Self-Esteem Deconstructed

For quite a while now I have been of the mindset that a good part of mental health is embracing the flaws, the nicked corners, and the pockets of rust that reside in the darkish regions of the psyche–honestly just because I, like other inhabitants of this world, have learned my lessons well: don’t air the dirty laundry; be professional; when asked how your doing, only respond, “That life is good; business is great.”

But something happened this week that has made me want to explore and ponder the other side of this paradox.Maybe I need to take a hard look at these things I have just been embracing, and like a bad boyfriend, kick them out the door. Or as my 12 step friends say, survey the inventory and throw out what is rotten.

All this really got going when I learned that someone that I know thought I talked too much and was not that great of a listener. This stung for two reasons: this person said it behind my back and well, after a week of self-reflection, it is true.

Like waves on a shore, other character defects began to raise their hands to be called on…judgement of others, brittleness, vanity, a tiny closet stuffed with the I’m-doing-more-than-others attitude, and worst of all–the twins–resentment and pride.

Oh, boy.

Along with this period of self appraisal, this off-season lent or Yom Kippur, has been an awakening that most of the suffering that I see in those around me and within myself, comes from defending these broken places that reside within the human heart. Quite a different entity than acceptance. Defending a sore spot is not the same as acknowledging that it there. If there is consciousness, it can be dealt with, and in time, healed. I see humanity and me wanting acceptance so badly, yet this stuff-that-needs-go just blockades human connection. Sufferers long to be wanted and appreciated, but it just doesn’t happen. At least not in the way the heart hopes.

So where does this leave me? Well, today I accept that I have a lot of work to do. I will not hide these facts about myself…but…I will not just leave them to poison my life and my connections with others. I will roll up my psychic sleeves and work on becoming the better person, the kinder person, the gentler person, that I was meant to be.

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Fill’Er Up With Fear

My worst fear? Okay, here’s my mental process on that particular question: Humm…the leaky bathtub that is turning my walls into goo; the balding tires; the quote unquote financial slum in which we find ourselves; my frickin’ neighbor who cannot let up on using gas-powered yard devices on Sunday mornings…doesn’t he know I am writing, here? (Okay, that would be under the topic of things that piss you off ); there’s my on-going struggle with independence, yet fearing I will get in trouble for it…that if I exert myself at work, I will in some way pay the piper for it; there is the fear that I won’t be able to provide for my children…even simple things like a cello, or a used car, much less college; there is the fear I have for my true-blue artist husband–not a drop of money from painting sales in the last 14 months; and then there are the garden-variety-neurotic fears of dust bunnies, piles, missing spoons, and cat food ground into the tiled kitchen floor; then there is the fear that my face and butt are looking a tad bit older today, than yesterday; then there are those universal fears of covert governments and that our constitution is now meaningless amidst a  severely moneyed economy; then there are my related historical fears, that JFK, Robert Kennedy, post Mecca Malcolm X, and MLK were all taken out to derail the Civil Rights movement; then there are the children fears…particularly for my son who has survived depression and is three months away from surviving and enduring the  American-style educational system…I fear, will he make it? Will he be able to maintain a perspective and a willingness to finish the fight with honor? And then there is religion… I so fear the entire unreflective gang that have white-washed a whole lot of dry rot in the name of Jesus; who then think, armed with the delusion that God is on their side (a notion shared by the witch-burning crowd in Salem and pretty much every right-winged fundamentalist and European monarch of all time) that they are the arm of God, empowered with the task of shaping up the masses; Oh, and speaking of masses, I fear those whose governing notions are more like Alexander Hamilton’s rather than Thomas Jefferson’s; I fear close-door meetings; I fear mass hysteria; I fear the Costco-American Idol kinda of mentality; you know, that I-do-not-care-what-is-happening-in-the-world as long as I can have my super sized hot dog and a good show; I fear people’s unresolved pain or issues visiting that national stage, like they did during the McCarthy era; I fear things wearing out when I don’t have money to replace them; but what I fear most of all is simply this: that I won’t have the faith to push this plethora of fears off the table of my consciousness today. That somehow they will poison the little garden of faith I am cultivating. For you see, even though every shred of evidence in this noisy world begs to differ, I have this crazy notion that my faith shapes my reality. That belief proceeds a miracle; and that we create our lives by our hopes.

Yeah, I know…just look at the papers…the news…but I don’t listen. Mainly because people say what they are paid to say these days. But it is also because I think faith works best when I don’t know how impossible my dream might be, or how absolutely difficult it might be to accomplish. Seems like you need to be a bit shy of a few brain cells to achieve the impossible. So turning fear into faith is my greatest hope for the day…for with that state of mind…all the other fears shrivel down to the size of the dust bunnies that dance along the wooden surface of my floors.

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R U Still Sad?

