My American Dream: A tale of two narratives


Growing up, I didn’t think of myself as an “American.”  I was a missionary kid.  I went to a missionary school, and studied Spanish and the Bible alongside English and Math.  I loved Jesus, and volunteered with the prison ministry, with the soup kitchen ministry, teaching Sunday School.  And I was socially awkward, an outcast, a loner.  

My feelings about the country in which I was born were confused: some mix of awe, distrust & resentment.  I was endlessly “other” in my family and among my peers and in the cultures of the countries we were on a mission to “save”.  And I blamed my country for my lack of belonging in the homes I came to love.  

Because I was American, I was in danger, or so the narrative was spun, and my experience affirmed the narrative.  I remember, at 9 years old in Mexico being stopped by the police and my mother lying, telling them we didn’t have any money in the car.  She told me later that they would have invented a reason to take it all from us, because we were American, so they would think we were rich even though we weren’t.  At 14, in Ecuador, my friend’s father was arrested for no reason, I was told, other than that he was American and they wanted him to pay lots of money to be released.  He was in prison for a month.  At 15, I was forbidden from going to Colombia, because my nationality made me a likely kidnapping target.

The vendors at the markets in Quito, where I spent the better part of my tween and teen years, had two price lists: one for gringos and one for locals.  I didn’t have an issue with this – they were welcome to charge the Rich Americans whatever they wanted…but I wanted to be treated like a local.

I didn’t see, then, how the very idea of a missionary life inherently others and demeans its objects by attempting to influence them into a paradigm that may or may not be in support of their thriving.  In choosing to say “we know better than you what you should believe and how you should live,” we set ourselves apart from the culture we encountered, rather than finding our way into mutual respect and experiments with collaboration.  I see it now, but back then? I blamed my own nationality for my feeling of separation, of otherness.

The USA to me, then, was a place of extravagant, wasteful wealth.  Of an entire aisle for juice where three or four choices would do.  Of mansions and feasts and shopping and television.  I both loved and hated the every-other-summer my family would spend traveling the US, visiting supporters.  These were the Americans whose donations made our lives and ministry possible.  We traveled from place to place, my father preaching the same sermon again and again until I and my sisters could recite it word for word. And these people, these supporters, doted on us.  Cooked for us, housed us, tended to us.  I loved them, and I hated the experience.

These were people who had my picture on their refrigerator.  Who read about me in newsletters my mother sent out.  Who prayed for me in church on Sundays, and maybe every day during their devotions, their time of intentional practice.  I felt my otherness keenly, wearing my Ecuadorian soccer jersey to the fourth of July celebrations.  My family was seen as set apart, somehow; worthy of all these people’s money and energy to sustain our lives.  I saw this as a standard to live up to, a necessary righteousness as the representatives of God.  A righteousness that I, a hopeless sinner, was utterly incapable of attaining.  

I worked harder.  Read the Bible more.  Prayed diligently.  I became class chaplain.  Yes, that was a thing at my school.  I answered so many altar calls.  We called it “Rededication” – when you’ve already been born again, but you’ve strayed from the straight and narrow, you confess your sins and give yourself back over to Christ.  There’s something very lovely buried in there about the idea of taking responsibility for who you are and what you do, and choosing to bring yourself into integrity again and again…but that is not at all how I was living it.  

I was living it as guilt and shame.  I was living it as a pattern of shaming myself for my sins (which were numerous, including anger at my father and anything having to do with sexuality, from watching sex scenes in movies to touching myself), begging to be cleansed of said sins, and working enthusiastically for Jesus until my own uncleanness crept up on me again, driving me back into self-shaming.  I was living it dramatically, violently.

Part of the hard work I put in was, quite naturally given the values of missionary culture, toward the salvation of others. I volunteered in several ministries that did some gorgeous work, never seeing that the gifts we offered were so transactional: food or clothing or medical care or fun and games all in exchange for a person in need’s willingness to listen to us tell them that they were going to hell unless they believed what we believed.

