"He was, for once, trying to give me everything I wanted and I was trying to get everything I needed and it was way too late for either one. There would never be enough butter for me in my father’s house. I had to find it elsewhere in the world. Just like you." -Cheryl Strayed
How do we learn to be? How do we learn what is true?
From the moment our tiny eyes open (and maybe even before that), we are watching and listening. Whoever our primary caretakers were taught us about the world. They taught us how to use a can opener and how to love (or not...), how to tie our shoe laces and whether or not to trust money. Parents and grandparents, aunties and nannies, have so many important lessons and skills that they transmit to the children in their care. I submit, though, that the most important thing that caretakers teach children is who they are and what they're worth.
What were you told about yourself as a child? Were you a "good girl" or a "bad boy"? Were you readily given time and attention, or did you have to stomp your feet and scream to be seen? Did you do everything "right" and it was still never enough? Were you beaten or screamed at or both? Were you loved and supported without condition? Were your caretakers present both physically and emotionally? Did they take care of themselves and get their own needs met? Were you taught that that's okay, healthy even?
The way that our adult caretakers treated us as children taught us about ourselves and what we were worth. The degree to which they valued us taught us how valuable we were. Most of us then grew up continuing to believe what was impressed upon us so early on, without any consciousness that what we learned might not have been true. Childrens' huge egos cause them to internalize and take so much personally. If a child's caretaker is kind to them, the child feels good and interprets that they are good. Conversely, if a child is treated poorly, they feel bad and interpret that they are bad. Each child is a tiny sun with everything orbiting them, nothing happening outside of their influence.
This is simply a misunderstanding of the adult's action. The child cannot yet take neutral perspective, filter what is true and what is not. Everything said by the adults in their life is truth, and these early planted seed thoughts root so deeply into our psyches that we may not even realize that they were given to us, that they are not necessarily authentic to who we are.
Political or religious teachings, or ways of living tend to come under our harsh scrutiny as we mature and separate ourselves from our families of origin. But ideas about the self seem to go unchecked. We can gain our own opinions about all kinds of things in the world, learn to think critically and neutrally like we couldn't as children, but only about that which is outside us. It's rare that this light gets turned inward to reveal that we built a whole life around a totally false sense of self.
This is understandable. It's startling to realize that you have been operating for your entire lifetime with wildly misinterpreted information that you collected as a child. Where does this leave you? If you are suddenly stripped of who you thought you were, who are you? How are you not yourself?
The answer is, I don't know. Well over a month ago I started a daily practice of Kriya to Experience the Original You, which, combined with therapy, is deconstructing what I've known to be true about myself. As a result, I've entered an interesting sort of clean slate space in which I am free to learn brand new ways of thinking about and relating to myself.
It's not like becoming frustrated with the Catholic Church at 16 and picking up books on Buddhism at the library. These ideas I'm examining have wound their way around every interaction and decision of my life up until now. Everything has been colored by the very old, very untrue teaching that I am somehow inadequate and unworthy. The craving for acceptance and unconditional love, the question "Am I okay?", has been thumping along in the background like a second heart that I am now reaching into my chest and tearing out. As much as its hurt me, it feels like a terrible betrayal to reject this way of being and knowing that has been with me my whole life, that led me here.
Still, I am interested in being happy and I am not happy spending my life trying to make up for some imaginary lacking. The pearl of truth at the heart of all of this is, there's nothing wrong with me. Yes, yes, yes, I am okay. And so are you. No matter what you learned about yourself by seeing and feeling how your caretakers treated you, you are actually fine. Hopefully they were kind, gentle and attentive, and you in turn learned how valuable you are and how worthy of kindness, gentleness and attentiveness.
The likelihood, though, is that one or more of your adults failed to accurately instruct you in your incredible perfection. Whether intentional or not, their actions taught you to be a beggar, and this small, hungry, child-version of yourself lives on, desperate in one way or another to be fed.
We are not children anymore. As grown people, we have the ability to turn our matured reasoning skills to examine what we learned about ourselves with the same critical eye that we use to examine what we were taught about God, food, money and how to live life. It's incredibly hard work. Our self-beliefs are Inception, third dream level-deep, and in the end the top may or may not still be spinning. How do we know what's real and true? How am I not myself?
Here's a new seed thought I'm attempting to incept: that even though my papa seemingly chose alcohol over me when I was a little girl, that I was "good," that it had nothing to do with me, that I was (and am) worthy of both physical and emotional presence.
After creating and believing in a world based on the contrary idea for so long, it's hard to allow this to be true. The old way of being is so much a part of me and creating a new way of being takes incredible focus and discipline. It becomes habit through steady repetition, making the choice over and over to do something I'm not even sure how to do yet. There is so much fumbling awkwardness in this, so much frustration and pain. Still, it's the work to be done. We act as someone wholly healthy, happy and holy until one day, perhaps this is what we become.
In the meantime, remember that you are teaching the children in your life how much they are worth. Be good, be sweet and be present to them so they come to know their immense, inherent value. They are worthy of this, as you were and are.
Yes, you are okay.