Who would you be without your accomplishments, or failures, your degrees, or lack thereof, your bank accounts, your experiences, your title, your home, your status?
As simple as the question may appear, it's actually quite difficult to genuinely separate who we are from what we do, especially when the number of years we have behind us outweighs those ahead. This past year has demonstrated, quite painfully, that the circumstances of life change quickly and things can be taken away leaving no evidence they've ever been there. In this world, length of possession has no bearing on ownership. Possession is not 9/10ths of anything -- it is a fleeting illusion.
In the aftermath, the question pushing it's way through is 'What's my value now?' I've lost my sense of stability in a storm that has shaken me to my roots and taken a good bit of my sail away with it, and I have to ask myself ‘if I just got more done, lost a few pounds, made more money, achieved more, had more meaningful work, was in love, had successful happy kids, saved for retirement and insured some future security, would I feel more valuable?'
After having had months of disengaged time to think, I admit I’d like to be able to accomplish some of those things. Some of them are important to me, actually valuable to my way of thinking, but they are not the key to who I am. They really have nothing to do with my inner identity.
Having failed to accomplish many of the things I set out to do early in life, I'm feeling pressured to more fully address the question of ‘What makes me valuable, if just being the way I am right now isn’t good enough’? Can I be satisfied and happy in an unfulfilled state? Especially knowing there is so much more that is important to me that I’ve yet to even begin to achieve?
What if I never get there? How valuable will my life have been with so much unfulfilled desire left over at the end? Does the ever-present sense of ‘not enough’ rob me of day-to-day comfort and fulfillment in the here and now?
What I've discovered is that so much of the suffering, stress, insecurity, and worry disappears when I stand upright and alone with no apology or pretense for what is. I am just who I am - aging on the outside, and still experiencing a childish desire to please on the inside. I don't stand out. I have no qualities that elevate me above the rest, and am distiguished only by my striving.
On the plus side, I no longer worry about much. I'm not suffering in the same ways I have in the past. I have no guilt, I don't apologize for myself very often, and can leave grudges behind, I can walk away if I need to.
Learning about your ‘self’ takes courage, commitment, openness, and faith that it will all come right in the end. It's been a process of letting go of the many false beliefs picked up from the collective consciousness: that you have to look good, be smart, know the right people, say the right things, and have the proper experience, in order to be happy and successful in life.
Peeling back layers to the point at which you can simply ‘Be Yourself’ is counterintuitive, difficult and off-putting and, at times, lonely. It’s the waking nights, the anxious days, the churning gut, and the whirling mind. All the things we scurry like mad to avoid. Filling the days with busy, and putting the parentheses of chores, errands, and family duties or social commitments around the nights.
Banging away on the drum to drown out the silence that leeches in when we are alone, finally, with only ourselves to talk and listen to. The question eventually emerges...am I good enough?
The yardsticks we use to make that measurement largely depend on the state of mind we find ourselves in. As long as externalities, such as accomplishments and things, are held up to measure the value of a being, we will fall sadly and sorely short. In that place we are wont to overlook how far we’ve come in our ability to care, to give, to love, and to place our essence into the lives of others at critical moments – when it really matters – to be the change we want to see.
Being ourselves in an authentic way is actually about accepting ourselves in a generous way. If we can show love to our 'selves' in the way we've tried to show love to others, most of what we worry about and even much of what we strive for in life becomes meaningless. We may still have some worries, and we'll definitely continue to have goals, dreams and desires but when we can see from a place of true self-appreciation and self-caring, the fear behind our worries and the motivation for our goals dramatically changes from something we have to produce in order to be accepted and valued, to something we really want to be as we live and learn. It finally stops being about the external altogether and the mind’s eye is refocused inward to the source of where all that we are resides.
Truthfully, if we can’t find room to accept who we are, as we are right here, right now, nothing much really matters anyway. No matter what we conquer or create, or what we lose and how many times we fall down in defeat, we will never be fulfilled in the struggle because we're striving to be validated in an insatiable way. We can never get enough love from any source outside of that silly, sometimes unlovely, amazing person we find ourselves to be.
Self-love. It's a difficult thing.
Sadly, because it is so simple, we spend most of our lives thinking that someone or something else can give us what only we can give ourselves. No other person, amount of money, possessions, or fleeting sense of accomplishment will ever fill us up.
It's not hopeless though. We can stand alone, clothed in the authenticity of who we are, and offer complete, unfettered acceptance of ourselves, to ourselves.
It has become crystal clear, now that I am without props, that it’s always been up to me (click your heels Dorothy) and I can celebrate who I am at any time, and for any reason or no reason. The more often I stop and carry out this little 'I love you anyway' ritual, the better I feel.
Love others as you love yourself ~ The ancient wise man that said that was, by all accounts, a Master of loving himself and others. I think he was certainly divinely enlightened and I wish I had been able to understand what he meant sooner, then perhaps I wouldn't have had to learn this the oh-so-very-hard way, so late. I’m getting there though. The progress is generally too difficult to see, yet every now and then the protective scales fall away and a glimpse of all that is yet to be surrounds me for just a split second, and then I can see it's all going to come around. In the end it will be all right.
I can live with that.