I woke up from the nicest dream this morning. I don’t remember how all the details worked together, but near the end of my dream I was asked about my relationship with the religion I left behind. Believers and nonbelievers were in the audience as I answered each question posed to me by a woman in an aubergine blazer. As I explained my journey away from that particular religion and where my journey has led me, the audience members, both believers and nonbelievers, truly listened to me, affirming me and accepting me as capable and valuable. There were no recriminations, no arguments, no condemnations or pronouncements of eternal punishment, no statements like “You just haven’t been to the right place of worship, seen the right examples of this religion, truly understood what it is all about, etc.” It was incredible. I was celebrated for what my diversity added to the group as a whole and we all enjoyed a positive experience.
I often wonder from which part of my psyche my memorable dreams visit me. This morning was no different. Perhaps the dream came as a result of my recent spate of observations on the divisions we find to keep ourselves separated from the Other. Fat women vs. skinny women, real men vs. sissy men, vegetarians vs. vegans vs. omnivores, women vs. men, religious vs. spiritual vs. nonbelievers, stay-at-home parents vs. two-income families, the demarcations could go on forever.
We put up walls, assign labels, become offensive, get defensive, and fight with each other because we are scared.We find our value in devaluing others, turn everything that makes us different into a cause, a rallying cry for the Us to line up so we can take on the Them. And it all comes from a place of fear. Fear that the scale or the size of our clothes determines our worth, fear that we will make a parenting choice that eventually alienates our children from us and wreaks havoc on our lives, fear that we will be oppressed and bullied by those who seem bigger and stronger than us, fear that we are irreparably harming the environment, fear that our own beliefs are not strong enough to stand in the face of someone’s disbelief, fear that we will be miserable while others live out their dreams, fear that we will soon become the Other.
Certainly there is such a thing as healthy fear which has an important role to play in our lives. But it is a much smaller role than most of us give it, a spot in the background rather than the lead role. It is to be used sparingly, like the viruses that make up vaccines, just enough power for us to remember how to stay safe in dangerous, unhealthy situations and fight off the larger, more deadly manifestations of fear. When it makes an appearance on a daily, hourly, or minute-by-minute basis, it becomes a poison that brings a sort of death rather than life. It separates us from our fellow humans, turning anyone who doesn’t look, talk, or think like us into the enemy. It holds us hostage in a life we don’t want and makes us bitter toward those who are unencumbered by it. It turns the illusion of the world as a dangerous place into a reality. Fear robs us of our healthiest, kindest, most loving, authentic, and happy selves while masquerading as something that protects us from harm.
My dream was beautiful because within my dreamworld there were hundreds of people courageous enough to accept, love, and celebrate me because I was different from them. I woke up feeling loved to the core of my being. I wasn’t even sad when I woke up and realized it was only a dream because I know I have the power to make that dream of courageous love, acceptance, and celebration of others a reality in my life despite my myriad fears. It was a sleeping wake-up call to combat the poison of fear that quickly spreads to every facet of existence once it is introduced and harbored within me. It was a reminder to live apart from fear. To live in the light of a brave love for others even when something about them confuses, bewilders, annoys, or irritates me.
I’d like to leave you with a lesson from one of the great wisdom teachers. It’s a nine-second video, but the truth within it can change our lives.