This past week, I spent a great deal of time in preparation for a Sunday church service. The topic was the poverty trap. I’ve seen it, talked to people trapped in the cycle, and I’ve lived in a third-world nation and seen and smelled poverty in a way that has left a lasting imprint on my mind. I was using a video that talks about the poverty trap. I spent time viewing it multiple times to make sure I understood what was being said. Each time, my takeaway was added on from the previous view. When we gathered, I felt like I’d not done a very good job of things. Not enough, and things had gone off the rails. Had they gone off the rails or was it my thinking?
I’m using this as an example of how we, as humans, tend to pass judgement on ourselves and others. We all do it to some extent, and to say that we’re immune to it isn’t truthful. The fact is that most of us can name a long list of the negatives, and it isn’t balanced with the positives about ourselves. Good grief, why do we do this?
The answer is complex, and I’ll try to expand on one or two of the areas.
Social media and the ads we are confronted with affect us daily. We view advertisements that attempt to sell us, tell us, and convince us that without the latest gadget, or the vacation, or the right clothes, we can’t, or won’t, be enough. I’ll give you an example using someone’s weight experience.
I’ll call her Amanda. Amanda has done the yo-yo diet thing; she’s listened to the docs who tell her that she needs to be within the proper weight for the Body Mass Index (BMI) to be healthy. She also did the research and took a close look at her body. She has dense bone structure, is petite, and no matter how much she wants to be slender, she’ll never look like women of Western-European descent. She’ll look the way she is meant to look: healthy and beautiful as she is. She isn’t an overeater; her body processes things as it should. Has it been hard on her? Yes. Making peace with who we are physically is about having a chat with the person in the mirror, asking ourselves how we feel inside, and understanding what good health is about. It is understanding our bodies and knowing when to check out of the advertisement myth. How honest are we being with ourselves? Ultimately, it is about personal responsibility and doing the hard work on the inner self: the shadow work. It is this hard work that creates space for each of us to be good enough. It is saying goodbye to the myth of perfection. Amanda has done this essential work on her body.
I mentioned doing the inner work, or shadow work, on ourselves. I used to read this and not quite get the depth of what was being said. In my youth, I didn’t understand what inner work or shadow work is were about. If it’s about doing therapy, then yes, I’ve done that. It isn’t just therapy! I didn’t know that then. True, we can explore our issues and do some changing. The deeper work is stuff that causes us to look at ourselves mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
When I was younger, therapy was enough. I needed to address the issues of youth. I found therapists who were good at that; it worked. As we mature, things change on all levels. Eventually, we’re face-to-face with the ghosts we failed to confront in our younger days. The shadows we see in the mirror cause us to rethink and ask ourselves different questions. Our life experiences are showing us that it is time to move forward. We look in the mirror and begin to think: “Is this it?” or something like that. Now we’re looking for a different type of therapist, or a spiritual director. We want the person who will call us out on our stuff in ways that matter. We might discover the Enneagram, or another spiritual growth tool. The drive to change within becomes new, and we begin to put away keeping up with the Jones’s. We find that keeping up with the Jones’s is costly in time and energy, and not worth the effort. We find that the need to confront ourselves is real, and that the other things are not as real.
Marriages dissolve, faith changes, careers change; we get sober for ourselves. What once was happy and joy filled is sour. We want honesty from the person in the mirror. This is when the deep changes happen: we’ve hit rock bottom in our lives. This isn’t a rock bottom in the addiction way. It is a life rock bottom, and it demands to be addressed so that we can move forward.
We go to battle with ourselves, and in doing this new kind of work, we find books on spirituality, meaning, and we ask questions that we’d never have asked ourselves five years before now.
We begin to overturn the rocks of our soul, and we become disenchanted with anything less than answers that lead to real discovery and honesty. We begin to learn to sit with the uncertainly of life. We cry the ugly tears that teach us our inner truth. We speak the words of our real truth and mourn the loss of what isn’t, in exchange for a face without makeup. We stand stronger for all of it. Then we get down to the real business of life.
In this process, we learn to overturn some boulders on our own, or with help. The shadows that were once enemies to our souls become our friends; we look back, and realize that in our youth, we knew something, and now we know more. We do better. In our understanding, we burn the myth of perfection to the ground and embrace being good enough, and in this we move towards wholeness.
By now the things of youth are gone: the magazines, the desires, the noise, and the clutter of an earlier life. We’ve traded all of this in for retreats, quiet nights, smaller gatherings, a group of close friends, holidays with meaning, and an understanding that whatever happens, happens. We are no longer slender; we’ve filled out and have dense bones built on strength.
In our budding new self, we may come across our old self in the faces of younger souls. They look at us and may see wisdom built on experience. When they struggle, displaying the behaviors of the perfection myth, we can embrace them and allow for them to be themselves: good enough.