rewiring the heart

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the color purple.

There were about four families who weren’t white out of the entire southern West Virginia county where I was raised.  This was a sheltered and skewed microcosm of how the world coexisted.  With limited exposure to diversity and enveloped by prejudice, the world-view I developed in regards to race was narrow to say the least.   I was taught implicitly to develop mistrust and disdain for “those people.”

I made a vow at about ten years old to be everything opposite of my father, and that included racist comments.  So, when I turned eighteen, I married and moved out of the county as fast as I could to the nearest city.  In Bluefield, WV, the demographics were dramatically different. At this point in my life, I equated being tolerant with being nice to people of color, having work friends who were black, and of course never using the “N” word.

I thought myself a pretty evolved young man until 1997 when I took a job as a bank teller.  The drive-through of this particular bank was a detached glass box sitting alone in the far-end of the parking lot.   It didn’t take me long to befriend a beautiful African-American woman named Ellen.  We hit it off beautifully; constantly laughing, singing, or attempting to dance within the confined space of the structure.  This friendship was something I was to proud to cultivate.

On one busy Friday afternoon, I was conducting a transaction for an African-American woman.  As I finished up and sent the drawer out to her, she pointed over to Ellen, who had her back to me, helping customers on the other side.  I turned and tried to get Ellen’s attention so she could speak to the lady, but she was so busy with her transaction she didn’t hear me.  The lady in the car began to drive off a little, so I raised my voice.  “Ellen, this lady over here wants to say hello!”

Ellen, still looking down at her paperwork asked, “Which lady is it?”

My brain must have gone into some sort of over-analytical state.  In a split second, so many thoughts rushed through my head.  I needed to use a descriptive word for the lady. I had heard all of my life that the term African-American was an entitled and stupid way to describe black people.  I had never once used it.  And the other word I grew up with would definitely not be acceptable.  So, I landed on what I thought was the safest word.

“It’s the colored woman.”

My hands are sweaty as I type this, my body reliving the sinking feeling I had in my stomach just after those words left my mouth.  It was if the entire world took a gasp as everything in the drive-through went silent.  Ellen immediately dropped everything in her hand, whipped around, peering at me over her bifocals.  “COLORED?!  COLORED?!” She stood staring at me, hands on hips, her jaw dropped in shock.  “Well what color is she?  PURPLE?!”

I instantly turned red and wouldn’t make eye contact with her.  I was embarrassed.  I took the next customer hoping the issue would be dropped for now.  In my ignorance and naivety, I was just trying to use the right word.  In retrospect, why I couldn’t say something like the lady in the silver ford is beyond me.

I could see her staring at me through my periphery.  “Who raised you, anyway?” She went on to say some other comments that, very reasonably, lasted throughout the entirety of the shift.  Thankfully, we were able to talk it out a few days later and now she is a very dear friend of mine.

Ellen had an excellent point when she asked me about my upbringing. Some people, like Bruce Lipton, author of The Biology of Belief, site that 95% of our current reality is being operated by the programs installed into our subconscious during the first seven years of life.  Installed programs refers to the beliefs and attitudes a child is surrounded by during those vulnerable early years when the brain is recording with intensity.  That situation showed me that there were subconscious programs running in the background of my brain about black people that weren’t in alignment with how I saw myself.

I refuse to place blame on anyone who influenced me as a child.  As an adult, it is my responsibility to take time for self-examination, expose my beliefs and hold myself accountable.  All I knew at twenty years old was that I didn’t want to be a racist, but I didn’t know how not to be.  As the years went by, I prided myself in using socially-accepted terminology and tried hard not to label, judge, stereotype; to treat everyone equally.  That was my definition at the time of being tolerant.

And then the Universe brought me the Target incident.

a target on my back.

Fast-forward twenty years to 2017.  Although I feel my worldview evolved through the years, I will admit that until I physically (and emotionally) experienced pure racism in person, I had doubts about its existence.  And when I would hear of racist acts, my response was to minimize the severity.  Outward expressions of tolerance do not overwrite internal beliefs.  

