I’ve been approached by many congregants who say, “I’m trying to learn to love myself. When can I expect the inner voices of shame and self-doubt to go away?”
My standard response to that question is, “I’ll get back to you when my own voices of shame and self-doubt disappear.”
Then I share what I’ve discovered through years of spiritual study and practice: no matter who you are and what you’ve accomplished, it’s normal to have a sense of inadequacy lurching around in your mind at times. Lurch lists your shortcomings. He plans potential failures. He tells you you’re not good enough and he’s quite skilled.
The best way to be with the lurching mind is to stop trying to control it. We can’t control the mind with the mind. We just observe it. Then, instead of “thinking ourselves into a new way of living – we live ourselves into a new way of thinking.” (Richard Rohr)
I know this, because several years ago Lurch tried to ruin a wedding. My nephew Andrew was marrying his beloved Mark in New York City. I was invited to officiate.
Let me mention that I have done over one hundred weddings. I’ve got significant wedding-chops. I kick wedding-butt.
This one was different.
For one thing, I was marrying my grown-up boy I once held as a baby. Add this to the fact that my nephew and his beloved were now legally permitted to marry. I always cry a little at weddings, but this one was likely to dissolve me into a puddle of snot and tears.
Then, my family of origin was going to be present and I can easily morph into the shy, insecure little sister when I’m around them.
The scariest part of this wedding was the “audience.”
Andrew and Mark are part of the music/theatre scene in New York City. They are both successful – Andrew is a voice teacher/composer; Mark is a writer/editor. They have many friends who are accomplished performers and many of them would attend this wedding.
Why should a bunch of singers and actors scare me?
Years ago, I lived in New York as a singer and actress. It was hard – not only hard to find work, but hard to live in my head. I felt perpetually inadequate. I found myself relentlessly striving to show up and be good enough. I stressed to impress, chasing the right look, the right auditions, the right teachers. Mostly I was chasing my right to exist and take up space on a stage.
Heading to Manhattan to facilitate a wedding full of actors and singers took me back in time. I stepped off the plane and felt twenty-five again, with big shoulder pads, bigger hair and a gaping hole where my confidence should be. Realizing I was turning my nephew’s wedding into an episode of American Idol made it worse. It wasn’t a competition. It wasn’t supposed to be about me. I was allegedly there to serve them.
Something had to give. So I went into a closet in my friend’s tiny apartment and prayed.
“Hi God,” I said. “Um, you probably know I’m doing this wedding…. There are scary people in the audience and I’m a little freaked out. But I want get it right, for the boys. Can you help? Amen.”
After the Amen, I looked at my feet. I was wearing a brand of Skechers shoes called “Go Walk.”
Message received. I was to Go Walk.
And so I did. Each day prior to the wedding, I walked for hours. I breathed slowly and moved deeply. I wandered through Manhattan, now an ashram of chaos where I could be in the rush, but not of the rush. I pondered up Broadway, sighing through all the voice lessons and auditions I once endured. I crossed Central Park and contemplated episodes of Law and Order featuring murder victims found in bushes – highly spiritual stuff. Then back down to Lincoln Center to our apartment.
I didn’t try to fix myself. I didn’t try to repair my anxious thoughts. I simply used the noise of the city like a metronome to force a slow deliberate pace, in step with the heartbeat of existence.
As I breathed slowly and moved deeply, the noise in my head surrendered. Inner chaos became inner stillness. Then the stillness carried me. When it came time to walk down the aisle in front of the two grooms, it was a mere extension of my stroll through Manhattan. The rest of the ceremony flowed from there.
Afterwards, Andrew and Mark approached me. “Bonnie,” Andrew said. “Do you realize you could start a cottage industry of weddings in New York?”…
Then Mark said, “People who aren’t even dating are asking if you could do their wedding.”
Then I smacked myself and said, “Crap. All that time, I was struggling in New York, chasing the right to be, all I needed to do was freakin’ walk and breathe?”
Now with a little maturity and perspective, I think the answer to that question is yes – we need to walk and breathe. We need to wander and ponder. We need to live ourselves into a new way of thinking and join a world where stillness is stronger than doubt or death.
The best gift came later. Months after the wedding, the boys sent me a file of photos. The pictures of the ritual were lovely. The grooms looked adorable and my hair wasn’t so big after all. But my favorite part was looking at candid shots of the “audience.” There were many pictures of the scary singers and actors. Each one gazed at my two nephews with unabashed tenderness. Looking at the photos, I realized how privileged I was to have wandered and pondered my way into the center of something so much bigger than my tiny insecurities.
Together, as a community, we were held in the center of Love and that is more than enough; in fact it is Everything.