The older I get, the alison sleepmore I struggle with insomnia. The more I struggle with insomnia, the more questions I have about everything. . .the universe, my place in it, God. . .the typical unknowns that no one has all the answers to.

In my most recent battle with the shut-eye, the minute my eyes opened I was roused with this well-known inspirational verse bouncing around in my brain. “And these three remain, faith, hope and love . . .and the greatest of these is love”. Really brain? Ok, I’m game..let’s do this. So I’m pretty sure I’ve got a significant grip on what “faith” is. Spiritually speaking, faith is belief in things not seen which are based on an inner revelation rather than physical proof. “Hope” seems pretty straight forward. . .to wait expectantly for a certain outcome. Then comes the big one, the one that remains, outlasts hope and faith . . .the one thing most of us desire to have in our lives more than wealth, wisdom or fame . . .”LOVE”.

It is difficult for me to slap a one liner definition on the end of love. What is love? I know how I “feel” inside when I love someone. I know how I feel when someone loves me. I also find it rather easy to point out what love isn’t. If love is one thing, I’m sure that it could be defined as “selfless”. When we truly love someone and they are needy or hurting, we give of ourselves without any consideration for our own needs or wants. In my opinion, love is always an action verb, otherwise it is just another word in a poem that rhymes with ‘above’.

After pondering that love is the greatest thing we could aspire to, my thoughts went to another verse that expounds even further on the importance of love. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Wow! Now that is some serious sacrifice. I could give everything I own away to the homeless man on the corner, but if I don’t have love, I have ZIP. Even more seriously, I could be burned as a martyr for my own beliefs . . .but if I go up in flames while hating my neighbor, I’ve missed the boat and my sacrifice is meaningless. That is heavy.

And then the epiphany . . .

I immediately began to think about the biggest modern-day example of such a martyrdom. On 9/11, nineteen hijackers boarded U.S. airplanes. Each hijacker had tremendous faith in Allah, the one they call the one true God, the one they prayed to every day since they had been taught to recite the Koran. Even with such great faith, no doubt, their faith was equally matched and perhaps surpassed by their hope for great reward in the after life. The verse sprang to life for me. This is a picture on a very grand scale. Easy to recognize because of the enormity of the crime and the obvious evil associated with the deed. Faith? Yes. Hope? Definitely, yes. Love? Their hearts were so blinded by hatred for you and me, and every other American, including their Muslim brothers and sisters who were working in the towers that day, that they gave up EVERYTHING …for NOTHING!

So, what is there for me to learn from this middle of the night interruption to my much-needed beauty sleep? If I have a lot of faith and hope…who benefits? It seems that both of these are more for the edifying of one’s self. If my friend is depressed and really needs me to spend time with her, the fact that I have hope and faith are not really helpful to her in that instance. She needs action . . .she needs my love, displayed by showing up, hanging out and listening and holding her hand.

I also realize that when someone tells me how awesome the sermon was last Sunday but in the very next breath tells me how they absolutely hate the President of the United States or how they can’156431_4055687387395_648010028_n[1]t stand their sister and never talk to her anymore…etc., I immediately feel a disconnect. It seems so inconsistent to me, therefore I have a hard time respecting anything else they have to say. Once again, I grapple with this question. If faith and hope are not completely enveloped in love, then what purpose do they serve? Apparently, a whole lot of nada.

After tossing and turning for over an hour, my mind was finally able to rest with a fresh respect for the beauty in the truth of  “. . .and the greatest of these is LOVE.”

“Growing” Against the Grain

obama%20romney%20debate%202%20btPerhaps there is no better environment than that of a presidential election year to spark debate, highlight diversity of opinion and emphasize how people can watch and listen to the same conversation and walk away with completely different takes. After watching the second debate, followed by flipping back and forth between CNN and FOX news, perusing the sometimes anger-filled posts on Facebook, eavesdropping on people’s conversations in restaurants and having many conversations of my own, a huge question arose during “morning coffee talk time” with my husband (one of our favorite new soul-exploration rituals).

Question ? ?

