* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Monday, October 26, 2015

John 21: Second Chances

The postscript to the gospel of John was created with at least one clear purpose -- to redeem a leader in the early Christian movement from an embarrassing episode of disloyalty. There is some debate as to whether this final chapter of John was written by the same author as the rest of the book. At this point, there are only four or five actual complete copies of the gospel of John from the 4th century or earlier, and even among these there are apparent discrepancies. Whoever added this chapter to the end of the narrative, however, apparently felt it was necessary to address some concern in the community.

After the resurrected Jesus character prompts a miraculous catch of fish, he asks Peter to affirm his devotion three times, mirroring the three-fold denial of Peter earlier in the story. The Jesus character then foretells how Peter will die (a detail that could not have been included by the author until after this early sect leader's death), and he also mentions how the author of the preceding 20 chapters will die. The author of this postscript mentions one rumor that is being debunked here, although he does so in a way that reassures the reader that it is alright if a community leader dies.

Symbolism is prevalent here, which is one indication that this is not a report of actual incidents but a story with a metaphorical meaning. The exact number of fish caught is clearly symbolic and not actual, and many people have put forth theories about what that number might signify. There's no point in offering such a theory, however, because there is no way to prove or disprove any clever ideas about the number 153. Fishing and not catching anything until the Christ-figure shows up is also a hearkening back to previous stories, locating the tale within a larger context of Jesus stories. And of course, the three-fold redemption of Peter is highly symbolic, and some commentators have picked apart what fine distinctions might be made between "sheep" or "lambs" and "tending" or "feeding." Maybe the author had some specific nuanced differences in mind, but unless we discover some explanation written by the actual author, we shouldn't put too much stock in a "scholar" who claims to have solved a riddle that doesn't even necessarily exist.

There's no telling what sorts of rumors, myths, and doubts threatened the community for whom this epilogue was written. Obviously, if they were expecting that the leader of their community would remain alive -- at least until a mystical Christ figure returned -- it would have been something of a shock when that leader died. That could have shaken their worldview and their faith. The author of this story may have felt it necessary to remind people that they had made up this business about having a near-immortal leader, and they were simply wrong. It's a fair reason to write such a tale, if one wants to keep a community united in purpose and focused on promoting a particular set of beliefs and values.

It isn't hard to excuse first-century people for believing in supernatural beings and Christ figures that would return from Heaven and make everything wonderful for them. What's a little tougher to grasp is how twenty-first-century people still believe in something like a rapture event, and base life decisions around a delusional (and somewhat narcissistic) conviction. There are people in the United States today who make decisions about politics, finances, and who they are entitled to hate, based on an expectation that we would deem utterly insane if they were expecting Odin or Athena or aliens riding the tail of a comet instead of Jesus. None of that is really what this chapter is about though.

This chapter, should we want to make it meaningful, offers a lesson about the mutuality of second chances, and it suggests something about life that we have a hard time accepting. Regarding the primary interchange between Peter and Jesus, there is the one who has betrayed, and the one who has been betrayed. They both have to do their part in order for reconciliation to occur. The betrayed (the Jesus character) sets aside any animosity or resentment, and the betrayer humbly expresses regret and a renewed willingness to love.

Sometimes we find it very challenging to reconcile, no matter which side of this conversation we find ourselves. When we feel unloved, it feels vulnerable to reach out to someone and ask, "Do you love me?" It seems like a needy, co-dependent kind of question. Yet, in this story, we see it asked in a very straightforward manner, almost as if it is bringing things back into focus. What matters at the end of the day? Let's start there and see how we want to move forward, given everything that has happened. 

And in the story, the response is accepted, with a clear and direct way that it can be demonstrated. You do love me? Alright, here's what you can do to demonstrate that. This isn't quite the same as saying, "Prove it." We all have different things that really speak love to us. Some people appreciate receiving tokens of affection, some people find acts of care most meaningful, and some value words spoken sincerely. The Jesus character is being direct about what means love to him. This means that he knows himself well enough to clearly express what he finds meaningful.

He also gives Peter a chance to reconsider. Are you sure? I don't need platitudes. Just be honest. There doesn't seem to be any shame in the repeated question, although we might imagine feeling shame if we were on the receiving end. Before long, though, the Jesus character is done asking questions. He leaves the matter alone and the relationship moves forward. If Peter had said, "I can't (or won't) do what you want me to," we might imagine Jesus smiling gently and saying, "Alright. I understand." Can we imagine ourselves doing the same?