I was passionately against abortion.  I was passionately against gay marriage.  These things were a given, they were part of the culture.  Everyone knew that they were wrong.  I remember in 8th grade, when that “awful sinner” Bill Clinton did…well I was never sure quite what exactly, but something very very bad having to do with sex, which made it inappropriate to discuss…with Monica Lewinsky.  (Hillary was, of course, righteous to stand by him, because divorce is a sin).  I wrote a poem from the point of view of an aborted child as an avenue to express my outrage at the idea that giving birth could be a choice.  I wept – literally wept – as I prayed for my “poor cousins” who were “subjected to” gay parents.

I prayed valiantly for Christians who were being persecuted all around the world, always aware that, the way things were going in the US, with all those babies being aborted and gay people allowed to get married, someday soon probably Christians in the US would start getting persecuted too — I’d even heard they already weren’t letting people pray and have Bible study at school!

And I strove, endlessly, to honor my parents like the Bible said to…in the midst of their more-than-typically-dysfunctional parenting.  My relationship with my parents, especially my father, was, to me, the ultimate proof of my own badness, because I couldn’t deny what I saw as their badness, and seeing them as bad wasn’t honoring them.  I associated their badness with their American-ness, attempting to distance myself from it, make it “other” than myself, since I didn’t identify as an American.

And through it all, this thread ran that I had this obligation – to the supporters in the States – to live up to my role in my missionary family.  Because everything I had came from them, from the Americans.  I was sure, if the supporters knew what bad people we were – not just my own sins, but the shadows within my family, too – that we would lose everything and be out on the streets.  So I was grateful to the US, for funding my life, appalled at what I saw as its extravagance and waste, and resentful about the standards I felt I had to live up to that I associated with the States, angry at the danger I felt it put me in, and very confused about the feeling of Otherness I had both in the US and overseas.

I moved back to the US when I was 17.  As it happened, that was a catastrophic time in my life; a time of facing the abuse I’d experienced, and I  don’t use the word “abuse” lightly.  In a time of beginning to recognize just how wounded I was, I ran away, from both my family and the Church, and began to speak of what I’d experienced.  I was enraged – most especially at my parents and at God, and I lashed out.  I took actions that I told myself were for my own protection, but in actuality were about my anger and my pain and my need to act in a way that expressed my feeling state.  I filed a report as my exit strategy, and my family locked the door behind me.

Suddenly free, suddenly alone.  Suddenly nothing I knew made sense.  And all those values I’d been so passionate about – sin and Jesus and salvation – suddenly they fell away, replaced by the utter terror of uncertainty, and the grief and rage that are its bedfellows.

I began to explore the other side of things, and my values began to shift.  As I came across people who were different from how I’d been raised, I asked them endless questions about their lives and their beliefs. I watched all 7 seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and (probably as a result)  bought books on Wicca and started smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol and dating women.  I came to the realization that, while I don’t see myself as ever having an abortion, I would never want to deny that choice to another woman.  

In the spring of 2007, I moved to the Washington, DC.  That’s where my feelings about America began to shift; where I first caught a glimmer of what America could be.  My aunt (one of the gay ones whose children I’d so earnestly prayed for and whose family I was now living with in Alexandria, VA) brought me along with her when she testified on Capitol Hill.  She was there in her then capacity as the Executive Director of the Women’s Business Center of Northern Virginia, speaking about a micro-loans program.  I caught a bug of excitement, that day, about government.  About the grandeur and majesty of DC.  About the idealism and beauty of this idea of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

The 2008 presidential election was my first, and Obama was the first president I voted for.  I stayed up late to watch the election results come in.  I danced and screamed with joy when he was elected.  I wept during his inauguration, overcome with hope, and with a brand-new feeling I’d never before experienced: patriotism.  I was filled, for the first time, with love for my country.

