"When our instinctual life is shamed, the natural core of our life is bound up. It’s like an acorn going through excruciating agony for becoming an oak, or a flower feeling ashamed for blossoming" John Bradshaw
A theme that has been to the fore for me in the first week of Lent is shame. I have been doing a lot of reading on healing trauma and shame (prompted by my Interfaith Ministry studies) and it coincides with Lent. Fasting, alms giving and prayer are at the heart of a season that focuses on forgiveness and repentance. A tricky old word that one - repentance. It provokes a visceral reaction in me that immediately presses several deep-set shame buttons. Like a bony medieval finger pointing to an innately sinful self.
Which is of course, bullshit. Nobody is born or is innately sinful, or shameful. We learned to be ashamed because our authentic selves were taught to feel that way. Whether we were brought up religious or not, the disciplinarian pedagogy (straight out of a medieval feudal model) to which most of us were exposed, in the home and in education, reflects the religious one that survived for many centuries. There are few of us that have survived with our healthy and protective shame intact.
Bring that toxic shame into the 21st century and welcome the mostly secular and often pseudo-spiritual wellness "industry" which I believe is often guilty of perpetuating the shame cycle. There are phrases that you hear repeated and peddled in the spiritual and wellness circles that I move in, that have become so ubiquitous that we don't question them. A self-orientated folklore, the myths of which are recycled in oh so many flowery memes.
On the surface they look and seem encouraging and validating. In truth, I feel there is something uncomfortably sinister lurking at the heart of each of these assertions that actually have the potential to make us all feel like shit.
Mostly they are around the idea of self care, self love, self control, self esteem, self belief (self, self self...) The idea that in doing something about ourselves (and by implication our innate wrongness) then "things" will get better...? One of the most insidious example of this, for me, is this.
YOU HAVE TO LOVE YOURSELF FIRST
(before you can love/be loved by another)
It is a misquote (and out of context misinterpretation) of something said by Leo Buscaglia. He had a lot of wonderful stuff to say about love, which included ways of loving others as the path to loving the self. It's true. Memes, like isolated passages of scripture are never really helpful indicators of context.
In my view, and in the ways in which I heard it said, it cuts directly to the heart of shame.
HERE is the reason nobody loves you
you don't love yourself!
It's your fault
You are inherently bad/wrong/flawed/unworthy
In truth, this statement is not loving at all. It is one of shame based self-loathing and unintentional shaming by those who say it.
No "project" designed to make you love yourself is going to work outside of loving relationships with others and with God (or your understanding of the Universal Reality). That way lies narcissism. And herein lies the more insidious nature of this new age myth. The love yourself project is BIG business. What else can get us to spend money on ourselves than the idea that we are supposed to love ourselves more, and don't?
What is important is not to love yourself, but to KNOW that you are loved. And inherent in this, is the acceptance that you are worthy of love. Spot the difference? There is nothing to do or buy in this transaction. It is more of a gentle turn towards the realisation that love, by its very nature, is our very nature, because it is the nature of Existence. Our true inheritance. It is not something that we can choose to do to ourselves.
In the suggestion that we don't love ourselves enough - like the idea that we are innately flawed - we feel (a)shamed. And shame does nothing but feed on itself. We cannot act on the instruction to love ourselves more because we are prevented - in the very instruction - by the shame of not loving ourselves enough!
Which brings us back to the idea of sin. Because, THIS is where we get these ideas- so locked into our cultural belief patterns that we don't even question them.
Sin and Repentance are two of the most repeated words in the Bible. And they are also the two most mistranslated words in the Bible.
In the New Testament both words were originally written in ancient Greek as follows:
Sin = ἁμαρτία = hamartia which means "missing the mark" (like when an archer misses a target)
repentance = μετάνοια = Metanoia which means "changing one's mind"
Repenting from ones sins literally means changing things we have been doing that are not good for us. Missing the mark suggests going off course. Repentance means trying out a different map. A better one. A more up to date one, with all of the new landmarks on it. Not a medieval one directing us from one heavily defended castle to the next.
Here be dragons?
What if, instead, we think about navigating - with our new map - ever so gently, and in the spirit of moving towards acceptance, back onto the path of Love?
The old map was never accurate, and Love was never really that far away.