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Moments ago I was packing my carry-on for my flight (just hours away now) to Montreal, then Casablanca and beyond, when a long-ago memory flashed in my mind. I was a little girl, with friends at a community swimming pool, being goaded into climbing the high-dive:  about 10 meters, or 33 feet above the pool’s surface. Most of my friends were excellent swimmers and divers, but I wasn’t. Nevertheless, I climbed the metal ladder to the diving platform. My friends below laughed, pointed, not believing I’d go through with it. On the platform I was completely terrified. My internal organs felt like jelly – which I was sure they actually would be, once I hit the water. The audience below, now, also included most of the kids and parents at the pool that day.

All my life, as I think about it now, I’ve been taking ‘dares’ to do what others said I was incapable of:  too young, too old, too weak (read, a female). Or, what others said was too risky (read, ‘stupid’). Why, I wonder, have I always embraced fresh dares enthusiastically ? Those patterns were set as a child. Motherless at age 11 and living in a full household of males, I quickly realized that I was going to have to toughen up, fast. Being the baby (read ‘runt’) of the family didn’t endear me to my male tribe in terms of protection. I was expected to fight my own fights – literally.

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One day at school that same year, a boy at school – a very big, heavy kid in my class about three times my weight – started talking trash about me. With the recent death of my mother, my father had gone into complete shock. Ever the little trooper, I dressed myself and made my own breakfast before school. Most of the time, nothing I decided to throw on that day matched, or was even appropriate for the weather. Who cared? I had bigger concerns on my mind.

So this boy started talking and I set him straight with some smart talk of my own. He backed off, but later on that day, I was playing with friends in my neighborhood and he – for some reason – was there. He approached me, pushed me to the ground and then…sat on me. Laughing. His weight made me feel like a bug being squashed. I, of course, was screaming and cursing like a banshee, scratching and trying to bite (he eventually let me go). On that exact day, at that exact moment, I realized that fear was not going to squash my spirit – ever. Despite the odds, despite the risks, I was going to ensure that every single day would involve something just a little bit out of my comfort zone.

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In one of Deepak Choprah’s books (I can’t remember which one), he urges us to “Look to this day:  it is the very life of Life”. My trip to Morocco will be new territory for me. Making the dive from 33 feet above the water was a game-changer for me. Making sure the school bully got his come-uppence after “teaching the little skinny girl a lesson” ? That was just pure, sweet icing on the cake.

Western culture Readers of a certain age might not have grown up with the expression, to “Fly by the seat of your pants”. On its face, it makes no sense. But when my grandmother used it – especially with reference to something I was doing or even thinking about doing – there was no mistaking her disapproval. “Flying by the seat of your pants” is a phrase from aviation history; back in the day when airplane pilots had few navigational instruments and had to rely on their instincts. (Aviation also gave us the phrase, to “wing it”.) Both expressions roughly translate as, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, but I’m doing it !”

When I was much younger, I for sure did a lot of “winging it”:  trusting my instincts about what felt true and correct at the time. As I’ve grown older, however, Life has taken on more of a jigsaw-puzzle experience:  a lot of pieces showing up on the table; its just a matter of fitting them all together for the beautiful picture I know is hiding in that jumble of shapes.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time and energy looking at those shapes:  education; career, marriage, family, more education, a left-turn in my career, friendships and deep connections, and travel. Always, lots and lots of travel. Are there any other pieces I haven’t mentioned? Yes:  a home by the sea, good health, grandchildren, abundant love and creativity (whatever those puzzle pieces look like – snippets of a rainbow, I think).

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What happens to my mood when the pieces don’t fit together when, and how I think they should? Sometimes I feel as though my Life might be on someone else’s timeline; so, a little frustrated. Why aren’t things coming-together when I want them to? Alana Fairchild, channeler (my word) of all things Rumi, offers a thought that – thankfully – soothes my troubled thoughts most of the time:  “…it’s best to  participate in this Life with much less certainty than the mind would have us believe is needed for Inner Peace. Inner Peace doesn’t come with understanding; it comes with trusting.

Deep in my soul I know that Trust is key to feeling peace in my mind and heart. Trust can translate as, whatever words we choose to use to describe our individual beliefs and hope for this world:  Source energy, God, Buddha, Gaia, Allah – just to name a few. Whatever’s going on, it will all be “ok”. Will it? I’d love to get that in writing.

Klimpt’s “Mother & Child”, bingimages

I think about how difficult Trust can feel, especially when Life is filled with successive hard-knocks. How do we keep getting up and standing, let alone trying our best to move forward, albeit one step at a time? The answer to that question is uniquely personal; but in the midst of my own struggles, and after working with so many damaged children and adults over my many years in public service, I can offer what I’ve seen, heard, and felt. The most at-risk people in the world can and do not only survive, but can eventually thrive. Even without a faith in a deity or higher power, there’s very often an instinctive desire to survive:  to climb up, and out of despair.

