Keep On Dancing

I am reading the novel Trick, by Domenico Starnone (New York: Europa Editions, 2018, trans. Jhumpa Lahiri).  The original title, in Italian, is Scherzetto (Rome: Giulio Einaudi, 2016).  The novel is told from the point of view of an aging artist who fears he has lost his edge.  My own version of that feeling has been having a starring role in my life.

May 30—Memorial Day each year before it was moved in 1971 to the last Monday in May and became a national holiday—was Lower School Field Day at Wilmington Friends School.  I liked Field Day, on which classes were canceled and the whole elementary school took part in races and other competitions.  I have a vague sense of having participated in burlap-bag and three-legged races, but the clearest recollection I have is of taking part in the long jump.  We had a sand-filled long-jumping pit that I can still see in my mind.  I was good, that is for a small grade-school girl.

My friend Lee was better, but she was taller and a year older—and anyway, I was a close second.  Other children must have taken part in the long jump, but my memory houses only Lee and me, jumping away and feeling good about the results.  I liked being good at things.  Long jumping, dancing, playing Becky Thatcher in our fourth-grade production of Tom Sawyer, and beating the boys in math were an antidote to ostracism by the class bully and her court.

Ballet

All these decades later, I continue my mix of feeling socially inadequate but hoping to win notice for some physical and intellectual skills.

May 30, 2018,  brought the first of this year’s three performances of The Follies, our community’s annual talent show.  For the sixth time, I am tap dancing as part of a small group.  This year three of us are dancing to “I Got Rhythm.”  I always get nervous when I dance or act in front of an audience, and now I have let my nerves unbalance my confidence even more than usual.  The root of the problem is my reputation for dancing competence—I’m afraid of not being able to live up to this reputation.  (The syncopation in “I Got Rhythm” adds to my fears because it makes timing the steps somewhat more difficult.)

Each year, of course, I am a little older and a little more tired.  I think to myself, “I may not be able to do as well as I did last year.  And [here’s the key] people may talk about me and say, ‘Winnie’s slipping; her dancing isn’t as good this time.’”  Do I think my right to a place in the world demands that I never lose a step, literally or figuratively?

That is exactly what I’ve been thinking.  Not surprisingly, I let my nerves sabotage me during the two full-cast rehearsals for the 2018 Follies, experiences that then added to the pressure I felt for the opening show.  The mistakes I made during the full-cast rehearsals did remind me that audiences pay more attention to the overall pizzazz in a performance than to the exactness of the details.  Nevertheless, I was worried.  I knew I could do the dance when no one was watching, but my close friends would be in the audience for the opening show, and the production was being filmed for our community television.

On May 30, 2018, I awoke feeling good, in spite of the ongoing sleep problems I’ve been having—largely from agonizing over the focus and purpose for my writing.  For a show day, I was even reasonably calm.  Showtime came, and the dance went well.  The timing was a little suspect at a point or two, but the three of us were together and the steps were solid.

Did I love the compliments that followed, including a kind woman’s saying, “You could be on Broadway”?  You bet I did!  My confidence roared back into life.

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But how am I going to use the fact that I got through the May 30 show?  Am I going to ratchet up the pressure for the remaining Follies performances?  I hope not: I have evidence now to tell me, “I can do this,” and the performance with my close friends in the audience went quite well.  More dangerous is the effect on me for next year’s Follies tap dance—and for all other future public displays of whether I still have it or not.

Really, am I going to live the rest of my life the way I’ve lived it since second grade: believing that I can hold my head high only through prowess in the skills by which I define my acceptability?

It’s long, long past time for me to live—and not just give lip service to—this principle: The reasons for doing something such as acting in a play, learning a language, writing poetry or prose, dancing, participating in sports, studying literature, or playing music include personal satisfaction and growth, the desire to create, and the wish to share aspects of ourselves and the things we love with others.  The reasons do not include proving our worthiness to take up space in the world.

I do think that enjoying congratulations for something done well or in a manner that is pleasant for others is okay: We naturally value another person’s appreciation of us and prize our own skills.  But if we are performing in order to impress or prove ourselves to others or to keep ourselves from sinking into the despair of not counting, we are probably addicted to praise.  Praise addiction brings with it the suffering of withdrawal when praise doesn’t come.  Praise addiction also brings a suffocating fear of aging and all other reasons for “losing a step.”

Okay, I get it: It’s in my power to stop letting the false gods of approval, expectation, and judgment trample my joy in self-expression, and any good my self-expression may do for others.  It’s a lot more important for folks to see an aging person who is still dancing, creating, and learning—and having fun doing so—than for them to see me getting every one of the steps right.

