In my garden, there is a strawberry plant.
The strawberries appear, quite magically, like little red, sparkling rubies in the sun. When I notice them sparkling there, I feel a desire to possess them. I look around to make sure no one else has seen them yet. I feel ashamed that I want them for myself. Perhaps my neighbor also feels longing and excitement about ruby red strawberries magically appearing in the sun.
I began to think that I should ask the plant if I could have them before I hungrily snatched them up. It was a quiet thought in the back of my mind that my hunger refused to entertain. It changed the subject or made sure I “forgot” to ask until I had at least one jeweled prize in my hand. “It would be silly to ask now,” my hunger taunted.
“Why can’t I just ask the plant?” I wondered. My hunger changed the subject to some urgent work I urgently needed to complete, so I walked off, urgently.
My inability to stay present with the question felt more and more uncomfortable. My relationship with the plant felt more and more out of alignment. Until a young, quiet voice broke through, “Because, what if it says no?” I felt my chest seize up, ever so slightly, at the thought that I might not possess my shining rubies again. I heard Gollum’s raspy voice in my head, “My precious.'' My throat was tight.
I had been pondering how it happened that the Europeans who saw my ancestors in the beautiful rolling plains of Nigeria decided to kidnap them. What made them hunger for those beautiful, glittering jewels in the sun? What made them take, without asking? And what if they too were afraid to ask because they might be told “No”?
I’ve watched my own multifaceted response to this question when seeing several glittering jewels I follow on social media. Joyful, multi-patterned clothing, freedom to mix a beard with a ball gown, a fluorescent wig some days, because why the hell not? My response to their freedom is a combination of profound respect, a bit of awe, and underneath those feelings something else that was hard to admit. A mixture of fear and anger. Thankfully, I’ve worked through the shame enough to admit to, and tend to, what lies beneath.
It takes courage and self-love to talk to that part of me that is afraid. To listen to what is happening inside of me rather than shame it. Because that part of me must be hurting. Hurt people hurt people... Self-hating people hate people... Self-fearing people fear people.
I listened to myself and the truth unfolded. The light of self-expression illuminated a place in me that had been hidden in darkness. A place where I could not -- would not -- go. The expressive clothes I would buy but never wear; the things I would think but never say. The light illuminated a reality. The rainbow cornucopia of expression that I am was stifled, muted. And my dull tones of grey looked even greyer next to the full-color explosion of a human being who is being true to themselves.
I noticed my own longing for more freedom with new eyes.
When the light of someone else’s honesty illuminates my lies, I have choices. The answer I choose when I’m not honest with myself is a split-second, unconscious, reaction. I attempt to turn off their light. It is an attempt to escape the illumination of my own inauthenticity and the suffering my inauthenticity creates.
I have access to a wide spectrum of destructive tactics to turn off their light. Grouped together we call them “oppression.” I can be dismissive of them in my own mind. I can speak dismissive or insulting words. I can speak punishing words. I can support punishing laws. I can take punishing actions. I can hit, I can kill, I can support or dismiss the hitting or killing others carry out.
These are the options I choose by default when I refuse to take responsibility for what is being illuminated in me.
Upon meeting those indigenous people on Turtle Island and Alkebulan (Africa), and having some aspect of their own greyness illuminated, Europeans used these tactics as well. Instead, what if they had just said, “I want what you have. I want it so badly it hurts in my bones. I think I used to have what you have. I don’t know what it is, or when I had it, or how I lost it. I am angry at you for making me notice. I am enraged with envy and I am scared of you and what you possess. I am scared to ask you to share because if you say no, I will feel like I have lost it all over again. But... Can you share with me?”
How different things could be.
In this dynamic, we can be aggressors or students. We get to choose which skillset we strengthen. We get to live in a world that reflects our choices.
Now, it is not always appropriate to ask strangers to educate us. But, we always have the power to learn from those who shine a light on our darkness.
We can notice what is illuminated. We can let ourselves feel our own desire to have what they have and notice what stops us. Once we see what stops us, we can ask for help.
We can Google it, read a book, or hire those who teach. We can feel gratitude for these unexpected teachers who teach just by existing. How generous!
So, I took a breath and I asked the plant for a strawberry. Grinning, she said “Of course! That’s why I grew them.”
I don’t remember eating the strawberry. I do remember the freedom, exhilaration, and power of asking the impossible question. I remember the taste of asking for what I really want.
What person or group of people do you feel irritation towards?
What person or group of people do you feel defensive/ guarded around?
What do those people have that you want? (freedom, power, money, confidence, boldness, safety, etc.)
What books, internet searches, service providers, etc. can help you get more of that?
I used to get irritated with people who set boundaries. They seemed selfish, and I would feel annoyed at them for setting boundaries, even if the boundaries were not with me. They had permission (from themselves) to set boundaries.
I wanted the freedom and permission to set boundaries too! (At the time, I would not let myself set boundaries because I told myself that was selfish and I was not allowed to be selfish. When I saw others setting boundaries and felt angry, annoyed, or agitated, I was actually experiencing the agitation that comes from dominating, controlling, and depressing my Aliveness, which wanted to set more boundaries. My anger was about me wanting more of something; permission from myself to set boundaries)
I read books/ blog posts about setting boundaries, meditated about why I was afraid to be "selfish," and talked about it in therapy.
Mary is defensive around Trump supporters.
Mary is annoyed that they have so much confidence in their views and proclaim them with such boldness, "as if they are 100% right, all the time."
Mary wants to have more confidence to voice her views with conviction.
Enjoy this performance of the poem My Beauty by Alok V Menon. It could change your life, if you let it.