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I live with a liar. He knows my thoughts, my fears, my joys, my sorrows, my proud moments, the moments I’d like to forget, my loves, and my losses. I am that liar.
No, I’m not hearing voices. This liar isn’t an independent voice invading my consciousness and urging me toward violence and self-harm. This voice is part of me. I recognize him as a part of myself. Because this liar speaks in my voice, I can even mistake him for my true self.
I can’t simply tell this liar to take a hike. I can’t even say he always lies. If I/the liar quote the Doors song “People Are Strange,” it rings mostly true. To the self-identified stranger – me – no one remembers your name, other people are strange, faces look ugly and come out of the rain, women seem wicked, even the streets are uneven. At the end of that line of thinking, “When you’re strange” repeats several times and the last ” when you’re strange” swoons in a dissonant sigh.
Yes, I am a bit strange, a little different, but I’ve never found women wicked. As those faces came out of the rain, I spent many hours studying people as if they were another species. What are their habits? Why are they arbitrary and cruel? How do they decide who’s ‘in’ and who’s ‘out’? When do I enter a conversation? Do they laugh with me or at me?
With strange faces coming out of the rain, I needed ways to survive – book smarts, verbal dexterity, humor, sarcasm, performative cynicism, self-defense. Internally, the liar sounds like this: “I don’t want that.” “I don’t need that.” “That’s not gonna work.” “This is a bad idea.” “If among people you don’t know, hide.” “If you find somebody friendly, be careful not to open up too fast. Remember, you’re strange.” “Why would she be interested in me?” “What did you think would happen? I told you not to go.” “Nah, you won’t get that job.” “You screwed it up again. Surprise, surprise.” “Don’t say anything; they’ll deliberately misinterpret you and use it against you.” Or, simply, “Don’t bother.”
My self-defense became habitual and self-sabotaging. Because people were cruel and lacked understanding in the past, the liar reasoned, they would always be cruel and lack understanding. If a woman didn’t show interest in me once, the liar whispered its warning, none of them ever would, so, don’t try.
What was I defending? I found out accidentally. My late wife – thank God she showed interest in me, and I recognized it – often told me I had a “pure heart.” At times in our marriage, though, I didn’t let that pure heart work – self-protection again. I heard the same from Fafar, my wife Terri’s long-time dear friend and my spiritual mother, who recently departed from this world. Fafar was someone of great spiritual power and wisdom, someone I don’t have an adequate vocabulary to describe. Suffice it to say that when she, too, told me I had a “pure heart,” it meant a great deal, opening me to a new reality.
It was that pure heart that needed protecting, I suppose. In childhood, my heart wasn’t strong enough. It could have been destroyed. From alcoholism at home to being wired differently – Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum, or just “different” – my childhood world was often painful and alienating. But over time, the protective shield the liar built around my heart became an obstacle, a disability. My pure heart needed to grow, to learn to maneuver through the world with more confidence, to benefit me and others. Protection became self-sabotage.
The protector of the tender heart, my internal liar, got full of himself and went beyond his job description. He turned into a tyrant, a bigger liar, a menace. I know he has outlived his usefulness, but being so experienced, he knows so many tricks. When I’m not writing about him, this liar doesn’t seem like a liar. Being so familiar, he sounds like me. Sometimes, he can usurp my identity. He tells me that I’m the cynical, sarcastic, oddball guy, the stranger always on the outside looking in, or not looking and saying “forget them all.”
Recently, a passage from the Baha’i writings struck me like lightning:
O Son of Being! Thou art My lamp and My light is in thee. Get thou from it thy radiance and seek none other than Me. For I have created thee rich and have bountifully shed My favor upon thee.
I first read this passage from Baha’u’llah’s mystical book The Hidden Words more than 30 years ago – but its meaning just started to sink in recently. It turns out that The Hidden Words provides similar affirmations, several in a row:
O Son of Being! With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have a doubt thereof.
O Son of Spirit! I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.
O Son of Man! Thou art My dominion and My dominion perisheth not; wherefore fearest thou thy perishing? Thou art My light and My light shall never be extinguished; why dost thou dread extinction? Thou art My glory and My glory fadeth not; thou art My robe and My robe shall never be outworn. Abide then in thy love for Me, that thou mayest find Me in the realm of glory.
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I take these powerful passages very seriously, because I believe Baha’u’llah is the messenger of God for this day, and from that follows my acceptance of everything he wrote – although my understanding and its application to my actual life could and often does take a long time.
This is how God created me, with His light within me.
I have come to believe this, not because people close to me told me something flattering, but because I believe in Baha’u’llah and the spiritual message he brings to humanity. My loved ones, important as they are, confirm what God tells me. (Clearly, I need to hear the message repeatedly, in multiple forms.) I didn’t know it in childhood and hadn’t fully acknowledged it, until now.
This lamp, this tender heart, was defenseless at first. To avoid extinguishing, the lamp needed protection, which the liar within me tried to build. But the heart/lamp now knows it has its true, infallible protection, found in The Hidden Words. The word of God has the power to heal, so let the healing begin.
Now, dear liar, it’s time for you to step down. Your job was done a long time ago. At one point, you were my heart’s protector, but today you are its jailer. Thank you for your early efforts on my behalf. I don’t need you anymore. I can handle my pure heart and its strangeness now, with Baha’u’llah’s help. Time to let it shine.