Scrolling through my emails, I came across this response to my “About” page:  R U Still Sad? It was from someone I didn’t know, but this strangely personal yet impersonal text, got me thinking–but my first response was a kind of defensiveness. Doesn’t this person get the message in my writing? There is always hope…a silver lining…a little miracle at the heart of human misery. I deleted the comment, almost aggressively, even with a measure of pride.

Some time elapsed. A troubled child of a friend was involved in a near-fatal car wreak that left people pondering as to the cause. I knew. It was a result of a long neglected sadness. Another reported that a minister friend had taken his own life. Someone else was secretly in tears at work.

Apparently over 57 million Americans are depressed.

And those are the one’s that are honest.

Back to me. I grew up with the blackness of a parent’s denied depression. In my churchified origins, it was not socially acceptable to have problems. Wednesday night prayer meetings were filled with  “silent prayer” requests. Everyone figured God would know. But the problem was that no one else did. This secrecy destroyed any possibility of community…the kind of warmth that happens when the truth is unburden from one human heart in the presence of another.

So, to answer my reader’s query…Yes, I am still sad. We are facing terrible odds and seemingly broken dreams all the time. The kind that meet you at the first blush of morning light and hiss “Today will not be the day your breakthrough will arrive.” We have met with so little success and so much hardship for being “us” that there are days I do understand, deeply, how people seek to destroy their lives.

I also feel that we, as a world, need to make some space for being okay with sadness. Man, from Facebook updates to formal meet-and-greets, the standard is to always maintain the party line of , “Oh, I’m fine. Everything’s great.” I even ran into a guy, when asked the usual question, responded, “Better than anybody else.” (Well, he could be the subject of another blog…)

Back to the question du jour.Why do we do that? Why won’t we say how things really are?

Maybe it has to do with time. It would take too long to tell the it’s-not-so-good version. Or maybe we have witnessed too many people who, under the chronic victim banner, spill the details of their lives for any passer-by. But you know what, I think it is more insidious than that…I think that it is that a huge majority of us have digested the rule that it is not okay to be not okay.

I want to break the law, here. I am not fine…at least not yet. My big burden pains me. And I don’t do anything much to escape the fact. I don’t drink, shop, have multiple marriages, or jobs. There is no vacation. And no, Calgon can’t take me away. And to my great dismay, as of this moment, there is no chocolate, either. It’s a hard wait. It pisses me off on days, and right now, my eyes fill with tears as I type.

There is nothing I can do but be as gentle as I can with those I live with. I have to discipline myself into hope and a decent attitude. And I have to just–dammit–be with that ache in my chest cavity that comes from the chill of waiting for the flower to emerge from the crack in the pavement.

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Okay with Being Average

As I walked to the sports field on Saturday, my suede boots sinking deep into the water-logged grass, armed with an umbrella, as well as one-of-those-supposedly-life-changing-novels, that just isn’t, I mentally prepared for the often-less-than pleasant culture that emerges when parental egos converge at a children’s sporting event. I have a set of rules.

Rule one: Don’t talk unless talked to. This is not because I am trying to be mean or hostile or anti-social. It’s just at events like these, people are interested in telling about themselves or their children. So, to be honest, no one, on the whole, really wants to hear much about anyone else’s life. I find it is best just to listen. Rule two: Don’t brag about anything about your child…college plans, grades, AP or honors courses…and never mention any statistics or sports rankings. These are all topics that do not trade well in such social situations. In fact, such talk engenders that old keeping-up-with-the-Jones spirit. It awakens the inner demon of I-am-not-enough or I’m-not-doing-it-right.

I sit down on the bench, and of course, there is a mom bragging about her children. Quite loud. Quite unwarranted. But I know what’s eating her. I know that she does not mean to be so flagrantly self-promoting. I get her. It is her not-enoughness, like an evil puppeteer, manipulating her to say too much, because deep inside, she does not understand that she and her children, are rare and wonderful and unique, even if by our silly culture’s standards, they seem average, or as Star Testing cruelly hisses, below basic.

You know, my whole goal in writing this blog is to tear down all the man-made ideas that have diminished human beauty. It is not that straining for excellence and achievement are bad things. However, if the motive finds its origin in some kind of inferiority, it is always sick and wrong.

Doing your best because you feel a sense of glory, of being truly alive…now that is cool. Doing it because you think that if you try a little bit harder, you just might deserve to occupy a space on this planet, that will result in a vast and empty wasteland within. I think it is why you see people who literally fall apart when they have finally achieved some culturally induced goal. Everyone muses, “What happened? He or she had everything.”

You don’t have everything, unless you love your bumpy, less-than-average inner self.

And guess what?

Love and acceptance remarkably have the effect of growing greatness.

Remember… it is the gloriously mystical phoenix that rises from the ashes…not from the perfect SAT scores or perfectly managed stock portfolio.

