Passion Delivers

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May 17, 2007

'If I had a hammer,

I'd hammer in the morning,

I'd hammer in the evening,

All over this land.'

In his column, 'The Road to Compassion and Freedom,' Glen Allport discussed the importance of developing a passionate view of liberty. I couldn't agree more. Passion is what gives form to longing and creativity, transforming the unseen to the visible, bringing dreams to fruition. Let's zoom in on passion, shall we?

I'm convinced that no amount of talk about freedom or passion will close this deal. Most people aren't interested in freedom except as an excuse to go to war. I don't follow the reasoning that well, but I believe it goes something like this: Some 'leader' somewhere is bad, his followers are bad, so we Americans (for reasons I don't understand either) are obliged to go there with a lot of weapons and kill as many of them as we can to get our point across ' play nice or else.

People seem surprised that Americans are also killed in the execution of this good deed of ours. If Americans lose body parts, they naively ask, 'If I'm a child of God, why isn't he protecting me?' Does the color of his skin or the name he gives god make him more precious to that god than the people he shot at? Could 'those bastards' be asking the same thing of their god?

No ordinary means is going to break through this mindset that has developed over years spent swathed in religious dogma, government schools and propaganda network news. This shell of closed mindedness and ignorance is tougher than dried farina, and that is one the toughest substances known to mothers.

People won't get the idea if we just talk about liberty. We have to model passion for them. I'm convinced that we have to summon the courage to expose our own passion from our own open hearts. This is the only way other people will begin to make an internal examination for themselves. I've seen this work too many times over the years for it to be a fluke. I'll give you a peek into it.

I've done extensive volunteer work with alcoholic women for a number of years. Universally, they each have a painful or shameful reason why they went overboard trying to medicate themselves out of their pain. When they hit bottom and become desperate enough, this is when they open their minds and hearts. It is excruciating. Many have to come to terms with childhood sexual assault. Various types and degrees of abuse and neglect are common. Sometimes the catalyst is the death of a child. Maybe these things didn't cause the alcoholism, but they expose the lack of problem resolution and support in our culture.

The thing that brings light into the dark crevice, which has become the existence of these women, is the honest sharing of other women. It's a life giving, and sadly, rare invitation. These people have found their salvation in open heartedness. Unfortunately, they had to go through hell to find it.

'If I had a bell,

I'd ring it in the morning,

I'd ring it in the evening,

All over this land'

When I listen to these women share as they go around in turn, it's as if nothing important is happening, like the depiction in a television drama. Then suddenly, not like on television, one of the more experienced recovering people opens their mouth and speaks from their heart. Immediately, there is a phenomenal shift.

The speaker is given rapt attention, not out of respect, but out of awe. It's like manna falling in the desert to people who didn't know how hungry they were. Like lightning striking or a bell pealing, when the sincere truth is told, malnourished souls instantly recognize the vitality of what is being said. Is it love? Is it freedom? It's difficult to say if there is a difference. I'm telling you, dear reader, I'm 48 years old and I've been around, but I've never heard people speak this way anywhere else. When I do, my heart cannot help but respond. It bursts open just in the hearing of someone else opening their heart; it makes me want to be a better person.

At this point, dear reader, you probably want a 'for instance.' I'll try to recall something really painful and meaningful to me ' ah, there it is. When I was an adolescent girl, I was molested by a man who I knew. He was drunk. It happened because my parents had always taught me to do as I was told. This is the kind of thing that happens when children are taught to ignore their own instincts and conform without questioning authority.

Because I was certain that my mother would blame me and be angry with me for it, I never told anyone. I buried the pain inside, and I'm sure I missed a lot of opportunities for living and loving because of it. Many times I felt out of control trying to keep the pain suppressed. There were times that my children and others around me paid the price for it. Yes, I hurt my children, the people I love most in the world. Unmet pain has a way of torturing you over and over again.

Twenty years went by before I heard another woman tell her similar story and how hard she tried to drown out her pain. It broke my heart open. Her courage to speak of her pain instigated my own healing process. I never had a chance to tell her that. This is OK too, because now I understand that my open heart helps other people in ways that I'll probably never know, either. It's the solution to the world's ills. It feels so damn good that I just keep at it.

Unfortunately, this process is like a best-kept secret. It's even hidden in plain sight in the Bible ' 'confess your sins one to another that you may be healed.' (Oddly, I can't seem to find anything in there about killing for democracy.)