By the time of my second presidential election, I had moved to upstate NY.  I had married a woman and was in the process of getting divorced.  I was pursuing a liberal arts bachelor’s degree at a totally alternative, awesome college that let me write my own curriculum and study according to my own passions.  And I was still so proud to cast my vote, to participate in the electoral process.  So grateful to the suffragettes who worked tirelessly to earn me the privilege.  I wasn’t quite as full of hope as I’d been at the first election, there seemed so many causes to fight for.  I was writing letters to advocate for trans- rights.  I was changing my profile picture to a rainbow flag.  I was protesting fracking, and GMO’s, and starting conversations with strangers about cultural appropriation.  My political pendulum had swung, fully and completely, from the right to the left.

This most recent election really brought home for me the polarity of the two narratives I’ve lived in.  As I’ve wrestled and grappled and thought and written for the past more-than-a-year as I’ve followed along, I’ve seen fear emerge as the predominant theme on every side of this thing.  Everyone is afraid.  Everyone feels like someone who isn’t considering everyone’s well-being is making decisions that impact all of our lives.  And it’s probably true.

I keep coming back to the commonality of it.  I’m so aware that, even though I’ve changed so much and my values have changed so much, and my politics have jumped from one extreme to the other…I’m still the same me I always was.  I still have an internal compass that points to “good” and has always pointed to “good”.  It’s just my definition of “good” that has changed.

I love this country.  And I respect the hell out of the ideals it espouses, even as it falls short of them time and time again.  So I have an American Dream.  I believe that there is great potential, here, for true collaboration between disparate cultures and perspectives.  I believe that we are actively moving toward this kind of harmonious, creative living….and that we aren’t there, yet.

But I think we’re closer than we think we are.

We are a nation divided.  Polarized, even.  We have two distinct narratives playing at all times – one liberal and one conservative.  There are nuance and variance within each of the two, and plenty of conflict and disagreement as well, but within each narrative even the conflicts stay true to the narrative; the disagreements arise around what the nature of the response to the agreed upon narrative should be.  

Each side will provide you with a set of facts.  Certainties.  Things “everyone knows” that are beyond dispute.  And those two sets of certainties disagree with each other, wildly.

Two separate narratives could be a terrifying prospect.  How will we ever communicate with one another? How can we ever bridge such a divide? These are valid, and important questions, and we need to find our way into the answers, stat.  Not theoretically, but as lived experience.

But the thing is, I’ve been a believer of each narrative.  I’ve experienced them both.  And I believe that each side also has an internal compass that points to “good”…and that it’s really just our definitions of “good” that don’t line up.  So I choose to embrace two separate narratives as an exciting moment on the journey toward collaboration: we are now distinct enough from each other to turn and face each other; to begin to explore the idea of what a meeting between us would look like.  To begin to find our way into letting our differences enrich our collaboration, rather than hinder it.

We are at a choice point: we can continue to further our separation, by playing the game of “us” and “them” where “they” are for whatever reason inherently less worthy of respect and compassion than “we” are…or we can decide that the narratives are separate enough, now, and start to move toward connection.

I can’t tell you exactly what it looks like because it will be its own thing.  But I can tell you that in my life, movement toward connection often looks like finding common ground, extending a generous hand or a friendly smile, or expressing genuine curiosity about the other.  It looks like listening, and listening to what lies under what is expressed.  It looks like empathy and understanding, even for those who’ve wronged me — without betraying myself, or pushing myself into connection more quickly than my system is ready for it.

I can tell you that we all have a couple of things in common: each of us has a body, and each of our bodies is designed to feel emotions.  We can probably all think of a time when we were scared.  We probably all have things we’re afraid of, right now.  We can probably all locate at least one moment of actual delight in our lives, too.  And anyone who can’t deserves more of my compassion, not less, even if the lack-of-delight in their experience has left them enraged, and they are taking it out on me.  We all yearn for love, for both connection and autonomy.

