Returning to a Sense of Worthiness

O, my friend, if you are longing to be written on, become a blank page – RUMI

I generally don’t have a problem with Change in my life. I need to clarify that statement by saying that positive change is always welcome; and, over the years, I’ve learned to ‘surf’, rather than be drowned by, unhappy changes. But today I was reflecting on how many (many!) changes I could have encouraged, and discouraged, just by becoming more aware of my own self-worth.

To my mind, there’s a clear distinction between Worthiness and self-worth. Worthiness is something we’re all born with:  we’re inherently lovable and therefore deserving of care, nurturing, and all of the good things that life has to offer. Self-worth, on the other hand, is a collection of beliefs and attitudes that we accumulate over time. At first, our self-worth comes from our earliest relationships with our parents and care givers.

But as we grow older, self-worth grows or shrinks in accordance with broader interactions. If we get a lot of positive affirmations, we learn to expect there’s more of that to come. In the reverse, being overly-criticized, or (worse) ignored can establish patterns of low self-worth that seep into the nooks and crannies of our adult lives. The choices we make and the paths we follow are certain to be influenced by what, in the most tender areas of our subconscious minds, we feel we deserve.

I’ve known both kinds of people over the years:  those who grew up in nurturing, stable (even wealthy) homes, and those whose childhoods were filled with uncertainty, deprivation and angst. It’s strange, but those that I was sure had enormous stockpiles of self-worth (in comparison to me) didn’t necessarily enjoy happier, more successful lives down the road.

It’s as though (so it seemed to me, during a recent get-together with a woman I’ve known since high school) that the initial sense of certainty my happiness is assured” —  might be the culprit. An ironic situation of too much confidence in positive outcomes. Not that I wouldn’t be tempted (for a minute) to trade my own rough childhood (just about every classic family dysfunction you can think of) for the option of more positive ‘advantage’ and influences growing up.

But I’ve come to understand – one of the distinct benefits of becoming older and wiser – two important Truths about how I can guide events in my life in more positive ways. The first Truth is that my sense of self-worth is in-gear at all times, driving even the most minute decisions that I make every day. The second, and most important Truth, is that my original Worthiness – what I was born with – can never be taken away, unless I allow it. I’m returning to the ‘blank page’ that poet Rumi describes. I’m creating a clean, clear space for the changes I desire now: what my heart wants, and what it’s deserved for a long, long time.

On Feeling Alone

Here in the Western hemisphere, days are growing shorter, darker and colder. I can feel my seasonal urges for soup-making, and bringing out the plushest blankets I can find in my closet, kicking-in. I live in California – far from blizzards and true bitter-cold. Still, my tendency to indulge in more decadent eating and just lounging-about this time of year always makes me feel like an animal ready to hibernate. That’s how I justify my need for more comfort foods, and way more sleep, anyway.

Fall and winter also bring a kind of wistfulness. While the natural world is slowing-down, changing into reds and golds and getting ready for sleep, the frenzy of The Holidays, and other people’s ideas about what that means, seems to clash with the quiet peacefulness of Nature, with her soft prelude into deep rest.

Darker, colder days and reminders that The Holidays are supposed to glitter with love and contentment can also be a time of great loneliness for many people. Everyone else’s lives seem to be illuminated by a light and warmth that we don’t share. Today as I was listening to someone who I normally find spot-on with her observations and recommendations for living life fully and happily, I found her ideas about Holiday ‘blues’ uninspired.

This practitioner spoke directly, for a few moments, to “all the people who are alone; without family and perhaps even without friends”. Her recommendation was to “take initiative”, “have a party and invite your neighbors”. I knew what she was getting-at, what she was trying to say, even though my mind immediately registered her suggestions as totally absurd.

What I wanted her to say, longed for her to say, is what every person who’s ever spent a festive season alone needs to hear:  Whatever you’re feeling, it’s OK to just ‘be’ with that, in whatever way you choose. I also wanted the speaker to mention (total wishful thinking on my part) that a lot of the smiling faces on people that seem to be in bliss this time of year aren’t always Feeling the Love, on deep and meaningful levels. They’re just caught up in the frenzy, like everyone else.

There might be something to the expression, Fake It ‘til You Make It:  trying to jolly yourself into a certain mood or spirit. But there are other ways to “survive the holidays” (that sentiment alone, heard in frequent adverts, is enough reason for me to get creative).

What the practitioner I listened to this morning failed (perhaps there just wasn’t time in the podcast) to mention, is that ‘Alone’ can be a choice, or a circumstance. Either way, being, or feeling alone during the holidays doesn’t have to feel like one of the worst of Life’s struggles. Also, fulfillment through companionship – whenever its wanted and needed — is not solely found through other people. It can be through pets, and books, and music, or walks in nature. ‘Company’ can be felt through travel, cooking, mediation, writing, and personal rituals that honor Just Being. Even if a lonely heart feels that none other than a lover or true friend will do, the above options are often pathways to people.

It’s good to remember, I think – especially during festive seasons — that ‘alone’ isn’t always defined as loneliness, or, by a lack of family or friends. Some of the loneliest people I know are married, with children, and a gaggle of people they call ‘friends’. Our choices and decisions about how we exist are always our very own, regardless of the seasons, as long as we live and breathe. That’s something worth celebrating, even after the decorations come down and the party hats are put away.

