do something without action).

Regardless of how you conceptualize your identity, unhealthy shame attempts to constantly redefine “who you are” by your failures, struggles, and trials. Healthy shame, on the other hand, calls you to a “true self” and shows how far you’ve gone off the trail. Although both are painful, the latter seeks progress, the former seeks stagnation.  If unhealthy shame were personified, I imagine he or she would be prideful, selfish, and have low self-esteem. Someone so full of him/herself, that all they want is for you to focus on them all day long. Healthy shame, on the other hand, reminds me of someone who is confident and steadfast. Someone who is so focused on improving you, they’re willing to put you through a little pain because they know how you’ll turn out on the other side.

Practically, everyone has bouts of unhealthy and healthy shame, but the trick is to constantly be striving for a realization of that true self. If you know the person you desire to be is actually already inside of you, each moment of every day, whether good or bad, is forward momentum to that goal.

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Shame (Part I)

We hate shame. It tells us we need to be better. It makes us apologize and ask for forgiveness. It causes us to reevaluate our decision making paradigm. It motivates us to change our habits. It gives us a distaste for society. It stirs up dissatisfaction against the status quo.

We need shame. It tells us we need to be better. It makes us apologize and ask for forgiveness. It causes us to reevaluate our decision making paradigm. It motivates us to change our habits. It gives us a distaste for society. It stirs up dissatisfaction against the status quo.

But how do we wear it?

Over the course of a week, how many conscious decisions do you make when you pick out your outfit? How about when you choose what soap to use? Although those numbers will likely be significantly different, they both play a pretty important role in our day-to-day life. Can you imagine a life where you spend the same amount of time picking a soap for your daily shower as you would picking out a shirt or where getting ready for work was as thoughtless as lathering up followed by a quick rinse? Why couldn’t we just have 7 outfits that look exactly alike or how about 7 different types of soap, each with a unique smell and feel?

At some point we (or someone on our behalf) made a decision on the relative times of these decisions. For certain reasons, it is more beneficial to have a variety of clothes, and therefore more time is generally spent on selection. For other reasons, we have evaluated that even though multiple different soaps or shampoos could do the job of keeping ourselves clean, once we make a decision, we will not re-evaluate that decision until we run out – or something catastrophic happens (i.e. allergic reaction).

A lot of people experience shame; it takes different forms. It can be something you consciously decide to put on situationally or something that has become so ingrained into your daily routine, you don’t even consider that it’s affecting your decisions. “How could I have done that better?” versus “How do I keep messing this up?” or “What could I have said to make the situation more comfortable” versus “Why am I so stupid in those situations?”. It can make it abundantly clear that you’ve made a mistake or it can be a constant reminder of how much of a mistake you are. Shame is something you can put on and take off or it’s something that is who you are. If shame, instead of being motivating, is actually paralyzing, it’s unhealthy.

The Desert

“The hope is that you could at least know yourself.”

I lifted my sleeve to my mouth to wipe away the sand that had stuck to my lips, realizing too late, as I had last time, that there was in fact more sand on my sleeve than on my mouth; only making the dryness worse. “What?”, I said in reply, not because I hadn’t heard, but because I was too preoccupied with his half-spitting and half-blowing to contemplate what had just been said. “Was that today’s adage?”, I heard off in the background. I turned back to my right, half grinning to acknowledge the latter comment, then immediately turned back, hoping to meet the gaze of the former comment’s author. The author hadn’t moved since his statement, and continued to stare off into the distance.

A voice echoed from behind me, “Well?? Stumps, I appreciate the deepness and what not, but if you don’t start explaining what exactly you mean by what you say, we’re just going to stop listening.”

The same voice, slightly softer and more deeply said, “You know, we’re lucky if we get more than a word a day out of him.”

He was right, once Stumps had closed his mouth for the day, it wouldn’t re-open until the Sun had done its lap.

Uncharacteristic of a soft spoken man with a limp, his gait was unbalanced but sure. His head was always upright, looking far off into the distance, which probably contributed to his clumsiness. We had concluded that this was some form of over-compensation. Stumps had to have made a decision early on, after whatever injury caused his limp, to keep his head up; focusing on what’s ahead rather than what’s holding him back. The heroic persona we chose to fathom was less based on what we actually knew and more so on our imagination and his significant lack of logorrhea.

