Having recognised the desire and intention to live awake and wholehearted, we also recognise the need to commit to the practice of attending to the places where we fall asleep in habits and patterns of thinking and reacting that limit how authentically we can show up to ourselves and to others.
The spiritual practices that help us to wake up and show up, however, can also be vehicles that get hijacked by our habits and patterns – we bring into our spiritual journey our ego need to be right, need to win, need to be better than others, need to help, need to succeed. Until we learn humility, that is.
The next chapter of Grace in Aging focuses on humility as both a goal of our practice and a way of arriving at the goal. Kathleen explores how the process of aging offers many opportunities for us to notice and attend to areas where we are stuck in pride and perfectionism. She distinguishes pride as arrogance from pride as the healthy joy and fulfilment we feel in accomplishments. Joy and fulfilment want to be shared. Pride wants all the recognition for yourself – no sharing.
Pride is hard wired to the eight worldly concerns (remember these?):
loss/gain; pleasure/pain; fame/shame; praise/blame.
So wherever we are caught up by one of these couplets and become embroiled in attachment or aversion then pride is just behind, preening and puffed up or upset and offended.
Pride can also hide in unworthiness or inferiority, because this, along with the more easily recognisable arrogance, is still rooted and grounded in a story of ‘myself’ which is a facade, an image or idea of myself that I spend a great deal of energy creating, maintaining and defending but which is essentially fake and does not exist.
Until we’ve done some work on our own patterns of pride and fear, it’s hard not to get hooked by other people’s pride, and once hooked we engage either in rivalry (my image of myself is *better than the image I hold of you) or we feel hurt and doubt our own worth (ditto, but *worse).
If we attend with compassion to the places where pride is present in us, either as inflation or as denigration, we will begin to see the connection between our story/image of those parts of ourselves we are happy to own and our story/image of those parts of ourselves we wish to hide.
Pride highlights for us the fracture lines of our deep wounding.
We take refuge in the story of ourselves to make sense of our wounding and to help us avoid further pain, so to let that story go and to acknowledge the wounds it is trying to cover up takes both great courage and great humility.
Quick note: humiliation is the exposure of shame, so naturally we learn to dread humiliating experiences.But humility has no shame. Humility knows no shame.
Humility is free from the story of ‘not enough’, of posturing and performing. Humility is embracing this your ordinary body and your ordinary life as the unique manifestation of radiant, holy, unselfconscious awareness. Humility is accepting this as a gift of Divine Love: Love is your essential nature.
We need to stop and sit and do some healing
This one will not be appealing – I can’t dress it up to make it more attractive, but I do know that at some point you’ll recognise that there’s really nothing else for it but to stop and tend to your wounds.
At some point, maybe not yet, but eventually, you’ll recognise that keeping busy and distracted and trying to hold everything together is exhausting and you just can’t do it anymore, or don’t want to do it anymore because it’s fundamentally not helping.
I hope that you, being wise and kind to yourself, get to choose when you stop rather than have circumstances bring about your abrupt halt and leave you no option but to sit and do some healing. But whenever you get there, here’s what to do:
Find a safe place either where you can be alone for an hour or so and not be disturbed/ have to worry about people overhearing you, or find a safe place where you can be with a trusted friend who you already know can simply be present with you without needing to fix you.
Begin with a 20 minute sit in centering prayer or meditation, and then open your awareness to the story of wounding. You probably won’t have to wait long for a story to surface, and once it does, it’s best to drop the story and attend to the feeling of pain that it has evoked. Attend with compassion and tenderness, letting go of judgement. The wounded part of you needs to be seen, heard and held. That’s all.
There may be tears, so let them fall. There may be wailing, so give it voice. There may be anger, so shout it out or punch a pillow. Listen to how your body needs to let go of the feeling and just let it happen. When you come to quiet, take a sitting posture and finish with some time in meditation or centering prayer. If you also want to write, do that. My gut says do it after the prayer time, but your gut may say different – trust yourself.
We all have many stories of wounding, so be gentle with yourself. Expect to come back and do more listening and holding and if you don’t feel safe to do this at all, consider finding a therapist who will do the listening and hold the space for you so your wounds can be tended and healing can begin.
Breathing into wholeness
The wounding we experience prompts us to take up defensive strategies of separation. In an effort to feel in control and to feel safe, we separate – among other things – mind and body, shadow and persona, self and other. A breath prayer offers us the opportunity to return to wholeness and to help heal the world by becoming like a clearing in the woods, a quiet and open space that invites others to pause, to calm the inner storm and to find their bearings – to hear the call of home.
The breath prayer exercise below is a guide for you to start from, but you can adapt this prayer to take it with you through the day so you can breathe it as you wait for the kettle to boil, as you sit on the bus, as a five minute refresher in between meetings, as you fall asleep at night….
Collage as a healing practice
The art of collage is about finding ways to use broken and torn materials to make a whole and beautiful creation. Jan Richardson is an artist who began making collages while in primary school, although in the story I remember reading, she shredded a piece of art she had made, rather than using shredded things to make art. Still, this approach may offer you a creative outlet for being with your woundedness and expressing some of the journey toward healing that you are experiencing. Jan’s page may offer you some inspiration, but if it is more daunting than encouraging, just assemble some craft supplies – glue, paper, scissors, old magazines – and then flip through the magazines letting your attraction guide you…look for words, colours, textures, images or whatever feels appealing as you – things that speak to you of your experience of woundedness and also your longings for wholeness, healing, safety, freedom, lightness, love, acceptance, peace and joy.
When you pause by an image or words, cut them out and collect them together without stopping to edit or evaluate. Once you have collected what seems like enough, sort through what you have collected and see how they fit together, how they want to sit on the page, where they are overlapping, what connects them and perhaps also what is missing. Glue them onto your paper and attend to what your intuition is telling you as you do this.