I visited the holocaust museum in London a while back with my son. The last exhibit in the museum is a pile of shoes of all sizes ― men’s, women’s, and little children’s shoes. They are the shoes that were removed from the victims of the gas chambers before they were killed. You see, the shoes were more valuable to the Nazis than the people.
Take that in for a moment … let that really find your heart. We’re going to go for a twisty ride today and we need to be in our hearts to feel the true experience of this story.
As my son and I stood there looking at those shoes, deeply moved by the magnitude of what we were looking at, the guide who was taking us through the museum turned to me and said, “It’s unbelievable isn’t it? That someone would kill people just for being different from them.”
I just stared at those shoes, such a powerful image of intolerance, bigotry, and hate, while the words of the guide slowly filtered into my brain through the haze of the shoes. Then I turned to her and said something. I don’t know where it came from, I have wondered many times. I said, “It’s beyond horrific. But it’s not unbelievable. Because we continue to this very day to kill each other while saying, “Believe our way or burn in hell.”
That’s a powerful statement, I know. Even now as I share it I wonder if I should. But for me it’s true – and it’s a tragedy that after witnessing so much war, death, and destruction throughout the ages in the name of God, country, and ideology, that we continue to hold onto such destructive beliefs and still, to this day, kill others based on their beliefs.
I’m sure this story has evoked all kinds of emotions. I know these are tough topics to discuss – Hitler, God, War, Holocaust, Intolerance, and Patriotism. So let’s stop here and pause, because I’m not writing this for shock value; we have enough of that propaganda in our daily media intake. I’m writing this to ask us to think and then feel and then be.
Let’s take a deep breath together. In fact, let’s take a few of them. With each breath focus on your heart, feeling it fill with the in-breath and empty on the exhale. In and out … in and out … until a calm comes over you.
I am deeply respectful of everyone’s beliefs. I have studied many different traditions and find them all fascinating. I have visited churches and temples that have moved me to tears with their history of love and inspiration. At their best, our traditions unify us and teach us to love ourselves and our neighbors. But at their worst, they create an “us and them” mentality that gives rise to discrimination and war. In so many areas we have reached that point – us and them. And this is where we have an opportunity to stop and look ourselves square in the eye and ask this question …
“How am I like Hitler? What part of me is him?”
Perhaps a few more deep breaths are now in order. This is hard stuff, I know. But breathe and ask yourself the question.
Your knee-jerk answer may be to say, “No way,” to turn off the computer or put down your mobile and unsubscribe from my blog or social media site. But emotional first reactions are rarely the right ones, so stick with this for a minute. Really look at our world and contemplate on what I’m saying.
I know Hitler is an extreme example. So let’s go to the opposite side. How about sports? I used to take my son to a lot of sporting events – Lakers’ basketball, Dallas Cowboys’ football, San Francisco Giants’ baseball (we’ve moved a lot so we have an eclectic collection of favorite teams). But we don’t go much anymore. You know why? Because people are killing each other over which team they like. Wearing the wrong jersey to a sporting event has become a motive for murder.
Are you starting to see what I’m saying?
As a world we are not learning from history, instead we are repeating history to greater and greater degrees. We’ve come to the point where we argue over which group of men throwing around a little ball is better, and have turned that argument into grounds for hate and violence.
And so again, I ask the same question: “How am I like Hitler?”
The answer to that question is key to truly understanding what’s going on. Because until we can look inside ourselves and find the part of us that hates, the side of us that is intolerant, that corner of our psyche that locks away the rage – we will not heal; not ourselves, nor the world. That hate, the hate inside each of us, is the hate we see in the world, the hate we say we despise, the hate we say we don’t understand, the hate we wage war to eradicate … it lives in us all.
Now the really juicy part. What we hate, what we truly dislike, what we are angry with and disgusted by is not anything “out there”… it is ourselves. Greater than any external discrimination or intolerance is our own negative judgment of ourselves. And what we’re seeing in the world is a reflection of that.
