JONAH AND THE BIRDS

 “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” 

                                                 – C.S. Lewis.

Like it or not, Life is a full-contact sport. And this week? I’ve seen an awful lot of action, so please hold onto the bar and keep your hands and feet inside the car until the blog comes to a complete stop. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started.

First the good news: Rick and I celebrated our 27-year anniversary. Who knew ‘Love at First Sight’ had that kind of shelf life?

On the solemn side, it was four-years ago (today) that Elsie (Rick’s mom) died.  I honor her memory by relying on what she taught me as my mom for nearly as long as I’ve been an adult.

And as if that weren’t enough, adding to my action-packed agenda were the shock waves from two different kinds of betrayal at the hands of two different people, both of whom I like. Relax, there was nothing criminal in the choices they made, but the moral and ethical decisions they made exploded around us like nukes.  That being said, and in the best sense, there’s nothing special about me. Sooner or later, we all get attacked by something bad.

This week, there were some of us on the planet who got robbed at gunpoint (or worse). There were others in our tribe who found themselves sitting stunned in their doctor’s office, trying to wrap their head around the word ‘cancer’. And whether we know it or not, we probably have friends who woke up screaming as they replayed the childhood nightmare of an incestuous family member intent on pulling them from their hiding place under the bed. For me? Nothing so bad as that, but I do find myself having to look for a job.

Having survived other attacks over the course of my life, my stock response sources back to early childhood when I learned to armor up and go into my ‘bunker’. ‘Shields up. Lock it down‘. Over time, heading into the bunker became a reflexive psychological fire drill. It was my safe house. But as anyone who has ever built a bunker knows, there are two sides to every blast door. The other side of the door that keeps the bad stuff out is the one that keeps you locked inside. Trade-offs.

For the past few weeks, I’ve repeatedly told myself that bad things happen to good people. I’m not dead. I didn’t start the fight. Besides, this time, I’m the victim.

And while I wrestle with bouncing back from the body blows, I’m already struggling with how to forgive. For weeks I’ve known I eventually need to get to the point where I can, but there’s a very real part of my nature that just won’t.

I keep hearing me refuse to take the next step.

It’s so seductive to give in and hate the people who hurt me…especially when they SO deserve it? How do I keep such justified poison from corroding my Soul from the inside out? How do I keep them from claiming victory? How do I resist the temptation to operate on their level. After all, isn’t revenge a dish best served cold?

With all that swirling around me, I remembered this guy…let’s call him Jonah. All in all, he’s a pretty together prophet who spent his time jetting around Israel’s Northern Kingdom (800 BC). Depending on who you read, seems that Jonah had earned some street cred with his less than anonymous call to the king (Jeroboam, aka, Jerry). “So bottom-line Jerry…I took a meeting with God the other day. He’s telling me you really need to straighten up and fly right. Jerry, you know I’m in your corner on this, but my take-away is if you don’t, God’s going to walk and you’re going to lose territory (and market share) to Nineveh”.

Kudos to Jonah for doing his civic duty in warning the Kingdom.

But here’s the twist..next thing you know, Jonah gets a G[od]-mail to pack an overnight bag and catch the next flight to Nineveh.

‘Details are still emerging, but sources close to the prophet tell us Jonah is being called to go to Nineveh. Early reports indicated he’ll be calling on Ninevitian leaders to straighten up and fly right or face destruction. More on this breaking story later in our broadcast.”

Confused yet? Jonah probably was too. “Uh, I know you’re God and everything, but you do know that these people are our enemies, right?. Seems to me that trashing Nineveh might actually be a good thing. I’m just saying…”.

Like many of us, Jonah thought he knew better as to what needed to be done. Not only did he decline his call, but he decided it might be a good time to take a cruise…maybe visit some other ports-of-call in the Mediterranean for a little R&R…maybe do a little whale watching.

The rest, as they say, is history. The old story and many others like it from other cultures around the world all speak to the importance of saying ‘I’m sorry‘ and asking for, or granting, authentic forgiveness.

The last few weeks I’ve been having a real problem with forgiveness. What do you do with forgiveness when you’re the one that was wronged? And like Jonah, I’ve been the one saying, ‘Nope. I don’t wanna’. Intellectually I know I should. Psychologically I know I should. Everything but my Insides tell me it’s the right thing to do. Why am I objecting?

