Relief

Je l’aidai de mon mieux, c’est-à-dire, en essayant d’écrire un chef-d’œuvre immortel.
(I did my best to help her, that is, by trying to write an immortal masterpiece.)
–Romain Gary, La promesse de l’aube (Paris : Gallimard, 1960) 185.

Relief for me is finally, finally being good enough in my own estimation, within my own head and heart.

I haven’t felt good enough before now.  I would have liked to be a great novelist who stirs readers’ souls.  Or perhaps, I thought, I would be good enough if I earned a doctorate and became a tenured university professor, or even if I earned a Master of Fine Arts in writing.  My master’s degree in literature is not a “terminal” degree and so is not good enough, or hasn’t been.  I began a doctoral program at the University of Maryland but changed states and jobs when I was just two courses into the program.  Even at this point in my life, I’ve thought about earning an MFA or PhD.  I’ve explored university websites from time to time, hoping to discover the path to wholeness.  I would enjoy the academic work; I love to learn.  But I can learn outside an expensive degree program.  The degrees have appealed to me because I’ve thought they might make me, finally, fully sufficient.

For most of my life, I have felt insufficient, second rate next to the world’s full professors, full-time writers, musicians with careers, people with a life mission.  Above all, I have with desperation sought a mission for my writing.  I’ve been searching for fifty years.  Having a mission would, I was convinced, permanently ignite my writing, giving it drive and meaning, carrying me past procrastination, past wondering what to write, past the paralysis of feeling overwhelmed with projects calling to me but languishing unsupported by confidence in how to do them and in their offering others something of value.

I have with frantic intensity tried to find my writing niche—my life niche.  Good ideas have come and given me hope that I have finally found this longed-for writing and life niche.  But inevitably I’ve bogged down sooner or later from a loss of energy, inspiration, momentum, and belief in the merits of my plans.

I want to write about so many things, but the pen becomes too heavy to lift if I think I must write specifically about X or Y and do so at a suitably high level—what that is, I am uncertain.  I bloom at intervals, even finishing substantial projects from time to time.  But then I sink back into the slough of discouragement, fatigue, and endless games of Scrabble on my Kindle Fire.

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The truth is that, in contrast to my ambitions, I love being a Jill of all trades.  I have not proved willing, or even able, to give up the quantity of my interests and hobbies in order to achieve quality, to overcome my master-of-none status.  I love the full range of my enthusiasms.  I don’t want, for example, to give up my French class in order to spend more time on Italian, or give up Italian in order to practice my flute daily, or quit billiards, tap and line dancing, or my occasional acting to reestablish a regular program of reading literature.  I don’t want to give up my meaningful visits with friends in order to have time to produce masterful creations, as much as I am driven to express myself creatively.  I’ve joined a choir and signed up for spiritual retreats with a dear friend.  I want to organize my possessions, walk down by the pond, meditate, make jewelry from beads.  And still I’ve craved—begged—to find my overarching purpose in life, my reason for being, my way of serving.

Flute

Can I possibly serve merely by being as I am—rather than only as I have, all my adult life, longed unsuccessfully to become?

My Fair Lady 5

I can’t be a great writer and also spend long hours studying my part for a play, or figuring out how to fill seventy-five minutes leading a book discussion in French, a language I love but in which I lack confidence.  I can’t be an accomplished musician if I spend my days on other than practicing music.  Yet perhaps, after all, my failure to reach the heights I’ve been thinking I must scale if I am to count, to serve, and to overcome my sense of not measuring up is because God didn’t form me to be an Isabel Allende, James Galway, or tenured professor.

Maybe I’m meant to serve as I can by savoring smaller bites across the vast smorgasbord of life and by sharing my enthusiastic efforts—whatever their limits and deficiencies—with others.  I can encourage others, too, to find their joys in the world and to embrace their own God-given ways of being.

I suppose it is shortsighted of me to smother the pleasure and satisfaction of my Jill-of-all-trades temperament and opportunities because of my shame and discouragement over my master-of-none status.  I’ve been damping the fires of who I am.  I’ve spent large portions of my days mourning the failure to materialize of the person I thought I ought to be—but couldn’t figure out how to make myself become.

What profound relief I feel as I begin to move forward, having decided that who I am is not simply enough but is also who God made me to be.  I have the responsibility to grow, to serve and to seek to master being me, but not to become other than the nature I was given.