It is said that Jesus said to love your neighbor as you love yourself. It’s easy to say we don’t do that. But I believe the opposite. I believe that what we do to our neighbors – the gossip, the anger, the hate, and especially the violence – is simply a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. From the youngest ages we’re taught over and over again that we’re not good enough. We are pretty only when we do our hair up nice and put on our Sunday best. We are smart when we learn what the teacher says and answer the questions the way someone wants us to. We are good when we sit silently, don’t express our feelings, and pretend that stifling our emotions makes us happy. And most of all, we are loved when we do as our parents and society say. All of that, the big, giant ball of gunky wax is rolled into our beliefs about ourselves and produces the daily holocaust that is brewing inside each of us. Then we go out and give it to the world. Seven billion of us, filled with anger, frustration and fear, playing out our story around the globe.
What could be the solution to all this? In my opinion it comes down to this beautiful image a friend of mine sent me. It’s two little boys, sitting in a park in Arkansas after the devastating hurricane that decimated their community. They wanted to help and so they offered to give the only thing they truly want themselves …
Have we really gone from the Holocaust to little kids giving hugs? Yes … because, you see, it’s all about little kids, the little kid in each of us who just wants a hug. If we could all just stop for a second, take a deep breath, and love ourselves the application of Jesus’ saying would be so different.
I want to invite you to do an exercise with me. It’s something my teacher and therapist Dr. Vera Dunn taught me. Take out a sheet of paper and a pen. Write down your name. Then above it a few inches write your mom’s name. And a few inches above that write your grandma’s name.
Then, starting with your mom, write down what it was like being her while you were in the womb and when you were a child. Think back to what you know about her. How did she feel? Was she alone or supported? Was she scared or was pregnancy a joy? Was money an issue for her? What was her relationship like with your father? Work? What did she feel about your grandma? Was she judged or supported? Answer these questions truthfully. Write it all down in a few words that capture how she felt.
For me the answers looked like this: my mom was scared, my mom always felt judged by her mom, she worried that she wasn’t good enough, my father only added to her troubles by not being around and fighting with her when he was; they had no money so my mom worried about how she would make ends meet. And she desperately wanted a good little boy to somehow prove to the world what a good woman she was.
Look at your paper. Really connect to your mom, to those feelings. Take a deep breath and just let it sink in.
Next go to your grandma’s name and answer the same questions about her. Focusing on her childhood and then the period of time while your mom was in your grandma’s womb and a little girl.
Here is mine again to make the sharing easier.
When my grandma was a little girl her mother went out for milk and never came back. She died in an accident and left my grandma and her two brothers alone with their alcoholic dad, who dealt with the tragedy by drinking more and more. This left my grandma in charge of the household at a very young age, until one day the state child services came and took my grandma and her brothers away. The children were separated – the boys sent to a boys’ orphanage and my grandma, all alone, sent to a girls’ orphanage. In a matter of months my grandma had lost everything and everyone she loved.
When she had my mom she was so afraid that she couldn’t pick up my mom, she thought she would break her. My grandma had so bottled up her emotions as a little child that she simply didn’t know how to love her daughter.
Tough right? Look at your paper. Take another deep breath and take in the details on your grandma. Feel what it was to be her. Connect to that.
Now go back to you mom and write a few words about what it was like to be the daughter of your grandma. What did your mom feel as a little girl? Write that down.
It’s time to get to the really personal part. Take a really deep, cleansing breath and answer this question: “What would the child of your mom who was the child of your grandma feel like? What feelings did “little you” experience?”
For me, the answer is I was scared. I learned from the youngest age that money was a huge issue. I believed the world was a scary place. I learned to be the absolute best I could be to make my mommy proud of me. I wanted to save her. I tried to be perfect because I thought if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be loved.
Now together let’s take a few more breaths. I don’t know about you but I have tears streaming down my cheeks right now. I have done this dozens of times and it still hurts. I am so proud of you for doing this with me. I want you to know that I am here with you. We are here together. Take another deep breath.
The final part of this exercise is the healing part. We have touched on some heavy topics today – Hitler, the Holocaust, God, our society’s intolerance, the awareness that hatred lives in us and that we have parts of our own self that we dislike. We have looked into the mirror of our family and seen all that looks back at us – even the parts that appear to be ugly. This takes real courage. You are truly amazing.
Now together we breathe and comfort the little child in us all and say to ourselves, “I love you for who you are, not what you do.” Deep breath. “You are a good boy.” Deep breath. “I love you.” Deep breath. “I am here for you, I will always take care of you.”
Do this again and again. Let your feelings be what they are. Just love yourself. Show the little you that you are safe. Let yourself see that all is well. Find the place of comfort where you truly feel loved – all sides of yourself.
