It wasn’t long after my 30th birthday. Saturn had made its wicked return, and it felt like the last year of my life had been characterized by me leaving pools of my wilting sense of self all over the great state of California. I had never before (or since) felt such massive self-imposed scrutiny surrounding my basic okay-ness. And at the time, with the world as I knew it dissolving around me, I felt entirely to blame, because surely, there was something wrong with me.
And there probably was. I mean, honestly. I was working on my stuff as much as anyone else, and therapy has a way of shining a light on the deepest, darkest corners of a girl’s cobwebbed heart. I was a pile of snot and salt. I was as wound up as if I were wearing a straight-jacket, held taught by two elephant trunks moving in opposite directions. My rib cage would crack any second. I would implode. I was going crazy.
But my therapist didn’t tell me I was crazy. Instead, he looked at me with such tenderness, and held me with an unparalleled loving presence, and he said, “Morgan, you are not too much. Your depth is not too much. It is where all the good stuff is.”
And just like that: birds. As if my rib cage were instead a bird cage, and the doors had been left wide open, and wild and bright singing birds exploded out of me in a kaleidoscope of relief and celebration. I was okay. I was not too much.
I’ve come to understand that most of us struggle with our essential “me”-ness. In fact, I’d wager that only saints and the totally enlightened don’t experience the kind of suffering that comes from the life-long human question of, “Am I okay?”
The reasons are many — and understandable: all of us, from a really early age, got messages about what is okay and not okay. Some of that information is really helpful and/or innocuous. For instance, that not feeding the goldfish will result in its eventual death, or that a car needs gas to run. The unfortunate reality is that along with this helpful information about how the world seems to work comes assessments about who we are as people, not just how we are, or that our behaviors sometimes have an unfortunate impact on others.
Some of us got more extreme messages about our okay-ness than others, but all of us got this feedback. The way that feedback seems to play out in the rest of our lives is some of our hardest work. Over red wine, a friend and I recently lamented over how the majority of our wounding comes in childhood and from our families, but it is rarely our families who are able to lend perspective and healing. Instead, we show up to the rest of our lives — and relationships — asking to be healed. The work is never finished. We are all trying to remember ourselves as whole.
I find so often in my work with clients that what is causing suffering is the constant dance around a feeling that is uncomfortable, and especially the beliefs that we hold about ourselves, our lives, and our relationships. The belief we are not as we should be — or as we would like to be — is tremendously upsetting, and most of the time, on such a a subtle level that we don’t even know we’re hurting. These are beliefs that, in reality, may not even be true. It gets more complicated when we start including beliefs about other people’s feelings/wants/needs/actions, or the greater outside world.
I mean, this seems obvious. But a thing being obvious doesn’t seem to shift it. I have probably 57 stress-causing beliefs about any number of things every day — from to how my hair is behaving or the temperature in my house in the morning, to what I should be doing with my day or feeling in my relationship. I have beliefs about other people’s motives or needs. I have beliefs about what is okay to feel or not feel.
We all seem to share this collective unease. Have you noticed this?
It’s as if we’re living with a kind of constant and barely-noticeable tension that we’ve normalized, because we’ve been living with it for almost our whole lives. It’s the tension-creating emotional equivalent of being in a hotel room and having the faintest sense that somewhere, on some other floor, someone is running a whining vacuum.
And yet, the experiences most people tell me are their most liberating are when this sense of not-okayness fades. When the question of “Am I okay?” doesn’t even need to be asked, because a space has opened up inside us that suddenly and compassionately predicts the question, and whispers, Yes.
But the question always becomes, “How can I cultivate that feeling? How, when everything is 100% fucked-up (or even 77%, or 26%), can I just be cool with the way things are?” I don’t mean to suggest that complacency is the way through the shit. It is definitely not. But what is called for, I truly believe, is opening up some curiosity about the things we believe that cause us suffering, and allowing for the possibility that just maybe, we are holding beliefs about things that are untrue.
If your belief is that you are not okay, that is untrue.
If your belief is that you are not enough, that is untrue.
If your belief is that deep peace depends on everyone and everything else, that is definitely untrue.
It occurred to me one morning driving in an early Portland morning. It’s the way of things when the road we’ve been walking becomes too overgrown with the thorny boughs of sorrow, and we must search for another way: I was running late. My coffee mug was too-full, almost-splashing, and lukewarm. It was raining. There was traffic. I was heading into a day I didn’t really want to do, and at the end of that day was more stuff I didn’t want to do. There were stories in a million languages floating around inside of me: about my worth, my deserving-ness. If I deserved better, I would have better. I must deserve to suffer. I always want things to be different. There is something wrong with me. Nothing is enough. I’m not enough….
With a breath, I cranked up the square footage inside me to hold all of these conflicting and stress-causing beliefs. I allowed for the possibility that none of these things were true. Just to experiment, I released the beliefs that were hurting, along with my beliefs that it was my job to make everything behave exactly as I wish it would.
And then suddenly: birds. The rush of air created by a million wings, the feeling of flight rushing through and around me. And in the distance, the soft light of the sun birthing a new day.