“Stumps!”, we cried in unison. If Stumps spoke half as much as he stumbled, or as many times as he fell per day, he’d probably be hosting his own talk show. The guy walks; he walks a lot. His problem is that he doesn’t watch where he goes. Actually, if we go about an hour or so without yelling out his name, we start getting pangs. They resemble hunger pangs in the sense that our gut turns inside out; figuring he’s probably fallen into a ditch somewhere. Ranging from a hole, to a rock, to our equipment, it was also something with this guy. This time around, it was a little more serious, it was a rattler.

Dragging him away quickly but carefully, we balanced escaping the speed of our legless adversary and minimizing the pain of our abnormally legged comrade. “I guess I can’t just rely on you guys to watch where I’m going.” Considering the source, that was, unsurprisingly, a gross understatement. The air tasted metallic, but as I stood with my arms bent at my waist I realized my tongue was sore, complimenting my crimson saliva as I tried to evict more sand from my mouth. Before long, the waning rays of daylight had retreated from amidst the lurking shadows of the night. The mystery of time gone past had to wait as we focused on our initial dilemma. There were more questions than answers, and each question was more morbid than the one before it.

Ironically, we looked up and outward in all directions, convincing ourselves we would be able to more readily focus on a solution, even though that same mentality was the culprit just moments before. Almost simultaneously, our focus was drawn to Stumps’ face, not by a noise, but maybe by a lack of it, a mute harbinger of sorts. The tussle of clothing and subtle moans had become so rhythmic as background noise that silence was as abrupt and chaotic as shattered glass.  I imagine he had wanted to see the source of his pain, which aside from the redness and slight swelling was rather invisible, especially considering the time of day. For the first time we had ever witnessed, Stumps was looking at his legs.

It wasn’t the taste of salt, the cleared sinuses, or the blurred vision; it wasn’t Stumps’ choked backed tears, grasped left knee, or unsettling rocking back and forth; it was his hand on Stumps’ shoulder and his reassuring prophecy, “Everything is going to be alright” that yanked me back into the present and back into the situation at hand. He went on about the anti-venom in his possession and the strength of the pain killers, but he was wrong, he had missed it. Stumps wasn’t looking at the bite. In fact, he probably had numbed or blocked out the pain by now. Whatever pain was left was completely overcome by a realization or a relearning of a lesson received long past. Nothing in Stumps’ appearance had changed, save the two swollen bite marks on his left calf, but, at the same time, his left foot had never looked so swollen, so misaligned, and so much more unnatural than before. Maybe this was the first time I had really paid attention to how it actually looked, but as much as I was focused on his foot, it was clear Stumps had stumbled onto something more profound; he had seen a reflection of himself.

Who he was and who he was had never been so distinct. Although he thought he had been able to outrun his past, he had only ignored it long enough to convince himself he had. Yet, all at once, those two worlds clashed. Initially evidenced by his confident gait and disciplines, it became apparent that his desire to walk often and his focus upward and outward were doctrines to be followed in order to achieve bliss, not out of it. His hope was birthed out of ignorance. As I sat outside his tent, I began to weigh the scales. Which venom is more toxic? That of a snake or that of a stolen hope? Which is more deadly? Is there a cure for the latter? Is there even an anesthetic? I awoke in a daze, remembering the beginnings of certain thoughts and only the ends of others.

“The hope is that you could at least know yourself.”

I lifted my sleeve to my mouth to wipe away the sand that had stuck to my lips, realizing too late, as I had last time, that there was in fact more sand on my sleeve than on my mouth; only making the dryness worse. “What?”, I said in reply, not because I hadn’t heard, but because I was too preoccupied with his half-spitting and half-blowing to contemplate what had just been said. “Was that today’s adage?”, I heard off in the background. I turned back to my right, half grinning to acknowledge the latter comment, then immediately turned back, hoping to meet the gaze of the former comment’s author. The author looked down at his feet, then up at me and smiled.

