In times like these in which we practically can cure aging with the ingredients of Mother Nature and modern science, children are still starving in the world, while others are killing one another. The rapidly encroaching lack of safe spaces in the world prompts me to ponder that which preserves the very essence of the human soul. So it seems appropriate to take a look into the development of individual self-esteem and the practice of creating sustainable communities in our world.
A powerful book I am reading is Empowering the Tribe by Richard L. Pimental-Habib discusses self-esteem and the roots of homophobia, as well as methods of “soul-preservation.” In his introduction, he shared of a visit to the beach home of a couple of women in Carmel, California. He spoke of the acknowledgments of worthiness, of feeling good about himself. He speaks of the message of self-worth that is absorbed in this gift to himself of those relaxing moments of connectedness with all that is. The idea for his book came from that experience, and while written especially for gay men and lesbians, the book’s benefits perhaps only begin with our tribe of all colors. He proposes an interesting marriage for gay men and lesbian women, and it is this marriage that has particular relevance to me at this point in history, as both legal and religious institutions deny the access of our holy unions to their privileges and sacraments.
It is the goal of Empowering the Tribe to marry the ancient, time-honored benefits of the practice of therapeutic meditation with raising the self-esteem of gay men and lesbians. (Pimental-Habib, 1999, p. xii)
It resonated through my being in a similar vein as did Chris Glaser’s Coming Out as Sacrament. Glaser recognized and acknowledged the theme of coming out, even as that of the Bible, but he speaks to each of us individually to be the persons we were chosen and called to be. Even while heterosexist culture relegates our unions as lesser than their own, coming out might well be viewed as a sacrament to which we are no doubt entitled, at least by our Creator God, if not by the churches and the law of the land.
Whatever negative or painful messages that now come from within are the result of internalizing the false and unkind messages you’ve heard, perhaps building one upon the other, since childhood. We must learn to develop an emotional immune system to counter the effects of negative societal messages. … Remember you were not born thinking yourself a loser, or a bad lover, or a bum, or a terrible daughter or son. You were not born hating yourself. You were born loving yourself. Your commitment to growth is the path to getting that love back. Your commitment to growth is the way to recover your self-esteem. All is not lost or hopeless; You are not doomed to feeling unworthy; you do not have to take on the burdens of the world; you do not have to sacrifice your creativity; you do not have to hide who you are. (Pimental-Habib, 1999, pp. 15, 16)
You simply need to commit to yourself, whoever you are at this moment — however you look, however you feel, whatever you think of yourself. The answer lies in committing right now.
That is the ultimate message to yourself! — that you believe you are worthy. (Pimental-Habib, 1999, p. 16)
Try repeating these morning, noon, and night — whenever and wherever your self-esteem requires a shot in the arm. Consider taping them to your bathroom mirror or on the dashboard of your car or on your desk. Let these affirmations become your new self-fulfilling prophecies!
I began in love. If I want to believe any message about myself, it is this: I am lovable. Whoever I am right now, at this very moment I am unique. I am worthy. I am lovable.
I am worth whatever I make up my mind to be worth.
I can believe me when I say I am a fabulous, unique, highly valuable, and gifted work in progress. (Pimental-Habib, 1999, p. 16)
On this eve of the millennium, prior to the century’s turn, I exited a job that was rapidly becoming ruled by managed care, a medical assembly line, in which there is no room for the human equation in its bottom line. As I ponder what is happening to the healing process and where I fit in the picture, I examine my own spiritual roots. Also, a former client asked me to share with her of my faith, and asked me where I went to church. I wrote her back, more or less as follows, that I wish I had a church to offer, but my Temple on this earth is the body that houses my soul. I don,t know of a church to recommend. But the core of my faith is the foundation of my chosen theology, the “Inner Light” or Light of God within every one. It is not dependent upon a church body, and the Society of “Friends”, as they usually call themselves, generally have meetings, rather than organized church. They usually center these meetings on silent prayer and waiting in silence in Divine Presence. The degree of sharing usually depends upon the persons gathered and the social process is one of consensus.
The word “Quaker” came from the use of others who derisively called them “queer folk” because they were perceived to quake before the Lord. Persons who have identified themselves as “Friends” or “of a friendly persuasion ” have often been considered peculiar in their ways, asserting conscientious objector status and refusing to take oaths upon the Bible, because they professed to tell the truth in every moment of everyday life. In practice, their respect for one another was historically played out in addressing one another as thee and thou, rather than differentiating according to status, as with Mr. Dr., Judge, Honorable Queen and so forth.
