if there is any one religion that i have practiced fervently, it’s skepticism. the main tenets are as follows: doubting and resisting.
i’ve come to realize that there’s nothing i’ve ever 1000000% believed in – other people’s promises, my own, yoga, chanting, art therapy, music, meditation, buddhism, love. i’m capable of theoretically accepting, eagerly practicing, and ardently promoting the principles of any of these, sure, but i’ve never trusted wholly in anything to the point of fanaticism. (a deep longing to believe is, woefully, not quite the same as actually doing so.)
yet, i seem to keep going back to the bible. which i find paradoxical, because i had (until recently) long regarded what it is associated with – my introduction to religion – with disdain. that with which it is strongly associated is what gave me my very first recognizable taste of self-hate (namely that i was born irreparably flawed, never had a chance, and as a bonus, am swiftly on my way to eternal damnation unless i call on this unseeable being that i can’t comprehend to save my “soul,” whatever that is), at the tender age of 6, an age at which i had already, at age 5, been torn not-so-gently apart at the emotional seams via bullying, a supplement and contribution to feeling what i can only now, as an adult, name as a profound sense of un-belonging, well before i could possibly know what to do with such hurt.
when i awoke this morning, two stories popped into my head that had been inadvertently thrown out with the rest of the doctrinal detritus i’d decided to discard.
the first is the story of noah.
the world and its inhabitants had turned to shit. so, in his 600th year of life, noah was called upon by god to assist him in, essentially, invoking a do-over. noah would spend a lot of time building a giant ark in which only animals and those who chose to join would survive what god had planned – a deluge that lasted 40 days and 40 nights. he threw the earth into the wash basin, wrung it out, and hung it to dry, ready to begin anew. noah never wavered in his faith, never questioned what everyone else in the world thought was crazy-talk. (and he lived. they all died.)
the second is the story of paul.
once upon a time, paul used to be named saul. saul’s work and passion were one and the same – persecution and punishment of jesus’ followers. one day, as saul heard a booming voice asking him why he did what he did, a blinding light flashed across the sky, and he could no longer see. for three days he could not see, eat, or drink. to make an abridged story even shorter, he had a spiritual conversion, turned to god, stopped killing people, and changed his name to paul as a symbol of this change.
there are a few themes here:
1. starting over.
2. listening to the voice within, at the risk of ridicule, everything else be damned.
i’ve realized something else, being here: one can travel anywhere on this planet for as short or as long as one wishes, and still feel stuck. one can take up as many assorted hobbies or belief systems or lovers or pets for that matter and still be stuck. because being stuck isn’t something you can run from. it is a place within that is somehow both deep and perpetually exposed. so while grad school and europe and coming here were/are all effective means of finding myself in their own ways, they are all ultimately attempts at trying to find a way to like myself with all the barriers i have up and don’t want to let go of, at trying to obtain peace without having to give up my guards. without having to take a good, long look at the real me – the bare, raw version of me. but it doesn’t work like that.
so in cosmic/universe/etc. fashion, the other day i had my own noah/saul-to-paul experience.
we did a version of this thing in teaching methodology class called a family constellation. it’s a therapeutic approach in which you choose others to represent yourself and members of your family in order to uncover hidden dynamics so that they can be confronted and therefore healed. then you stand back and watch. instead of representing family members, though, we were to choose representations of our ourselves, the student, our biggest strength, and our biggest weakness. sounds triggering, right? (spoiler alert: it totally is.)
so in true skeptic fashion, i approached this with a healthy dose of cynicism. i mean, these people don’t even know what i wrote down as my strengths and weaknesses. a few of them only met me, like, two and a half days ago. how could this possibly tap into anything real? but i go along with it, because i want to believe just like fox mulder does, and also, at the same time, i really am totally game.
fast forward about twenty minutes but what felt like 73 years, after watching from the wall as these very personal representations interact with each other and move around the room in order to better symbolize themselves.
and there i stood, my teacher’s arm around me, my face pressed hard into my sweater sleeve, tears and snot streaming uncontrollably out of my face.
at this point, i felt only two things inside of myself: weak. and honest.
from outside of myself, that is to say from the others in the room, i felt strength. and compassion. nothing else. i didn’t feel any of the judgment that i am forever anticipating from others and always passing upon myself. my inability to believe fully in something is really my inability to believe fully in me.
and then i realized – it takes strength to be weak. i mean, to really be weak. to just be in it. to allow weakness to be there.
i was confronted with my deep-seated hurt, that self-hate. that sense of not belonging and the ensuing life-long desire to find a way to get that belonging. in a word – inadequacy. what i had written down as my weakness was: “caring too much about image. letting that get in the way of authenticity and real connection with others.”
my real weakness: the feeling and fear that i am not good enough. the i that is without makeup on her face. the i that is without a joke ready to crack at the drop of a hat. the i that is without some witty comment to make. the i that is without the need to defend or project. the i that wants to be perceived a certain way – always right. in control. not a failure (at anything). cool, funny, smart, talented, pretty, intimidating, desirable, someone to be envied. my weakness is the truth that what motivates me and paralyzes me with fear is what others will think.
these are all barriers i realize i’ve formed to keep others from the real me, but in doing so, i’ve blocked myself from the real me. i don’t even know who i am.
my fear: without these things – the makeup and filled passport and carefree lifestyle and the walk and the talk and the rest of the image – am i still enough? am i still likable and lovable? i’m asking this of myself. i’m scared of the answer, and i’m scared i won’t like what i see.
but i’m going to find out. it’s become apparent that it’s one of the reasons i’m here.
so, i’m shedding these layers one by one, the superficial ones and the not-so-superficial ones.
in yoga they talk about how the way we are on the mat provides insight into the way we are off the mat. similarly, the intention with which i cover my bare face is indicative of the ways i try to hide my bare soul. i’m going to leave my face bare until i like what i see when i look in the physical mirror. and i’m going to look at my bare self until i like what i see in the spiritual mirror.
now i see it as a blessing in disguise that i was sick and jetlagged. my physical and mental immune systems (physiological barriers and guards) were down, and in its wake left only this spiritual/emotional barrier to face. also, the breakdown of the other two probably means the breakdown of the third.
i didn’t know if or how i should write about this. it’s all over the place and raw and thoroughly exhausted, but so am i.
and how funny that the thing which first consciously connected me to my self-loathing is the same thing that is helping me better understand this spiritual journey and healing process, what seems to be my conversion from skepticism to believing in myself.