When someone young is criticized a lot, they become conditioned to look for what is wrong with them. That happened to me.
One of the complements I receive from readers of my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, is how honest I was about my faults. For many years, friends confronted me about how hard I was on myself. My best friend told me once, “If I heard someone else talking about you the way you talk about yourself, I would having nothing more to do with them.”
I don’t do that to myself to the degree I did in the past. But our conditioning has a sneaky way of getting more subtle. That became clearer to me this week.
My Archeologists of the Spirit group met Tuesday. I didn’t even really want to show up … the influence of the pandemic funk weighing me down during the past few days. I miss being with my friends, especially to celebrate my birthday over lunch or dinner. But I had to show up. I hold the zoom account.
Before the call, I prayed for help to avoid inserting my funk into the group. “Please just help me be present to these wonderful women.” We are five women who take seriously our inner journeys and are willing to dig deep … which is why we call ourselves Archeologists of the Spirit.
Learning from Women Mystics
For several months we have been reading and reflecting on the lives of women mystics. Roselin uses Caroline Myss’s book, Entering the Castle: Finding the Inner Path to God and Your Soul’s Purpose as she leads us in contemplation about Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle.
This coincides well with what I’m learning from Myss via my friend Jen, who took a class from her which focuses on our inner self’s quest to be empowered with inner authority. I experience Myss as a modern-day mystic.
According to Teresa, everything in our life is present because of Divine intention. Thus the importance of the “second room” practice of illumination – slowing down to notice God in the details … God speaks to us in every detail … including the details of our “habits of the heart” … those survival strategies that prevent us from “finding our soul.”
Roselin noted how important self-knowledge was to Teresa and invited us to explore our “habits of the heart.” We came up with a rather long list:
- Wanting to be in control
- Negative thinking
- Comparing ourselves to others & feeling envious or jealous
- Fearing confrontation
- False sense of confidence
- Staying busy to avoid painful feelings
- Lacking in discipline
A Personal Illumination
As the list grew longer, I wrote myself a note: “Importance of self-knowledge – what about positive self???”
Self-knowledge for me has been about looking at “what’s wrong with me” … most of those things listed above … my conditioned response to having been criticized throughout my childhood. I spend so much time rooting out what’s wrong with me, I am almost incapable of finding what is right about me … my soul. I felt an inner awakening emerging. I stayed with it, listening for the voice of the Divine speaking to me, as the group continued.
Cindy loved this quote from the page Roselin sent to guide our discussion: “Every moment of your life has value. As you slow down your perceptions and senses and shift gears to become receptive, you learn how to enter the mystery itself. The practice of illumination is the practice of entering the mystery.”
Kathy shared a struggle she has been experiencing recently with one of her practices … remaining faithful to showing love and care to her adult children while respecting their autonomy.
Carol received affirmative head nods as she reflected that “the meaning is in the struggle.”
Roselin noted that “God in the details is intimate work. She quoted Teresa, “Prayer is sitting with the heart open to God.”
Entering the Mystery
Toward the end, Roselin asked if there was anything else anyone wanted to share. I felt ready to open up about how self-reflection for me has always been about identifying what’s wrong with me.
Kathy made a positive comment about me. If it had been negative, I could recite it word for word. Positives don’t tend to stick in my brain. Reconditioning needed.
I replied, “I am blessed with lots of friends who tell me that all the time. But, I’ve been conditioned to see what’s wrong and I haven’t overcome that yet.”
Kathy said softly, “I see the love.”
Roselin asked us to sit with that a moment. We dropped into silence. Tears moistened my eyes.
After some moments, I shared the mystery that had opened up for me today … to the opening of my heart.
“Roselin, you quoted Teresa as saying that prayer is sitting with the heart open to God. Then you asked us to sit with this for a moment. I’ve often said when I’m in a difficult place, ‘I want God with skin on.’ You all have been God with skin on for me today. Thank you.”
We sat in silence again, taking in how big this was for me. We wished we were in person for a group hug.
In addition to my prayer to be present to each woman in the group, I prayed to be relieved of the pressure to “prove my worth.” A week or so ago, I noticed something discomforting that comes up for me in groups … especially zoom groups. Today it began to make sense.
I can’t relax and just “be present” because I pressure myself to say something significant … to make a contribution … to prove that I am worthy to be there.
Slowing down today to “be present” … to become receptive, I entered into AWE-inspiring mystery for which words cannot do justice. The only thing I can say is, “I went from not even wanting to show up to feeling loved and supported and changed by these remarkable women.”
My re-conditioning journey continues with a deeper level of consciousness. I suspect you’ll be hearing more about that here.