At one point during active Meth addiction, I decided to become a dealer. I took on a “business partner” named Zeek (not his real name), an African-American man who had been a former dealer with connections across the state.  That whole story could be a chapter in a novel.

One day as we drove toward Raleigh, NC, the car sputtered on the last drops of gas and we drifted into the parking lot of a convenience store.  I was beyond frustrated.  After stopping, a single cigarette rolled from under my seat.  I had been without smokes for a while, so I delighted at this unexpected gift.  However, all the lighters in the car were empty.  For the first time in my life, I decided to steal.  For over forty years, I had never stolen anything on purpose.  I walked into the store, straight to the counter, and scowled at the employee.  I kept my eye contact with her and reached up and grabbed a lighter.  I turned around and walked outside and lit up.  I had found a new high–the exhilaration of getting away with theft.  Zeek told me that that he would never have gotten away with that.  I scoffed.

I then became severely addicted to shoplifting.  My tactic was simple: I donned a nice suit and strolled through Target, filling my cart with whatever I wanted.  I would then simply walk out the front door.  Never once was I questioned and as far as I could tell, I was never given a second glance.  I was using white privilege to my advantage.  At the time I thought I was just a great thief.

I convinced Zeek to join me as I had concocted a two-man job.  He was very reluctant, arguing that he would profiled.  I assured him that this particular Target’s loss prevention team was very loose.   Here’s what happened: we were followed from the moment we entered the store, through every aisle, until we left.  We were trailed, practically on our heels, by two different employees.  I was so discombobulated that I couldn’t steal. I remember taking something off the shelf and seeing an employee moving closer to me, watching with intensity.

Zeek, typically an extremely secure individual, became meek, watching over his shoulder in fear, body slumped.  My mind was blown. And honestly, my heart was hurt.

After leaving, Zeek was relentless with “I told you so!”  He had every right.  I had never in my life felt so uneasy and criminal.  I was shaken by this, and my eyes were opened to an entirely different world.  (Note that I returned to that store and stole repeatedly following that day, so we weren’t being followed because I had been previously identified and somehow flagged.)

Since that experience, I developed a newfound appreciation for the plight of the black person in America.  My worldview was expanded.  I use the Target example every time the issue of racial profiling comes up to demonstrate its validity.  As if the validation from a white man makes it more true.  But, sadly, many times it does.

it’s not you, it’s me.

The death of George Floyd and subsequent events has reignited within me the fire of self-examination.  This process is raw, vulnerable, and uncomfortable.  I long to be exposed as I move from the head space to the heart space.  This journey has illuminated a broader scope than just the issue of me being a racist. I’m beginning to learn what I believe about everything external to me.

One of Neville Goddard’s most frequent topics is his assertion that everyone is “you pushed out.”  What this means to me is that my internal beliefs about people–and more importantly myself–drives the roles people play in my life.  This sounds very mystical to some, but I have personally experienced this phenomenon first-hand to such a high degree that I accept it as fact.

Everyone being you pushed out is a theory that your reality is a mirror reflection of your state of consciousness.  I began seeing Goddard’s theory in action while experiencing the energetic pendulum principle at my job.  Once I began altering the beliefs I have about people, they either changed or left my life.

To illustrate, let’s use African-Americans customers as an example.  I have been waiting tables for over 25 years now and everywhere I have ever worked there is a common belief that black people do not tip well and complain about their food.  Please note that I have only been a server in restaurants in the South, so that could have something to do with it.  But, if you don’t believe me, ask a server who will be honest.  

During the time I was learning to use the power of choice when it comes to feeding energetic pendulums, it was not limited to the snobby lady who sat in my section all night. Black people were also on the list.  At first it was difficult.  My mind had been running this same program of expectations about black people for so many years, that my reaction was instantaneous.  I was pretty appalled at how my mind had learned to function over the years, even after the Target incident. In my heart, I truly believed a story about people before I even met them!

