Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Lies They Unwittingly Told Us

 "He was, for once, trying to give me everything I wanted and I was trying to get everything I needed and it was way too late for either one. There would never be enough butter for me in my father’s house. I had to find it elsewhere in the world. Just like you." -Cheryl Strayed

How do we learn to be? How do we learn what is true?

From the moment our tiny eyes open (and maybe even before that), we are watching and listening. Whoever our primary caretakers were taught us about the world. They taught us how to use a can opener and how to love (or not...), how to tie our shoe laces and whether or not to trust money. Parents and grandparents, aunties and nannies, have so many important lessons and skills that they transmit to the children in their care. I submit, though, that the most important thing that caretakers teach children is who they are and what they're worth.

What were you told about yourself as a child? Were you a "good girl" or a "bad boy"? Were you readily given time and attention, or did you have to stomp your feet and scream to be seen? Did you do everything "right" and it was still never enough? Were you beaten or screamed at or both? Were you loved and supported without condition? Were your caretakers present both physically and emotionally? Did they take care of themselves and get their own needs met? Were you taught that that's okay, healthy even?

The way that our adult caretakers treated us as children taught us about ourselves and what we were worth. The degree to which they valued us taught us how valuable we were. Most of us then grew up continuing to believe what was impressed upon us so early on, without any consciousness that what we learned might not have been true. Childrens' huge egos cause them to internalize and take so much personally. If a child's caretaker is kind to them, the child feels good and interprets that they are good. Conversely, if a child is treated poorly, they feel bad and interpret that they are bad. Each child is a tiny sun with everything orbiting them, nothing happening outside of their influence.

This is simply a misunderstanding of the adult's action. The child cannot yet take neutral perspective, filter what is true and what is not. Everything said by the adults in their life is truth, and these early planted seed thoughts root so deeply into our psyches that we may not even realize that they were given to us, that they are not necessarily authentic to who we are.

Political or religious teachings, or ways of living tend to come under our harsh scrutiny as we mature and separate ourselves from our families of origin. But ideas about the self seem to go unchecked. We can gain our own opinions about all kinds of things in the world, learn to think critically and neutrally like we couldn't as children, but only about that which is outside us. It's rare that this light gets turned inward to reveal that we built a whole life around a totally false sense of self.

This is understandable. It's startling to realize that you have been operating for your entire lifetime with wildly misinterpreted information that you collected as a child. Where does this leave you? If you are suddenly stripped of who you thought you were, who are you? How are you not yourself?

The answer is, I don't know. Well over a month ago I started a daily practice of Kriya to Experience the Original You, which, combined with therapy, is deconstructing what I've known to be true about myself. As a result, I've entered an interesting sort of clean slate space in which I am free to learn brand new ways of thinking about and relating to myself.

It's not like becoming frustrated with the Catholic Church at 16 and picking up books on Buddhism at the library. These ideas I'm examining have wound their way around every interaction and decision of my life up until now. Everything has been colored by the very old, very untrue teaching that I am somehow inadequate and unworthy. The craving for acceptance and unconditional love, the question "Am I okay?", has been thumping along in the background like a second heart that I am now reaching into my chest and tearing out. As much as its hurt me, it feels like a terrible betrayal to reject this way of being and knowing that has been with me my whole life, that led me here.

Still, I am interested in being happy and I am not happy spending my life trying to make up for some imaginary lacking. The pearl of truth at the heart of all of this is, there's nothing wrong with me. Yes, yes, yes, I am okay. And so are you. No matter what you learned about yourself by seeing and feeling how your caretakers treated you, you are actually fine. Hopefully they were kind, gentle and attentive, and you in turn learned how valuable you are and how worthy of kindness, gentleness and attentiveness.

The likelihood, though, is that one or more of your adults failed to accurately instruct you in your incredible perfection. Whether intentional or not, their actions taught you to be a beggar, and this small, hungry, child-version of yourself lives on, desperate in one way or another to be fed.

We are not children anymore. As grown people, we have the ability to turn our matured reasoning skills to examine what we learned about ourselves with the same critical eye that we use to examine what we were taught about God, food, money and how to live life. It's incredibly hard work. Our self-beliefs are Inception, third dream level-deep, and in the end the top may or may not still be spinning. How do we know what's real and true? How am I not myself?

Here's a new seed thought I'm attempting to incept: that even though my papa seemingly chose alcohol over me when I was a little girl, that I was "good," that it had nothing to do with me, that I was (and am) worthy of both physical and emotional presence.

After creating and believing in a world based on the contrary idea for so long, it's hard to allow this to be true. The old way of being is so much a part of me and creating a new way of being takes incredible focus and discipline. It becomes habit through steady repetition, making the choice over and over to do something I'm not even sure how to do yet. There is so much fumbling awkwardness in this, so much frustration and pain. Still, it's the work to be done. We act as someone wholly healthy, happy and holy until one day, perhaps this is what we become.

In the meantime, remember that you are teaching the children in your life how much they are worth. Be good, be sweet and be present to them so they come to know their immense, inherent value. They are worthy of this, as you were and are.

Yes, you are okay.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Practice of Becoming

"Bring the man you aspire to be, the one who already has the love he longs for. Play every piece of yourself and play it with all you’ve got until you’re not playing anymore. That’s what Cary Grant did. The lonely boy who lost his mom in the fog of his father’s deceit found himself in the magic of wanting to be. 
His name was Archibald Leach." -Cheryl Strayed

Working in the same city as your company's world headquarters has some unique perks. For instance, the president of my company spoke at our all-staff meeting this week, espousing some simple wisdom that rocked my world. He told the story of becoming who he is, which started with a clear goal followed by a series of conscious choices. He asserted that in order to achieve a dream, one must act as if they have already arrived to the place they hope to reach. Once you decide what your goal is, you begin to ask yourself over and over, "What would someone who has achieved this mastery do in this situation?" and act accordingly. The theory is that if you are acting as if you already have it, you are bound to get it.

It's a simple idea, but when you really apply it to your life it can have a profound effect. I've begun asking myself, "What would a strong, powerful woman do?" looking to the strong, powerful women I know for guidance. It turns out that the strong, powerful version of myself that I aspire to be has very low tolerance for compromising compromises. She has struck a balance between humility and confidence, having intimacy with her shortcomings and soft spots but refusing to allow that to decrease her sense of value. She does not feel entitled, but rather worthy. She's kind of a badass and I'm already more than a little in love with her.

Like so many transformations, it's incremental and requires practice. The example that the president used was people joining our fitness club to lose weight. Statistically speaking, people who come to us focused on how much weight they want to lose typically don't reach their goal. When trainers focus their clients on a goal to be healthy and help them learn to make choices based on "what a healthy, fit person would do," they are much more successful. It's kind of a Field of Dreams effect- if you build it into your life, you'll eventually have a whole new way of being to come into.

What's your dream? Who or what do you want to become?

First of all, know how worthy you are of creating and living the life you want. Secondly, wrap your arms around your already extraordinary perfection. You are a living, breathing (hopefully dancing and rabble rousing) miracle. This moment is an ideal jumping off point for even more magnificent acts of greatness that started with your first, gigantic new born gasp. Seek out role models who are living what you want and watch what they do. Not all their choices will work for you, or lead to your eventual success, but they will be like lighthouses in the fog until you get better at embodying your best self. Practice and practice until one day, maybe without even realizing, you become what you imagined.

Pause for a moment and marvel. You are both the lump of clay and the skillful sculptor. Create and become.