Why do recovered people keep showing up and speaking the truth to one another about themselves? They operate on the amazing principle that in order to keep what they have (recovery), they have to give it away. In my opinion, this is an oversimplification. What they are doing in this life-giving situation is exercising open-heartedness, which benefits others and themselves. It gets the monkey off their backs and keeps it off. It keeps them heart-fit.

It matters not if one is the speaker or the listener, when the truth is being told about the human experience, about one's own faults, mistakes, pettiness, fear, rage or disappointment in themselves without blame, everyone heals. I speak from my own experience when I say that the listener instantly and deeply recognizes themselves in an open-hearted account because deep down we're all made from the same material. Whether one is the speaker or the listener, love shows up in these exchanges in a way that is missing from all but the most exceptional facets of human interaction.

Does the reading of my account open your heart? It healed me a little more in the telling. This is how it works. When I first encountered this kind of love and freedom, I felt as if I had come home. It changed me in the listening and I now take it with me wherever I go. My favorite way of sharing this gift with the world is to laugh at myself. If you can poke fun at yourself, you'll never lack for something to laugh at.

Once you've faced your worst horrors, you learn not to sweat the small stuff. When I do something that doesn't work out, I might say, 'Oh no, I really am a moron!' People around me are disarmed. They relax and realize that it's OK to make mistakes. It's OK to tell on yourself. I've never had anyone use these times as an excuse to take a 'shot' at me. Even people who enjoy cruelty understand that it is wasted if I've already exposed myself as fallible.

It becomes easy for a careful observer to see how glaringly absent such open heartedness is in our culture at large. Everything nowadays is a pissing contest. Even church people have to try to one-up one another with their McMansions or their children's athletic or educational successes. Just read a holiday newsletter (if you can stomach it) or bumper sticker ('My child is a good citizen at ABC Elementary.')

Mankind has evolved and so have our problems. In America , as in most developed nations, most people are no longer hungry--not even poor people. From the advent of the automobile, color television and supermarkets to disposable diapers, antibiotics and birth control in a bottle, even the poor experience a level of affluence not so much as dreamed of by the most elite aristocracy of previous centuries. Today even poor people can become recreational drug addicts.

In his work, 'The Power of Now,' Eckhart Tolle tells us:

'All cravings are the mind seeking salvation or fulfillment in external things and in the future as a substitute for the joy of Being. As long as I am my mind, I am those cravings, those needs, wants, attachments, and aversions, and apart from them there is no 'I' except as a mere possibility, an unfulfilled potential'In that state, even my desire to become free or enlightened is just another craving for fulfillment or completion in the future.

'Anybody who has ever taken drugs to get 'high' will know that the high eventually turns into a low, that the pleasure turns into some form of pain.

'Perhaps many of us do not like where we are in the universe now, but we can all be certain that we got where we are by our own decisions to expand in love or withdraw from it.'

There's nothing wrong with working towards or having nice things. I probably want them as much as anyone. But the Buddha says that suffering arises from desire, so if we identify with things there will be no end to desire or suffering.

Since we are far beyond getting our basic survival needs met, what is required of us is greater too. Unfortunately, society as a whole does not recognize this. Where it does, it assumes force is the answer, taken to the extreme of war if necessary. Prohibition didn't work, so we ratchet it up and now we have a War on Drugs. We also have wars on poverty, discrimination, illiteracy, wealth inequity, etc. There is no end to war, ever.

War is simply not the answer to mankind's problems. Something much more painful, courageous and costly is required. (Sissies need not apply!) You don't need an AK-47 for the real battle--that would be too easy. You won't need endurance training or a drill instructor. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for your ego.

Ego must be subdued. It cannot be allowed to run rampant if man is to evolve beyond killing to get his point across, and the quickest and surest way to tame the ego is to tell the simple truth. There is then nothing left to hide behind, and hiding is the endless game of the ego.