———–

Update: During tonight’s Follies (the second of the three shows), I didn’t entirely live up to my newest resolution.  I intend to keep working on it.

Playing with Gusto

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Age brings strength of many types.
Most of us tend to think of the second half of life as largely about getting old, dealing with health issues, and letting go of our physical life, but the whole thesis of this book [Falling Upward] is exactly the opposite.  What looks like falling can largely be experienced as falling upward and onward, into a broader and deeper world, where the soul has found its fullness, is finally connected to the whole, and lives inside the Big Picture.  -Richard Rohr*

I’ve been in a slump—hunkering down with a brick wall in my face: the brick wall of “I don’t have any ideas worth writing about”; “My friends are going to get sick of me, if they aren’t already”; “I’ve messed up so many things in my life”; and “If I don’t hurry and get it together, it will be too late.”

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Don’t get me wrong: all sorts of wonderful things have filled vast expanses of my most recent slump time: happy and deeply meaningful experiences with friends, the arrival of the beautiful weather and blossoming brilliance of late spring, the royal wedding (which I watched live and then watched again later in the day). . . .  But the sense of time ticking past with frightening speed while I fail to catch hold has once again thrown me up against that brick wall.  Life has been and is profoundly good to me, but I’m not doing my share, or so it seems.

Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest with an embracing and ecumenical spirituality, not only writes of the value and strength of later life, he also does the same for our mistakes: “Losing, failing, falling, sin, and the suffering that comes from those experiences—all of this is a necessary and even good part of the human journey” (Falling Upward, 21).  Richard Rohr’s books and daily meditations, available by e-mail, speak in harmony with my needs and personal philosophy.  They give me comfort and encouragement.  But I have continued feeling bogged down along the path of my particular journey.

And so, as I have before, I asked my Loved Ones in the Light to give me their perspective.  Here is what I think they told me today:

We think you’re doing pretty well, better than you recognize.  But there is room for improvement for the sake of your peace of mind and sense of purpose.  This is a prime time in your life.  You think that many possibilities are behind you—and they are, those of your now-past life stages.  But the possibilities available and offering themselves to you now are just as vibrant, interesting, and important as were those of your youth.  Such is the case for everyone.

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Evening is beautiful.

The key is in not regretting what has slipped through your life and into the past but, instead, valuing the lessons distilled from

  • Missteps, wrong turns, right turns, and byways along life’s journey
  • Opportunities—taken or not
  • Challenges—muddled or surmounted
  • Deep regrets
  • And dear memories

Who you were, you are now.  Your four-year-old self and your forty-year-old self are with you, transmuted but not abandoned or lost.

You know very well that if you spend your days mourning what no longer seems possible, fearing you cannot meet your own high standards and others’ expectations, and feeling like residue left behind after those you love have crossed to the other side, you will damage or destroy your health, your serenity, and much of your joy.

This evening, you have finally wrestled aside your fear enough to pick up a pen again after a long siege by the paralysis of self-doubt.  Look at the pleasure that writing even these few lines has given you.  This small success has reignited a sense of living life instead of merely bouncing around with its buffeting—back and forth between happy times, like those with friends, and the desperation of sleepless nights spent tangling with the What Am I Going to Do Monsters:

  • What am I going to do to bring life and purpose to my blog?
  • What am I going to do to become calmer and stronger?
  • What am I going to do to be a better friend to my friends?
  • What am I going to do to bring order to my days?
  • What am I going to do to bring stability to my finances?

And so on.

Richard Rohr reminds his readers of the value of mistakes.  To give our own analogy: wrong notes cue you about what the right notes are as you continue playing your life symphony.  As the late Adlerian psychologist Rudolf Dreikurs, an acquaintance of your family’s, said when someone pointed out a wrong note he had played on the piano, “But look at all the notes I got right.”  Besides, the “wrong” notes you have played may not, in fact, have been mistakes so much as modulations into valuable new improvisations, or into the development section of your current symphonic movement.

Piano 2

Okay, so some of the notes you played really were sour.  Yes, entire measures of your life have been filled with missed accidentals and a failure to follow the key signature.  But you are now a much more skilled musician of life as a result.  While you may not be able to present your life’s music with the full force and vigor that you could muster when you were fifteen or thirty, you are able to play with greater finesse, passion, and virtuosity.  And remember that pianissimo moments can be captivating and lyrical; they complement the fortissimo, con brio, and con fuoco passages.

So play the melodies of your days with gusto, even in the minor keys.  Remember that while nothing, including practice, makes perfect, practice in interpreting life with determination and courage makes meaning, satisfaction, and fulfillment.  Play on.