A North Star

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Living life as it comes
Note:
I imagine the “we” in this essay (used after the first paragraph) to be spiritual guides or similar sources of wisdom.  The piece looks at an ongoing problem for me, one that I’ve addressed in other posts on this blog.  I suspect that many people confront related doubts and troublesome thoughts—and also struggle, as I do, in the effort to overcome them.

The American psychic and philosopher Edgar Cayce spoke of spiritual ideals, or the central values by which we live our lives.  He advised examining the ideals we are following to see if they are leading to problems for ourselves and others.  Hindering values can then be replaced by spiritual ideals that will attract the best of our nature and potential.[1]  Here is my two-part question leading to the guidance below: What are the mistaken ideals by which I am leading my life, and what is the positive spiritual ideal that will guide me in making my life more meaningful, creative, and serene?
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Your reigning ideals are to be accepted, to be acceptable, and to reach perfection in the areas you tackle so you will be “good enough.”  And since perfection is impossible and you so often either don’t know what is expected or don’t know what you could possibly offer, paralysis—rather than productivity and contributions—results.

You are so afraid, so smothered by fear and frustration, that even those rivulets of creativity and giving that sometimes flowed in the past appear to have dried up permanently.  You sit in your moment of time, your now, and feel that you, yourself, have evaporated, sucked out of your body by the years, experiences, and your overwhelming sense of inadequacy.

With friends, as well, you fear—you believe—you have little or nothing to offer beyond occasional opportunities to help.  These opportunities are, at least for a while, deeply welcome because they allow you to have a place, to be acceptable, to have a reason for your presence in the other person’s life.  You feel empty—inept, gauche, boring, devoid of that within that could make you able to serve in a more sustained way, to amuse, to be worth being around.  You live with the constant fear that you are being found out—that friends who initially saw value in you as a companion are discovering the truth: that you are hollow and without merit.  You fear, too, that you are not fundamentally a good person, are not sufficiently caring and giving, are flawed at heart as a human and so as a friend.

Of course you also have nothing to write, no flowing source.  You know—or anyway, you hope—that writing as you are now is one way to remove the fear and simply write, but yet you continue to be afraid that even this approach to expression exceeds your ability to sustain.  The essence of you has fled to the farthest edges of your psyche, has hidden in inaccessible layers of your subconscious, has curled up into such a tight ball of worry that the bud is blighted and about to fall off the stem.

You have lost touch with who you are because you have been away from yourself for long spans of time and because you have allowed fear and desperation to grow and grow and grow like some horrible creature in a science-fiction movie that threatens to destroy life.  This creature has almost sucked the oxygen and hope out of your spirit and sense of self.  You feel connected to others and to God, but you believe you are a weak link in the chain.

Even though you dislike being used beyond the far reaches of need, you truly do like to give, and not simply for a pat on the back.  So you are a decent person, in spite of your confusion.  You are still alive, and so hope continues to exist that your spirit in this life can yet revive and blossom.  What can you do to recover?  What is the ideal by which you can find creative, serenity-filled, giving, and satisfying days—while realizing that life gives ongoing challenges and while meeting these challenges with courage, gratitude, and growth.  Our answer is that you must, you absolutely must now, change your ideal from being acceptable through being perfect to serving others through being yourself.

The only way to overcome your intense psychic and spiritual pain is to release every single should from your life, for shoulds are—or feel as if they are—imposed from the outside.  Instead, substitute choices, decisions that you calmly make, one after the other, as each day unfolds, decisions reached based on your Inner Light and the genuine needs of the moment.  Become an integral person whose life grows and flows naturally among the rest of creation.

Within your spiritual ideal is experiencing the unity of humanity and all the Universe, seeking to understand how life looks to others, expressing what your heart and soul are telling you, helping and encouraging as you can, loving and being kind, remembering all you truly love rather than all you have for so long thought you had to be, and trusting that your spirit and inherent ways are decent and acceptable.

[1] For a discussion of Cayce’s concept of “spiritual ideals,” see Kevin J. Todeschi and Henry Reed, Contemporary Cayce: A Complete Exploration Using Today’s Science and Philosophy (Virginia Beach: A.R.E. Press, 2014), chapter 6, “Working with Ideals: Your Creative Spiritual Partner.”