A voice echoed from behind me, “Well?? Stumps, I appreciate the deepness and what not, but if you don’t start explaining what exactly you mean by what you say, we’re just going to stop listening.”

The same voice, slightly softer and more deeply said, “You know, we’re lucky if we get more than a word a day out of him.”

He was right, once Stumps had closed his mouth for the day, it wouldn’t re-open until the Sun had done its lap.

 

EP

Knowledge is very heavy. Or rather, it carries a lot of weight. Knowledge reveals itself in different forms, and is so acquired.

The background. There’s a story about a young boy who was sold into slavery by his own brothers. Fueled by jealously, they initially intended to kill the “favorite son”, but with some cajoling from the oldest brother, they agreed to only beat him up a little and throw him into a well. Maybe the boy would’ve been slightly comforted to know that the oldest brother did plan on pulling him out and returning him to their father. Only he was outdone by the other brothers who weren’t satisfied with just roughing him up. Now a father, with his face planted on two bloody hands where his son’s coat rested, and a first hand account of a wild animal attack, is less one son.

The story. This “dead son” is transported to a far away land where he sees a rise in prominence under his new owner followed by a fall due to false accusations by his owner’s wife. A rise in jail, befriending the warden and once significant servants to the king, leads to a fall due to those same prison-mates’ forgetfulness. A final rise completes the cycle, ending with the king’s highest regards. A now confident, wise, and favored leader, his government-focused work ultimately becomes the saving grace of the kingdom, sustaining not only their livelihood but that of surrounding nations in the midst of a devastating famine.

The crux. The famine spreads to outlying regions, reaching his old hometown. A hometown holding his father; convinced that wolves were responsible for the death of his son, and his brothers; who had been hiding that secret for almost 20 years. Hungry and desperate, they enter the kingdom hoping by God’s grace and some money they will be granted some food to bring home.

A decision. Old home vs. new home. The fate of those who condemned you to a life of torment and suffering is now in your hands. What guides your decision in how to handle this? Should you just beat them up a little? A few days, weeks, months in jail? They didn’t intend it so, but their decision led to your current rank, right? Yet, wasn’t it God, or will power, or strength from within, that brought you to where you are today? What about the innocent father and youngest brother? Should they be involved? Who’s going to pay for your unbearable days in the sun and freezing nights while traveling by caravan across the desert? How about the nights in jail with barely any food, sleeping among the rats? Who should pay for all you have gone through?

The history. Going through the thoughts in your head, you look at your father’s face; you remember a story that you not only heard about but had also experienced. You’d known very little about your uncle growing up. You did know you had never met him, and you also knew your father and him were not on speaking terms. While on the move with your family and all your possessions, you hear rumors of a meet with your uncle and his family. Initially excited, then worrisome, and finally mortified are your emotions as your mother shares the story of why your father and your uncle haven’t shared words in quite some time. Although most of the details escape you, you realize your father stole something of importance to your uncle, which clarifies why you are so far away from your dad’s hometown. You also realize that there was a promise between brothers; their next meet ends in your father’s death. Convincing yourself that you would never do anything like that to your brothers, and that it probably has blown over by now; you notice your legs begin shaking and you hope it’s because you’re getting tired and not because you’re getting afraid. Your mother starts whispering instructions in your ear, but you can’t hear them because you’re mesmerized by a vision of one man followed by rows of men that look like an army. The sand that had be crawling inside your mouth for the past day is now more aggressive than ever and you need to keep spitting it out as your scratch and rub your legs to alleviate their new found sense of irritation, all the while your mother’s voice getting louder and louder with each moment but still being as distant and incomprehensible as before. The wind dies, the animals stop moving, and your shoulders start hurting, like they are being stabbed by 10 little needles; two brothers meet in the middle. Your uncle embraces your father, and you realize the wind had never stopped and the animals had been moving the entire time, but your shoulders still hurt, that is, until you shove your mom and she eases her grip. You would do something like that to your brothers, you tell yourself confidently as you walk towards your new home.

