There were three times in my young life when my parents wanted to disown me. The first time, I was 10 years old and requested that I be allowed to leave Sacred Heart Catholic School to attend the public school. Initially they were appalled by my desire. My mom and dad went to our parish priest, Father Hurley, who threatened to excommunicate me. But in the end, my parents reluctantly allowed me and the rest of my younger siblings to attend the public school – it saved my dad a lot of money!
The second time my parents wanted to disown me, I was a young adult, with some money of my own, who decided to travel with my boyfriend to California to visit his brother and his wife. Regardless of the truth, they believed I was using their money for this jaunt-off with my boyfriend. This time they threatened to take away the car and money that I needed to attend college. They didn’t take away these necessities but took away their trust and respect, and admonished me deeply for being "that kind of girl!" Nevertheless, my father also said to me "Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone." These were Jesus’s word, and it seemed as if there was forgiveness and compassion for choices I was making, or, in the eyes of my parents – for just another mistake that I was making. I was left with was the message of being accepted, but never really being worthy or deserving of their love and support.
The third time my parents wanted to disown me, I’ve spoken about in previous articles, regarding choosing to be a non-custodial parent. Though my choice came from my knowing that this decision was unequivocally in the best interest of my children, in their eyes, it was another huge unforgivable error in my judgment.
Regardless of the circumstances, my reality was fraught with the experience that making choices and making mistakes would end up causing me shame, damnation, and exclusion. What I experienced to be true was this: I would be accepted, but never relieved of the shame of just being me.
There are millions of people with far worse tales of their childhood, most of whom live in the silence of their shame, just like me, for just being human – less than perfect and less then worthy in the eyes of others. Our world is fraught with judging and shaming, in our political, educational, religious and health systems, not to mention our families and communities. In my experience as a therapist, coach and experiencer of life, I have no doubt that the majority of us base our actions, as best we can, on doing, what ever we can, to prove that we are worthy of acceptance, trust, and respect. As long as we are trying to prove something, we are trying to absolve ourselves of the shame foisted on us by the world.
With events and circumstances that seem, on one level, to be no big deal, on another, they create the foundations for how we not only perceive ourselves, but how we choose to be ourselves – proving the worth of our existence. Each of us meet various choice-points along the path of aging where we choose to see ourselves either as that shamed, forsaken individual, or we choose to know ourselves as something else. For some, they can exonerate themselves quickly and effortlessly. For others – it may take decades. It doesn’t matter. Inevitably we all discover who we are at the root of our being.
Our histories live within our cells. That’s why, when something happens in the present, it triggers a physical reaction that came from the conditions of our past, even though the people, places and things of our past are nowhere to be found. It is as though an old software program keeps trigging a default response that is contrary to what is anticipated and desired. Sometimes that programming takes some technical support to get it out of the system. It’s just the way it is.
We Can Be Around People Who See Us for Who We Are, Or We Can Be Around People Who See us for Who We are Not
Over the past week, while working at Orcas Center, it has come to my attention that I’ve made a number of mistakes and errors. I looked around me waiting for shaming looks, admonishment and threats of being fired. But, the beauty of living long enough is that I, like everyone else, can choose more consciously to keep looking at my incompetence, inadequacies, and all the ways I will never measure up, or, I can begin to build a world based on the truth of who I am: not perfect. This practice of being human inevitably allows me to experience people who willingly admit their own errors and mistakes and don’t need to shame anyone for making them. In the past I couldn’t trust that there weren’t ulterior motives. Along with learning humility, I’m learning to trust that there are people in the world who can see me – not as less than, but, as me. At times, it’s uncomfortable to trust, but it really is just another opportunity to practice something I’m not good at – yet!
So, yesterday, I had to laugh at myself. I realized that over the nine months that I’ve worked at the Center, I grew the compententcy to not only accept that I make mistakes but that I’ve learned to correct my own mistakes. That was a concept that never occurred to me before – not within a work environment. This is the point in many working environments where I’d get a raise or a promotion – right? Again, my internal reality for so long has been that I’m acceptable – but barely. And, so my programming still says I am very capable of making mistakes and errors but need to turn to others to fix them. Yesterday I enjoyed and reveled in the reality of competence I’d not afforded myself before.
Mistakes happen all day long while we are attempting to do things well and right. Learning to correct errors and mistakes is also what we learn by making the mistakes in the first place.
When taking on a part-time job, a relationship, a health issue, a life issue of whatever degree, we never know the greater reason for taking it on. Aging provides us with so many opportunities for growing, even when we don’t necessarily want to grow, which more often than not requires change.
The initial environment of my childhood and for much of my adulthood was that I deserved shame and guilt. It set me up for choice points – junctures where I’m forced to choose either the well-worn path of self-loathing and self-denial, or choose truly accepting that, without mistakes, I couldn’t learn humility, self-acceptance, and how to fix mistakes – which are unintentional. Truly, no one makes mistakes on purpose – no one!
I’m just now getting good at my job at the Center. And wouldn’t you know it, we have found a wonderful replacement, who effortlessly has the competencies that I struggle to achieve. I will be leaving in six weeks-ish. Like any apprenticeship, once you’ve learned what you’ve come to learn, you move on to the next learning opportunity. In this moment, I don’t know what that next learning opportunity is, though it may have something to do with publishing my latest book, Aging Like a Guru; it could have something to do with painting; it could have to do with facilitating a retreat in Bali in March; or something beyond my imagination. I have no doubt though that I’ve got more learning to do!
The underlying conditions of self-acceptance and self-appreciation that have been cultivated throughout my life, and especially over the past nine month while being at Orcas Center, are what allows for the next apprenticeship to show up and be right on target with what I have yet to learn while in this body. One thing I am learning is that there is a place within each of us that is beyond our soul’s forsakenness. It beckons one to lay down the burdens of indebtedness and the tag-along hopelessness that at times seems to be never ending. Adventuring into such an experience takes courage and sometimes companionship. We all have the opportunity to strengthen and support others as we all travel on this journey of aging like gurus! We all have the opportunity to see ourselves in others and either judge and shame, or remember those moments when we too were less – far, far less than perfect. It makes you want to smile, doesn’t it?
I saw my old friend Jack in Island Market yesterday. I threw my arms around his neck and we danced for a mere moment as we celebrated the beauty of what is. We laughed that we felt so lucky to be old enough to have the wisdom enough to enjoy the wonders of everyday life as old people. Aging like a guru allows us this awareness every single day – no matter what!