For a long time now, perhaps for my whole life, I have had trouble with Thank You. It's not that I don't feel gratitude, but the expression of it in certain situations has been uncomfortable to the point of suppressing it entirely. Indeed, I have not been experiencing a lack of gratitude, but a lack of worthiness. To say Thank You was to acknowledge what I had been given and take it in, and I did not feel that I deserved what was being gifted.
This is not an issue of receptivity. I am very receptive, but have simply been absorbing the wrong sorts of things. Rather than opening gracefully to praise, compliments and abundance of all kinds, I have made a home inside myself for fear and negativity. My unworthiness was like a shield deflecting positive attention, only to be cast aside to receive crumbs and criticism. I planted each slur and barb in my heart and nourished them with my continual agreement. I could not receive healthy, lovely things because I could not agree that I was worthy of them. Stephen Chbosky said it best in The Perks of Being a Wallflower: "We accept the love we think we deserve."
It's not just love, though. It's everything. Unworthiness reaches into each and every part of our experience of life. If it roots deep enough, we may come to believe that we are unworthy of even basic rights, like bodily autonomy and safety. You might even hear someone in an abusive relationship say that they "deserve" the abuse they receive. We form all kinds of automatic responses to stimuli, so that when we are presented with something, be it healthy or unhealthy, kind or unkind, there is no consideration as to its merit. We automatically accept the relationships, homes, financial situations, support, success, etc, that we think we deserve.
The unraveling of The Story of My Unworthiness came about in two ways:
First, I got to know myself very well. This had the opposite effect for awhile, as I rooted out a lot of trauma, anger, pain and character flaws the likes of which I was none too proud. Life got real strange and messy. After sifting through and getting over what one of my teachers calls "your issues which require tissues," I began to balance the intimate knowledge of my (still present) character flaws with a dawning knowledge of my utter and complete magnificence. I'm certainly not beyond reproach and in no position to throw stones, but none of that negates how very worthy I am of all manner of goodness.
Secondly came the process of ferreting out all the subtle, sneaky ways I've learned to refuse and deflect positive feedback, happiness and success. This is a fair bit of mental gymnastics because my own ego created all the shields and hid them in plain sight for so long that I came to accept them as a very natural part of me. The result is that every time I receive a compliment or an opportunity now, I examine my response to it with eagle eyes. It's honestly a bit exhausting, but is revealing all sorts of unsettling yet useful truths. Most important among them is that I haven't achieved and received the things I've longed and prayed for because I cannot contain them. I have vast, wondrous dreams as spacious as an ocean and merely a thimble inside to hold it all. I understand now that what I hope to achieve and receive overwhelms me. How can I ever contain an ocean when I have settled for so little for so long?
How do you eat an elephant?
It's a practice in practice. It's a practice in patience. It's a practice in exquisite observation and fearless honesty. We can only stretch so far, so fast. I stretch a bit every time I gracefully receive a compliment or gift, looking the person in the eye with a strong, sincere Thank You. I stretch a bit more when I silently acknowledge that I was worthy of that receiving. I go to yoga and dedicate every practice to stretching myself to be able to contain more of the right kinds of things.
The desires of your sacred heart thump against your rib cage. You are worthy of their fulfillment. In fact, to fulfill them is your purpose. The work is to come to know your worth and to remove everything you've used to shield yourself from greatness. We are capable of containing so much if we would only take the time to stretch open, to create the space to hold the fulfillment of our dreams. It is, above all else, a grateful, graceful allowing. A deep exhale. A Big Yes.
Let's let the right ones in.