And we all want to be good people, each of us according to our own value systems.  

So I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, whoever you are, and whatever you’ve done or are doing.  I’m going to trust that you want to be good.  I’m also going to trust that you probably aren’t meeting your own standard for “good”, and that even if you are, you probably still think you could do “better”.  Because that seems to be the human condition, at least as I’ve encountered it in myself and others.  What I’m not going to trust is that your definition of “good” and my definition of “good” are the same thing.  Because they might not be.  In fact, they probably aren’t.  But I think if we can understand that, we can still work together.

Let’s just start by saying, you want to be good, and I want to be good, and we have this in common. 

Then let’s look at what we each mean by “good”, and where our definitions overlap, and where they don’t.

Let’s work together for the good of all.  Let’s work together to figure out what “the good of all” might mean, remembering that what’s good for me might not be what’s good for you, and that each of our thriving is equally important.  Let’s collaborate in a grand experiment of mutual respect, mutual curiosity, and mutual generosity, and let’s see what we create.

That’s my American Dream.  What’s yours?  

Good, Evil, and Option C

There’s an idea lurking in my head, named “what a person ‘should be'”.

More than an idea. A being, perhaps…but a non-manifest one.

You know this being, and I know this being. They’re the “good person”.

We walk around constantly comparing everyone to this ideal of the “good person” that rides on our shoulders, whispering shoulds and shouldn’ts in our ears.

Who is this ideal of the good person? Where did they come from?

I’m convinced that we each invent our own, informed by our experiences. Where we experience Love, we associate the behavior or being-state with Goodness. Where we experience Fear, we associate the behavior or being-state with Badness. Culture adds on to the texture of this mythological creature, this “good person”, as the paradigm around us teaches us its ideas of what is right and what is wrong.

Because, oh, yes – we each have a “bad person” riding around on our shoulders, too.

And everywhere we go, everything we do, we are comparing ourselves to one of these two idea-beings, and we are comparing everyone else to them, too…not realizing that these “good” and “bad” beings don’t actually exist.

We made them up.

Which leaves each of us with two choices:

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Whole Broken Heart

I was gifted a drum for my birthday this year. It’s an amazing instrument, I’m really quite in love with it. I’m not a musician, or a percussionist, and it’s not that kind of drum. It’s a drum for connecting; for meditating with; for allowing the vibration of its beating to move through my body and shift my perspective around to see things differently.

I spent some time with my drum this evening. I’ve developed a practice, sort of unintentionally, that when I am with the drum I unhook my critical mind and open my throat and my heart to sing, and inevitably I learn from what emerges in the song. Sometimes just tones and syllables emerge, and in them I hear my own current emotional state. And sometimes words emerge, and in them I find wisdom.

Tonight I sang the phrase “we are all one whole broken heart” and something clicked…something probably beyond words, but here’s an attempt, anyway.

In that moment, I felt my own broken heart. And I felt how each shard of it belongs to a beloved; how each break represents a love-interaction flavored with separation of some form or another. And I felt threads running through the breaks, weaving them into wholeness, and how each thread represents a love-interaction flavored with connection of some form or another.

And I think that’s what we are, we humans — God-in-Density; the Incarnate Evolving All…I think we are One Whole Broken Heart.

And a broken heart doesn’t stop working. On the contrary, it seeks healing — it seeks out love. So the love-that-wounds/betrays/breaks inspires us to find/create/manifest the love-that-heals/transforms/grows. Separation and Connection, Pain and Pleasure, these are literally the warp and woof of the tapestry that is the Dense Plane. And they need each other. They are Ruin and Preservation; both must exist in equal measure, and can only be governed by the human heart.

Because the human heart — broken and healing, always broken always whole, is a direct reflection of the whole-thing-that-we-are-when-we-are-individuated. One whole broken heart.

In this moment, it feels beautiful, in that achingly bittersweet kind of way. One of my favorite forms of beauty.