The human spirit is amazing in its strength and grace. Peace in mind begins, then, in honoring the living, breathing essence of one’s existence. Life feels fragile, but it’s not accidental. Our primary ‘certainty’, even without full understanding, must be the value of our own lives. We learn to Trust our own beating hearts, regardless of how many times we feel betrayed by others. Peace in mind that can never, despite how complicated or jumbled Life may seem at times, be misguided or misplaced. I’m going to relax in that Peace today, however long it lasts.

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I can still remember the day my teenaged son screamed “I hate you!”:  three words that totally gut-punched me and shut down the argument we were having about his extremely poor choices (for the record, the kind that threaten life and limb). I was standing my ground, holding firm, sticking to the tenets of Tough Love. Until those three words eviscerated me. Feeling almost mortally wounded, I retreated. I’ve never forgotten how that felt.

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Whether we’re on the receiving end of Hate, or delivering Hate, the result is the same, as far as our bodies are concerned. In his book, “The Biology of Belief”, Dr. Bruce Lipton talks about the mind-body connection and the changes brought-about on a cellular level by negative emotions (giving or receiving). Lipton’s not the first (and won’t be the last) to connect the dots between human emotion and overall well-being.

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Anger – whether it’s impulsive, or becomes a lifestyle – is particularly harmful in the way it slowly corrodes our delicate internal systems. Lipton’s studies are too fascinating, too important, and much too data-detailed  (he’s a scientist, first and foremost) to summarize here. Instead, I’ll just share that Lipton’s one of my main Go-To’s,  when I’m struggling to understand hateful people.  

Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1926-2004) is another ‘giant’ in this area. Although she’s probably best known for her theory of The Five Stages of Grief, what I often — especially lately, here in the United States– “consult” (in my own head, anyway!) with her on is this:   when it comes to human emotions, there are really only two:  Love, and Fear.

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We know a lot about Love:  what it feels like, what it can do in our lives and in the World; how our bodies ‘float’ when we engage in pure acts of love toward other people, animals, Nature and our own Planet Earth. There’s no mistaking authentic Love. Even the superficial, media-created (think: films and TV) versions of ‘Love’– often cheesy and formulaic – can still be charming and sweet in their attempt to ‘copycat’ the Real Thing. What is harder to get a handle on is Fear, because it wears a few disguises: Hate being one of them  (Kübler-Ross, by the way, adds ‘anxiety’ and ‘guilt’ as other “masks” worn by Fear).

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When I consider the times in my life that I’ve encountered Hate, of course it’s always been a hateful person or hateful people:  animals don’t hate. That may seem like an idiotic observation, but I mention animals to make a distinction between what happens when Fear dons the mask of Aggression, versus when it shows itself as Hate. Fear can cause animals and people to feel threatened and go into offensive-mode.

But Hate is entirely different:  hate is a choice. Hate takes the normal survival-instinct of Fear and shoots one thousand volts of aggressive current through the body so that ‘fending off a predator’ is no longer the primary goal:  mental, emotional and even physical annihilation is.  And great suffering is a desirable part of the process.

How do we cope with hateful people? Is there a way of reaching their hearts, soothing their fears, disarming their need to inflict pain? I can only speak from experience and share what I know about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of this thinking. In my own family relationships, I came to the conclusion that, sometimes – regrettably — Fear appears more powerful than Love.

actor Malcolm McDowell as the despot Caligula

The Roman emperor Caligula, known for his extreme sadism and brutality, is supposed to have said, “I don’t care if [the People] love me, so long as they fear me!”  Some people, it seems to me, would much rather be feared than loved. Instilling fear in others equates with power, for these types. When powerful people (who have the ability to influence your happiness, sense of safety, stability and general welfare) decide to mobilize their own insecurities in hate-filled ‘attacks’, there’s really no reaching them.

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Kübler-Ross says that Love and Fear are mutually-exclusive:  they can’t co-exist at the same time. We must always – therefore – choose to operate from one or the other. In countering Hate, it seems to me that the only strategy is to acknowledge (actively, demonstrably) that Love is the better option. But since Hate is in full-body armor in our World today, Love must shield itself also, while remaining fully ‘present’ and steadfast, in a genuine struggle for Survival. It really doesn’t matter to me if you’d prefer to call Love’s armor God, the Universe, Allah, Jehovah, Divine Spirit, Gaia, or something else. As long as we stand together under one of Love’s many names, I’m with you.