So, on to rule number three: If I do find myself in a place where I have to talk, I always tell the truth… that it has been hard. We have often been stupid. That my children struggle…and then I tell how we have learned to be okay with being average.

And then I tell about grace.

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The Fake Christian

So stole my title from the great Maya Angelou–regarding faith she says this:

“I’m grateful to be a practicing Christian. I’m always amazed when people say, “I’m a Christian.” I think, “Already?” It’s an ongoing process. You know, you keep trying. And blowing it and trying and blowing it …”

I think I have been a fake Christian all my life. Like so many things, I tried to learn my role, master the script, and become conscious of the rules of this particular game. I was taught, albeit unconsciously, by my dear aunt, to “clean up my act”—the implication here that my life was more like that of an actor than a flower in a meadow. I needed to work at looking and sounding good because, at least in my family’s mythology, I wasn’t naturally acceptable as is.

I was never taught that you could “blow it”and be okay. In fact the shame from blowing it, a spiritual after-burn, culturally concocted I might add, was what hurt me  more than the error itself. I am healing up in these damaged, tender parts of my life simply by being okay with my mistakes, egotism, selfishness, and down-right stupidity. It seems like when I comfort these orphaned little children, I can feel Jesus right behind me, breathing hope and powerful restoration into these broken places.

So these last couple of years I have been learning the lesson of love and acceptance—of my self, my dear family, and others. And let me be abundantly clear, the work of spirituality, at least for me, does not end with acceptance. It is a key to a door to a new life. Yet one of the first stops on the path is humility. It is the spirit of there-is-some-work-to-be-done here; it is the still small voice that says “keep that ego in check.” I am going “Oprah” on you right here…this is what I know for sure…once I think that I deserve to be noticed, get competitive, or try a syruping-sweet-way of ingratiating myself to get what I want, my ego is going to get a-wamping. It is like when you are oblivious to a low threshold and your forehead cracks as it comes in contact with a two by four. For years this would happen, and I would not get it. I just thought people were shitty…which on any given day they are, but I didn’t get my part in the drama—this is the great truth: If I have a problem with some part of my life, I have a HUGE part in the why-this-is-happening-to-me thing. End of story. I have to reflect. Then the answers come. You see Jesus is magical. He is the fairy-godmother-good-therapist-tough-love-friend-life-coach kind of divinity. He’s a great teacher, too. He lets me figure things out, make a mess, get sad, and then he whispers a salient bit of wisdom that allows me to move forward in my life. This is Christianity to me.

Now, I think I am just beginning to become a Christian, and this is why: I am just beginning to have faith—to get how it works. I come from a family of hand-wringers. We hope God will come through, but deep in our hearts we believe he will fail us. Something can’t come from nothing. We have all been schooled in Newtonian physics, right? There are laws to this, right? But get this, Newton at the end of his life was fascinated with alchemy and that the Holy Scriptures were kind of like some HTML code…a living, changing, relevant voice. Here’s something more, again from science: Bill Brighton says that scientists can calculated back to the beginning of the Big Bang….ten to the negative 43 seconds past the moment of creation, and that at that point the universe could fit in the palm of your hand! He goes on to say that science, here, sounds more like religion…that indeed something can come out of nothing.

So here’s my little vignette for the week. Anyone who knows us, knows that we have had a lifetime of financial woes. I am quite certain we are not alone in this fact. Also, we have been amazingly cared for. Something works out. But here’s the confession: even though we have been blessed with help—always— I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. This month will be the month we will fail. Thoughts like that. But last week something happened. I got tired of that voice and I got tired of manipulating some outcome to make us okay. And it occurred to me to try faith. You know the kind Moses would have had to have on the banks of the Red Sea with a million freaked-out people and the state-of-the-art Egyptian military on his heels. So Phil and I said a little prayer over our need…$430 for bill…and waited. “God will make a way,” was the thought in my head. That was it. The bill was due Friday. Phil checks his phone Wednesday, and someone wants him to work. He makes $490…I kid you not, by Friday. Soooo cool. And the best thing was that I was calm and at peace, just like the scriptures talk about. It was like I did a 180 in my spirit and was over my way of doing things. I was able to draw from the bank of the universe.

I am so going to try this on all the other “Red Seas” in my life. My prayer is simple: God, I am excited to see how you are going to make a way for us amidst this sea of impossibilities.

And I figure that if he did the Big Bang he can probably handle my need for tires, cash for the rising sea of bills, college for Sam, and all the other seemingly impossibilities that bully me on a daily basis.

