Don’t be ashamed to own what is you or yours.

Posted: June 28, 2015 in A Rule of Life, Language of Exploration, Wrestling with Ideas

Step 5

This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and inevery motion and joint of your body.” ― Walt Whitman

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Surprise! This is not an easy one. I’m not sure if any of the 12 Steps to an Exceptionally Common Life are easy. But knowing shame is one of the most disabling feelings we can ever experience. It is paralyzing, hurtful, degrading, and brings on a slew of self-destructive and sometimes self-loathing behaviour. It can be assigned or self-inflicted. It can wound us deeply. And it is hard not to be ashamed to admit that you are ashamed. As I said…not an easy one. This  call to accountability is only two, simple sentences. I must approach them with a sense of immediacy knowing that they can spread like the multiple tendrils of a hardy ground cover! (I write this in a summer when ground cover seems to be my nemesis!) This part of the Rule is a call to integration, to live to a rhythm of tending to self. It is a web of challenges we must face sorting out how to be simply human: figure out who you are; figure out what is yours and what really is not yours to own; put down shame; let go of that which is not life-giving.

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All in keeping with the subtitle of this blog, “Living an Exceptionally Common Life,” I think the common life is weed-full with shame. I have my own fare share that threatens my own growth, my own thriving. Sometimes it fits in a pocket, sometimes I pull a small trailer behind me! In this common life of mine, I have lived through abuse, depression, use and over-use of substances harmful to me. I have self-medicated and have barely avoided crossing the line into self-destruction. I’ve also had joy and laughter and intimacy and delight. The positives work to balance or overwhelm the struggles.

Exploring shame, however, is to examine the underside of the common life, the underside of this life-worth-living. There are too many ways to describe it. It catalyzes or paralayzes. Shame is  that painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by being conscious, aware, of our own wrong or foolish behaviour. It is about losing respect and gaining dishonour. It is a regrettable, seemingly un-fixable, inadequacy assigned by another’s or one’s own judgment. It is magnified only when found to bear truth. Shame is one of the most complicated feelings, a feeling that binds mind and body together to punish the soul.

Michael Lewis, in his 1992 book, Shame: the Exposed Self, unpacks shame as a negative, painful, social emotion that can be seen as resulting “…from comparison of the self’s action with the self’s standards…”. It is the comparison of the self with the ideal self. It stems from volitional action or simply self-regard; no action by the shamed being is required: simply existing is enough. What a harsh branding with which we wound! In Gershen Kaufman’s book — The psychology of shame: theory and treatment of shame-based syndromes (2nd edition) — the wounding influence that shame holds upon a soul is exposed. “…[N]o other affect is more disturbing to the self, none more central for the sense of identity, [than shame].” From shame evolves low self-esteem, diminished self-image, poor self-concept, and a painful body-image. It brew self-doubt and disrupts security, confidence.

Shame wounds our sense of belonging and blocks our access to intimacy. It is, perhaps, the greatest tool used to disparage and to diminish our core. Love for self is distorted by the pain of alienation, the suffering of loneliness, and the scar that perfectionism leaves upon its bearer. I think of my own shame and recognize it as a dis-ease. Diagnosis is not a fun activity but the healing on the other side is a blessed release. I need to walk towards an acceptation of myself, a loosening of the bonds of that which wounds me and the relationships I cherish. The first difficult step is recognition. It is only the first step. At each step, we can move forward or turn away. In the story of Jesus written by Mark, a young man throws up his hands and resigns to shame.

And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” (Mark 10:19–21)

The young man forfeits healing. I have often wondered if the word ‘saddened’ really meant he knew he couldn’t measure up, wouldn’t try to measure, would give up. These three temptations meet us daily. Although I say this as though it is an easy choice, I believe we can make decisions of love, of self-compassion or we can make decisions that simply confirm the easy path followed (I suspect many would disagree that this is the easy path. For me, defaulting to the negative is an easy way of relinquishing responsibility.) I wonder if we might turn this all around. I won’t pretend to give you the ‘how-to’ but I will join you in the journey. What if we dafaulted to blessing. In Gertrude Lebans book In All Things Goodness: A Christian Vision for the 21st Century, the exploration of original blessing trumps original sin. Perhaps we need to give in to the fact that we are really hardwired for blessing!

In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

There is much to be grateful for, much to celebrate. There is much that is mine to cherish. And I want to be able to choose what to carry from all of this mine-ness. I want to be mindful, aware, intentional. While I sometimes walk only at the precipice of believing in the goodness of life and can admit that I want to make the most of this life, what and whom I choose are never at risk. I have discovered that life can be good, even in the absence of rainbows and unicorns! I think Emerson penned the words of my heart when he wrote,

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is also much to be released, much I must let go. When I come to the place where I can put down that which hurts me or weighs on me or even that with which I wound others, it is time. When I share my burdens with no regard, it is time. My hope is that I will continue to hold my heart open. I know now — admittedly, in my mind far more than in my heart — that it is necessary to work at loving and forgiving and at the healing of relationships. It is not my possessions alone that I choose to carry, nor my community alone that I choose to uphold. I am called to not clutch people or things with selfishness or fear. I am called toward those things that allow me to vex anxiety, depression, fear. I am called to put down shame. The secrecy of shame veils our reality. We are here in the grounding work of C.G. Jung when we recognize that “Shame is a soul eating emotion.” Laini Taylor, in Dreams of Gods and Monsters, writes,

[She] had heard it said that there was only one emotion which, in recollection, was capable of resurrecting the full immediacy and power of the original — one emotion that time could never fade, and that would drag you back any number of years into the pure, undiluted feeling, as if you were living it anew. It wasn’t love… and it wasn’t hate, or anger, or happiness, or even grief. Memories of those were but echoes of the true feeling. It was shame. Shame never faded.”

I believe that shame is a shadow that we may never escape until we have the courage to face into it. There is the shame following willful or hurtful or damning behaviours. But more commonly, there is a mis-assigned shame that we have inflicted upon ourselves. It is shame that we hide, carry close to us, protect, even secretly nurture. But our health — spiritual and physical — awaits us at the crossroads. We turn towards shame or we turn towards love. It is said that the opposite of faith is certainty. There is truth in the suggestion that the opposite of shame is love.

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honour the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.” ― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

And it is not just about the personal. Honour, compassion, and difference demand a different kind of living in the world. It is a Way that overflows with love for humans, creatures, God. To love along this sacred Way is to live with openness to all creatures and holiness.

But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. “Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; And let the fish of the sea declare to you. “Who among all these does not know That the hand of God has done this, In whose hand is the life of every living thing, And the breath of all humankind?” Job 12:7-10

This is my vow: that I not be ashamed of who I am or what I claim to be mine. And if I am — with the love of friend, community, self — I must release it.

Some helpful links to check out: The Art of Self-Forgiveness (make a link as process to put down shame) From Tiny Buddha: Overcoming Shame: I find that forgiveness is a state that we move in and out of, and will continue to revisit, often times, for many years, oscillating between shame (or anger, resentment, fear, etc) and compassion. Ideally though, with practice and patience the times spent in shame will become fewer and farther between.

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