M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, writes of stumbling into community at Friends Seminary, in his book on community making and peace, The Different Drum. Although his experiences there took on a more profound meaning to him later in his life, it seems that there was no small measure of “friendly persuasion” there, and an individualism he refers to as “soft” rather than rugged. Respect and appreciation for individual difference was somehow a given in that atmosphere.
The competition associated with ruggedness was totally absent. There was no interclass rivalry. The strange thing is that, utterly unlike my previous mind-set, I cannot remember looking down on anyone who was younger or up to anyone older. (Peck, 1987, p. 32)
Peck explores other experiences and the true meaning of community, a safe place, emptiness, vulnerability, integration, and integrity in The Different Drum. He also discusses his own personal disarmament and empowerment. He looks at various dimensions of the arms race, as well as the Christian Church in the United States and the United States Government. His words are of a spiritual journey toward self-acceptance, our true belonging, as well as new hope for the world. One of the main guidelines he suggests for community empowerment is to seek out people who are different from you and remain inclusive. He speaks of the battle to change the rules of human communication.
We cannot change the rules through playing by the old ones. When I speak of strategy I am also speaking of tactics that are revolutionary. Yes, the hawks, the merchants of death, the blasphemers, are all targets, but they are not our enemies; they are our beloved. It is not just a matter of wooing them. The keystone of the strategy required to win this war is community, and the weapons can be only those of love. (Peck, 1987, p. 330)
Recently, Discover, [October 1999 issue] featured an article by O. Morton referring to James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, which the public first heard of in the 1970s. “The idea that organisms collaborate to keep the planet habitable was once dismissed as New Age Earth science. Now even skeptics are taking a second look.” In order for life to continue, sulfur has to be recycled from the sea to the land.
Lovelock suggested that this recycling was done by living creatures rather than by inorganic processes. He was proven right. Plankton pump more sulfur into the atmosphere than all the world,s volcanoes. Lovelock started to think that Earth was in some sense alive, its various cycles part of a great physiology. (Morton, 1999, p. 98)
Lovelock has written: “Gaia forces a planetary perspective. It is the health of the planet that matters, not that of some individual species of organisms.” (Morton, 1999, p. 102) There is something to this alive organization business and I feel it in the waters of my being, and especially at the beach. It is a recognition of our oneness with all that is.
As I assume more responsibility for the world in which I live, I must renew my strength. For this the still small voice of my soul bids me to Light a candle in the darkness, as well as to open myself to the Light in others. In that quiet place, in the stillness, the silence, I can listen and wait for a quickening or opening within my soul. This spiritual discipline is perhaps a fundamental pillar for practice and one I suspect justifies ultimate concern. It is a rapturous thing to come alive to the Divine Within, but coming out alive is our challenge in the world-at-large. In the face of righteous homophobia and heterosexism all around us, meditation is but one method, perhaps akin to opening to the Inner Light, in which we can empower ourselves individually and as a tribe. Although I have never been an avid student of meditation, Pimental-Habib challenges me to want to learn to utilize progressive relaxation, the sailboat visualization, and visualization of a safe place. I am challenged to work toward the creation of places of hope and courage amidst the vicissitudes of change and the threat of internalized homophobia that keeps us from knowing our spiritual selves — from feeling deserving, as well as from connecting with one another. The author’s question echoes in my soul, “Can you see yourself as worthy of a life of bliss?”
I am thankful to Lovelock for daring to believe the earth was alive; to Peck and Friends for marching to the beat of a different drum, and opening the way for a road less traveled; and for Glaser for suggesting our coming out process as a sacrament. I am grateful to Pimental-Habib for his inspired work reminding me once again of meditation,s benefits; and not only for asking the right questions, but for spelling out to me that delightful subtle message of self-worth inherent in a trip to the beach. I believe, along with this beach brother, that any message from within can overcome any message from external sources. I had never been able to quite put the good feelings into words upon many occasion, but every time at the ocean, on some very deep level, resonating through my very being, I got the message.
As the millennium turns, perhaps Christians would do well to focus more on original blessing, rather than original sin. Perhaps as we take responsibility for our own healing, that which should be the real bottom line of ministry, medicine, and perhaps even the muse, — we will celebrate the message that is our birthright. We are all children of God. Is not there a mark of God’s creation in each grain of sand? I know this when I am at the ocean, especially. In that special blessing, She assures me she is Alive. I even fundamentally get the message in my Body — a Temple of the Divine — that I am lovable. I belong in this fragile web of biodiversity, after all. I am worthy.
Carol Jean Stabel is a native of Texas who graduated from Booker (Texas) High School and currently lives in Corpus Christi.