The decision. Old home vs. new home. The fate of those who condemned you to a life of torment and suffering is now in your hands. What guides your decision in how to handle this? Should you just beat them up a little? A few days, weeks, months in jail? They didn’t intend it so, but their decision led to your current rank, right? Yet, wasn’t it your uncle that taught you in the midst of betrayal to be the better man? What would he have done in this situation, what did he do in his own? The mask of scented oils and perfumes, jewelry, and lotions is stripped upon your embrace of your father and brothers. To your father, the dead live. To your brothers, the impossible is possible. To you, your uncle’s legacy continues to live on.

Knowledge is very heavy. Or rather, it carries a lot of weight. Knowledge reveals itself in different forms, and is so acquired.

Faith

I’ve been hearing a lot of different things about “faith” lately, and it started to make me wonder what faith really is. According to Webster,

a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty (1) : fidelity to one’s promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
(1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust
: something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially: a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>



Of course, there is the popular Hebrews 11:1 description of faith,

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (NLT)
or
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (NKJV)



Regardless of whether a person is religious or not, the word faith has probably played a role. Either as the antonym of “doubt” or “fear”, or maybe as a synonym for “belief”.

I.E.
“Hey, I’m not buying this.” “Man, just have faith.”
OR
“Are you kidding me, this is terrifying. ” “Man, just have faith.”
OR
“I don’t think I can do this.” “Man, I have faith in you.”



“Have faith” is a phrase heard over and over again, but what does it mean? If I say I have something, it’s pretty clear that I own it, or possess it. If someone else tells me to “have something”, it usually means they possess it and are freely giving it to me or that they have deemed it under their realm of authority to  transfer it to me.

I.E.
“I have a muffin.”
OR
“That’s a lovely vase.” “Really? Man, you can have it.”
OR
<Sitting in a waiting room> “I really want to eat that muffin.” “Man, it’s free for anyone to take, just have it.”



What if people saying “just have faith” are misspeaking and really intend to say, “you have to have faith”. It takes on a different meaning. Now can either be something they have ownership of and can freely “allow” you to take or receive, or now, realizing your life is lacking and in desperate need, they have taken it upon themselves to make you aware of that fact, from either good intent or pride.

I.E.
“Oh my goodness man, to have to have this chocolate mousse, it’s to die for.”
OR
“Man, you have to have the ability to deal with your own problems.”



What’s funny about faith in Christianity is that faith is associated with a group of powerful words: hope and love (1 Cor 13:13) that, at least in my opinion, are significantly more prevalent and better understood in society. Having hope and having love aren’t as vague as having faith. Clearly, you can hope and can love, but can you faith? We can distinguish between hoping and wishing (Mandela’s character hopes, the audience wishes); loving and liking; but what about faith and belief? Can hope exist without defeat (or its existence), can love exist without hate (or its existence), can faith exist without fear/doubt (or its existence)?

When the thought of “having faith” came to mind, my concept of faith evolved over time. Originally, I thought you have to take the fear you have and make it into faith.



Aren’t faith and fear mutually exclusive though? Should one only exist in the absence of the other?



Let’s be real though, can any person really be without fear? It would seem like no ordinary person would be able to have faith if this were the case, but what if it were more gradual?



As fear dissipated, faith would overtake it. Right? Yet, the concept of being 30% full of fear and 70% full of faith doesn’t make sense. If I’m afraid, i’m afraid, and if I have faith, I have faith, don’t I? Can I be 100% fearful and 100% faithful?

What if faith isn’t acting to remove fear, but acting in spite of fear – a person’s faith wouldn’t be a demographic on the back of a card, like someone’s height or weight. It would be the result of a decision a person took every single day of his/her life. Do I take the step, or not?



So what does it take for you to be willing to jump over that giant chasm in front of you called Fear? Maybe it comes down to what you focus on. How about instead of focusing on what’s clearly visible; fear, we chose to focus on what’s on the other side, the invisible?



Inspiration. I remember reading a letter from Compassion’s Child Survival Program about the number of children dying in third world countries and how some money I had donated had saved lives. Pretty impressive story; probably to get more money out of me. I read about a young mother and boy who was about 15 months old and on the verge of death. The money donated through this program was able to give him hospital care and save his life. What about about the long term effects; how could this affect population crises and is this kind of work really sustainable in the long run? Money, population crises, sustainability? Really? Lives are being saved, and hurting people are being comforted. Inspiration.

