This is Bailey. I painted Bailey as a Christmas/Birthday present for his owner, even though Bailey has been gone for some time now, this piece was a loving testament to a wonderful dog. Bailey’s owner shed a tear or two, it was a wonderful surprise; her husband had arranged with me this summer when he saw my body of work and knew at that moment just what to get his wife for the upcoming eventful day.
We communicated in secret, sending texts and photos; I kept him apprised of my progress until I reached a point in the process where I ask my clients, “Do you want to see any more or would you like for the rest of the painting to be a surprise for you as well?”
He opted to be surprised. Just the few initial sketches and the start of the color blocking was enough as he wanted to see the finished piece all at once. He wanted in on the surprise.
When I ask this question of my clients who commission pieces, the answer is always the same. After the initial start to the painting (which perhaps confirms their faith in me as the right person for the job) they say the same thing, “let me be surprised.”
Now, I realize, there are quite a few shows on TV where the “big reveal” is an anticipated moment. It becomes the crux of the whole program; Fixer Upper comes to mind as the designer/construction team of Chip and Joanna Gaines show the shocked, awed and always, thrilled, homeowners the fabulous renovations on their newly remodeled home. And then there is the whole Publishers Clearing House thing where they come to the unsuspecting winner’s front door with a big check and a flotilla of balloons, everyone is always ecstatic in their joy at receiving big checks! I think perhaps the thrill of Christmas morning is banking on this surprise factor in a very big way.
People love surprises; the surprise element adds to the excitement of the moment. The sideswipe of a positive shock often results in shrieks of joy, wild jumping in childlike abandonment. Surprises create a heightened emotional component, and from a neurological perspective, heightened emotions cause the brain to remember the event. Which is what the surprise giver was probably after in the first place.
BUT, while people love pleasant surprises, they hate unpleasant surprises and they hate them even more if they are unanticipated and shocked… the definition of a surprise, I suppose. I used the word ‘sideswiped’ in the above paragraph to heighten this factor about surprises: it’s the suddenness of change that amplifies the surprise and whether that is a pleasant or unpleasant incident, either way, it will be remembered, you can count on that.
When planning a surprise event/gift, one must be able to keep a secret. Keeping gifts a secret, planning the moment to “pop the question” or perhaps pulling off a surprise birthday party entails quite a bit of secret keeping; one would spoil the event without the deception needed for this kind of surprise. Generally speaking, most people forgive you for keeping these kinds of secrets as the intention is to heighten the positive experience of the moment. Secrets, like surprises can be kept for good. But secrets can also be kept out of fear, or even with malicious intent. Some may be kept out of a sense of protection for others, out of love. Some secrets are kept for privacy, the keeper isn’t ready to share their personal shame with the world. However, secrets kept out of fear, such as family secrets of shame and guilt, or even the ones designed to prevent pain of revelation are destructive and toxic. Secrets can be used to manipulate others, as they take away the others ability to make informed decisions.
Besides what secrets do to the ‘other’ they also do things to the ‘keeper’. Tendrils of fear seep into the psyche of the secret keeper and undermine their very self esteem as their integrity suffers a blow from the internalized keeping of pain. The pain of guilt and shame, jealousy and anger often poison the secret keeper as they hold their knowledge and try to justify why they should hold it. This is where denial steps in. As we deny the secret event, our mind will twist and turn and try to create a safe place where it can rest easy from the pain of the secret. We tell ourselves stories to make it okay inside, and these stories, sidestepped away from the truth, are the seeds of lies. We begin to believe those lies until we can’t tell the difference from the truth of a matter or from our own version. When we fabricate our own version of reality, we lie. We lie to ourselves and we lie to others.
Lies are toxic to a relationship. Even the smallest of lies become the seeds of mistrust. When people lie about small things, inconsequential things, one wonders how they can be trusted at all? Trust is a precious commodity, once broken, it takes a long time to repair. Small lies are the fractures, large lies become those sudden sideswiping surprise moments that take your breath away as your reality crumbles into a broken pile. But small lies add up, and as my mother used to say, “a fracture is a break held in place, but it’s still broken.”
If the lies we tell others are toxic to our relationship with them, what then do the lies we tell ourselves do to our own psyche?
Lies told to ourselves undermine our mental health and our ability to forge healthy relationships and hinder our personal and spiritual growth in life. It’s as simple as that.
One of the 5 precepts of Buddhism is ‘do not lie, nor speak falsely, but manifest the truth’. I believe this is also one of the 10 commandments, ‘thou shall not bear false witness’ seems to cover the concept of telling the truth. While both these ideas have noble sentiments, it is only with further thought and realization of the damage we do to ourselves and others by lying that change will be made.
When considering secrets and lies, one must weigh the prospects of the outcome of speaking the truth. It is not always best to speak the truth, even if you know what the truth may be. Buddhist philosophy reflects the idea, when speaking, one must ask themselves, is it true? Is it kind? Is it useful? Is it the right time? Will it matter? To say ‘no’ to any of these questions will guide you in your efforts to honor your integrity and build your self-esteem. To lie in order to cover up shame and guilt however, is to chip away at your own foundation of nobility and honor. It’s these kinds of chips that keep me from sleeping at night; I seem to awaken in the middle of the night whenever there is a falsehood festering inside. Even when it’s someone else’s lies.
Recently I awoke as I realized a loved one had lied to me. Earlier in the evening, I had been taken aback by the realization that they’d held back information I was looking for; and I’d missed the lie buried within the exchange. My subconscious however, remembered, and I awoke with the recall that I’d asked several times for disclosure and was told, outright, they had no knowledge when in fact, they did.
And just like that, my trust is broken.
And though my trust was fractured, my ability to forgive is intact. I can forgive because I understand something about forgiveness: it’s not for them, but for me. I forgive as I understand the pain and the shame and the guilt and all the human reasons why they held back and why they lied. I understand that lies have been a part of their life for a long time, denial of reality and of truth has been woven into their psyche as a survival mechanism. When you live through drama and trauma, your mind comes up with all sorts of ways to protect itself. Only through deep introspection and inner work can you awaken from the trap of denial. I know this trail, I’ve been on it myself, so I forgive because I understand.
I forgive, but I do not forget. To forget is another form of denial, my learned forgetting trapped me in toxic relationships as I did not learn the lessons of lying. I’ve had the lies of others destroy several key relationships in my life but I’ve finally reached the point where I have learned my lesson.
I can still love the liar, but not the lie. I can forgive the liar, but no longer put my trust in what they say. I can speak my truth, in the way that serves and causes the least amount of harm, but I have to include myself when considering harm. To harm myself by withholding my own truth from myself, is to cause harm. As my meditation teacher said, ‘You can forgive and still call the police.’ Forgiveness means understanding, but it doesn’t mean allowing yourself to be a part of the wrong-doing.
Now, even though I felt left out and taken aback by this reality, I am grateful it happened. I needed to see this. I needed to see it because I’d not been looking at this loved one clearly, I had a narrow view of their humanness based on what I wanted to see.
How do I proceed from here? I still love them, but perhaps my trust was misplaced. We are all human, struggling with our own issues in our own time, at our own pace. I am reminded that situations that trigger a response based on past traumas are opportunities to learn and grow, but only if you are aware. To see the secret and lie one must be aware it is there to begin with. And while there is room for secrets in your life, lies are another matter altogether.