Tag Archives: self-awareness

envy-vulnerability-trust

Envy

We took my mom’s car when we went up north a few weeks ago; it is a classic “low mileage, only driven to church and shopping” elderly person’s car. As I adjusted the mirrors, I was aware that the blind spot on the driver’s side was a bit different from the blind spot in my car, and I made a note to pay attention.

A few days after that trip, the idea of blind spots came back to me—not the car kind but the psychological sort. I had been reflecting on a conversation from earlier that day; I had been criticizing someone’s behavior. In replaying my words, though, I realized I was actually envious.

It was an epiphany.

I pride myself on being able to accept life as it is, on being content with what I have. But, I now see that this has been a blind spot, and I am not as content as I like to think—at least in some parts of my life.envy-vulnerability-trustOur brains are predisposed toward patterns (or so says the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon) so once our brains register something new, we are naturally more inclined to see this thing again.

My first awareness of being envious happened a few months ago, and I was surprised to recognize this trait in myself. But now, a few months later, I can see much more clearly that envy has long been part of my life. It was probably there all along, but I was blind to it.

Now that my eyes have been opened, though, I am quite aware of how often I think and say things that betray my idealized self-portrayal.

And upon reflection, I see past times when I thought I was merely being observational, but really I was envious.

I remember one incident from college that I now see in a different light. I went to a Catholic college run by Augustinian Friars who take a vow of poverty. Fr. John was my confessor. He was smart, kind and compassionate. And he was a frequent traveler—to Florida over Christmas break or Rome on spring break or someone’s shore house in the summer or….

“My goal,” I told him, “is to be as poor as you are so I can see the world on someone else’s dime.” He laughed. At the time, I thought I was merely being observational (and perhaps witty); now I can see that I was envious.

Ironically, I have traveled the world on other people’s money. I have been showered with an abundance of opportunity, generosity and kindness. And I am deeply grateful.

Yet, here I was the other day, grousing about someone getting a workshop paid for—even though a month earlier, I had attended a workshop that someone else paid for. Talk about a blind spot!

Now that this blind spot have been revealed, I can be more attentive to the insecurity that causes me to be envious and take steps toward being more grateful and content.envy-vulnerability-trust

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vulnerability-faith-hope

Finding my voice

When I approached the presenter at the cancer caregivers workshop to share my reaction to her words about hope, she responded, “I wish you would have said that at the mic.”

At the end of each presentation, we were invited to come to the mic and ask questions or share reflections.

But, I don’t do that; I don’t share in front of groups.

Ironically, I love public speaking and have done a fair amount of it for my nonprofit work. But there is a difference between telling other people’s stories and sharing my personal stories. Other people’s, ok. My own, not so much.

As a child, I was told that what happened in our house stayed in our house. We also did not talk inside our house about anything that happened. I felt invisible, as if no one cared what I was going through—or even noticed that I was there. I didn’t seem to matter.
vulnerability-faith-hopeBy my late twenties, I was an emotional mess and started going to therapy to help me process growing up in a chaotic house and to reconcile my past.

However, growing up in a home where I was told never to talk about what happened made sharing extremely stressful. Every time words formed about an experience or feeling, an alarm would sound inside my head. Do not say that!vulnerability-faith-hopeI was incapable of identifying what I was feeling, much less talking about it.

Early on in therapy, I shared one of my earliest memories.

I was four years old, playing in my back yard, when I found a dime. What luck! Even at that young age, I knew a dime could buy me something special. I remember how shiny it was and how fortunate I felt. And then my older brother saw what I had and claimed it was his. “No!” I shouted. “It’s mine!” He tried to take it from me, and I knew he would triumph, so I swallowed it.

My therapist commented, “And you have been swallowing every challenge since them.”

I once heard Fr. Richard Rohr talk about our shadow side, and he described it as a sack where we stuff all the negative things from our lives. The image that popped into my mind was of something like Santa’s bag—this huge sack, dragging behind me. I could feel the weight of it pulling me back.

My shadow bag was filled with twenty-eight years of negative experiences that I had swallowed and tamped down deeper and deeper.

As I began to unpack my shadow bag in therapy and at retreats, and look at my history, I started to realize that surviving those experiences had made me who I was; they had made me strong and resilient. Learning to talk about it—especially at the mic—is still a work in progress.vulnerability-faith-hope

 

 

spirituality-forgiveness-Lent

Abide in love

My Advent reflection book contained portions of a story by Bishop Ken Untener called the Dream Fixer. The reflections were about our being God’s dream, and the ways we are broken dreams. One piece read:

Let me put it in terms that have a familiar ring to them because they’re taken from the story of…Jesus.

~I am the sheep that wandered off into the wilderness, alone, hungry, afraid.

~I am the younger son who took the inheritance and squandered it…

~I am the one the robbers beat and left half dead on the road to Jericho…

 As I pondered each of these people from Scripture, it came to me that while I can easily imagine myself in these sympathetic roles, I can also see that:

~I am the failed shepherd.

~I am the older son, resentful and angry.

~I am one of the robbers, using someone to my advantage.

It seems natural for me to align myself with the innocent victim—and more challenging for me to see myself as the less sympathetic person. But, I can be both.spirituality-forgiveness-LentPreparing for my retreat last month, the phrase, abide in love (1 John 4:16) came to mind. I have been pondering the many manifestations of love and also thinking of February as the month of love, so it did not surprise me that this phrase popped into my mind.

