“And she does it so well
She pulls me out of times cruel spell
For long enough to finally tell
That nothing is wrong.
And she does it so well
She shows me where my dreams dwell
She shows me how to find myself
And that nothing is wrong.”
I’ll never forget it. And over twenty years later, I still struggle to forgive myself for it. I was a father of two daughters, aged five and three. It was a Saturday. The girls were playing loudly and I was quietly stressing. Just another day. They were bouncing in and out of the house like ping-pong balls, along with our dog and the neighbor boy who was also five. I was half paying attention to them and half self-absorbed. I found myself walking into my bedroom to get something I thought was on top of my dresser. And it wasn’t there.
Just then my youngest walked in the door again and my mind told me she took it. Why did it do that? No clue. All I knew is that it wasn’t where I expected to find it and I impulsively assumed she had taken it. So I angrily accused her; demanded she return it. I don’t remember now what it was I lost but I’ll never forget my sweet daughter’s baffled response.
She stood there in her tiny overalls, her brown bangs framing her angelic face, looking up at me and then down into her open, empty hands and back up at me with confused and pleading eyes. She said nothing – just kept looking at her hands and then me – and in her silence, my accusation floated in the air between us, like a dark shadow, cruel and mean. She tried to comprehend but could only look up at me with the most pure and holy innocence, ready to confess a crime she didn’t commit but unable to do so. Her little mind reeled – I could see it grasping – and my heart broke, flooding me with shame.
A feeling of deep fear gripped me now as I realized I had wounded this precious, perfect and undeserving soul. I dropped to my knees and hugged her and apologized. What kind of monster was I, I wondered. It’s not that a three-year-old isn’t capable of stealing. It’s just that this one wasn’t. Her mind was not yet capable of the larceny charge I had so casually thrown on her like a bucket of black paint.
It happens easily in life. Someone hurts another. Someone accuses, shames or blames someone. We try to be good, to be right. But eventually we fail. None of us is perfect. And even when we get it right; even when we are innocent, there is something inside us – a dark energy – that will accuse us and not back down.
It’s universal. Everyone has it. We can’t escape it. It’s an idea – a conviction in our minds – that pops up almost immediately when our brains first develop a sense of self. When we are born, we don’t yet know who we are. But the day will come, when we realize we are a separate being. We realize, “I am.” And as soon as we think, “I am,” the inner critic shows up to whisper: “bad.”
There is “good” in there too, of course. And an endless list of adjectives, qualities and attributes that will take up residence in our self-image closet but the idea of badness never leaves. Like a dark cloud, it secrets itself into our awareness when we feel vulnerable and alone. A creeping insecurity slithers into our thoughts and triggers feelings of fear and inadequacy. Like practiced poker players, we learn to keep it to ourselves but we all struggle with a gnawing, draining doubt: Am I worthy?
The average child will begin to seriously individuate at about 15 months or so. She becomes more mobile and independent and it dawns on her that she and mom are not one thing, after all. “Whoa! Who knew? This is huge!” This sense of separation can be a little frightening at first but especially when the child defies the mother (or father) and experiences conflict, criticism and punishment and feels rejected. She will eventually learn words for all the dark emotions that swirl within her at such times: anger, frustration, resentment, confusion, self-pity. But the darkest and deepest is the one that cuts us all to our core: shame. We feel unworthy.
In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes, “Love and belonging are essential to the human experience.” We all need to love and be loved. Infants will literally die if they don’t receive it. We need to belong. We need to connect. And what determines our experience of love and belonging? According to Brown, it all comes back to that original idea, an unchallenged thought in the mind. Am I worthy of love?
In order to claim our essential and inalienable sense of worth and value, we must confront the ideas, concepts and stories in our minds that tell a different tale. Brown writes, “When we can let go of what other people think and our own story, we gain access to our worthiness – the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging.”
Virtually every client who comes into my office brings the same core belief with them. Sometimes they say the words. Sometimes it’s implied: “Something is wrong with me. I am not as good as other people. I am defective somehow. I am inadequate.” And if it comes up, I agree with them. There is something wrong with them. What is wrong? The same thing that is wrong with me and perhaps you: We go around thinking (and failing to confront) the thought that there is something wrong with us. That’s what’s wrong.
They want me to “fix” them but I refuse. How can I fix something that isn’t broken; that is already whole and complete? Instead, we get to work examining the false stories supporting the convictions that they are not good or right; not worthy of love or belonging; not deserving of forgiveness or redemption. Throw a diamond in a bucket of feces and it remains a diamond. It does not change. We can think whatever we want about ourselves. It does not stain our true beauty, our startling, stunning worthiness.
In Healing the Core Wound of Unworthiness, the Gift of Redemptive Love, Adyashanti explains that while each of us has our own unique story line, we also collectively suffer from a common, “core emotional and psychological wound.” Each of us struggles with a sense of unworthiness and shame, “a deep…existential rift at the core of our being.” Adyashanti describes a universal and painful feeling of loss and separation that all of us struggle with. He states, “…somewhere…along the line, we forgot the truth of our existence and when we forgot that, we started to feel this split inside, this feeling of being separate from other human beings and separate from the world around us,” and sometimes, even from ourselves.
Thanks to our Judeo-Christian origins, Adyashanti suggests, we feel this separation more personally and deeply. That’s because of our “founding myth…where Adam and Eve eat the wrong apple and…upset God and God inflicts upon them this kind of terrible self-consciousness.” Unlike Asian societies, where their founding myths are much less personal, shaming and punitive, our culture is imbued and defined by this sense of original failure. We learn “that basically our human nature is essentially flawed.”
In the beginning, we failed. We made a huge mistake. That is how we started, not with an original blessing; not with an innocent error but with an original sin. As a result, we all unconsciously carry the implication of a founding myth that leaves us with “…this feeling of shame, this feeling that there’s something essentially wrong at a very deep and existential level and somehow (we) are to blame for it.”
So how do we heal this split, this sense of separation that is fueled by our self-conscious identification with a thinking or reactive mind that affirms our feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness? Adyashanti suggests that we begin by examining our stories and see if we can see ourselves “directly,” without the usual soundtrack. As we encounter our own experience in the present moment without the condemning, play-by-play narrative, we can gain a new awareness of who we really are.
As we look at the stories we are living by, we can ask, “What story is supporting my sense of unworthiness? What am I telling myself that makes me feel unworthy?” And from there we can ask, “Is my narrative really true? Do I really know that my story here is true?”
Finally, Adyashanti explains that this process is designed ultimately to “…return again and open ourselves to a different quality of love.” He explains that all of us are in need of a kind of healing but this can’t happen as long as we are ruled and controlled by our stories. If we are to feel healed, forgiven and redeemed, we must open up to this very special experience that Adyashanti calls “redemptive love.”
He states, “Redemptive love is something that enters into us through the cracks in our story, through those places when we begin to doubt the story that we tell ourselves about our lives, about our worthiness or unworthiness, about whether we are deserving or not.”
When we begin to examine our stories, they start to fall apart and as they do, a truer sense of self begins to shine through. And then, and perhaps only then, we can begin to feel a deep sense of acceptance, wholeness and redemptive love.
Don’t take my word for it. Experience it for yourself. Who are you beyond your thoughts about you? Can you sense your diamond self? Can you hold it in your mind and feel its true nature — eternal love – flow into and out of your heart? Don’t wait for tomorrow or next year or your next life. Do it now. Know it now. Be it now. And be well. As you already (truly and wonderfully) are.