Cute, But Psycho

There used to be a popular product line when my son was in grade school – kids’ backpacks, school binders and  t-shirts featured the (registered trademarks featured in this Post) brand image:   a simple cartoon-bunny meme. An adorable little rabbit that made the most obnoxious and sarcastic comments. My 4th grader loved, because he so identified with, the bunny who had license to do and say ‘whatever’, because of his (or her, it was gender neutral) extreme cuteness. Over the years, the meme’s become a lot darker (as has our collective sense of humor, I guess). Kind of like the state I’ve spent life so far in:  California.

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Today I read an article that US presidential candidates for our 2020 election are pretty much avoiding campaigning in California, even as our March primary nears. It’s not that they don’t recognize the importance of our huge electorate – more that they just can’t figure California out. The attraction (cuteness) is strong; but the edginess and diversity (the ‘psycho’ part) creates wariness. Tell me about it. If Californians themselves recognize what a unique state we are, I can understand completely why the rest of the nation (and World?) is both intrigued and repelled.

Living in The Golden State offers huge potential for getting your mental, emotional and spiritual wires crossed, as you go about your daily life. What represents The Good Life can feel skewed, compared to the rest of the U.S. You feel it more, as you head south, where Hollywood Culture is so deeply ingrained. Tanned skin, fit bodies, perfect teeth:  Is the entire county waiting for that breakthrough audition and (Tesla’s or Virgin Atlantic’s) rocket to fame? To the north, where Big Tech (Google, Apple and Facebook, among thousands of other companies) has anchored itself, there’s an intensity (frenzy) that’s all about ‘retiring’ at the age of 35 (with billions in the bank and shares generating more cash every day). The center of our state is a bit of a neutral zone.

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I recently heard someone call it, The Green Vortex. ‘Green’, because of the tremendous amount of agriculture (we literally feed the world, I’m proud to say); but also the ‘green’ of operating suites. (Yes, there’s a reason why a certain shade of green sets the tone in so many hospitals everywhere). Calm. Sedate. The Central Valley of California’s vibe is “Relax:  what’s your hurry? Try this BOMB street taco!” Friendly, non-competitive, easy-going, more affordable housing. But the CV gets ‘ripped’ for exactly what it offers:  a kind of ‘rehab’ for frazzled nerves.

Which brings me back to the “Cute, But Psycho” bunny meme. As I travel the country and the world, it’s clear that many people ‘get’ that about California. Celebrities and their mesmerizing lifestyles (cute); vast chasms between the plight of our Homeless and our Tech “nobility” (psycho – “Why can’t California manage these things?” Well, how long have you got?)

People I engage (from other parts of the world) day-dream of moving to The Golden State. But to live happily in California, you need to have your head on straight, no matter where you choose to live. See, accept and appreciate the ‘cute’, but never turn your back on the ‘psycho’. Ground yourself in what you know is real, and just enjoy the fantasy-like quality of our entertainments. California is way more than Hollywood and Tech:  we’re also Yosemite and Big Sur, Napa and Death Valley. And yes, there’s a whole bunch of us that don’t obsess over wealth, popularity, social status, or the latest fashion trends.

Good luck, Political Candidates:  Californians are “all over the map”, which is just how we like it.

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The Black Dog

Depression is sometimes referred to as “the common cold” of mental illness, due to its prevalence in the United States. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is constantly tracking data on people 12 years and older, relative to such things as doctor and ER visits, prescribed medications, racial disparities, vulnerable groups, and depression that leads to death by suicide.

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Britain’s former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill suffered from it profoundly. He called it The Black Dog: a dark shadow that slipped into his mind quietly, without being summoned, or welcomed. According to historical records, the prime minister made no secret of his depression, which would sometimes last for days. “Taking the Black Dog” is still a familiar expresson for depression’s symptoms, and an important mental health facility in Sydney, Australia uses the phrase in its name.

With stats reflecting that depression is not an insignificant problem in the U.S., it continues to amaze me that it’s still so hard to talk about. Even in family situations, where a young person is involved, an inability to share ‘just how bad it is’ is common. I know that I could easily extend that statement to mental illness in general. But even though psychological disorders have been “outed” in the media, making it seem as though depression is akin to the common cold, we see it, but we don’t really understand it. I suspect, too, that often we’re reluctant to accept it as a valid, potentially serious illness.

Recently I provided some direction and encouragement to a young adult who’s roughly halfway through her doctoral studies. She described an array of personal concerns that, to me, sounded like a version of depression (defintely not diagnosing, here). She linked her feelings about work, school, and her parents (still living at home) to her general aimlessness, lack of focus and energy. But she also referred to her emotions as ‘fake’ because, as she put it, “There’s just no logical reason for me to feel this way. Life isn’t that hard.” Or is it? Can depression be misinterpreted as mere self-indulgence? My parents looked at it that way, with disastrous consequences for my mother.

Churchill, annamasonart.com

For years after Churchill left public service, a debate raged about whether or not his darkest Black Dog moments allowed the prime minister to perceive Hitler’s threat more acutely than allied politicians. Regardless of the help or hindrance, Churchill was never accused of malingering or being too morose; rather, he’s remembered to this day as courageously fighting his own inner demons by acknowledging them publicly: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in…” Far from ignoring his problem, this man wove his depression into his life as a strength: paradoxically, a reason to persevere. I aspire to such Bravery.

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