If we can imagine ourselves in this process, we have a clear example of how to invite reconciliation.

(1) We take the first step toward someone who has done something that we've interpreted as a betrayal or an unloving act.

(2) We bring things back into focus by asking questions foundational to the relationship. "Do you love me?" or "Is there any point to moving forward with us?"

(3) We clearly state what we want or need. "This is what means love/friendship/collaboration to me."

(4) We allow space for the other person's sincere response and trust them to speak truthfully. And we accept the outcome, whether or not reconciliation is possible at this time.

We can still have boundaries and accept people's sincere responses. We can enforce the consequences of having our boundaries trampled and still be loving people. The people who are closest to us are the ones most likely to challenge our boundaries, and sometimes this is even a way that we grow beyond our comfort zone. There is nothing about this exchange, though, that suggests we ought to be naive or willfully oblivious to someone's dangerous behavior. We care for ourselves and for the people around us when we set clear boundaries and allow there to be consequences.

Sometimes we find ourselves on the other side of this relationship -- on the side represented by Peter in the story. We discover that we have acted or spoken in a way that isn't aligned with a best possible version of ourselves. We have treated another person in a way that doesn't reflect our deepest values. Peter is patient, too. He is sad, and yet he doesn't have an angry outburst. He doesn't feel the need to defend himself when the question comes a second or third time. He answers sincerely, and (as far as we can tell) he accepts the terms offered by the Jesus character. "If this is what love means to you, I'm willing to do it."

He can say this, because what the Jesus character wants is not dissonant with what Peter wants for himself. If Jesus had asked him to do something harmful to himself or others, we would see it as manipulation or coercion -- fear-driven behavior. When we set aside our own deepest values in order to prove something to someone else, this is not healthy. When we can see reflected in someone else's request our own vision of a best possible version of ourselves, we can more confidently agree to how love or partnership can be meaningfully expressed and received.

This story is necessary because of Peter's legendary place in the hierarchy of the early Christian sect. There are a lot of traditions about Peter, including that he was the first pope. Where history has failed to leave clear evidence, people have invented traditions, and it simply would not do for the inaugural leader of the Christian movement to have a blemish on his record. The story of Peter's denial of Jesus was too much for people to accept alongside the favorable traditions and legends they had invented around this figure. He needed a redemption story to balance out a widely known story of significant failure.

In our own lives, we need stories of second chances, too. We will inevitably fail in our endeavors and in our relationships. Especially if we are committed to growing and learning how to create the relationships and lives we most want. Learning new things almost always means experiencing some failure before we get the hang of a new way of being. Strong relationships and healthy communities are not defined by a lack of conflict or painless co-existence. Strong relationships and healthy communities are places where failure is safe, because people are willing to clean up messes and seek reconciliation. Being connected to other human beings is going to painful, not all the time, but sometimes. It's important for us to have a way to reconnect when we don't live up to a best possible version of ourselves.

I also said that this chapter suggests something about life we have a hard time accepting. It's about our mortality. The Jesus character tells Peter essentially that he needs to do what's important while he has a chance. We are limited in terms of the time have. The people in our lives who are important to us aren't always going to be here. And it's alright for us to keep living after people close to us have died. We must. But while we have the opportunity, may we do what needs to be done and say what needs to be said in our relationships, and may we do what needs to be done and say what needs to be said to journey toward our own personal creative life dream. We may have a lot of time. We may have a little. The point is to use it well.

Monday, October 19, 2015

John 20: The Influence of the Enlightened

The story of the resurrection event concludes in the gospel of John with Jesus visiting the disciples in an exalted form. As we see in John 20, the post-resurrection Jesus character passes through locked doors unhindered, and a week later the Jesus character returns to convince the skeptic among the disciples that he is real. Remembering that this is a story, we know that it would be missing the point to ask where the resurrected Jesus might have gone for the week in between these visits. Instead, we can follow the rather ancient practice of interpreting the text metaphorically.

If the Jesus character is representative of us, then the resurrected Jesus character is representative of a fully alive, fully self-differentiated, best possible version of ourselves in complete alignment between our deepest values and our actions in the world. We might equate being "exalted" with a state of being unhindered by fears and anxieties, acting with complete integrity, sensitive to others without allowing ourselves to be restricted by other people's opinions and beliefs. Just as the Jesus character passes through locked doors, when we are living into a best possible version of ourselves, there are fewer obstacles that can keep us from being the people we most want to be, full incarnations of our deepest, most noble selves.

