27 January 2016
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, 1927
The topic of worthiness is a thread that has woven into any number of my posts over these past 9 months. I keep bumping into it. It keeps popping up as I explore other ideas like connection to my values or acceptance or courage.
I’m pretty sure that this is because a resilient sense of self-worth is foundational to creating persistent life satisfaction. Now, it feels like time to get down to ground level with worthiness and face it squarely.
But first, I’m going to start with a story about gratitude….
En route to a get-together with family women this weekend, I listened to an interview of a 90 year-old Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast who spoke about how gratefulness can elude us. When gratefulness builds up in us, he says, it is like water trickling into a bowl, gaining volume and presence, collecting to the point where we recognize the sparkle of it and are eager to let it spill over and express itself. But, something else can happen. Neighbors drive up in a fancy new vehicle. A friend’s sharing of her success deflates our sense of accomplishment. Suddenly, our situation doesn’t seem as terrific as it did. What happens is that instead of our gratefulness overflowing, our bowl gets larger. We up the ante. Now, our bowl requires much more to be full and overflowing.
Driving through California’s broad central valley, I thought about how full my bowl is. The earth lushly verdant, the flooded rice fields mirroring silver layers of clouds and patches of winter blue sky, the swans taking flight and me on my way to be with women I love. My gratefulness brimmed over.
But I could picture Brother David’s water—a sparkly pool eager to spill over, suddenly stalled, the chance to tumble out and add enthusiasm and energy to a life dried up. I could picture it because I know how often I’ve done that very thing of letting someone else or something else diminish my appreciation of my life.
This is when it occurred to me that worthiness is also a bowl. I can busily fill my bowl of worthiness with how I act and what I achieve, but, then, regardless of what success I manage today, tomorrow there sits another goal, another mountain of some sort to scale in my quest to prove myself truly enough. In my attempt to do more, be more, I think I’m filling my bowl, but instead, I just keep making it bigger.
Considering all this, I am struck with a crystal-clear realization that I desire up-to-the-brim bowls of gratefulness and worthiness. And I understand that I have authority over this.
The secret to letting gratitude sparkle and spill over is choosing to value what I have. The ability to believe in my own worthiness is not a factor of what challenges I surmount, but of my own willingness to believe I am enough as is, imperfect as I am.
This takes willingness. It takes practice. For me, it requires courage.
As I parked near the rendezvous with my women, in the hub of an expensive and extravagant shopping mecca, I felt awash in consumer pressure, suddenly dog-paddling in a humongous bowl, needing to be dressed better, look younger, feel smarter. That quick, I was getting the chance to walk my talk.
I settled in. I reminded myself that feelings are the result of how we interpret things, and managed to open myself up to a larger perspective. I set my old purse down on a sunny bench, pulled in a deep breath, and did a few simple yoga stretches, reminding myself about acceptance. I focused on my values and the fact that I was here because I value these women. I treated myself like a friend.
Wanting to have the right thing to say yet be authentic, desiring to fit in yet be my own person, wishing to feel like I’m enough when inside I’m frightened; these things will likely always be bugaboos I work with. But, these tender spots are opportunities. Turning toward them rather than away from them, they unveil understanding and guide me in my growth and compassion.
Having full bowls or empty bowls isn’t a matter of my circumstances or fortune. It’s a matter of valuing and practicing a grateful, worthy life.
I see my bowls filling. I hear the water flowing. I sense the energy of it. I look into the bowl and see clearly that whatever mistakes I make, whatever silly things I say or do that I regret later, I can still irrefutably know that down deep in ways that matter most to me is a person who’s exploring, learning and living her extraordinary ordinary life.
Let’s help each other fill our bowls and drink of this amazing life we’re living.