It's something I've wanted to write about in this blog for a while now, but never quite knew how to bring it up. It's also something I've always known, for as far back as I can remember, but something that took me a long time to accept. Usually the easiest way to do this is like pulling off a bandaid, so here goes..
I don't imagine anyone who reads this blog is particularly disrupted by that fact. You're either my friend so you already know, or you're people who seek out mindfulness, and those kind of people are loving, open-minded, and caring.
So I wasn’t worried about coming out per se, and I've made casual reference to “my man” and used photos of us together on numerous occasions.
But still, I've never been overt. I suppose I didn't want to be “that gay mindfulness guy.” I wanted my ideas to speak for themselves, to be universal.
The recent and absurdly tragic events in Orlando though, they made my desire to come out on these pages more urgent.
They also got me thinking a lot. I've been trying to wrap my head around what occurred, and then the response from people of all persuasions over the past few days: reactions of anger for good reason, fear of what still might occur, love for the community of support we've created, honoring the past in the form of brave coming out stories, and hope for the future as we trudge forward with marching orders as political advocates in a new arena.
I've also seen some truly terrible reactions, those of vitriol and blame that do nothing to solve the myriad problems we all face as a society or to better the plight of LGBT people around the world.
I wanted to figure out how and where mindfulness fits into this. As usual, as we all do, we go back to our own bubble of experience to try and make sense of it.
Leading a more present life in the world is a long and arduous journey of fear and accomplishment. Coming out of the closet was, and still is for most young people, a long and arduous journey of fear and accomplishment as well. And the more I think about it, the more I realize growing up gay is perhaps one of the biggest drivers of my own attraction to mindfulness.
Simply living as an out gay man is an albatross of a journey; constantly looking over your shoulder wondering if someone is judging you, or worse, out to harm you. A life in that sort of existence is far from mindful. How can I live in the moment, love who I want openly, and just be my honest self when a "wrong" move in a wrong situation can lead to derision or even violence?
Perhaps I actively search for ways to live free and mindful because I’ve been stripped of the ability to do that in my everyday life, for my whole life, simply because of who I am and the way some in society view me.
Certainly not every gay person is an amateur-journeyman-mindfulness-guru like me. But take a place like a gay bar or club; it's a place of safety for my community, a respite from the worry of constant judgement you feel almost everywhere else. It's a place where we can truly, finally, live in the moment. In that sense, perhaps we gays are creatures of the mindfulness, whether we realize it or not.
On the same token, many if not most gay men grow up with a heightened sympathy for the other little guys in life---the maligned and the bullied---because we've been there too.
I knew I was different from early on, and the other kids in school seemed to know too. So I was picked on, especially in PE class. I endured physical, mental, and verbal abuse, sometimes subtle and sometimes overt, but always painful. Later in high school I became much more confident in myself, or at least able to play confident, and the abuse waned. Maybe I was just lucky, because I continued to watch other outsider kids in my school get bullied. High school can be brutal that way.
But because of all of that, I grew up with an extra sensitivity to the plight of others, and it led me to a desire to help make things better. By helping others I thought I could help myself. That led me to nonprofit work in my career, to make the world a slightly better place. It led me to this blog, to make my own life, and maybe yours by proxy, a slightly better place too.
I've always thought of mindfulness as a way of helping out the little guy, even if that little guy is me. It's how we escape the pains of the world and learn to be proud of ourselves, in that moment.
The LGBT community isn’t some monolith, not everyone is like me nor would I want them to be. But I think we all carry with us a chip on our shoulder from each of our individually difficult experiences of growing up in a society that thinks we shouldn’t exist. Or if we do exist we should only exist in private. Or that we don’t truly exist at all because we can just pray it away. Or we might exist right now, but we shouldn’t anymore, so they’re going to show up at a nightclub and mow us down with automatic weapons of war (that have no business being in the hands of civilians).
I know for a fact that mindfulness has helped me wade through the sometimes muddy and sometimes beautifully sparkling waters of being a gay man in this day and age. Mindfulness has definitely helped me deal with my own myriad emotions stemming from the massacre in Orlando.
My history and experience, all of it, has led me to here, a place of knowing about my imperfection, but also a place of strength because of it.
I know for a fact that the world and everyone in it needs more mindfulness. The society that told me I shouldn’t exist said the same to the shooter in Orlando, who has now been found to have been on gay social media apps himself. Instead of taking that difficult upbringing of hate and turning into love, as so so many of my gay brothers and sisters have done, he turned to hate and violence.
I know for a fact that my community, my friends, the loving and open-minded LGBT community, could use a little mindfulness right now too. A moment to look back at where we’ve been, look at the horror that has hit us now, and take all those years of both contempt and compassion, suffering and celebration, pain and pride, and mix up that uniquely amazing recipe to create the next step in our movement.
It's a movement that makes the world a better place by telling our stories, with political action around LGBT rights, in working to reverse the tide of homophobia spawned by religious extremists from too many religions, and now using our collective might to combat our nations' longstanding pillars of shame: guns and violence.