This is our path beyond the hate and anger and violence of our world – past and present. Through an honest and vulnerable evaluation of our own feelings about ourselves we gain awareness, and from that awareness we walk in our own shoes, and that allows us to walk in the shoes of others. There is no bigotry in a world that sees itself in every living creature – that is the by-product of self-love.
I love you for who you are, not what you do.
Big hugs of love,
10 thoughts on “Walking in Their Shoes”
wendy st. john-devereaux says:
good morning, Jason
this was a powerful post, and moved me to tears.
our world is full of fear and violence right now. we are all searching for a safe haven. ian and I have found that, when we go within, we are able to create and maintain that safe haven, and even project it to others. we can create a peaceful little world in that way.
the exercise was interesting….ian did it, and it was meaningful for him…..I did not do it, because I was an adopted child. I know virtually nothing about my birth parents—–and I know very little about my adopted parents, due to how secretive and cold they were (I did not even know when and where they were married, until both had passed, and I was given a copy of their marriage certificate by their attorney)
I sometimes find myself fearing certain people or groups, due to their extreme views, violence, hatred, and so on. when I find that I am fearful, I stop a moment, connect with Spirit, and realize that we ALL have a soul connection, and we all come from the same Source. we just need to find a way to get along better.
thank you again for a great posting
much love xxoo
wendy and ian
Jason Garner says:
Big hugs Wendy. The exercise is worth doing even if it’s just from the place of “how would the little me have felt?” This is so powerful in understanding our programming and then giving ourselves the love we are craving through our actions. Thank you for reading and sharing. Big hugs to you both.
Very good post. Thank you Jason. As you say so clearly, the solution to the hatred and ills of the world is for each person to clear it from themselves and then to project the simplicity and clear light of their loving truth out into the world. As this wave of energy meets the entrenched negativity built up over millenia, as evidenced by Hitler and now in Syria, Iraq, iran, all over the world, it will soften it and help it to heal.
The alternative, to allow the hatred in the world to eat into ones being and cause depression, anger, equal and opposite hate, is just to add to the prevailing energy – to become part of the problem not the solution.
So it is for all of us to keep our spirits high and hold as much inner peace and joy as one can muster and get out there and shine!!
I find it interesting that this is the pure, true, meaning of “jihad”, a striving to clear hatred, resentment, ego etc from the “inner person” and to be the very best that one can.
Keep on shining! Thank you again
Jason Garner says:
Big hugs, thank you for reading and sharing. – Jason
francine vale says:
Thank you, Jason.
I once did a meditation that brought me back to the womb. I felt my mother’s emotions, I ‘heard’ her interactions with my father who I partly ‘saw’ through her body. I knew I was being born to a nervous, anxious mother. I also felt my father’s energy; it was soft and affectionate and it felt good but I felt the tension between my parents. I didn’t want to be born into this family but I had already agreed, ‘back there’. Being a responsible soul, I went ahead with the plan.
This world that we are born into is in dire need of love and I so agree with you that it begins with loving ourselves.
It is imperative that we learn to love ourselves. Without self-love we cannot truly love another. Problem is, most of us have no idea of how to begin to love ourselves when even before we are born we are absorbing the negative energies of our parents and ancestors and grow up thinking these energies are ours. You’ve expressed it beautifully in this blog.
Apologies for self-promotion but I think you might want to check out my destiny work, “Song of the Heart – Walking the Path of Light”. You will resonate and enjoy it on a deep level. It was designed to help heal humanity’s wounds.
Thank you again for your sharing. Sharing opens portals to our hearts. It’s the ancient way of teaching.
Big hugs to you, Jason.
Jason Garner says:
Thank you for sharing. It’s a blessing to look at your work. Big hugs, Jason
francine vale says:
Jason, Today I’m checking out my name on the internet. So, I’m up to page 12 of Francine Vale listings and I come across your blog, Walking in Their Shoes. Your words carry a powerful energy, Jason. This blog still moves me. It’s interesting and fun as well to see who we remain connected to out in cyberspace. Blessings to you, Jason.
Jason Garner says:
What a beautifully small world. Big hugs – Jason
Ray Khelawan says:
This blog is amazing! Honestly, I never thought to look in the mirror and do these things. Thank you!