Over time, I found a Universal principle at play: when I believe black people won’t tip well, they won’t tip well.  If I truly make a change in my heart space and believe that everyone is the best versions of themselves and that I was going to have a wonderful and profitable exchange with a black table, then that’s exactly what transpired.  Every time. Does this fix racism in America?  Maybe not.  But, for me, personal evolution is the first step in radical revolution.

Again, this goes beyond race for me.  During my daily self-discovery I have observed ingrained beliefs about groups of people based on weight, zip code, mannerisms, profession, etc.  It takes work to remain in awareness of your thought patterns throughout the day, but the more I practice the more enlightened about myself I have become.  I literally judge people all day long.  And the judgments I make about others will inevitably dictate their behavior.  That is the way it works.  Everyone is me pushed out.  

Catching on to this principle, I then realized that I had beliefs about individuals in my reality as well.  I found that the people in my life who were acting in ways I did or didn’t like were simply playing out roles that I believed about them.  For example, I had a belief that my daughter was a negative person.  I found myself thinking: “she is so negative.”  I would talk to my mom about her: “she is so negative.” I found in my journal where I had written about her negativity.  I had latched on to that role for her and the Universe continued to show me how lazy she was in countless ways.  So, when everyone is you pushed out, the first place to go is inside.

I have found that the only real change in my reality comes when I make changes in my own mind and ultimately my heart.  Instead of telling other people to change or wishing things were different external to me, I have found pure magic in shifting my own programming.  It all begins with a mantra for me: “Lili is such a positive person!” Then that evolves into meditation where I imagine her saying something positive to me or her friends.  Then, when I least expect it, I notice that she has said something uplifting or has perceived a situation in a positive light.  That’s when I latch on, lean into the gratitude, and something in my heart begins to shift. My belief about her evolves.

under construction.

The issue of racism is important, and I feel its demise is part of a world-wide awakening.  At least it feels like I am waking up.  Unconsciously, I have allowed my identity and my reality to be shaped by programming written by environmental factors (including media, friends, literature, culture) and centuries-old DNA coding.  To live in a world driven by external forces feels like mental hijacking.  Becoming awakened to this puts me in the driver’s seat.

I do not accept this programming as a reflection of who I AM.  I recognize that my heart could use some rewiring. I am remorseful about how I have perceived and behaved toward others–but I don’t feel guilt.  Guilt says that I have gone against my morals and that makes me a bad person.  Guilt drives my codependency to do things in hopes of being liked by someone else.  Remorse says I have gone against my morals but the intention of my heart is to rectify the situation.

As I have grown more in love with myself, I have grown more in love with everyone around me. I realize that the more energy I devote externally into what other people ARE or AREN’T doing is simply perpetuating whatever it is they ARE or AREN’T doing.  Everyone is me pushed out.  Revolution begins with and through me.

Please feel free to comment and add your thoughts.

where wisdom is born

torchI’ve often heard that wisdom is found at the intersection of knowledge and experience.  I tend to agree with this statement and can attest that my direct life experience has illuminated the textual meaning of many words.  For instance, I spent years misusing and interchanging sympathy, empathy, and compassion.  This is the story of how my life journey taught me the meaning of these words and birthed invaluable wisdom.  

I turned the engine off after parking in dad’s driveway and stared at his half-opened front door.  This was one of many daily stops to clean up and make sure he had everything he needed.  This was also a daily ritual of bracing myself emotionally for whatever scene awaited me behind that door.  He had just arrived home in an ambulance a few days before due to angrily signing himself out of yet another hospital.  After many years of alcohol abuse, his esophagus was eaten away by cancer, but he refused any treatment.  He had been rotting away for weeks right before my eyes.  The man who I despised for most of my waking life was now dependent almost solely on my care.    