I think I am moving out of the fake Christianity…to being a follower of  The Way.*

*Original name for Christians

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By the Numbers

Credit scores, housing prices, size zero jeans, 21 point evaluations, numbers on a scale, or in a bank account, all these things  seem to define what it means to be human. Your stats, if you are an athlete, SAT scores, if you are a young college hopeful, the dollar amount of your salary, if you are working person, all press hard against the windows of the soul. Menacing enough, that a mortal might just wonder if they matter to the world in which they exist, if the numbers don’t line up.

These days the numbers aren’t so good for me, and I have to ask an age-old question: Just what is my value? I am also, rarely, a member of any group or committee of note. My voice is not sought after. I don’t have a post-graduate degree. I haven’t written a paper or had my name associated with a big project. I am an observer, but I rarely know what is going on. And I have to admit, that often I am happy in my matter-not-one-bit-ness. But I would also be a liar to say that there is not a tiny, overly sensitive part of me that wishes I could better play the numbers game. But I am not even in the running.

So what do I do with my digitally-challenged self. I don’t know right now. I feel sad. Still a bit like the school girl who was always chosen last for dodge ball, the one never invited to parties. I do know one thing for sure, though. Isak Dinesen said it best Babette’s Feast, “An artist is never poor.” I have my words and the way I see the beauty in life. And I know another thing, I can love and be gentle. For I get what its like not to be number one.  I can give grace for I understand deeply what it means to be at sixes and sevens. I can accept that I may just be known as a social security number on some record one day, but there are sublime things in a human, sweetness that cannot be calibrated or measured. These little, inconsequential things, like the heart-felt connection between two souls, can’t be counted, but do indeed count.

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Resistance to Tyranny…

I was raised like a lot of church-going-kids to be obedient to my parents. It seemed like I got a lot of the children-obey-your-parents thing and very little of the command to obey God and not man. Never did I read or hear what author Oswald Chambers cautioned against…that is, playing “amateur providence” in one another’s lives. He says that we are slow to recognize how we are playing God…with our advice, cautions, and this need to have others comply. What I am here to say today, is that I have almost lost my life in countless ways because I was trained to heed the voice of man over the voice of God. My life contains wounds that will not heal because I never understood that I could choose to listen to that still, small voice and defiantly choose another path.

I am not sure if we, as a culture, realize what is happening to us. We listen to the news, read Time Magazine, get advice from John Tesh and Oprah, and consider ourselves informed. Those of us with a little history background might lean on Thomas Jefferson for support of our activities…”Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” So onward we plunge into the information age, for it will guarantee our freedom…our ability to chart our own course. Right?

But little do we know that without some type of inner consciousness, some kind of source that gives us the power to interpret the plethora of facts, opinions, and data that fill the empty vacuum of our minds, that there is no way to remain at the helm of one’s God-given life. There are too many voices and life becomes this tug-a-war between the loudest of them…and let me be abundantly clear about this, you are the rope. And whether you understand Newtonian physics or not, common sense says that that rope will snap one day.

That is what happened to me. This is not the place for me to describe the loss, humiliation, and pain which were the “out-gassings” of a plastic existence. It was devastating and still is, to some extent. Yet pain processed correctly, by that I mean, not shoved away in the proverbial psyche closet, has a silver lining. I have grown in the vast inward regions of the spirit. I have found that voice that whispers wisdom to me in the quiet places. And I have emerged from what Elie Wiesal called the “Kingdom of the Night” sure that freedom is my birthright and that no one has the power to take that away…unless I let them. For as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” And to one extent or another, to control another person, the alpha dog has to somehow create a sense of doubt in the self. Perhaps it is a question…not to far from the snake’s query in some garden near the Euphrates eons ago…I can almost hear the hiss now, “Did God really say?….”

Honestly, I don’t know how to express it any stronger…our lives are a gift and freewill is part of that package. I figure if God granted it to us, we should grant it to each other. And I am not saying that we shouldn’t hear what others say to us and at times receive that information as truth. For humility is a travelling companion of truth. But what I am saying is that the voices that influence us must be held up for inspection. Are they good? Do they foster freedom? Or are they merely the ancient snake of control beckoning one into bondage? Sound bites tainted with fear or dire predictions get the red flag right away. I also have a low opinion of statistics too…also another source for control and influence.

I think Walt Whitman had it right. He said he would pause and listen to what others said. This is a spirit of humility, a mark of a truly educated mind. But then, you can almost see him look you in the eye, and say this regarding any idea that would commit him to some kind of slavery…”With undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.” He understood that being taken captive starts in the mind.

Oh, regarding the title “Resistance to tyranny”…the second part is “is obedience to God.” Think about it. Saying “No” can be the most sublime spiritual thing we do. Again a salient piece of wisdom from our friend Thomas. However, I will leave you with this caution…If you are going to free, you will need to educate yourself on the history of your own enslavement, for it is something we do to ourselves. It is true that we inherit most of it, but it is we, who keep the flame alive. Remember tis a gift to be free…

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