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How I learned to let go and be myself

I was bullied in school for not fitting in, while at home my father abused alcohol to cope with his pain. I learned there is something wrong with some people. To avoid this trap of authority, we must allow for the queer and glorious differences between us.

A leaf suspended in a forest Life itself flows lovingly through this whole, intimate ecosystem. Credit: Shutterstock

I grew up being taught that there is something wrong with some people. Like many others, I came to believe deep down that I was included in that – that there was something wrong with me. 

I was bullied in school for not fitting in, while at home my father abused alcohol to cope with his own pain. All around me and in the media, voices dismissed those like me who disagreed, dissented, differed. I was left hurt and confused by the violence I saw and felt all around me.

I developed a tough coating. It kept me safe in a chilly emotional and political climate.

Through all this, I didn't see how I became similar to what I opposed. In rejecting one idea of right and normal, I unintentionally created my own. 

Critical of the micro-states of home and school and the macro-states of nations, I was immediately attracted to anarchism, feminism, queer and other movements for liberation. Patterns of control in the world cause so much harm. I wanted the world and my experience of it to be different!

And yet, I found myself, and still do to an extent, inventing borders of right and wrong, us and them, inside and out – just like a state. I can police myself, trying to maintain my image as a good radical, a proper anarchist. I can push myself harder than any external boss trying to prove that I'm good enough to be included in this or that club.

Policing myself is inextricably linked to policing others. Out of fear, I too am capable of trying to make others conform to my idea of how the world should be, of how they should be.

New patterns of authoritarianism can easily arise, even in movements for equality and ecology. In 1940 the influential anarchist Emma Goldman wrote: "The strongest bulwark of authority is uniformity; the least divergence from it is the greatest crime...Few have the courage to stand out against it. [S]he who refuses to submit is at once labelled 'queer,' 'different,' and decried as a disturbing element in the comfortable stagnancy of modern life." 

If we wish to avoid the trap of authority, perhaps we need to allow ourselves and each other to be queer, different.

Queer – as some of us understand it today – is not just gay. It is weird and wonderful like nature herself. It crosses borders of us and them, hetero and homo, man and woman. Like nature, queer is uncontainable, overflowing any lines we may draw on maps of land, bodies or desires. Real life never fits neatly in the boxes we invent.

Trying to live up to some abstract idea of who we are, or who we should be, is emotionally draining. The gentle courage to be true to ourselves, in all our glorious difference, requires great emotional strength. It requires love.

“Even after all this time. The sun never says to the earth, 'you owe me.' Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.” ― Hafiz of Shiraz.

That is what nature invites from us: love in infinite forms. Love for ourselves, for each other, for plants and animals, rivers and trees. Love for our fear and our anger. Love which is not inhibited by the categories we might overlay onto the queerness of life.

Our collective economic, ecological and emotional crises are calling out for elements to disturb the stagnancy, to wake us up to the wonders of life. Any of us might feel the call to shake the sleep from our limbs, the dreams from our minds. To step outside the ideas of how things are, or how they should be, and drink deeply from the direct experience of being alive. Even when it hurts. 

Something in me learned a long time ago that it's a good idea to hide – to make sure no one every finds out what is wrong with me. And when I follow that, I become depressed, withdrawn, tired, anxious.

But I've also tasted something much sweeter, harder to name, that comes with no longer needing to hide, to conform, to contain or to distract myself. It can spread to others through smiles, kind words and encouragement to experiment and explore.

What does a loving politics or economy, look like? When there is no need to contain or control, no desire to judge or use other beings for self-centred ends?

Perhaps we might all come to realise that by loving others as they are, we are also loving ourselves as we are. Nothing to hide. No closets of any kind. No borders to police.

Instead, life will organise itself around us. The edge between the forest and the field, the ocean and the shore, is rich with life. Those queer, in-between-spaces that don't fit one category or another are crucial to the vibrant intimacy of nature. They thrive precisely because they are allowed to move, evolve and change: living boundaries rather than imaginary borders.

Each of us may have our own unique ways of participating in this process of transformation. No movement, no ideology, no teacher, no parent, no boss, no friend, no lover can tell us what that is. They may have some helpful ideas and can offer us encouraging feedback, but they cannot walk our path for us. Nor can we walk theirs.

From the outside, anyone's life may seem queer. Not what was expected of us, maybe not even what we expected of ourselves. There will be those who will ridicule. There will be uncertainty and self-doubt. 

But if we truly wish to be of service to humanity and the planet which is our home, we must risk being misunderstood.

Even more radically, we might dive in and relish joyous queer intimacies. For much of my life, I have felt very confused and disoriented when my emotions and desires did not fit in the boxes of gay or straight, romance or friendship, human or nature. I'm learning to enjoy the disorientation. There is freedom in not needing to know, to label, to box, to judge.

I'm not advocating looking for intimacies outside the boxes. Rather, I invite you, me, and everyone to see how life and love are always beyond labels, beyond judgements. It's possible, perhaps with practice, to let the mind that judges rest. Like the waxy coating of the lilac bud melting in the warmth of spring, the mind melts into the heart and the world looks fresh, bright, beautiful. 

Walking in the woods, my heart melts at the beauty of it all. Such intimacies, visible and hidden! Moss clinging tenderly to bark. Roots of holly and oak intertwine. Sleeping bulbs held by soil, fed by worms, watered by sky. Warm, dark openings in earth and trunk house a cacophony of animal bodies. Life itself flows lovingly through this whole, intimate ecosystem. 

I also see evidence of human neglect. My heart closes to the crisp packet and the dog shit, to the shouting parent and the texting walker. With a conscious effort, and without having to like them, I see these too as wonders of the natural world. How amazing each one is in their own way! Each playing its own role in the world. Each having, or offering, opportunities to learn.

In another space, dancing with a Biodanza group, we explore power and gentleness, femininity and masculinity, individuality and intimacy. We learn to connect with each other and ourselves. Bodies explore possibilities of space, motion and touch. Hearts open and close: protecting, giving, receiving. Women and men holding women and men, loving women and men, without needing to be women or men.

And yet, conditioning kicks in. A woman holds me in a long embrace. What does she want? I find myself thinking. Is it something I can give? I hold back, reserved. Until the melting comes. A doorway opens in my heart and everything is beautiful again. She didn't need anything from me. 

About the author

Jamie Heckert, PhD, is an Integral Yoga teacher, counsellor, organiser and scholar. Co-editor of Anarchism & Sexuality (Routledge) and contributor to numerous books including Queering Anarchism (AK Press), he is also widely appreciated for speaking on the resonances between spirituality and politics, love and freedom.


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