As soon as I stepped from the car, I could hear the television blaring.  He had lost most of his hearing in his 20’s while being treated for a brain tumor, and now at 41 he was practically deaf.  Walking into the living room, the scene was heart-breaking.  There was my dad, for years such a dominant and aggressive figure, now a skeleton in white briefs.  His little body almost disappeared into the recliner seated directly in front of the TV.  His eyes were wide and darting back and forth as he watched the old Western gun fight, the skin flaps from the open wound left by the emergency trach he ripped out flapped back-and-forth as he struggled to breathe.  There was a tube protruding from his stomach, resting on his thigh, leaking Ensure onto the chair.  

My stomach churned at the thought of breaking the news to him that there would be a nurse coming by in the next few days because all of this care was far beyond my capabilities.  He would not be happy about this, and even without words he had been able to express his feelings quite clearly.  I stood beside him for a while watching his chest struggle to expand and contract corresponding to the gurgling sounds coming from the hole in his throat.   He had no idea I was standing there.  I finally put my hand on his shoulder.  His head slowly turned from the TV and his eyes locked with mine in a way I had never experienced in my life.  My  body shook; I was taken off-guard.  

It was as if I was looking into a stranger’s eyes.  They were so expressive and deep and captivating and clearly trying to send a message.  He lifted his hand slowly to take mine.  As I held it, I thought how could this be the strong hand that had built our house from the ground up?  How could this be the hand I saw hit my mom, me, his brothers? This tiny, soft, frail hand that belonged to those mysterious eyes.  I held on to it with both of my own hands as if I were meeting my dad for the very first time.  I leaned in close to his face as if maybe he were going to speak.  We both had tears trailing down our faces.        

I’m not sure how long I stood there staring into his eyes.  I was trying so hard to decipher his message, almost telepathically.  There seemed to be desperation, sadness, apology, maybe some exhaustion…they expressed something beyond emotion.  Or was this me projecting into his eyes what I wanted him to say?  Was this me trying to reach closure? Was I simply dramatizing this?  Or was he asking me to put him out of his misery?  That look in his eyes will forever be vividly etched into my memory.  

I instinctively knew that there was no need to mention the nurse or to clean up. He would die that night.  The next morning my grandma and uncle traveled to check on him and found him dead in his bead; he had asphyxiated in his sleep.  

Throughout the years since that day, I stopped trying to interpret the mysterious message from his eyes.  What I decided I felt that day was sympathy–the feeling of sorrow for another’s misfortune.  To me, that emotion was something I had never felt for him before and was enough to break the walls of anger I had allowed to build up over my lifetime.  Sympathy opened a pathway to forgive him for everything that had transpired in my childhood and beyond.  It was relieving to me that I could feel pity for a man I had hated, and there was a sense of freedom in forgiveness.  In my mind, I had moved on and had the closure I needed.  

As my kids grew older and my parental skills tested, I began to see glimpses of my dad showing up in my screaming tantrums, knee-jerk physical reactions, stinging sarcasm, and manipulation.  Once I threw the TV remote and broke it against the wall which triggered memories of never having a working remote in our house growing up because dad broke them all in anger.  As I would go to my kids’ rooms to hold them and apologize after I had overreacted, flashes of my dad doing the same thing to me would flood my mind.  That’s when I experienced a newfound feeling toward my dad–empathy.  I was able to see from his perspective how he may have felt, and how easy it is to make some bad decisions and lose emotional control.  This was before I used any mind-altering substances, so as I thought about my actions I imagined how alcohol probably aided in this temporary mental hijacking.  This line of reasoning helped me embody and understand where he might have been coming from.  Empathy brought a new level of forgiveness for me.    

And I believed that was my ultimate closure.  Until last year when I had a reading from an intuitive medium.  

The medium told me that my father was “stuck” in an unknown realm (which I have come to believe is the spiritual middle world) where essentially “ghosts” exist.  He was suspended there because of the acts he had committed while alive.  I said to her that I had already forgiven him and come to peace with the past so it must be acts he committed to others.  She advised that I try to contact him, maybe sit down and have dinner with my dad in order to find what deeper meanings lie there.  He was a soul, she said, that had a generation of burden.  

