“Love People Where They're At”
Two yoga teachers taught my 21-year-old self to say: “I am infinite, eternal and whole.”
That time for me was like receiving CPR. There I was, surrounded by all different ages, cultures and ideologies. We held hands in a circle; we prayed together. We practiced compassionate self-acceptance. And we learned we are all… whole? But I hadn’t achieved enough yet. I hadn’t healed enough yet. There was so much to figure out. I felt hole-y. Yoga teacher training felt like a concluding paragraph at the time. Now it feels like my preface.
I could only hear what I was ready to hear, as is always the case. I could only let into my heart as much as could fit into the opening I had created for the world to enter. This learned expression of wholeness has morphed with me through the years. These same two teachers told all 61 or so of us at the end of our month together, “the lessons you are learning today will take years to integrate.” They also told us to be patient. They told us to get ready—change was acomin’. They told us all that funny, long recycled lesson—”if you think you’re enlightened go home for a weekend.” So I knew my perceptions would shift, bend, shake away and transform. I had received fair warning.
When I think about my wholeness I can’t help but want to defend the existence of my perceived cracks, those places that seem to snag on the fabric of my life. Someone in my head would like me to know this is my ego (thank you for sharing, I say back). I get so attached to the parts of me that seem broken; I feel so dutiful and purposeful if I think I am working to piece them back together. Not to mention, I’ve always described good music as being the type of sound that happens to fit perfectly into a crack in my soul. Like spiritual spackle. So how can I give away this metaphor?
This morning I am thinking about wholeness, about cracks in the soul, about perceptions and about how to love. I am thinking, in particular, about another story that seems to have filled a gap in my consciousness. I was at a holiday party this past December and we got around to talking about how to best assist the homeless. One man at the party happened to work as a case worker in Downtown Seattle focusing on the homeless population. After listening to several well-intentioned stabs at policy changes that may uplift those who are less fortunate, this man suggested: the next time you see a homeless person, ask them if you can treat them to a cup of coffee. Ask them if they will sit with you and share one of their most recent dreams. Ask them about who they are, what they think about during their day. And the best part of what he shared—”Love people where they’re at.”
He said it with disbelief at us all. Really, his eyebrows were knit and he put his hands up in the air to express a question mark. He didn’t look miffed, exactly. He looked genuinely confused. Because to him, this is a clear and simple priority. We need to begin with loving people where they’re at. Duh. We don’t need to get too lost, necessarily, in a strategy, and we certainly don’t need to listen to that sneaky voice who gallops in and wants to “save” the day. We do, however, need to love. This isn’t to say that policies and developing plans won’t be critical to social change. I think he was onto something even more important, though, about making sure to begin with respect. To begin with the humility that we aren’t different from those we look to support; to begin with respecting their journey first and foremost. This humility seems to be a critical aspect of helping anyone.
Much of my life I have felt that I needed love to come with understanding. I felt that unless someone understands who I am, they can’t possibly be loving me well enough. I have felt a strong pull to understand myself more, even, in order to give love to myself. I think many of us feel this way about someone whose circumstances look different than our own. Understanding helps make compassion easier, but I’m learning it is in no way essential to loving. We don’t even need to understand someone in order to respect them. Our linear, thinking brains can intellectualize until the cows come home. Mine keeps going even after that, actually.
Just for today, though, I will practice “love people where they’re at,” including myself. Including the person in the folding chair on that same street corner as yesterday whose story I do not know, and whose story it is not my place to judge or to think I might know how to “fix.” Including Grandma who might have said one too many spicy comments on the phone last week. Including an alcoholic uncle. Including a buttoned-up coworker. Including the girl who bullied in the 7th grade. No need to withhold, no need to wait any longer, no need to understand or to attend to that person’s every need, to try to dive deeper into their reasons for showing up as who they are today. But we can still love without all of that.
Today I feel quite strongly that my wholeness means I do not need to wait any longer to love. And now, the laundry.