And I think this is some of the texture of “choosing love in the face of pain”, this experience of all-of-manifestation as one, giant, broken heart, breaking and healing over and over.

I find this understanding and lose it, again and again. Years ago I wrote the following in a blog post; I rediscovered it over the summer and made a meme out of it for the Embodied Experiments facebook page. And today I returned to it, and I think that it’s probably one of the more beautiful prayers I’ve ever prayed:


Shifting from Violence to Empowerment part 3: That Which We Most Fear

Crossposted on Medium; read it there for the best formatting. 🙂

There’s a quote by Marianne Williamson that is very popular with the “personal growth” crowd. You’ll find it on the wall of yoga studios and retreat centers. It is often quoted in sermons, commencement speeches, and by coaches and therapists for all manner of occasions. You’ve heard it. You may even have it memorized.

It begins like this:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” (from A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles by Marianne Williamson).

Here’s the thing: she’s absolutely right. We humans — or at least an overwhelmingly vast majority of us — are terrified of our own power. And this fear, I believe, is the root of all violence in this world. Continue reading

Shifting from Violence to Empowerment, Part 2: The Drama Triangle and Why it Doesn’t Work

In the last post, I presented a new model for engaging with violence in the world from the inside out. This model is based on my understanding & application of the Karpman Drama Triangle.

In this post, I want to dive a little bit deeper into what this triangle is, why I see it as the most prevalent cultural meme on the planet today, and why, in my estimation, it only serves to perpetuate the crisis of violence facing our planet.

The Drama Triangle, pictured to the left, has three available roles: persecutor, rescuer, and victim. And it is my assertion that regardless of which role one chooses to step into, one is perpetuating violence. Continue reading

From Violence to Empowerment – and a new Medium

Hello, lovely readers.

Well, after almost a year away, I’m back at it.

When I returned to this site to post this blog, I thought “oh, my… this needs a complete redesign.  It’s just way behind the current platforms and technologies and design principles that make reading an easeful experience.”

In all honesty, I may-or-may-not ever get to redesigning this site.  I may decide to create a whole new site.  Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ve chosen a new medium (named, in a lovely twist of synchronicity, Medium) and will be blogging there.

I’ll continue to post links to my new posts here, for those of you that are subscribed…or you can just follow me on Medium instead…. 🙂

Here’s the new post: Shifting From Violence to Empowerment.

So thrilled to be back, with a year’s worth of thinking, learning & growing to turn into new blog posts.

Body = Love

I have a friend who gets a dress made for herself every year on her birthday.  It’s a beautiful thing, to have something tailor made to fit you.  A luxury; an indulgence; a gorgeous practice of honoring the body and, therefore, the self.   Along those lines, one of my favorite things about my undergraduate program was custom-designing my own curriculum – it fit me perfectly, because it was designed specifically for me.  It wouldn’t have been anyone else’s perfect program, but it was mine, and it couldn’t have been better for me.

It occurred to me, recently, as I’ve been focused on body-love and embodiment this summer, that every single one of us has something of this caliber, something uniquely formed to fit us perfectly – something that fits us like it could never fit anyone else: our bodies.  Our bodies evolved specifically to be our bodies: you were the strange attractor that pulled together the specific sperm and egg to create a container that would house you, that would form and inform you throughout your journey.

How amazing this is? As humans we each have a body specifically and perfectly formed to contain and protect our unique selves on our diverse journeys – oh, yes, not only is the body the perfect, made-to-order container for your soul, but it is perfect for your journey, also.  It evolved specifically to be the medium through which you live into your unique purpose.  The thing that you came here to do, the part that is yours to play in the evolution of humanity, the evolution of consciousness, the evolution of love, can only be accomplished by you, can only be accomplished in your body, and can only be accomplished on your journey. Continue reading

Body Love

I had a startling revelation a couple of weeks ago.

I, the creator of a blog called embodied experiments, have not been fully embracing my own embodiment.  In fact, I have been blaming my body for some things that weren’t my body’s fault at all.  For years.