The resurrected Jesus character is not only able to be in complete alignment for himself, but he also influences the well-being of the people with whom he interacts. In the same way, we nurture others toward wholeness when we act in accord with our deepest values. Specifically, the exemplar in the story empowers others to live with integrity and purpose, particularly with regard to reactivity and shame. If we interpret sin as the reactive result of anxiety -- what people do when they allow irrational fear to be in the driver's seat -- then we recognize that we have some influence on other people's anxiety and the shame that they might feel after letting their anxiety run away with them.

When we show up as less anxious, more at peace, and in greater alignment with our deepest values, we influence the people around us. Just as anxiety is contagious, intentional calmness can be contagious, too. This means that our ability to act in alignment with our deepest, most noble selves has the potential to influence people away from reactivity. Even when people are reactive and act thoughtlessly on their anxiety, our principled intentional presence can influence people away from useless shame after the fact. We can acknowledge that being anxious is human, and reacting to our anxiety is natural. Yes, there are consequences to our actions and messes to clean up, but we are capable of facing those consequences and seeking reconciliation when things go sideways. Shame doesn't help us with these tasks. When we influence people toward greater wholeness by our own integrity and purposeful behavior, we might allow them to place limits on the influence of their anxiety and shame, and learn to cast vision in their own lives.

Now, the story about Thomas seems to be thrown in just to silence skeptics. Pronouncing blessing on people who believe things without evidence is a way of credentialing nonsense. When readers take the implications of this story at face-value, it affirms everything that is dangerous about religion. Believing something just because someone wrote it down two thousand years ago is naive at best. It lacks integrity to believing what spiritual leaders say just because they say it with conviction or wear special clothing or have authorization from a larger organization. Some things proclaimed on the basis of religious doctrine are quite simply false. Not only is there a lack of evidence to support some of the things people believe on the basis of religion, there is actual evidence to the contrary. Yet some people believe that they will be considered blessed or righteous for believing nonsense, because they read a passage like the story of Thomas and interpret it to mean, "ignore reality; believe what your preacher tells you."

Although it's probably easier just to dismiss this passage as a piece of early Christian propaganda to legitimize faith, we could also interpret this story to suggest that there are always things we do not know. We can guess with some reliability that the things we don't know will be congruent with the things that we can prove about reality, but there are still things that we don't know. In embarking on any journey of personal growth -- one might say personal transformation -- we must take some steps without knowing what lies ahead. To characterize growing into greater integrity and authenticity as vulnerable and risky is a profound understatement. When we build our lives with confident alignment to our deepest values, we may not see all that will be as a result of that intentional act. We move forward with as much clarity as we can have about our deepest values, but there are limits to our clarity. At some point, we have to trust ourselves to step forward into something we can't see clearly in order to become more fully alive -- more closely aligned with our vision of a best possible version of ourselves. If we take anything from the story of Thomas' skepticism, it should be this, rather than an admonition to believe nonsense and call it enlightenment.

The author ends the book of John with a statement of purpose. It's clear that the author has an agenda to convince people to accept his own religious position. The agenda of this commentary has hopefully been equally clear: to position the fictional character of Jesus in this ancient text as a metaphorical exemplar of what we might be if we choose to embrace our potential to radically love ourselves, the people around us, and the world we all share.

The goal of our lives is only determined by us. There is nothing outside of ourselves that compels us to outgrow our anxiety and our irrational fear. In some ways, society prompts us to remain anxious and reactive. However, if we choose to move toward being fully alive incarnations of our deepest, most noble selves, we are capable of embarking on that journey. We have within us the potential to act with integrity and intention. We have within us the ability to influence our lives and the lives of people around us toward greater wholeness. If this is not a compelling message of hope, I don't know what is.

Monday, October 12, 2015

John 20: Our Resurrection and Meaningful Hope

We blew right past a lot of the mythological details in the passion narrative. Some believers focus much more on the details of John 19, and there are legendary tales regarding the mystical powers of the spear that pierced Jesus' side. Since this is rather like spending time dwelling on the actual powers of a harp played by the Norse god Bragi, we've quickly arrived at John 20, which is a somewhat altered resurrection story than what we find in the synoptic gospels. Again, we need not worry about comparing the details of who arrived where first and who said what; these are authorial creations intended to tell a story a certain way. We can turn our attention in other directions.