Find whatever it takes for you to forget those visible distractions and focus on the ultimate good at the end. Different people have different means of being inspired; if the next step of faith is what you need to take, get inspired.

Planty the Potted Plant

I bought a plant for my apartment. Let’s call him Planty.

It took somewhere between 30 and 40 minutes to pick Planty out from among his peers to be my own. Calling it a journey of discovery would be a tad misguided since most of the time was made up of standing still glaring at plant information tabs and wondering how I could convert units such as direct, indirect, or low to lumens, and how I didn’t know what a lumen actually was. I also started wondering about which direction my windows face and why my school didn’t offer Guugu Yimithirr as a foreign language (what?); would’ve been useful – what’s that saying about hindsight?

After I paced back and forth between shrubbery, bushes, miniature trees, flowers, and the like – cautiously dragging my flip-flop laden (slightly cold) feet so as not to wet and rewet them with what I assumed to be leftovers of Planty’s lunch  – I decided to pick the Peace Lily, Planty the Peace Lily. My decision was based on some algorithm involving size, maintenance upkeep, color, and sunlight and window face direction estimations. What the formula actually was; I can’t recall.

I bought the plant from a cashier from Home Depot. Let’s call her Home Depot Lady.

I finally walked over to the check out aisle, most probably to the relief of Home Depot Lady. She really liked my selection of plant, and gave me some tips on how to care for it. A good amount of sunlight and not too much water. She felt the soil and mystically gathered how much moisture was within, sharing that I wouldn’t have to water Planty for another week; 7 days. A warning though: too much water and Planty would become jaundiced; not enough water – and Planty would start looking… well, more like me.

My new plant needed some space that required moving stuff around. Let’s call it Rearrangement.

I started noticing how much bigger or smaller you can make a room look by simply shifting a couch or table a few inches one way or the other. Even though the physical distance between the couch and the television hadn’t changed, it seemed a lot farther away. I didn’t consider Rearrangement in my algorithm. Planty – high maintenance.

Day 5 – Planty starts drooping. Day 5 != Day 7, so it can’t be a lack of water… clearly it’s not in the right position to get the most sunlight. I moved Planty around the apartment as the sun moved across the sky to make sure he got what he needed, all the while thinking, “This is definitely not sustainable.”  No matter; Planty kept getting more and more depressed as the day rolled on.

My vast knowledge of botany is summarized as follows: Sunlight + Water = Healthy Plant. If Sunlight goes up, but Healthy Plant is still going down, Water must be going down faster than Sunlight rises.

A good washing down, and a day later, Planty was stretching upward and outward.

It taught me something. Planty did what he could with what he had. Regardless of how much Planty “tried” to look healthy, it didn’t amount to much – at least to an outside perspective like my own.

I think people are like that sometimes. Those things that we pride ourselves in; things that we would like to define ourselves by are things that we are most willing to hide when we think they are deficient. Although not especially enlightening, when we try to be strong, or do the best with what we’ve got – distracting outsiders with charades so our wounds are hidden – we tend to expose ourselves even further.

Frustrated

He walked back and forth, occasionally glancing at the monstrosity on the far corner of the room. It hadn’t always been a monstrosity – but unanswered questions, unprovoked gestures, and awkward silences had exponentially taken a gentle, rhythmic giant to a overtly ostentatious beast. A raucousness of sharp clangs along with uncoordinated and tumultuous steps at an instant’s notice drove him to frustration. “Why now?”

Swarm. The day’s schedule summarized in seconds. Could-do’s became Must-do’s. Might-do’s became Must-do’s. To-Do’s became Must-do Now’s. Must-do’s became burdensome. A glance at the clock; it was reining. “What for?”

Reflect. Murals of vibrant memory clips separated by a thin strand of logic become sequential events. Much like a reel of film. And just as cumbersome to roll up tidily if carelessly left to its own will. “Why not?”

Release. The countdown, the anticipation – the fear. “When?”

 

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