Namaste

* Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011), 139 (Nook edition).

Transforming Regrets

Sunset

My lifelong-learning French course (which a late friend began more than thirty years ago) is now run like an ongoing book group conducted in French. This week was my turn to lead the class—a daunting prospect because of my miscellaneous insecurities and deficiencies. Some in the class are native French speakers; many of the others are retired French teachers or lived in France for an extended time. I merely studied some French in high school and college, lived for a year and a half in a dorm where we were supposed to speak French all of the time, and spent three miraculous weeks in France in January 1972.

But I prepared carefully for Monday’s class, and my classmates were kind and encouraging, so I survived and even enjoyed the experience. We were talking about the last four chapters of Philippe Claudel’s novel Quelques-uns des cent regrets[1] (Some of My One Hundred Regrets), which prompted lively discussion. In the novel, the narrator describes his return to his childhood town for the funeral and burial of his mother, with whom he has been estranged for half of his thirty-two years. The short novel (154 pages) is not available in English. Its vivid scenes and characters—including some elements reminiscent of magic realism—account for both the book’s difficulty for non-native French speakers and its power. Quelques-uns des cent regrets is well worth the effort if you have a fairly solid reading knowledge of French.

The title comes from a parable-like story that the hotel owner in the novel tells the narrator: Human regrets are like the pearls that oysters create, treasures “qui possèdent le souvenir, la mémoire de la blessure”—“that possess the recollection, the memory of the injury.”[2]  Each person, according to the legend, is allotted one-hundred regrets in a lifetime. Each regret is written into a magnificent illuminated book called The Book of Debts. Shortly after a person’s one-hundredth regret has been written in the book, the person dies.[3]

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Catching of Pearls, Bern Physiologus (9th century illuminated manuscript), by unknown, public domain

Making Meaning Out of My Entries in The Book of Debts

I imagine that I have company—billions of companions—in struggling with guilt, with how to move from inundating guilt to regrets transformed into meaningful memories. And so I have asked my higher self and guides for their advice. Here is the response (which I’ve also included in my book A Woman in Time):

Making mistakes to learn from is part of the point of it all. As you know, of course, you can’t change the past, but if you look back, you will see that you made your mistakes out of a lack of understanding, knowledge, and insight, not from a desire to hurt or harm others. As you have grown in wisdom, you have made better choices. You have more to learn, more to grow, but that is why you are on Earth: to learn and to grow. If you allow the past to weigh you down, you will restrict the potential inherent in the present and future. Some of the wisdom you have now grew out of your errors and mistakes. Such is the way of life on Earth. If you were perfect, you would not be here.

See the attitudes that misled—and mislead—you. Because of things that happened to you in school and your lack of understanding at the time, you grew to believe that even small faults or infractions make you unacceptable to others. You thought—and to a degree still believe—that some inherent flaw in you meant you had to be even more careful of slipping up than others needed to be. Others could make mistakes and do or say wrong things and still be acceptable, but you had to be pretty much perfect even to have a chance of being accepted. And to an extent—too great an extent—you still feel that way. Even though you have close friends, you fear you are one gaffe away from having them throw you overboard.

Because they loved you—and love you—your parents disliked your reflex of saying “I’m sorry,” but you even now continue to fear and act as if failing to sprinkle the magic powder of “sorry” over what feel to you like your slipups and transgressions will mean the loss of the possibility of forgiveness and continued inclusion by those you want to please and whose company you value.

Your attitudes have brought you great suffering and pressure and have contributed, to a large measure, to the hurt and harm you have inflicted on others, especially your dearest ones. It is hard to live under such pressure to be perfect as you have endured and not have negative symptoms appear from the strain. And the irony is, of course, that your behavior was anything but perfect as a result. But it and you were and are very human, as are all people on this Earth: getting along as you can, given your level of insight and experience.

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Black pearl on oyster shell, by Brocken Inaglory – own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Creating Pearls Out of Pain

About some things you know better now. As hard as it is to change ingrained conditioning, it can be done, and you can do it. But if you allow yourself to live in regret, you will never become the whole, mature, compassionate, confident, loving, creative person you wish to be. You gave up smoking and other destructive behaviors; you can also give up thinking you have to be perfect to find even the hope of approval by others. And you can learn to release regret, letting the sad thoughts float through your mind and out again without anchoring there.

