spirituality

Greater Somerville on SCATV, 4/14/15: LGBTQ folks, Religion and Wellbeing

I was invited to be a guest on Greater Somerville on Monday, 4/14/15 to discuss my experience and expertise as a member of the LGBTQ communities. I spoke to issues arising from the recent legislation in Indiana and the role that religious communities and spirituality play in the wellbeing of LGBTQ individuals.

This experience was especially significant to me because it is an example of the power of relationship in forging community and bringing about cultural change. 

KyAnn Anderson, one of the co-hosts of Greater Somerville, was inspired to cover the topic of LGBTQ folks and religious. She reached out to me from our previous relationship, from when I was guest on Greater Somerville a few years ago.  She has followed my personal and professional transformation, including my public gender transition, and she contacted me as a resource to explore this topic and inspire our fellow Somervillians. 

I welcomed her invitation and referred her to some other resources, including UCC Somerville, one of many wonderful religious communities who welcome, not just tolerate, each person who enters their doors. Sitting alongside me and KyAnn is the Reverend Jeff Mansfield from UCC. I think he and I did a good job of speaking to the complexity of being LGBTQ and living in a "liberal" city like Somerville. 

There are many ways to bring about social and cultural change. Many of my friends are committed to enacting institutional change via important legislation and other political initiatives. 

For my part, I remain focused on the tipping point we are nearing in our country.  I'm focused on inspiring all people to live authentic, fulfilling lives so they can increase their acceptance and respect for everyone else. I'm focused on building wellbeing and resilience within LGBTQ individuals with good nutrition, lifestyle habits and healthy relationships--three things we have control over, despite daily frustrations or oppression in larger society.  I'm celebrating when issues like what happened in Indiana recently happen less and less often as more cisgender, heterosexual people like Jeff, KyAnn and celebrities like Nick Offerman and Rachel Potter use their voices to bring about real cultural change.

Change takes time, and good, strong relationships help make it happen organically and sustainably. 

Please watch the video and consider sharing it with your religious community!

 

What To Do When You've Tried It All

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  Have you ever wanted something so much, you were willing to do anything to make it happen? Where do you get the incentive? The drive? The focus?

What do you need to actualize your dreams and make them a reality?

What do you do when everything you try, and I mean everything, doesn't seem to make a difference?

What do you do?

WHAT do you do?

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There have been more than a few times when I was so focused on a goal, I was willing to do anything to make it happen. I worked my ass off, in fact.

Sometimes, I hardly lifted a finger and things magically fell together.

Other times, I worked and worked and did everything I could think of and it still didn't seem to make a difference or make things come together. These can often feel like the most difficult experiences. More difficult than not trying at all is trying and feeling like it was wasted effort.

Unless I reconsider that line of thinking...I encourage you to, as well.

Sometimes we learn everything we need to from giving something our best effort, even when it doesn't pan out the way we thought we wanted.

When I was 20, I applied to do my student experience abroad. It had been a dream of mine to go to South Africa since I was about 13 years old but never in a million years did I think I could afford the cost. So, I listed my choices of destination in this order:

1) Ireland (because I'm half-Irish) 2) England (because it's close to Ireland) 3) South Africa (because...it was my dream destination)

When I got the required GPA and necessary other items, the last part was my interview. They asked me, "why did you list South Africa last?"

"I'll be paying for this trip myself," I said. "It's the most expensive. I don't think I will have enough money."

A few weeks later, I received my letter in the mail and saw my assigned destination: SOUTH AFRICA. I still have the letter tucked safely away in a memory box.

Instead of giving up or backing out, I was motivated beyond belief. I wasn't going to let some little old money stand in my way. That summer I got a job as a server in a small family-owned pub and worked every possible double-shift I could get. I earned about $4,000. Well over what I needed to go to South Africa the following winter.

When I returned home from that incredible trip, coincidentally Winnie Mandela was visiting my school. I raised my hand and addressed her in front of a huge crowd and earned the chance to take a picture with her. Effortlessly, that amazing experience came to me. Also still have that picture.

The trip experience proved to me that hard work begets results. When I want something, I will do whatever it takes to make it happen.

And yet, sometimes things just aren't meant to be. No matter how hard we work.

I've developed severe acne not once but twice in the past 6 years. Both times it was a very difficult experience because I was an adult and it was really embarrassing! Why was I experiencing this major skin issue so late in life? The second time around, I was an experienced health coach and did every single thing I could think of:

1) more greens 2) more water 3) more exercise 4) more sleep 5) less sugar 6) less meat 7) more meditation 8) energy healing sessions 9) therapy 10) every topical cream and lotion on the market, from both drugstores and natural food stores

Nothing made a damn difference. I was defeated. Discouraged. I was damn pissed.

Days turned into weeks which stretched into months. After almost a year, it finally started to go away.

I wish I could tell you the magical formula or solution that finally seemed to be the remedy I'd been wanting. I wish I knew the precise mixture of "all the things" I tried. I know more about what didn't work. In this instance, unlike with the South Africa thing, the harder I worked the worse things seemed to get. It was incredibly confusing and frustrated the hell out of me.

This time, the thing that seemed to work was my decision to surrender. My decision to stop trying.

I've seen the same thing happen with my clients. Sometimes they set a goal and take action step after action step and make incredible progress. Sometimes, they do all the right things and still feel like they aren't getting anywhere---and then they stop trying so hard and focus on something else and suddenly things fall into place.