Most importantly, there is a resurrection. We observed previously that the suffering of the crucifixion was a result of remaining self-differentiated and maintaining integrity in the midst of anxious people who allowed fear to drive them. Here we see that suffering was not the end of the story. The outcome of suffering for the Jesus character is that he rises and assumes an exalted status. Perhaps we too might expect that on the other side of our suffering is a sense of renewed life, not on the other side of the grave, but while we are still alive and walking around.

The persecution we might face for creating a life that aligns with our deepest, most noble selves is painful, but we also gain something greater than that suffering -- namely, the more fully alive life that we create. We gain alignment with our deepest, most noble selves, which is a way of being that allows us to be more fully alive -- as the Jesus character seems to be in the resurrection story of the gospel of John. He is barely recognizable to people who knew him well, just as our way of aligning with our deepest, most noble selves may be barely recognizable to people who knew us when we were less fully alive.

There are a few other details in the story from which we might also draw some meaning. For instance, Mary arrives at the tomb, sees something she doesn't expect, makes some assumptions (based primarily on fear), and runs off in reaction to those assumptions. She finds two other people, who hear her anxious conclusions and run off in reaction to her story. These two people make their own assumptions and -- without fully understanding what is happening -- go home, satisfied with the reliability their conclusions. At this point in the story, none of these characters know what is happening, but they all are convinced that they have a full grasp of the situation. They aren't happy about it. In some cases, they are overwhelmed with anxiety. But they believe that they understand the situation fully.

We don't ever understand a situation fully. We might understand things accurately in part, but we can't know all that there is to know about a situation. There are historical events that contribute to a situation and yet their connection might remain unnoticed. Each person in a situation brings their own perspective and baggage into it, and we can never know fully what goes on in another person's head. Before our anxiety carries us off into Autopilot Reaction Land, it's worth remembering that we don't know all that there is to know. If we can remain curious and ask questions, we might just short circuit our anxiety, even if we still fail to grasp a situation completely.

The second portion of this passage from the first half of John 20 has a lot of mystical implications, which were probably very important to the community for which the gospel was originally written. The dialogue between Mary and Jesus indicates that the community thought some very specific things about a post-resurrection Jesus. These ideas are not based on factual data, but rather on the assumptions of a community -- what made sense to those people at that time. We follow the same process too, often arriving at strange conclusions.

For the community in which this gospel was written, it made sense for Jesus to be unrecognizable and to say, "Don't touch me because I haven't yet ascended." They essentially made things up about what a resurrected person might say, based on their assumptions about the world. Some people today think it makes sense to conclude that wild conspiracy theories have merit, or that alien visitation is a viable explanation for some experience. These conclusions make sense to the people making them, even if they don't hold water under objective scrutiny. People today believe a literal interpretation of biblical stories, even though such an interpretation is incompatible with what is demonstrably true about the world.

Anxiety can make us forget things we actually do know. When we are anxious, our brains find it easier to latch onto any explanation -- even explanations that don't make a lot of sense -- because we want our anxiety to go away. When we think we understand something, we feel like we can have some control. We can put tin foil on our heads to protect our thoughts. We can amass a stockpile of resources in a fallout shelter to prepare for a societal breakdown. We can do something based on what we think we know, forgetting that there are pieces of contradictory evidence we aren't considering.

Sometimes, we hold two mutually exclusive competing ideas in our head without even realizing it. We think that our bosses hate us no matter what we do, yet we keep trying to find ways to please them. We think that our spouses love us, yet we behave as if they are our enemies. We believe that we are part of a religion founded on unconditional love, yet we pronounce hateful judgment on people who seem different from us. Somehow, these contradictions make sense in our anxious mind.

Our anxiety makes us forget what we know about people or about ourselves or about reality, and we go off on some fear-driven tangent without even realizing that we aren't acting in accord with what we believe most deeply. If we are willing to stop and think through our behavior, based on a deeper connection with our clear guiding principles, our actions might more often align with our vision of a best possible version of ourselves.

Now, there's no way to know what the characters in this story believed most deeply. One thing that is clear, however, is that there is some emotional volatility at play. Their anxiety is powerful. Yet, at the end of this particular passage, Mary's behavior is very different from the ending of the gospel of Mark, in which the women run away scared and tell no one what they've seen. Mary finds a sense of hope and runs to share that hope with others.