Loving family and friends seems a like a good first step in the practice of abiding in love. Being loving toward those closest to us can be enough of a challenge, but I believe God’s calling is to go deeper and wider.

God calls me to love myself, to see myself as God sees me and to accept God’s version of me. God calls me to love those seemingly unlovable parts of myself—the failures and anger and aggression. How do I take responsibility for my failures, my resentment and my aggression? How do I love myself in those unlovable places?

And, as important, how do I love others who fail or are angry or cause harm to others? Can I see them as God sees them? And love them as God loves them?spirituality-forgiveness-LentAbide in love instructs me to do just that. To live in love, to continually dip back into the love of God to remind myself what it means to see people as God sees them and to love them as God loves them—that is the invitation and the challenge.

When I can embrace the failed, angry, aggressive parts of myself, perhaps I can have more empathy for those traits in others. Maybe a greater awareness of my own darkness will make me more understanding of others, more willing to forgive, more willing to be compassionate and accepting.

My Advent reflection fits into my retreat invitation—and into a Lenten practice.spirituality-forgiveness-LentLent is a time of conversion, a change of heart. The fact that Lent began on Valentine’s Day this year magnifies the invitation to abide in love.

 

 

Becoming visible

“I bought it because it made me more visible,” I overheard a young woman say. She was talking about her new car and went on to explain that she had test-driven this car in different colors until she found the one she believed people would notice.

I thought back to when I was her age and bought my first new car. I chose one that was the most efficient for the least amount of money. It had a manual transmission and no extras, not even air conditioning—luxuries were for others, I believed—not for me. I never thought that it could help me be visible.

I am a second-born child. A Google search on my birth order brings up articles using phrases like “fighting for attention.” I’ve always wondered if the person who created the slogan for Avis rental cars was a second-born child—We try harder.

After all the excitement over the first-born, the second can seem rather ho-hum and been there/done that. A second-born child can easily feel lost in the shadow of the first-born.

I grew up believing that I was invisible, and it was not until my mid-thirties that I got a clue to the contrary. It was during a transition time, and I was flitting back and forth from Pennsylvania to Virginia to Michigan and back again to Pennsylvania, trying to figure out where I wanted to live.

“You can’t keep coming and going like that,” a Philadelphia friend declared, with tears in her eyes and her voice full of emotion. She explained how difficult it was for her to say good-bye and grieve my leaving, only to have me come back a few months later—and then leave again after another few months.

“You noticed that I left?” I asked her, incredulous that my leaving even registered on her radar. Until then, I believed that I had zero impact on anyone; it did not occur to me that my actions were seen, let alone impactful.

I took her words to heart, though, and started paying attention to how others saw me. Once I realized I was not invisible, I reviewed my life and could see a trail of hurt in my wake—a divorce, ended friendships and more inappropriate relationships that I cared to remember.

Being invisible had equaled not taking responsibility for my actions. I was like the tree falling in the woods that no one is present to hear—if no one saw me, how could my actions have consequences?

Knowing that I was visible produced a sea change in my self-understanding and my behavior. Over time, I came to understand that not only was I visible, but that I am actually quite a strong personality. Who knew?

Believing in my visibility took a long time, and I am grateful to that Philadelphia friend for opening my eyes.

The young woman who bought the car with the highest visibility rating? She was the baby in her family and accustomed to being seen.

 

 

Four Panes of the Window

My spiritual director shared a self-knowledge tool called four panes of the window: The first pane is what you and everyone else know about you; the second pane is what you know about you, but others do not; the third pane is what others know about you, but you do not know; and the fourth pane is what only God knows—you and others are clueless.

The third pane intrigued me—how can others know a “me” who is so different from the “me” I know? Although I had not previously had this image for it, I was aware of the phenomenon.

One of my earliest insights into this mystery came soon after I graduated from college and was considering what to do with my life. Should I move back to Virginia? Back to Michigan? Stay in Pennsylvania? Try someplace new?

I decided to move back to Virginia to see how it would feel. A friend invited me to stay with her, and I was fortunate enough to find work. But after a few months, it did not feel right, so I moved back to Pennsylvania. I stayed for a few months and then moved to Michigan. That lasted a few months and then I was back in Pennsylvania. At this point a friend confronted me and told me how difficult it was for her that I kept coming and going.

I knew it was difficult for me to be so unsettled, but it never occurred to me that it would be difficult for anyone else. Up to this point, I had moved through my life believing I was invisible, that no one took any notice of me and that whether I stayed or left had no real impact. She corrected that perception, and with a fair amount of emotion, she told me something others knew about me that I did not know: I was visible. Eventually, I came to see that not only was I visible, but that I can actually be a fairly large presence. Who knew?

The idea that I was visible totally contradicted what I had believed about myself, what I thought everyone else knew about me and what I thought God knew about me.

Even after all these years, I am still adjusting to the notion that I am visible. While I still find experiences of being invisible familiar, I now also find them curious—how is it possible that I am completely invisible to some people and so very visible to others? It is a mystery.

What I have learned to do, though, is to try to be more attentive to the third pane of the window, more sensitive to the impact I have on others and more aware of how I move through the world.