At the beginning of the year, one of my sweetest friends asked what I was looking for in a life partner, and I said, “I just want to be with someone who would let me just be–who would let me be myself and accept me for who I am. Someone who would love me just because I am me.” At the time, I thought to myself that I wasn’t asking for much. I thought that it would be an easy task … until I watched myself in a video. For the first time in a long time, I saw myself. And instantly, I hated who I saw. Oh, the self-judgement! … And now, I think … ‘How in the world can I ever expect anyone to accept and love me, if I don’t even accept and love myself.” … I have this image in my head of whom I aspire to be … and I thought I had it all right when I assessed myself, I thought I did it properly and was on point! … But what I felt when I saw myself on video was shame, embarrassment, and discontentment. I saw an insecure young lady trying to play a part that she wasn’t ever supposed to play. I saw someone ashamed of her own skin, … someone so unsure of herself, so self-concsious … and caged. Someone who doesn’t give her own self permission to just be.
A colleague pointed out my lack of self-confidence. I’m certain enough about one thing though–it is not so much an issue of self-confidence than it is an issue of self-acceptance. Kurt Cobain’s famous quote rings to mind:
“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.”
I told one of my dearest friends today at tea (or merienda) that I feel like people in the office, especially my boss, are just waiting for me to bloom. In reply, she told me to not force things, and directed me towards a wonderful passage that struck me:
1Men of Violence
“The kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force.” — Matthew 11:12
Compare the serene and simple splendor of a rose in bloom with the tensions and restlessness of your life. The rose has a gift that you lack: It is perfectly content to be itself. It has not ben programmed from birth, as you have been, to be dissatisfied with itself, so it has not the slightest urge to be anything other than it is. That is why it possesses the artless grace and absence of inner conflict that among humans is only found in little children and mystics.
Consider your sad condition. You are always dissatisfied with yourself, always wanting to change yourself. So you are full of violence and self-intolerance which only grows with every effort that you make to change yourself. So any change you achieve is always accompanied by inner conflict. And you suffer when you see others achieve what you have not and become what you are not.
Would you be tormented by jealousy and envy if, like the rose, you were content to be what you are and never aspired to what you are not? But you are driven, are you not, to be like someone else who has more knowledge, better looks, more popularity or success than you. You want to become more virtuous, more loving, more meditative, you want to find God, to come closer to your ideals. Think of the sad history of your efforts at self-improvement, that either ended in disaster or succeeded only at the cost of struggle and pain. Now suppose you desisted from all efforts to change yourself, and from all self-dissatisfaction, would you then be doomed to go to sleep having passively accepted everything in you and around you? There is another way besides laborious self-pushing on the one hand and stagnant acceptance on the other. It is the way of self-understanding. This is far from easy because to understand what you are requires complete freedom from all desire to change what you are into something else. You will see this if you compare the attitude of a scientist who studies the habits of ants without the slightest desire to change them with the attitude of a dog trainer who studies the habits of a dog with a view to make it learn something. If what you attempt is not to change yourself but to observe yourself, to study every one of your reactions to people and things, without judgement or condemnation or desire to reform yourself, your observation will be nonselective, comprehensive, never fixed on rigid conclusions, always open and fresh from moment to moment. Then you will notice a marvelous thing happening within you. You will be flooded with the light of awareness, you will become transparent and transformed.
Will change occur then? Oh, yes. In you and in your surroundings. But it will not be brought about by your cunning, restless ego that is forever competing, comparing, coercing, sermonizing, manipulating in its intolerance and its ambitions, thereby creating tension and conflict and resistance between you and Nature–an exhausting, self-defeating process like driving with your brakes on. No, the transforming light of awareness brushes aside your scheming, self-seeking ego to give Nature full rein to bring about the kind of change that she produces in the rose: artless, graceful, unself-conscious, wholesome, untainted by inner conflict.
Since all change is violent she will be violent. But the marvelous quality of Nature-violence, unlike ego-violence, is that it does not spring from intolerance and self-hatred. So there is no anger in the rainstorm that carries everything before it, or the fish that devour their young in obedience to ecological laws we know not, or body cells when they destroy each other in the interest of a higher good. When Nature destroys, it is not from ambition or greed or self-aggrandizement, but in obedience to mysterious laws that seek the good of the whole universe above the survival and well-being of the parts.
It is the kind of violence that arises within mystics who storm against ideas and structures that have become entrenched in their societies and cultures when awareness awakens them to evils their contemporaries are blind to. It is this violence that causes the rose to come into being in the face of forces hostile to it. And it is to this violence that the rose, like the mystic, will sweetly succumb after it has opened its petals to the sun and lives in fragile, feeling loveliness, quite unconcerned to add a single extra minute to its allotted span of life. And so it lives in blessedness and beauty like the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, with no trace of the restlessness and dissatisfaction, the jealousy and anxiety and competitiveness that characterize the world of human beings who seek to control and coerce rather than be content to flower into awareness, leaving all change to the mighty force of God in Nature.
So yes, once again, I will surrender all change and control into His loving and very capable hands, as end my blog post with a quote that James Martin, SJ used to begin his book ‘My Life with the Saints’:
“For me to be a saint means to be myself.” –– Thomas Merton
1 The Way To Love: The Last Meditations of Anthony de Mello