So, why is it that we humans often have a riimagesCANME831se in blood pressure, turn red in the face and have our emotional state get so riled – even to the point of anger – over someone else simply having a different opinion than ours? What is that? I asked this because I realized over the last year, I had observed this type of reaction over and over again around me, while at the same time, I became surprisingly aware that there was a quiet calm inside of me..a non-reaction, if you will, that I really didn’t understand. In the past, I could feel my temperature rise and my “blood boil” so to speak, when just listening to a Sunday morning panel on CNN. But suddenly for the first time in my 53 years on the planet, I felt like, in certain moments of awareness, I could discuss any topic with anyone without feeling threatened, anxious or defiant. Weird, but incredibly freeing. (By the way, let me be clear, I am only referring to situations where different opinions are being expressed – not when someone is being completely disrespectful, rude or degrading…obviously there are times when measured reactions are warranted.) How did that happen? Kev pointed out that for quite some time we had actually been watching certain news shows for the sole (and soul) purpose of making ourselves uncomfortable. If Michael Moore or Donald Trump, or anyone who saw things way differently than we do,  was on a rant on CNN and my finger was itching to quickly change the channel…we both would say, “NO”…let’s do this! So, we purposely chose to go against our grain…over and over again.

This was a HUGE change from our habits of only a couple of years ago, when we listened only to those talking heads who mainly agreed with our ideology and underscored our way of thinking. Kev said it was like taking sandpaper to the soul…But, even though we had both been exercising ourselves in this manner, we still did not have a good answer for this question. WHY? Why do some people literally hate every word that comes out of Obama’s mouth and the same held true when Bush was in office. I did not understand it then and I don’t now. So again, I ask .. .

 Why is it so difficult to find balanced opinions and insightful, enlightened observations…but very easy to observe venomous, emotionally charged visceral reactions in the political and religious arena? These type of intellectual shouting matches daily bombard newscasts and radio talk shows – complete with name calling and demeaning “you’re such a moron” implications. So why so much bombastic bloviating versus gracious listening seasoned with rational, educated responses?

As I stated in my last blog post “Reflections and Revelations”, the pursuit of intellectual honesty has led me to a place of self-discovery which has resulted in new found freedom and a deeper sense of peace. Which is what I attributed to this welcomed state of not getting riled when others disagreed with me or vice versa. But there is something more…much deeper and more profound.

I posed the same question I have asked here, to an entire class full of women last week. After the class, one of my students told me I needed to read “A New Earth” Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle.  I immediately went out and bought it. Like reading “The Road Less Traveled” for the first time, every word and paragraph jumps off the page and solidifies what I have been experiencing in the last few years. Within just a few chapters, Tolle addresses the very issue in detail that I had been asking myself, my spouse and my friends. Let me share with you . . .

“There is nothing that strengthens the ego more than being right. Being right is identification with a mental position-a perspective, an opinion a judgment, a story. For you to be right, of course, you need someone else to be wrong, and so the ego loves to make wrong in order to be right. In other words: You need to make others wrong in order to get a stronger sense of who you are. Being right places you in a position of imagined moral superiority in relation to the person who is being judged or found wanting.”

Ahh, now we’re getting somewhere.

“Every ego confuses opinions and viewpoints with fact. Every ego is a master of selective perception and distorted interpretation. Only through awareness-not through thinking-can you differentiate between fact and opinion.” Beyond the realm of simple and verifiable facts, the certainty that “I am right and you are wrong” is a dangerous thing in personal relationships as well as in interactions between nations, tribes, religions and so on.

 …once you identify the ego for what it is: a collective dysfunction, the insanity of the human mind . . .you no longer misperceive it as somebody’s identity. Once you see the ego for what it is, it becomes much easier to remain nonreactive toward it. You don’t take it personally anymore. There is no complaining, blaming, accusing, or making wrong. . .compassion arises when you recognize that all are suffering from the same sickness of the mind, some more acutely than others. You do not fuel the drama anymore that is a part of all egoic relationships. What is its fuel? REACTIVITY! The ego thrives on it.

And WOW… discovery and enlightenment, and a few more layers of the onion are peeled back. All of this makes so much sense to me. Little by little, situation by situation, unknowingly it seems I have slowly been separating “who I am” from “what I think”. Therefore, when I am in that state of clarity, I am not threatened by your opinions – in fact, I love to hear them, especially if they are different from mine because it is just another opportunity for me to expand myself. It is an exercise I must do if I am going to truly serve and love those I am so connected with. If I truly care about you, and want to love you, I must find a way to enter in to where you are . . .ego plays no part in this type of interaction. It wasn’t very long ago I would have labeled myself a certain way (politically and religious beliefs) – which upon definition may close me off from spiritual connection with those who view the world differently. Today? The only label I can come up with is explorationist. Which apparently is a new word . . .how fitting!