Every other part of her reading was precisely correct, so I decided to follow her advice.  I had dinner with my dad.  I remembered how much he loved ribs, so for the first time in my life I bought two racks of baby backs and grilled them.  I sat down at the table with the ribs and I began carrying on a conversation with him, who I imagined in the empty chair across from me.  I went through the litany of reasons why I had forgiven him, letting him know that I was in recovery from my Meth addiction, that the family was thriving.  I forgave him again.  I left the conversation asking how I could help him and I sat in silence for a long time waiting for some sort of sign.  What came next will probably seem hard to believe.

After the dinner, I went to bed and was quickly swept into an altered state of consciousness where I had a vision.  I was standing on the banks of a river made of crystal clear water.  I received a message that this river was all the thoughts that had ever been thought and would ever be thought.  If I wanted answers, dive in.  So I did.  I swam underneath the water, the bottom of the river was made of the most beautiful and glittery crystals I had ever seen.  I noticed a door among the crystals which I opened to reveal a warm, dry room. Inside the room was a fire burning in a small fireplace and an iron kettle suspended above it, the contents bubbling.  

I approached the fire and noticed that instead of logs the flames were coming from a pile of what I perceived to be human bones.  The kettle above the fire was hot, thick blood.  (In research after the vision I found out that there is an ancient Shamanic tradition of releasing souls from a purgatory state by exhuming their bones and burning them.) Then an image appeared above the mantle of the fireplace and it was the image of my father’s eyes from the last time I had seen him.  The familiar and mysterious expression that seemed to penetrate my soul.  This time, though, I could hear words. You didn’t know my soul.  I didn’t know the damage I caused.  You didn’t know my soul.  I didn’t know.  That wasn’t me. Over and over.    

The eeriness of the words and the sight of those eyes caused chills down my spine and I rose up from my bed screaming and sobbing.  As I fell to the floor crying uncontrollably, I had some profound realizations.  

Dad was in active addiction all of my life.  I used to wonder how and why a man would ever treat his kids and family the way he treated us.  Now I know.  I had committed the same egregious acts to my own kids and family while in active Meth addiction.  My loved ones were just as abused and mistreated as I ever was, even more.  And just like that version of me didn’t reflect my soul, neither did the version of my dad that I knew reflect his soul.  I had to go through Meth addiction to finally feel the emotion I needed for complete and total reconciliation with my dad–compassion. To feel compassion, I had to suffer alongside him in the deepest way.  And I understood in that moment this healing was meant not only for me and my dad, but for the generations of men before and after us.  

My face was planted in a pool of tears as I continued to scream from joy, sadness, resolution, epiphany, victory and purging…I’m really not sure of the word to describe it.  I suffered alongside my dad and understood the final look on his face was the raw bearing of his essence transitioning out of his tired, sick body.  Those eyes were truly windows to his soul.  

I then saw a vision of me standing in a vast darkness holding a torch.  Suddenly my dad was there, but this time smiling.  I handed him the torch.  He turned and passed the torch to his dad, after which he vanished. Then my grandfather passed the torch to his dad, disappeared, and I watched the torch being passed down an infinite line of figures.  I knew from this vision that one of the reasons I experienced addiction in this lifetime was to break the generational curse of my ancestors and pave a new path of health for my own son and his descendants.  I laid face-down on the floor all night.  The whole experience was overwhelming and draining, to say the least.  I felt the weight of hundreds of years lifted from me.  I could feel the healing in my cells and a newfound confidence that my life had meaning, purpose, that my experience as a drug addict was not in vain. 

When I found myself addicted to Meth, I was asleep.  I didn’t realize my subconscious was lining this up for my benefit.  Freeing dad and healing across time and space wasn’t the only benefit I have found from that dark time.  Being awake simply means that I remain open to understanding the reason for my reality and always look for the advantage.  This practice eliminates regret, which is an emotion that stifles, hinders, and causes stalemates in my development.  The belief I now consent to is that nothing and no one in my life is left to chance, but part of an appointed journey.  I choose to stand firm within the intersection between knowledge and experience because therein lies the wisdom to move forward with intention.