I didn’t want to leave when the weekend came to an end. I had been feeling unsettled, empty; all week long tears had simmered just under the surface but could not find release. I craved some time away to open my heart, quiet my mind and listen. Perfect timing as two months earlier I had booked a three-day retreat for that very weekend.
My small, simple room with avocado-green Formica counters and shared bathroom down the hall made me feel like I was back in university. The simplicity was welcome and reminded me how little I truly need to be happy. A reminder, too, that some of my unsettledness – perhaps even weariness – was rooted in the feeling that even after years of deepening self-awareness and self-compassion, my vicious inner critic is alive and well. In vulnerable moments she likes to remind me how I can never quite keep up in a world that feels harried and complicated.
I don’t know how to be different from who I am.
I have never needed stuff to feel fulfilled. I have been searching for meaning. A place of belonging or acceptance. A sense that I matter and have something beautiful to contribute. Since childhood, I have worn a heavy weight of responsibility, a grief over all the suffering in the world and I’ve wanted so badly to fix it. But this desire to make a difference crashes up over and over again against my limitations and my sense of never being enough. Not capable enough. Not strong enough. Not enough.
And last week it hurt. I see your gifts so clearly – I ache with compassion when you don’t understand how amazing you are. But grace so easily eludes me.
“I’ve spent my whole life searching desperately to find out grace requires nothing of me.”
I gathered with about 27 other people as we opened up to learn more about Our Sacred Selves and the Enneagram. About how we are knit together, what motivates us, what we are afraid of. All the ways we hide in layers of self-protection. How we can wrestle free.
I am not brand new to the Enneagram but felt content here. Listening, contributing, pondering. As I sat in the circle, I thought about my clients, my children, my best friends – each one still in the messy and sometimes uncomfortable process of becoming. I loved connecting with this mix of age and gender, all of us still on this journey to understanding and embracing the truth of who we are – the 30-something counselor and the 80-year-old nun. None of us are wrong for where we are at on the journey.
Grace. There is grace for even me. I realize this is a term that feels uncomfortable for some so define it as you will. It makes me think of irrational love. Loving-kindness. True acceptance.
It makes me think about how much it meant to me that my mom told me she LIKED me, didn’t just LOVE me. Because I knew that as a parent she “had” to love me or that we can love someone even when we don’t really like them. But for her to say she liked me was something altogether different. It meant that she truly saw me for who I was and chose me as friend. She witnessed all my neuroticism, my striving and struggle and she liked me.
Maybe herein lies the true problem, then: that 46 years in, I still don’t fully like myself.
Maybe I’m still waiting for you to accept and affirm and make me believe that I’m finally good enough, worthy enough, lovable enough (how I hate admitting this).
But acceptance is an inside job.
You hear this common refrain in my writing because writing – truth-telling – is one of the ways I untangle truth from fiction and do the work of growing up.
Sunday morning I awoke reluctantly. I wasn’t ready to come back home. I had gone away to listen but hadn’t yet received from the retreat any glimmery bit of profound new wisdom that would alter the course of my life and end the struggle once and for all (in my healthy moments I remember that joy is not dependant upon the absence of struggle).
A mere moment later though, while still entangled in my sheets and half awake, a thought popped in for a visit and I grabbed my phone to type it out before it flitted off again.
Maybe it’s not that you’re empty but you’re not saying the thing you have trapped inside.
Maybe it’s not that you’re weary but you’re not using the strength you’ve pushed aside.
Maybe you’re not really afraid but you’re busy soothing and placating everyone else’s fears.
Maybe you don’t want to quit but you don’t know how to be you and still walk through it.
I didn’t have time to give it too much thought until I had returned home and when I pulled the “poem” out again Monday morning, I settled in to listen. What I heard was that maybe I (and you) already possess the voice, the strength, the direction or ability we need. We live distracted, searching desperately for an external spring of wisdom but if we pause and listen in, if we lay down judgment and do the deeper work, we might just find precisely what we have been searching for.
For the past two years, I’ve been telling my closest friends that although I am a recovering perfectionist I feel like I am afraid of success more than failure these days. And by success, I mean simply walking in confidence of my strengths and gifting – offering up the messy truth of who I am and my desire to use words to build a kinder world, one messy, scruffy soul at a time. Each time a door of opportunity opens up to me to use my gifts I panic, anxiety spikes, and I have to fight tooth and nail to stay present instead of running and hiding (can anyone relate?).
Maybe if I am completely honest I do believe I am on the right path, I am gifted to serve, I have exactly what is required to do the work to which I am called. And I only have to be me. Nothing else is required. Maybe this is the thing that scares me most of all.
The realization that I am the only one holding me back from living at peace, with joy, in alignment to my mission.
I’ve spent my whole life searching desperately to find that grace requires nothing of me.
The only way to growth is through. The only way through is to be me.
P.S. I feel the need to say that although I am writing about me (and this can feel rather self-absorbed) – I believe many of you will hear truth in my story. Truth that compels you to open your heart, quiet your mind, and do your own inner work. May you find grace there.
If you want to learn more about the Enneagram, you might like The Wisdom of the Enneagram, The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge (which will help you understand sub-types) and The Enneagram Made Easy (affiliate links). Feel free to share your favorite resources in the comments!