Obviously, hope is more uplifting than fear. Our hope can still be based on unrealistic or dishonest beliefs, though. In the story, of course, Mary accurately identifies a resurrected Jesus. This is just a story, not a historical account. In our own lives, we might be tempted to invest a lot of hope in things that we know aren't likely to happen. Hope in the impossible is not useful hope. In fact, hope in the impossible is most likely an anxious reaction in disguise. We feel powerless, so we place hope in something beyond our control.

An overwhelming majority of parents think that their high school athletes will have a career in professional sports, when it's obvious that only a minuscule percentage of high school athletes will go pro. Often, we expect that people in our lives are going to change into the people we want them to be. While we will surely influence people, we can't control how they will change as a result of our influence. We might hope for a mystical experience with something supernatural outside of ourselves, but every piece of evidence we have points to the conclusion that what we consider to be mystical experiences happen inside our own brains. We mistake internal chemical reactions that we don't understand for external supernatural experiences -- which we somehow believe we do understand.

It's important for us to share our hope with others, and it's important for us to maintain a sense of reality in the midst of our hopefulness. Realistic hope can prompt us toward actions that align with that dream of what could be. And it's important for us to share our anxiety with others too, if we're conscientious enough to share our anxiety with people who will help us shift out of autopilot and back toward a more intentional approach to how we manage our anxiety. Mary is a great example of connection in this passage. Everything that happens, she runs to tell someone. She isn't a great example of personal responsibility, though. We can forgive a fictional character in the throes of grief for not being grounded and centered. In our own lives, we can strive for a sense of connection with ourselves even as we foster connection with other people.

We can draw a lot of lessons from these short paragraphs, then. First -- even though our integrity may be seen as sedition and anxious people may persecute us for our intentional alignment with our deepest, most noble selves -- when we engage in fully alive lives, our experience might be beyond what we ever dreamed life could be.

Second, our anxiety can convince us that we know things we don't know. It's important for us to remember that we can't know everything. Our sense of curiosity can help us manage our reactivity.

Third, our anxiety can make us forget things we do know. We can become sharper about examining our beliefs and identifying when we are holding two mutually exclusive ideas in our heads. We can choose to follow the belief that aligns with our deepest values and let the other one go as a product of our anxiety.

Finally, hope is important, and it's most powerful when it's balanced with reality. When we hope for things that are impossible, we can't move toward them in any meaningful way. When we hope for things that are possible, we can act in accord with that hope and create more meaningful lives for ourselves and for the people around us.

Monday, October 5, 2015

John 19: Personal Sedition and Its Consequences

Following the episode of Pontius Pilate's compromised integrity, the established community's reactivity to the message of radical love and authenticity culminates in an execution. This execution was nothing special within the context of the Roman Empire. Thousands of men were crucified for the crime of sedition, the public torture and capital punishment serving the additional purpose of dissuading other would-be insurrectionists. The Jesus character in the gospel of John is someone special, but the means of his execution is by no means unique for the time.

Like other gospel authors, the author of John can't resist telling the story so that some quips from the Hebrew scriptures seem prophetic. By the time the gospel of John was written, it was already part of Christian culture to look at their Jewish sacred texts and imagine that the earlier authors were writing about Jesus, which is to say that they imagined that the texts were about them. When the followers of a messiah claim that words written centuries ago were about the individual they revere, they are essentially asserting that they have special knowledge. "We are enlightened enough to know who these words really refer to. Everyone else is ignorant. We are special; you are not. You should listen to us, but we have no reason to listen to you."

If I looked back at something written in 1555 and decided that those words were actually referring to a twenty-first century individual, most folks would think I was a bit off my rocker. Except that, people do exactly that with the predictions of Nostradamus. Though the prophetic accuracy of Nostradamus has been debunked (along with much of his legendary biography), some people somehow think that a person living five centuries ago could see into the future and write actual predictive prophecies. At least with Nostradamus, he presumably had some idea that he was writing predictions of the future. The early Christians took things a step further and imagined that many different authors from centuries past were unknowingly writing about a particular individual, who just happened to be the legendary founder of their sect.

Thus, portions of the passion narrative in every gospel wind up being a somewhat cobbled together string of short excerpts from various authors within Hebrew Scriptures, interpreted as a sequence of events which then appear to have been prophetically predicted. It's a clever way to tell a story that legitimizes one's beliefs, and it also seems to have enough depth of meaning without digging any deeper than the appearance of prophetic fulfillment. Once you realize that what happens in the story seems to be the fulfillment of prophecy, there might seem to be no reason to look for a deeper meaning than that.