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

– Marianne Williamson

Evelyn Rodriguez turned me onto the book The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, where Abraham Maslow writes about what he refers to as the “Jonah Complex”.

“We fear our highest possibilities (as well as our lowest ones). We are generally afraid to become that which we can glimpse in our most perfect moment, under the most perfect conditions, under conditions of greatest courage. We enjoy and even thrill to the godlike possibilities we see in ourselves in such peak moments. And yet we simultaneously shiver with weakness, awe, and fear before these very same possibilities.”

Put simply, it’s each of us that get in the way of being our truest selves. So why do we do it?

I think it may have to do with us feeling that somehow, someway, we simply can’t contain such perpetual euphoria…our bodies would burst. Much easier (and safer) not to try the limits (high or low). It’s in that moment when we step down from being our very best. ‘What will people think? I don’t want anyone to think that I think I’m all that and a bag of chips’.

Here’s a Jonah Complex Checklist. Do any of these sound familiar?

1) an evasion of growth and fulfilling one’s best talents;

2) fear of one’s greatness including the sense that it may be inherently dangerous;

3) fear of the sense of responsibility that often attends recognizing our own greatness, talents, potentials;

4) fear that an extraordinary life would be out of the ordinary, and hence not “acceptable” to others;

5) fear that the process may be too powerful, too intense, too overwhelming (as in looking directly into the sun);

6) fear of losing control, of annihilation, or of disintegration by the experience;

7) fear of hubris, or “sinful pride” leading to paranoia.

Forgive? Why? It’s easier to say ‘no’. But saying ‘no’ is not good for us. From blood pressure to heightened chances of stroke or heart attack, we’re not wired to walk around with bushel baskets of unresolved hatred. I found two wise sources that can put it better than I can, so let me get out of the way and let them speak.

Everett L. Worthington Jr., PhD, a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University and the author of Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Theory and Applications has devised a 5-step program called REACH, with each letter representing one step.

“First you Recall the hurt objectively, without blame and self-victimization,” Worthington says. “Then you Empathize by trying to imagine the viewpoint of the person who wronged you. The Altruistic part involves getting people to think about a time they were forgiven and how that felt. When it’s time to Commit to forgiveness, people usually say, not yet, but when they finally do, they must then Hold on to forgiveness.”

But be careful.  There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. Depending on what happened to them there are some people who cannot forgive, and that’s OK too, according to Jeanne Safer, PhD, a psychotherapist and the author of Forgiving and Not Forgiving. For some of her patients, recognizing that they don’t have to forgive is a huge relief.

“Many don’t have to forgive in order to resolve their feelings,” Safer says. “They say, ‘I can never feel OK about these terrible things, but I’m not going to be vengeful.'”

To help them achieve this resolution, Safer offers a three-step process.

1. The first step involves re-engagement — a decision to think through what happened.

2. The second step, recognition, means looking at every feeling you may have about the injury. “You ask yourself, ‘why do I want revenge?'” Safer said. “Revenge is based on powerlessness and it’s doomed to failure.”

3. The third and final step involves reinterpretation of the injury, including an attempt to understand the person who caused it. “This is where forgivers and non-forgivers divide,” Safer said. “Sometimes you’re not able to reconnect with the person, but if you go through this process, at least you won’t be a victim.”

As is my practice every morning around 5, I have ‘focus time’ (a consequence of my former evangelical self having difficulty with the word meditation).  During ‘my time’, I have been turning all these ideas over in my head…trying to reach an honest point of departure where I can say, ‘I forgive you…‘ and mean it. It hasn’t been easy. It’s been tough to keep thoughts about rage, purpose, money and betrayal from intruding on ‘my time’ each morning. Day after day, I’d gut-check my systems to see if I had reached my destination of inner resolution and the answer was always ‘no‘. But inexplicably, one simple question kept coming back to me during my focus time. “Do you hear the birds singing?”.

‘Uh? Birds? Singing? A) I’m not a fan and B) I’ve got real problems here. What has that got to do with anything?’.

But day after day, the same odd question kept greeting me each morning. Then yesterday morning, I remembered my Grandpa pointing out how the birds didn’t worry about things like we did…they just knew what to do. Their lives weren’t easy, but somehow, their needs were met. He’d always close his thought with a question. “Do you think Creation cares any less for you than it does for the birds?” And I would dutifully respond, ‘No’.