You want to make up for all the causes for regret in your life, and while doing so per se is impossible, you will make up for your past lack of wisdom by moving forward buoyed by what the years have taught you. Find missing courage and be yourself, doing the best you can but not beating yourself when you stumble. You will stumble less if you refuse to see yourself as less than others, refuse to look down on yourself, mourn what is lost without wallowing in guilt and fear, and celebrate what your errors and unhappiness have taught you. The way to find your way is to be, knowing that life is about becoming, not about figuring it all out at the start.

When you make a mistake, consider the lesson and move on. Keep going. Hold your head high. Have compassion for yourself, as well as for others. Expect yourself to be a good human being, not a perfect being.

Those you love will be cheering you on, are cheering you now. They are not counting your flaws and failures; they are celebrating your courage and your victories.

[1] Philippe Claudel, Quelques-uns des cent regrets (Paris : Éditions Stock, 2007).

[2] Quelques-uns des cent regrets, 152.

[3] Quelques-uns des cent regrets, 152-3.

Always Now

Web

Forever—is composed of Nows—
‘Tis not a different time—
Except for Infiniteness—
And Latitude of Home—
From this—experienced Here—
Remove the Dates—to These—
Let Months dissolve in further Months—
And Years—exhale in Years—
Without Debate—or Pause—
Or Celebrated Days—
No different Our Years would be
From Anno Domini’s—
-Emily Dickinson[1]

Dear Loved Ones in the Light, what is going on with me?  What do I need to learn and to change to get past this stuck period of small but persistent troubles in my life?

You are tired and you are used up.  At least that is how you are feeling—as if every moment is weighted down by the unmet requirements it holds.  You are struggling with the same weights that have submerged you throughout your life.  You have opportunities for genuine escape, but even those seem daunting because you think you need to approach them with a high level of attention, skill, and subsequent success.  What are you going to do to change?

Change is in your hands, even though you feel that your whole life has been tainted by problems such as you are experiencing now.  You see the vast blessings in your life, but you feel you are not doing your part, and that is true, but not out of laziness.  Rather it is out of fear and a sense of being overloaded and buried by expectations.  When are you going to look for the joy rather than the homework?  When are you going to release your life from its chains and barriers, all of which are self-imposed—the serious ones, anyway.  When are you going to take a few steps per day, rather than all or nothing?  You see the totality of what needs to be done, and you freeze.

True, sometimes you actually dive in and do the job in a great marathon of effort.  But especially in times like this, when you are not feeling well and energetic, you freeze and so cause yourself additional pain, guilt, and regret.  Take your book that you are wanting to proofread.  Why don’t you tackle three chapters a day?  That isn’t a lot, and you don’t actually have to be perfect, catching every possible needed change.  You can repeat reviewing the book after you’ve been through it once, and you can repeat the review a third time if you wish.  Then you will have achieved your goal of having your book ready for publication.  A similar approach—tackling a small amount frequently—will work well for you in going through your collection of keepsakes and your items in storage, as well as in the routine winnowing of your other possessions.

You are very concerned about running out of money.  But you aren’t doing what you could be doing to try to earn some money.  Finish getting The Girl in the Leaning Tower ready, and then put your considerable energy into selling it, not giving up at the first or second obstacle.  And as you review your possessions, you will find a few things that you will be able to sell as need requires.

And what about your blog writing?  You can always do the sort of writing you are doing right now.  The key is to find questions that are narrow enough to lead you down different paths, rather than always down the main road of your struggles.

Your ideas of reading as your will takes you and of taking on bigger writing projects as they present themselves are good ones.  After you finish proofing The Girl in the Leaning Tower, you may want to consider working with your parents’ letters, as well as doing more to promote their books.

And why have you recently had a larger than normal series of nagging problems that, while not tragedies by any means, are nevertheless disconcerting: mice invading your kitchen, the theft of a keepsake Santa figurine, a major chemical-sensitivity reaction, and a nagging respiratory ailment since the reaction.  What is going on?  You feel as if the Universe is trying to get your attention, and such is always the case with our challenges large and small.

The Universe wants you—everyone—to find order and a sense of presence.  Change, unexpected adventures, and spontaneity are often interesting, educational, and pleasurable but can drift over into chaos and a lack of grounding, which is what you have allowed to happen.  Beware that if you try to impose perfect order on your life, thinking, “I will wake up in the morning at 7 a.m., meditate, write, clean the apartment,” and so on, you are setting yourself up for failure.  There are no recipes for an orderly, grounded life; such a life must emerge integrally out of living according to sound principles.  Your values and goals will guide you, will be the background to your being, but the focus needs to be on the moment, on honoring the present and all it contains, including the activity in which you are engaging.  If you constantly feel you should be doing something else, no activities—from the most uplifting to the most mundane—will bring satisfaction.  If you are wasting time because you are afraid to tackle a substantial project, why not at least be doing something genuinely pleasurable, such as reading a book?

