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Buddha Nature

Redefining Loyalty: How Loving Opposition Can Help Us Grow 640 480 Thayer Fox

Redefining Loyalty: How Loving Opposition Can Help Us Grow

We all crave loyalty. Associated with honor, loyalty is demonstrated by a “Going down with the ship”, “No man left behind”, “No matter what” mentality. Loyalty is cited in Psychology Today as one of the top three qualities people look for in a relationship. An ironclad contract with no wiggle room, loyalty keeps marriages intact through rocky periods and also fuels loveless partnerships of convenience. When loyalty becomes enabling, it serves neither party. How do you define loyalty?

When a trait is unanimously preferable, we all agree on it. People who are loyal are good, and people who do not meet our criteria for this label are bad. This becomes more complicated if we zoom in on all our different definitions of what it means to be loyal. One friend feels it’s disloyal to miss her birthday party. Another one doesn’t care if you skip her party, but you must ignore a mom she detests at school pickup to prove your allegiance. Our definition is obvious to us, so we operate with the assumption that everyone is on the same page. Rarely do we communicate our expectations yet we judge harshly when people don’t behave how we want them to in our allotted time frame. Our friend circles are composed of people who share our belief systems and nod as we rant about the latest injustice in our life. We don’t like people who disagree with us. We internalize opposing viewpoints as conflict, which triggers our survival instinct.

But we stop developing when our thinking is not challenged.

As a child, I was a loyalty fanatic. Growing up in a family with an alcoholic, there was a lot of inconsistency. I sought out people who “had my back”. If you loved me than you needed to prove it by doing everything my way. Noncompliance was viewed as treason and grounds for exile. I used the concept of loyalty to control people, and it worked, keeping my friends and boyfriends silent. A synonym of loyalty in the dictionary is obedience which explains why our personal definitions rarely leave room for constructive feedback.

My thoughts on loyalty have evolved over the years. What does it mean in a relationship to be loyal? What exactly am I being loyal to? The Buddha nature in someone or their fragile identity which houses blind spots, complaints, and excuses? When getting along is the dominant rule of engagement, loyalty mutates into co-dependency. Melody Beattie is an excellent resource in this area. You cannot show up in the world and be of service if you are not taking care of yourself first.

Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Who do you spend the most time being loyal to? How do their energy and thinking affect you?

Loyalty for me includes saying it all. However, honest feedback without love is anger in disguise. The trending concept of “brutal honesty” perpetuates the self-righteous anger of our egos. I need to check my intentions before engaging in challenging conversations or offering up unsolicited advice. Whenever my amygdala is hijacked, it’s essential to keep my mouth shut and turn to prayer and meditation until I reconnect with my heart. Voicing an opposing viewpoint with love requires patience, courage, and commitment.

We are also loyal to ways of thinking that cause us pain. When we parrot opinions handed down by our parents or based on past experience, we exit the present moment. How often do you operate with blind loyalty to an unexamined belief? How I identify with my thoughts and emotions today is a choice. Holding what I believe loosely makes room for new information and experiences to integrate. I want the right to change my mind as I grow and be surrounded by people who give me the space to do so because they are growing too.

Mark Twain said this beautifully, “Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world—and never will.”

 

 

Dharma: Bringing Forth What Is Within You 767 1024 Thayer Fox

Dharma: Bringing Forth What Is Within You

What is it that you can’t stop being? I’m not referring to your job, your to-do list or your identity as a parent or partner. What are you unconsciously doing or being as you go through your daily routine? What grabs your attention? When do you feel clear and charged like you downed an espresso? These clues will help reveal your Dharma.

Dharma is a central concept in Hinduism and Buddhism that does not have one translation. “The path” is the most accurate nutshell definition. The implication of dharma is that each person has a right way of living for them. Once you inhabit your true nature and align your life with a path of expression, the journey towards enlightenment begins. Don’t tune out because the word enlightenment feels too lofty, enlightenment in Buddhism just means awake. When we engage in our dharma, our heart awakens, transforming our experience of the world around us.

Years ago, after reading Stephen Cope’s, The Great Work of Your Life, I set an intention to notice what I couldn’t stop being every day. Stephen said to look closely at your childhood. What did you love doing? What characteristics stood out in your personality?

As a child, I loved reading and writing poetry. Under the covers with a flashlight, I whispered the poems of Yeats and Arnold late into the night. In 5thgrade my English teacher noticed my passion and asked me to stay after class. We started meeting regularly, and I shared my journals with her. The memory is vivid because it was my first experience of feeling seen by another person. Observing the “Buddha nature” in someone and reflecting it back to them is an act of love that can change a life.

Writing is now an expression of my dharma, but my dharma is not necessarily to be a writer. What drew me to poetry were the emotions that the writers boldly displayed. The courage in their vulnerability gave me access to my shut down heart. Something inside me desired to be brave and open too.

The next time I noticed a glimpse of a path was at a soup kitchen with my mother. I was twelve years old, so it was suggested that I stay in the kitchen and make cheese sandwiches. As soon as things got busy, I snuck into the dining hall and chatted with the men and women seated there. Moved by their rawness and transparency, something dormant inside me was activated.

Assuming that being of service or a volunteer is part of my dharma is too basic a translation of the soup kitchen memory. Making a difference for the men and women at the soup kitchen did flood me with light, but it was who they were that made that possible. The same as the poets. What reached out and grabbed me in both circumstances was the purity in the communication. It’s the same reason I love attending AA meetings fifteen years later. Alcohol hasn’t been an issue since my first year of sobriety, but I can’t get enough of the brave people there who share from their hearts. I feel blessed to be an alcoholic, so I have access to those church basements.

As a parent, understanding dharma is essential. My greatest responsibility is to notice what my children can’t stop being. Burying them in my dharma would eventually cause them grave pain. My daughter sings as she brushes her teeth in the morning and as she reads in bed at night. My son uses two boxes of aluminum foil to build a robot at 6:00am. It’s not my job to interpret what any of this means, but I can keep exposing them to opportunities that may reveal the next step in their journey. I highly recommend a book series that I love reading to my children called Ordinary People Change the World by Brad MeltzerEach book describes a dharma journey, and I’ve never made it through one without getting choked up with tears of awe.

A quote in the Bible sums up the importance of connecting with your dharma: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”  The destruction referenced in this quote is rarely cataclysmic. Most people destroy themselves slowly over a lifetime by making small unconscious decisions that lead them farther and farther away from their truth.

Being disconnected from my Buddha nature for fifteen years almost killed me. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to stop drinking. Without alcohol, far from the right path, my experience of the world was excruciatingly empty. Even without an addiction, the world is a distracting place, and most people get lost or coached away from their dharma at an early age by well-intentioned mentors and peers who are not fully expressed themselves.

But it’s never too late. Ever. Finally, at forty-four, I feel peaceful and fulfilled, closer than I’ve ever been to a right way of living for me. On days that I’m impatient because I want it all figured out, I remind myself that dharma is not a destination, it’s a lifetime of becoming.