Owning My Priorities

 

Yesterday morning a post caught my eye. It was How to Pretend You Care about Football. The post was funny and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but reading it also caused me to reflect on my own relationship to football. For most of my life, I had no interest in football; and I didn’t made any effort to pretend that I cared about it. In fact, I believe I actively conveyed my disinterest, and at times, my disapproval. The only exception I can remember was when I lived in Oakland and developed some allegiance to the Oakland Raiders.

My attitude towards football changed in the fall of 2012. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I started watching the Seahawks games very early in the season; and I continued watching them throughout the season. When I say “watched,” I use the word loosely. The reality is I was doing so many other things at the same time that I became known for missing most of the important plays. As we came closer to the playoffs, I focused on the games more and by the Super Bowl I was watching them intently.

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Photo Credit: Ginny Gensler

That year, the city of Seattle came alive in its support of the Seahawks; or it may be more accurate to say it went crazy. Everywhere there were people in Seahawks shirts, Seahawks signs in the windows, Seahawks tattoos, Seahawks nail polish, and Seahawks flags flying. The city had become one big community. After the team won the Super Bowl there was a victory parade. 700,000 people from around the region stood for hours in 20 degree weather to participate. And I was one of them!

Last year, I was much more attentive when I watched the games and was elated when we made it to the Super Bowl again. I felt disappointed when we lost, but I had enjoyed the season so much that it didn’t spoil my overall experience in the slightest.  The Seahawk fans were a community during the wins and we stayed a community during the loss.

As I reflected on all of this yesterday, another memory came to my mind. It was a story I heard in the early 90’s, on one of my first trips to Amma’s ashram in Kerala, India. At that time, one of the brahmacharis (male monks) shared a story from the early days of the ashram. In those days, the spiritual aspirants were expected to abstain from chai (tea). This young man had ignored that instruction however and would daily sneak out of the ashram and go to a local chai shop for tea. Invariably when he returned to the ashram, Amma would be standing by the gate talking to someone. She never said anything to him, but he knew she knew what he had been doing. One day, when returning from his chai break, he saw Amma standing near the gate so he turned around and went to another ashram entrance. He was shocked to find Amma standing there as well! As he reflected on the event, he concluded this was occurring because he was being sneaky. The next time he went for chai, he announced, out loud, to the universe, “I’m going for chai.” Never again did he find Amma standing by the gate when he returned.

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So in the spirit of owning my priorities, I have the following to say. The Seahawks have played their first three preseason games for this year and there is one more to go. Then the main season begins. So far I have seen all of the games and I intend to see the rest of them as well. During the six weeks I’m in India, I will follow them on my Android as much as possible. So if I don’t show up at an event I would normally attend, and there is a Seahawks game that day, you can safely assume I am somewhere watching the game. I am a Seahawks fan and I am proud of it!

“I will not be sneaky or lie.”

The therapists and clients in my therapy community all use a series of six self-care contracts as guiding principles in their lives. One of those contracts is “I will not be sneaky or lie. I will be honest with myself and others.”

I hold telling the truth in high value and have for a long time. Has being upfront and telling the truth always been important to me? Not at all. I know that I was sneaky and told lies during a good part of my childhood and early teenage years.

In some families, being sneaky and lying may be the only way for children to have power and to do the things that they want to do. To some extent that must have been true for me. I don’t have any memory of how often I engaged in those behaviors, but I do remember one notable example. One day, my mother asked me if I had practiced my accordion, an instrument I hated. I immediately said yes. When she took me to the closet where it was stored, I was dismayed to discover that there was a big rug rolled up against the closet door. There was no way I would have been able to move the rug to get to the accordion. Did being caught in a blatant lie make me change that behavior? No it didn’t.  What I learned from that incident was to be much more careful when I told lies. I don’t remember when I made a decision to stop lying, but I did.  It may have been in ninth grade when my spiritual journey became so important to me.

One thing that is guaranteed to rile me up is if I find out that someone has lied to me. That seems ironic considering that I used to lie. However, as a therapist I have learned that we are very likely to get triggered when others do the same unhealthy behaviors that we consciously, or unconsciously do (i.e. they are being a “mirror” for us) or when we have not completely forgiven ourselves for our past mistakes. I know I still carry some guilt for all the lies I told during the early years of my life, even though I have some understanding of why I told them.

There is a quote that is often attributed to Buddha that says:  “If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, 1) is it true, 2) is it necessary, and 3) is it kind?”  While I am not always successful, I strive to keep those three criteria in mind when I speak. That doesn’t mean that the people I’m talking to will think that what I have to say meets all of the criteria. As a therapist, I often say things that are hard for clients to hear. At the time, they may think I am being unkind and that my words were unnecessary, but later, they may change their minds.

Is it ever okay to tell a lie? If someone was in danger and telling a lie would help keep them safe, then I believe the lie would be warranted.  In most other cases though, a lie would be unnecessary and potentially harmful to ourselves or others.

If our needs conflict with others desires, we may be tempted to lie. For example, if someone wants us to spend the evening with them we may create some fictitious obligation when the reality is that we just want some quiet time at home.  It might be difficult or even frightening to tell the truth, but most people will understand, and even if they don’t, the truth isn’t likely to do as much damage to the relationship as getting caught in a lie. Even if we don’t get caught, when we lie to someone, our sense of self-respect may be damaged.  We may not know the effect of all the little lies on our psyche until sometime long into the future.

When people shift from being sneaky or telling lies to being honest, they often believe that they have to tell other people everything. That was true for me. If I didn’t tell people the whole story, I felt like I was lying. I soon learned that was not the case. Generally, our thoughts and actions, whether past or present, are our business. There is no need to share them with others unless we want to. It is not lying to keep private things private. In fact, it may be good self-care. Disclosure is an area that requires discrimination.

There are many times when it would be impossible to tell the whole truth and keep the criteria of saying only what is true, kind and necessary. That doesn’t mean that we have to lie though. It may be a time for silence.

Two areas that I continue to work on are not minimizing my own needs and not exaggerating. Recently someone pointed out to me how something they had done had impacted me in a negative way. Instead of acknowledging that what they had said was true, I started talking about a past experience with someone else that had hurt me more. In a way, that was minimizing the situation, and I missed an opportunity to talk about an ongoing problem.

My speech used to be peppered with exaggeration. I spoke of “millions” of this and “tons” of that. I know there are many other examples, even in the present, of how I exaggerate but I’m not remembering them in the moment. When I find myself exaggerating I correct myself internally, and ideally clear it with the person I have spoken to as well.

I think learning to be upfront and honest, yet still use discrimination, is a lifetime process, or at least it will be for me. But I believe it is worth every bit of effort I put into the journey.

 

Written for Dungeon Prompts- Season 3, Week 5- For What Would You Lie?