If you’ve been following the blog, you know that I had an intense childhood, and that one of the intense things I experienced was incest.  And very early on I heard and embraced the truth that “it’s not the victim’s fault.”  Only, I didn’t realize that I’d already put the blame somewhere, and that I hadn’t only assigned it to my perpetrator.  I didn’t realize that some part of me had decided that everything that happened was because my body was wrong.

We teach what we need to learn, and I can see how I had to become a fierce advocate for full embodiment in order to dredge up enough ferocity to turn and look at the truth – that blaming my body for the trauma I experienced has been blocking me from my own full embodiment for all these years.  That if the relationship between my consciousness and my body is a marriage, we’ve been sitting in marriage counseling on opposite ends of the couch, my body pleading with me to look at her, embrace her, make love with her…and my consciousness sitting stone-faced; angry and untrusting, full of blame, unable to see her as anything other than a betrayer.

Our bodies love us.  It’s kind of a radical truth in my world right now.  Our bodies love us, and they long for us.  They want us to fully inhabit them.  They want us to partner with them in the trinity of inner-marriage – where body exists, consciousness exists, and self exists as the dance of the two together.  And I know I’m not alone in having a story about my body being wrong.  We all have our own reasons; we come to it in different ways…but I think most of us have something like this hanging around. Continue reading

Ease and Grace

Hello, dear readers.

It’s been a long absence, full of busy-ness and body-ness. I’m working on a post for you all about my relationship with my body, and new ways I’m finding to engage in body-love and self-care…but while I finish that up, I am beyond thrilled to present to you: the very first of the previously promised guest-posts!

This post was written by the fabulously talented Amy Lee Czadzeck, author of the poetry chapbook “Small Gift”. I’m honored to know her, inspired by her journey and creativity, and deeply moved by her words, here:

Continue reading

Happy Earth Day!

Good Planets are Hard to Find, Don't Blow It

Today is Earth Day, 2015.

You will be inundated, today, with posts and emails urging you to hug a tree, plant a tree, sign this or that petition to save the planet, protest fracking and pollution, and probably buy some fancy, earth-friendly product that is on-sale today, because what’s a holiday without a sale, at least in North America?

I’ve decided to join the inundation of Earth Day posts, but in a slightly different direction.  Today, I want to remind you that you have a piece of the planet that is your very own.  A portable piece of Gaia; a little slice of Shakti, as my teacher’s teacher would say.

You have a body, and it is distinct from the planet, but not separate from the planet, just as you are distinct from your body, but not separate from it.

My invitation to you today is to celebrate Earth day, and to include as part of that celebration an outpouring of love to your own skin and bones, whatever that looks like for you.  Maybe it’s about preparing a delicious, wholesome meal for yourself.  Maybe it’s about letting your body move freely through space – dancing or walking.  Maybe it’s reminding your body of its connection to the Larger Body of the Earth; lying on the grass; walking in bare feet.  Maybe your relationship to your body needs some tending; you might consider asking a friend to give you a hug or a massage; you might give yourself a foot rub.  Or make a gratitude list of all the things you’ve never thanked your body for. Or write a letter to one specific part of your body.  The possibilities are endless.

Whatever you do, the invitation is to make it a Love-Fest; a Celebration.  Your body is what sustains your aliveness as an incarnate being, just as the planet is what sustains our aliveness as manifest reality.  So on at least this one day, let’s remember that through our bodies we are directly connected to the planet, and that is so, so amazing.  Let’s remember that having a body is a gift; that the intricacy and complexity of the human form is mind-blowing.  Let’s remember all the pleasure and wisdom that our bodies offer us, and let’s celebrate not only the earth, but also our own embodiment, which is our connection to the earth.

Happy Earth Day.  We inhabit one planet; let’s love it.  We each get one body; how will you choose to love yours today?  Let me know in the comments below!