I believe passion and open-heartedness are the key to the problems which plague humanity today. This solution is not to be topically applied--it can't be talked about esoterically. If we remain intellectual while hoping someone else will be willing to expose passion first, it will never work. Liberty requires passion, but it is by invitation only. You cannot point to the Promised Land and expect other people to cross over into it. You have to forge a path through the psychological fire, tell people about your triumphs and pitfalls--how sometimes you're surrounded by superficial morons and want to scream; how sometimes the biggest superficial moron is looking back at you from the mirror. When we open our hearts and tell the truth, others are safe to open their hearts and examine what they find and to tell the truth about it. It's the antithesis of initiating force and its resultant counterforce. Exposing our own passion is the solution--not the intellectual exploration of ideas, which, though useful to interested parties, only seems boring or meaningless to the busy, the stupid or the lazy--sadly, the majority.

It's time to get down to business. It's like talking about getting married, planning a wedding and buying a house. It's all work that needs to be done, but the proof is in the pudding, as Dad used to say. Can I live with this person day in and day out? Can I say "I'm sorry" when I hurt him? Can I summon the courage to say "ouch" when he hurts me and explain why it hurts in a way he'll understand without blame? Can I take complete responsibility for my own happiness without falling into the cultural trap of trying to make someone else happy and expecting them to do the same for me? Can I refuse to use the psychological power at my disposal as leverage to get what I want from someone who is vulnerable to me? If I don't learn to do so, I risk force being initiated against me next time because my own actions promote and validate this behavior.

I once heard of a man married to an unhappy woman--a true story. For some unexplained reason, she tried to make her husband unhappy too, and often said unpleasant things to him. Things intensified when he retired. He loved this woman (which was also unexplained), and one day decided that his response to her was simply going to be 'no matter what you say or do, nothing will change my love for you.' He said this to her repeatedly. Eventually the woman couldn't take it and gave up trying to make him miserable. She softened into a quiet affection.

I'm certainly not saying that life is always this simple ' it surely is not. What I'm saying is that love is the solution, one way or another. On the surface it probably seemed that this woman wanted her husband to be as unhappy as she was. What is probably closer to the truth is this ' like a suffering child who screams 'I hate you!' to his mother, she was crying out for help. Often an extra dose of love is what is needed, but the need and remedy cannot be recognized if we operate out of our ego rather than our hearts. We'd be too busy taking other people's pain personally to respond appropriately. Once we examine our own pain and take responsibility for the condition of our hearts, we are then free to be fully present without our egos getting in the way.

I don't think I've ever known a more unhappy person than my own mother. Practicing open-heartedness healed me to the point where I even learned to love her because I stopped wanting love from her. I learned to find love in my own heart for my own self, even though I'd gotten the idea that I was thoroughly unlovable. It then became the simple act of sharing that love. Learning to love my Mother is what I consider to be one of my finer accomplishments in life. If I can do it, anyone can.

I still trip over my own feet on a daily basis, but it doesn't bother me so much any more. I grew up ashamed and afraid of life, but other people, perfect strangers, healed me with their open hearts ' I consider them to be my true mothers. I understand now that shame is simply a bruised ego. It comes from the idea that I should somehow be other than I am. Now I know that I'm really no different from anyone else ' no better, but sure as hell no worse. I've simply been given the chance to love.

My teacher, Rich Chakrin, says 'You don't need an object to be 'in love.'' Loving doesn't have to be strenuous or complicated. In 'The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment,' Thaddeus Golas tells us:

'Expansion in love is an action that is available to every being in the universe all the time. A willing awareness will take us to heaven, a loving attitude will make us free. Love is the only dimension that needs to be changed'.If you are not sure how it feels to be loving, love yourself for not being sure of how it feels'.The reality of love is something you do for yourself.'

Take a chance ' take responsibility and tell the truth today with no blame. Don't make operating out of a place of honesty and love dependent upon what other people do or don't do. Open your heart to the people you care about before it's too late, before fear completely overtakes our world. Eventually the number of people you care about will grow as you realize that love is who you really are.

I've found the freedom to love and it is the only thing worth living for. It costs nothing but your own loneliness. It changes the world. Offering love is an irresistible invitation--it reminds other people that they are love too. You can have as much love as you want--it's already there in your own heart--just dip right in and drink deeply from the well. You can keep it too, so long as you give it away.

'Well I've got a hammer And I've got a bell And I've got a song to sing All over this land It's the hammer of justice It's the bell of freedom It's the song about love between my brothers and my sisters

All over this land.'

'The Hammer Song' music and lyrics by Lee Hays and Pete Seeger

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Retta Fontana's picture
Columns on STR: 53

Retta Fontana is an atheist, anarchist, baker, potter and parenting teacher.  Children are her favorite people.