Sometimes we have the conversation that they may not actually need or want the thing they thought they wanted and they change their goal. They surrender to the process and go with the flow a bit more.

It seems the best thing you can do, when you've tried everything, is to do nothing at all.

This can be especially difficult for people afraid of failure. Or people who want to look good and are afraid of looking bad. What does it say about us if something doesn't pan out? Are we a failure if we don't persevere enough?

Or, are we persevering at the wrong thing and surrendering our efforts is actually the best thing we can do?

 I definitely found that giving things some space and time, and turning my attention and energy to other things like self-care and relaxing a bit helped whatever was "stuck". Ironically, I guess, doing less and not more was the cure for whatever ailed me.

I read this quote over the weekend while I was eating and literally had to put my fork down:

This means that the highest forces of energy, any kind of extraordinary energies there might be, become absolutely workable rather than taking you over. This is because, if you are not offering any resistance, there's nothing to take over. Whenever there's no resistance, there is a sense of rhythm happening. The music and dance happen at the same time.

-Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

 

 

What's your experience with this? Have you ever seen this happen in your own life?

What would happen if you tried it with something that isn't working right now?

Reconsider Your Complaint

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If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering. -Viktor Frankl

 

If you don't know Viktor Frankl, consider reading his book, Man's Search for Meaning. He was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. He wrote about his experience in concentration camps and the enlightenment he reached about making meaning from all life experiences, even the most unpleasant ones.

I've been seeing a lot of complaining on facebook lately, it's nothing new really. And friends have shared their grievances about their lives with me. Times are tough, I know.

I am not suggesting that people stop feeling bummed about difficult things. I recommend reconsidering your suffering and your complaint.

Consider that your life experiences are teaching you something, and it's possible that if you complain, you won't receive the message that's meant for you. If you're focused on the experience being a cause of suffering rather than a means for growth or evolution, it will persist.

Pema Chodron says, "nothing leaves our lives until it's taught us what we need to learn." I've seen this pattern emerge over time in my own life.

When something sucked, it usually kept sucking until I changed something about myself or the situation. When I wasn't able to change something, I usually changed my attitude about it, like Maya Angelou has suggested. Once I had moved on, I was able to see what life was trying to teach me, what the Universe was trying to give me or save me from and who I was now as a result.

This all may sound incredibly lofty and verbose. Let me give you a practical example.

I began my career as a teacher at the age of 21. I taught 5th and 8th grade for several years and loved it. I was really good with kids from a young age, so hanging out with teens was easy and fulfilling for me. During that time, I fell in love for the first time--and it was with a young woman. I myself identified as female at the time, or at least presented myself to the world that way, and so our relationship was rather taboo for where we lived in the year 2000. I never told my students. I never told my colleagues. Here's why:

One day, the vice principal walked into the room where my team of teachers sat for lunch and she announced that she thought several of the kids were "swishy". I had no idea what she meant. I sat, PB&J poised by my mouth, listening as she and the two older male teachers ran through our class roster and listed each kid they thought demonstrated homosexual tendencies. Being "swishy" meant gay, apparently.

Within a year, three months shy of being awarded tenure, I quit teaching at the age of 24. I left the career I had worked toward so diligently, because I was terrified I wouldn't be able to be my true self.

Taking that leap prepared me to take bigger ones throughout the next 10 years. It was the first of many times I realized that I couldn't thrive by hiding or acting my way through life.

For a while though, I complained about it. I kept telling the story that I "had to quit" because it wasn't safe. I told this story about a few other jobs I held, jobs where my skills, habits and patterns didn't match the environment or mission of the group at that time. I complained until I could see the bigger picture. I complained until I started to make meaning from the experience.

Years later, I am developing a thriving business as an independent coach and consultant and use each and every skill I learned to master as an educator. I draw on principles of leadership and classroom management and group facilitation. I factor in Gardner's theory of different learning styles and make my presentations dynamic, interactive and most of all, fun. I tell my groups, "hey, I taught 8th grade. If my kids had fun, I'll make sure you will, too."

If I hadn't chosen to make meaning from that experience, and instead spent the rest of my life complaining that I had to quit teaching due to discrimination, I would not be able to thrive like I am today. I would not be able to share my skills with groups, helping them learn and laugh and love their lives and their jobs more as a result. I would have left my talent sitting in a heap, stifled and stopped by the small minds of a handful of people. I know more than a handful of people don't approve of me or the way I live my life, but compared to the many who do, it feels like a handful I can handle.

I see people complaining about a lot of things that feel new, unsafe, uncomfortable or unfair.

They complain about traffic, the weather, being a parent, not being a parent, having coffee, not having coffee, losing love, broken phones, losing jobs or not getting their way about something.

Again, I'm not judging the complaints or the complainers. I complain, I just don't share my complaints on facebook, social media or these blog posts. I do that because I don't find anything inspiring about complaining, and I don't think my followers would, either.

I prefer to share whatever I come up with as a solution to the complaint I had. When I've worked through the problem, when I've made meaning from the experience, I share what I will use or do as a result.

Next time you find yourself struggling with something, feeling at a loss or overwhelmed or generally stuck in the muck in some way, reconsider your complaint and try to make meaning from the experience, instead. Reach out to friends or family to gain some perspective if that helps. Get out your feelings, vent the frustration you feel--it is a crucial part of the process of getting from point A to point B.

And share THAT, because we all need help and inspiration, more than anything else.

 

photo courtesy of Umberto Salvagnin on flikr