Right now you feel a little like the boy who is trying to stop the dike from leaking by putting his fingers in the holes but who discovers the leaks are popping up faster than he can plug them.  The holes in the structure of your life are popping up in one spot and then another.  Instead of stuffing the weak places with the rags of desperation, reinforce the foundation, the grounding for all your days.

Namaste

[1] Emily Dickinson, Poem 624, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1960), 307-8.

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?
———-

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.”

Instead of Repenting

Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
-From “Wild Geese,” by Mary Oliver[1]

Dear God and Universe, guides, and loved ones, what is your message for me today?  Thank you.

Your message for today is to love yourself in spite of all the flaws you see, some of which are real, and some of which are not.  The flaws that are real are most likely to disappear if you love yourself, not if you berate yourself as defective, awkward, and unworthy.  You are merely human, and generally you are trying your best to do what is right.  Sometimes you are actually trying too hard, rather than simply being, listening, absorbing the world around you, and radiating kindness and love—toward others, and toward yourself.  As you well know from experience, when you try too hard, you build up anxiety and sometimes resentment; you create tension so that eventually a reaction will come that is neither in your best interest nor in that of others.

Today you are tired because you did not sleep enough last night.  And you did not sleep enough because you did too much yesterday and so strained your body—and your mind as a result.  And yet you think that today you must be perfect, in spite of how you are feeling.  In Italian class just now, you did well to try to express yourself in Italian, both orally and in writing.  Your error is in focusing in shame on your mistakes, thinking, “I knew better.  Why did I make those stupid errors?  Next time I must be sure that I’m rested so that I can think clearly before each word I use.  The woman I was talking with must think I’m ignorant.  How can I have made that mistake . . . or that one?  I’m out of practice in speaking.”  And so on, and so on.  You didn’t hear the quieter voice saying, “That was fun.  I’m getting a little more relaxed,” and “Just keep talking, Winnie.  It’s coming back to you.”

The clunk on the head that you had earlier this morning when you stood up under the open dryer door was a message that you are continuing to try too hard, to tackle too much, to set overly harsh and demanding expectations for yourself.  Do not worry: that fairly minor clunk has not set you on the road to dementia.  But if you continue to strain your body and mind, your spirit and soul will go on suffering, as well, and you will continue to be incapable of serving as you would wish.

You do not have to be perfect.  You have merely thought perfection is a prerequisite for your acceptability in the world.  It is not.  But what if it has been in the eyes of some?  That situation would not make the expectation justified, or added perfection to God’s expectations or those of the souls who love you.  The purpose of life is to experience, to learn, and to grow in insight and in the expression of kindness and love, not to be without flaws and mistakes.  How can you develop if you have nothing to learn?  Why would you need to be here in this earthly garden of beauty, joy, sorrow, and sometimes-harsh opportunity for growth?

Your striving for perfection—and the approval you hope it will bring—has kept you burdened since you were in the second grade.  But you don’t need to continue to live under the weight of your self-issued commandment: “Thou shalt unceasingly seek perfection and approval.”  And if you continue to feel guilt and shame for all the problems you have caused and experienced, you will have missed the point and simply prolonged your misery: you will go on haranguing yourself for your supposed want of kindness, empathy, acceptability, and worth as a human being.  Yes, you could have been kinder and more understanding, but these deficiencies came from a lack of insight into yourself.  You did not recognize that you valued others’ judgments above your own, and so you sought reasons outside yourself for your unhappiness.  It is sad that you hurt your dear ones as a result.  But hurting them was not your goal; your goal was stopping the distress within yourself.  Your dearest ones now understand.  You must do the same and move forward, seeing your errors as lessons and not as indelible sins.

Notice that we did not simply say, “Move on,” which implies amnesia regarding what has come before.  Rather, we ask you to remember each lesson learned, keeping it in the forefront of your mind but letting the details of the schooling that taught the lesson sink into the river of life.  As you make your way downstream, give thanks to every droplet, every rock, all the torrents and storms, all the beauty, and the lovely tranquil pools and eddies.  And give thanks to yourself for your ability to love and learn and your desire to be kind and to serve, in spite of your human frailty and your flailing about from time to time in the rapids of your own creation.

Love and respect yourself and you will then better encourage, assist, and sustain others.

Namaste.

[1] Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese,” New and Selected Poems (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), 110.  Hear Mary Oliver reading her poem “Wild Geese”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lv_4xmh_WtE.