The news of Adrian Peterson being charged with child abuse has caused quite a stir. It’s brought up so many issues, from parental rights to child safety to the violent culture within the NFL. Those issues will all be debated in the months to come. But today I want to share a slightly different perspective.
What Peterson is accused of doing is beating his son with a tree branch. That’s a pretty intense image, right? A 200-pound professional athlete in peak physical condition allegedly using a tree branch to hit a 4-year-old boy with enough force to leave marks that were found days later. The question I hear so many ask is — “How could he do that?”
That’s what I want to discuss today — that question, “How?” When we see something like this we always ask that question. How did another human being do something so violent or cruel or criminal? As a society it seems to genuinely perplex us.
– Governments killing their own people … How could they?
– A police officer kills an unarmed man … How could he?
– A terrorist cuts off the head of an innocent man … How could he?
– Young girls kidnapped and mutilated … How could they?
In most of the spiritual traditions I’ve studied there is the concept that what happens in the outside world is a reflection of what’s going on inside us. The idea that the world is a mirror for the internal lessons we are learning. In my studies that concept has been summarized by Guru Singh, who has asked again and again when I’ve complained about the actions of another person, “What if there is no other Jason?”
So back to Adrian Peterson. “What if there is no other?”
Ponder that for a moment. If there is no other, is it still difficult to see how Adrian Peterson would abuse himself in the pursuit of “discipline?” Not really, right? We see it all the time in professional sports — athletes willing to do anything to themselves in order to force their bodies to perform. Steroids. Pain-killers. Playing with major injuries. They almost literally beat themselves into shape. And now we are learning the truth — the outside mirrors the inside.
While professional athletes are an easy example right now given our idolization of their physical fetes and our often blind insistence that they are heroes, this issue actually goes much deeper. In so many ways, we are all Adrian Peterson. Take away the tree branch, the jersey, and the trophies and inside us all is a competitor who flogs himself to succeed on the field of life. This abuse of ourselves is blatant, it’s open, it’s happening everywhere around us.
– We abuse our bodies with excessive work and unrealistic expectations of perfection.
– We abuse our cells with foods and substances that we know cause disease and illness.
– We abuse our minds with the endless noise and repetitive negative thoughts.
– And we abuse ourselves emotionally, again and again, with a barrage of negative thoughts hurled at us by our ego.
It’s easy and in fashion to say that spirituality is the answer. Just sit down, meditate a few minutes, realize that we are all one, and it’ll all be ok. However, my experience is that in many cases the world of spirituality is no different. So many good people I know who are engaged in saving the world are killing themselves in the process. We clean rivers while polluting our bodies. We save the whales while abandoning our families. We comfort victims of abuse while silently beating the crap out of our own egos. In short, while we create a different costume — spiritual seeker versus business person — the underlying treatment of ourselves is the same.
And in that respect there is no other. We are all the same whether we work in business, or spirituality, or saving the planet. We are all Adrian Peterson and we are all the scared little boy being hit with a stick — tragically, we are at once the abused and the abuser — the unloved child in us all being berated and flogged by the grownup intent on winning in the “real” world.
I don’t know about you, but I could use a few deep breaths right now. Let’s take some together and get in touch with our hearts. Try to really feel this. Feel the part of you that is abused, abandoned, and crying out for love. Take another deep breath. Now find the part of you that is always pushing, driving, never rests. How does that part of you feel? Can you experience how they are one in the same? Two parts of a whole, both simply trying to be lovable and loved? Let’s take a few more breaths together. I am writing this, but I am no different. You are not alone, we are exactly the same.
So what’s the answer? Wouldn’t it be great if the next line had the cure for all this madness! But we know that’s not the way it goes. There’s no magic formula, only love. Simple, yet deeply complex — learning to #love ourselves and others is the answer.
There’s no magic formula, only love. Simple, yet deeply complex — learning to #love ourselves and others is the answer.
What this has meant for me in my life is looking at everything I do through a new lens. No more good and bad, or healthy and unhealthy. I have tried to replace all of that with acts of love and, when I don’t succeed at love, the understanding that the unloving acts are a cry for love … which I then give myself.
Here are some real-life examples:
Work: I have realized that while I create many justifications for work, deep down the reason I work so hard at what I do is that I want to be seen as good and lovable. So when I find myself pushing too hard I stop, breathe, and comfort myself by saying “I love you for who you are, not what you do.” I say this to myself often during the day as thoughts of insecurity and inadequacy arrive. I always try to recognize that the need to be loved is at the core of my work ethic.
Meditation: For me, meditation is the practice of loving my spirit. Many people talk about killing the ego, but I find this idea to be more of the same. There is nothing in me I want to kill. Meditation is about embracing the ego, the child inside, calming its fears and restoring my being to its natural state of grace. As I breathe and invite stillness I think quietly, “May I be loved, may I be loved, may I be loved.”
Diet: Diet can sometimes feel like a no-win situation. We feel guilt when we eat foods that invite dis-ease. And then we use guilt and shame as a tool to motivate ourselves to eat differently. In the end both tactics create an abusive state for the body that doesn’t welcome health and invites dis-ease. For me, diet is about one thing — loving my cells. I ask myself often what would make my cells feel loved and then I consume that food. I really try to go to the cellular level and listen. This may sound weird, but it works. And don’t worry, every once in a while my cells ask for carrot cake!
Family: We work all day and we come home exhausted to children and spouses who feel the same. Somewhere between homework (adults and children) and watching Monday Night Football and “Modern Family” we’re supposed to find time for love. Right? I was a single father twice in my life, meaning I have been divorced twice. So for me, getting it right in family life is really important. I’ve learned that it means lightening up, lowering the boundaries between children and parents, and communicating as a family of people who are all experiencing the same reality while seeking love. In my house this means everyone has permission to call for a group breath at any time and we all go out of our way to give hugs and say “I love you.”
This week, as the attention around abuse continues and the needed corrections take place, instead of engaging in the discussion of what’s going on out there, ask yourself again and again, “What if there is no other?” Really look for yourself in the situations reported in the news. Find the parts of you that need love, whether they express themselves as abused or abuser, and give them the love they desire. Love your cells with nutrient-dense foods, love your spirit with a tender meditation centered on your heart, love yourself at work by reminding yourself that you are not your work, and at the end of the day arrive home and nestle into a sanctuary of love. This is all there is to do … to simply love ourselves and each other. And when we fail, to love ourselves some more.
Big hugs of love,