One way of seeking deeper meaning in the story is to reject the idea of a singular historical messianic figure and instead consider the personal application in our own lives. If the Jesus character here continues to be an exemplar who represents us, what does this story say about us? That we should placidly go to our death at the hands of angry and fearful religious conservatives who abdicate their violent desires to a cowardly, complicit government? Maybe not. Perhaps a more metaphorical approach will continue to serve us.

Crucifixion was the punishment primarily for sedition -- a crime which the Roman Empire considered to be worthy of public humiliation and torture, as a means of control as well as a means of execution. We know how poorly capital punishment works as a deterrent, and yet we're still strangely committed to that idea as a society. We can't really expect that the Romans could have been any more enlightened about its efficacy that we are. Sedition is rebellion against an authority, attempting to upset the balance of an existing power structure or social order. That is the explicit crime for which the Jesus character is executed. We know that the story doesn't end with the Jesus character's death, but he is effectively removed from participating fully in community in the same way he had been.

In our own lives, growth sometimes means committing acts of sedition, not against an actual government, but against some established social order or authority in our lives. Claiming our own personal power and creating a life that aligns with our deepest, most noble selves sometimes means upsetting some patterns that other people find comforting. When we act in a way that seems to threaten other people's sense of security -- especially if those people believe they are in positions of power over us -- those people are likely to react. Few people know how to manage their reactivity in a healthy way, and even fewer people are willing to do it, even if they know how. That means that our own growth and empowerment sometimes evokes fear in other people, because it seems like we're upsetting an order that they find comfortable.

Their reaction toward you may begin gently, with some effort to kindly guide you back into the patterns they find comfortable. They may escalate into threats about what will happen to you if you continue to upset the status quo. Eventually, some kind of violent reaction might close the door on your participation in that social structure. This doesn't necessarily mean that people will kill you or even physically harm you for outgrowing an established way of being, but emotional violence can still be devastating. People might kill a relationship by cutting off contact, by sowing rumors, or all sorts of other social and emotional executions. It isn't at all pleasant, but other people's reactivity is not your fault. Some relationships can heal again (which we'll consider as the gospel narrative continues), but they won't ever be quite the same. Once you leave a particular orbit, you can't quite forget all that you know from seeing things from a broader perspective.

We get into habits. It's easy to do, and it saves us having to consider every moment carefully, which could mentally incapacitate us. When we grow into a more intentional way of aligning with our deepest life-affirming values -- our personal guiding principles -- we inevitably have to examine some of the habitual ways we participate in our social structures and relationships. Living into a vision of a best possible version of ourselves may mean adopting some radically different behaviors than what we've habitually done in the past. This is not just an internal shift. When we change the dance, everyone on the dance floor with us is affected. Ultimately, we strive for our commitment to integrity and intentionality to improve the well-being of everyone around us. But change is unsettling for people, and they may not be ready for improved well-being if it means changing familiar and comfortable patterns.

Our decisions can be based on other people's anxiety. In fact, we often decide what to do based on how we think other people will react. We may be afraid of rejection, of being "unacceptable", or of losing a sense of belonging. We create limitations for ourselves based on what we think other people can handle. We play it safe. We might understandably choose the safety of familiar and comfortable patterns over the riskier path of personal empowerment. Many people seem content with conformity.

Or our decisions can be based on our own sense of self. We can prioritize our own deep values -- our own vision of a best possible version of ourselves -- over and above the anxiety of people around us. It's true that pursuing a path of greater integrity to our deepest, most noble selves might get us metaphorically crucified for sedition against an established social order. It's also true that alignment to our deepest life-affirming values creates greater wholeness not only for us, but also for the people around us. There is always more to the story than mourning what anxiety destroys.

When we dismantle our own irrational fears and live toward a vision of a best possible version of ourselves, we will necessarily connect with other human beings. We may end up finding new people to connect to, and we may connect with people differently. One way or another, though, we need connection with other human beings. It's scary to feel unwelcome, but there will be new places of welcome that we can't discover if we stay entrenched in old habits. It can be painful to be the object of other people's anxiety, but we are capable of experiencing pain and emerging on the other side of it.

Most importantly, our willingness to risk doesn't necessarily mean that we'll lose something. Sometimes, our journey toward greater integrity will actually inspire people around us rather than making them anxious. Sometimes, our commitment to our deepest values will make our bonds with other people stronger. Rather than compromising our sense of safety and familiarity, we might create something new with the people who are already a part of our tribe. It's up to us whether we're willing to risk losing comfortable patterns in order to build something better in our lives.