Like so many mornings before as I sat, silently watching the sun rise, my new old-friend question met me and my coffee cup again. “Do you hear the birds?”

But this morning, it was different.  This time, I felt it and I knew it to be true. I said ‘Yes’. Yes. What was done to me by others was wrong, but I think I’m going to be fine now.

With any luck, this might help you hear the birds in your life. Thanks for stopping by.

Here’s the full quote.  Savor and enjoy.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Our Deepest Fear by Marianne Williamson from A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles (Page 190-191). http://www.facebook.com/pages/Marianne-Williamson/207697880579

Attributions, Sources and Photo Credits:

Rainbow Prism: http://anotherq.blogspot.com/2011/09/rainbow-prisms.html

German D-Day Bunker: http://www.bugbitten.com/photos/Europe/amesngeoff/Europe/104291-15194-3662529.html. Jonah: By Rebecca Kennison, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonah. Newsman: The Muppet Show (Jim Henson). Abraham Maslow: http://www.abrahammaslow.com/

Read more about Maslow at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Maslow

The Farther Reaches of Human Nature by Abraham Maslow; Published by Penguin / Arkana; 1st edition (October 1, 1993) available via: http://www.amazon.com/The-Farther-Reaches-Human-Nature/dp/0140194703#. You can contact Everett L. Worthington Jr., PhD: http://www.psychology.vcu.edu/people/worthington.shtml. Painting of Grant Wood New Road by Jeanne Safer, PhD http://www.webofnarcissism.com/forums/index.php/topic,6462.msg16692.html?PHPSESSID=7a239c81ceb7f6f06f8ec2c8f3a9f2df#msg16692 and http://www.webofnarcissism.com/forums/index.php?topic=6462.0. Peace Sign Drawing by Bryan: http://www.sodahead.com/user/profile/1360809/bryan/

My thanks and appreciation to these sources of wisdom and insight:

http://evelynrodriguez.typepad.com/crossroads_dispatches/2004/09/evading_the_cre_1.html

http://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/forgive-forget

http://www.oprah.com/spirit/8-Ways-to-Forgive-and-Forget/2

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About dan4kent

Born and raised in the Midwest, Dan lives in the Chicagoland area. With a grown son from a previous marriage, he has since built a committed relationship of 32 years with his partner Rick, the Love of his Life. Having written his whole life, he blogged the past 6-years because he has to write…he can’t help it. Know the feeling? There’s ‘good‘ to be found in all of it. “If all I do is leave someone (or something) better than I found them, then I’ve done my part. Thanks for letting me grace your screen, if only for a little while.”
This entry was posted in Hope, Humor, Life, Life Lessons, Love, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to JONAH AND THE BIRDS

  1. What do I think?!? Oh my gosh, Dan! You’ve said so much and offered such wonderful resources on a personal topic in a way that allows you to step out of your bunker. First of all, props on reading some Maslow! I love the mid-century psychology theorists, specifically the ones who delve into the twin worlds of existentialism and humanism. (And Maslow keeps great company— Victor Frankl!)

    Here’s the other element of this post that amazes me— you lay bare some of your own processes and ideas in such a thoughtful, generous way that I feel humbled to be here, reading this right now. Sending you good thoughts for your “focus time. ” Thank you for giving me so much beauty and humanity to contemplate today.

    • dan4kent says:

      Wowie Gazowie! Am so blown away when what flows out of my fingers and through the keyboard then connects with another ‘Sojourner Truth’. And let’s not forget to seat the Taoists and Carl Rogers at Frankl’s table…but I digress. What really gets my ticker beating is what I mentioned to Yearstricken…your clean feedback reinforces my own gyroscope to be honest in my journey. Thanks for letting me tag along with you on yours. Dan

      • Yes, yes, and yes! I hope we all continue to help each other to move forward. Reading this piece really did remind me to reach further inside for the truth. And Dan— you have so much to say. Please, keep going!

  2. yearstricken says:

    I am so glad you heard the birds singing.

    A great piece of writing, Dan.

    • dan4kent says:

      Thank you. Ironic to have been tagged as bird-brained for a long time (Ha!). Seriously, your feedback reinforces my courage to tell the truth. Be well.

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