With all that we've been through and all that we've already done, I'm more hopeful now than ever about what we'll accomplish in the future. I couldn't be more proud.
"Unfollow" is all the rage on Facebook at the moment. In the 2016 election season, it's a salve we use to treat the fever pitch of political posts on social media. I've noticed a big uptick in it over the last few months, but this week it's practically #trending.
It seems like an simple cure-all, right? Less disagreement = more mindfulness.
But then I dug a little deeper, and as with most everything, once you really stop and think about it there's a lot more to consider.
On one hand, differences of opinion can quickly make us angry and argumentative, and 9-times-out-of-10, anger isn't mindful. Truth be told, I’ve unfollowed a few people on Facebook myself. It's not that I dislike these friends, it's just that my reaction to their posts often became a frustrating distraction. I felt like I needed to unfollow to retain some level of sanity. I know I'm not alone in this.
On the other hand, there's the problem of self-segregation. That is, avoiding all differences of opinion and surrounding yourself with only your most agreeable friends. When you do this, it's easy to get trapped inside your own dogma. If you never hear a different opinion and no one ever challenges your ideas, there's little room for growth.
So what's the answer? Is unfollowing on Facebook a good or bad thing?
Well, like a lot things in life it's not black or white, but somewhere in the gray. Overall, it's about balance.
If you have a friend who says racist things and has a hateful view of the world, it's OK to distance yourself. You do this all the time in all sorts of relationships—you don't choose to date someone when your personalities are mismatched, and you're certainly not required to be friends with someone who holds fundamentally different values than you.
But there can, and will, be some differences of opinion among friends, and that's OK. Everyone comes from a different place in life, and maybe it's when we expose our differences that we start to learn from one another. Also, remember that you always have the option to just not comment on a post you don't ike. You could even take your discussion to a private message or (gasp!) a face-to-face conversation, both places where we tend to be a little kinder to one another.
Politics has the potential to bring out both the best and the worst in people. We all get passionate sometimes, and even if we disagree the reason we're passionate is that we fundamentally care about our country, our world, and at the most universal level, each other.
So strike a balance—do what you need to do to retain your sanity this political season, even if that means editing your newsfeed experience a bit. But try allowing a few challenging opinions into your bubble. Get OK with a little debate and respectful disagreement. It could strengthen your opinion or make you rethink it, but either way you come out a better person.
Life encompasses many things, but at its most basic level, it’s a series of choices. I'll give you an example:
After I camp for a few days (an activity I'm quite fond of) my hands get rough, so when I embarked my adult wilderness career a year or so back, I wore "kid" gloves for certain tasks--tent building, fire maintaining, bag hauling. They prevented my hands from becoming rough or sore and protected me from the sort of hand injury that leads to a difficult camping experience. In those early days of my journeyman world, I was of a mindset that the goal in life was to always make things easier and more comfortable.
But then my mindset changed.
One night I was chopping a tomato and I ineptly cut a finger while wearing the gloves. It wasn't all that bad of a cut, but still, it raised a question: do I keep wearing the kid gloves for protection or do I give them up because they obviously can't protect me from everything?
I never really wore my gloves all the time--I mean, what kind of weirdo walks around wearing leather work gloves everywhere they go? I also found that even if I wore them for certain, more arduous activities, my hands would inevitably become painful anyway. And as I'd just learned, if I was careless around a tomato I might cut right through the thin leather skin of my kid gloves anyway.
So I stopped wearing them. I made a choice to live a little bit dangerously. I realized that no matter how many precautions I took, there would always be uncertainty, and no matter how many layers of protection I added, pain was inevitable. It was time to embrace the unknown and the pain that might develop from camping.
Life is full of choices like this--simple actionable decisions between a perceived risk and an anticipated reward.
You choose to stay in a job you hate instead of updating your resume. You choose to order the burger and fries instead of making a fresh salad. You choose to dilly dally on Facebook instead of writing. You choose to lose touch with a friend instead of picking up the phone. You choose to watch TV instead of going on a hike.
Those are all decisions I've gotten wrong in life, but also decisions I've gotten right.
Every day we get to decide which path to take.
And who's really to say which is wrong and which is right? We're all very different and very infallible beings. Each one of us has to figure out the right path and the proper balance on our own. We each need to decide when it's right to wear the kid gloves of contentment, and when it's time to get out of our comfort zone and see what lessons that might bring.
So I didn't wear the gloves, and as a result I learned to be more cautious--when I hammered in the stakes in around my tent, I did so thoughtfully--when I handled wood by the fire, I scanned for splinters first--when I carried heavy bags, I evened the weight so I wouldn't overburden one side. Giving up the gloves added some risk, but my mind picked up the slack, and I became a smarter camper.
No one ever said life would be easy. Every day presents you with a series of choices, and each choice holds the potential for success, for failure, for a life lesson, and quite possibly for a paradigm shift.
Take off the kid gloves, act a little rebellious, and feel the freedom it yields.