A Measure of Worth

What does it mean to be worthy? This thought has been gathering in the corners of my mind for some time now, and in fact I have done some writing on this line of inquiry, but nothing that seems to articulate the true question I have fermenting in my heart. It is not how does one become worthy, but what does this worthy even mean, and where did this concept originate from?

In Indigenous cultures living their original life ways the idea that one could be worthy or unworthy would seem preposterous. Being human, being alive, you are obviously part of the fabric of life and therefore belonging to your people, sharing in life and community, and the joys and struggles therein. I am reminded as I write this of the stories of early missionaries attempting to bring the concept of original sin and baptism to native populations, who were so thrown off by the idea that they would just laugh at the missionaries. It was preposterous! Of course babies are not born as sinners, what an insane concept that it. I believe those cultures, so much older and wiser then our own, would have had the same reaction to this idea, spoken and unspoken that we all carry here in the west, that we are somehow unworthy and can attain worthiness through actions and appearances. Through becoming something other than what we are right now.

The etymological roots of the word worth come from multiple sources and cultures and vary some through the ages.  Many sources state a connection to value, price or merit. Old English, weorp, has the meaning of high value, equivalent, prized, but also hence, and toward. So you see even woven into the roots of this word we so casually and thoughtlessly use is this idea that we are heading toward something, that we are becoming. My teacher Stephen Jenkinson eloquently speaks about the concept of hope being a cruel sort of tyranny. I would propose that this idea of worth and the false god of hope live very close to one another, perhaps they are even bedfellows.

The idea that hope is anything less than a supreme healing and guiding force has been a hard sell for me I must say. I have long loved and quoted our dear Emily Dickenson’s poem that so beautifully states “hope is the thing with feathers that perches on the soul, and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.” It has taken some time, sweat and befuddlement to arrive where I sit today, knowing that in hope we lose the moment we are in, forgoing the life we are in for an illusory golden someday that will, as much as we desire it to, never come to pass. When I fall into judgment of how my life looks, when I question my value in the world, my worth, I collapse into the idea that someday I will be more than I am now. This is a false belief.

I do not mean to say that I will never change, no contrary to that, I am changing all the time. I grow older, and a little wiser. I become more grounded and kinder. All this is true. And yes I can make more money and travel, finally write a book, get in better shape. All this can happen. Yet none of this changes who I am , and none of it affects my worth, or perceived lack there of. I am, by birthright, whole. This idea that is lodged in our culture and thereby in me, that I will someday be more worthy, is an illusion, a false god, a decoy.

I believe that trying to be of more worth, takes me away from the deeper work of  trying to be more me. It isn’t just me suffering with this affliction. I would wager that most of us, living in the west, suffer with this same damaged and distorted thinking. Fall prey tp that false god of perfection and attainment, and go to bed worrying about what we aren’t and what we could be, if we tried harder, if we had more self control, if we had a different set of circumstances at our doorstep. I know I do. I know many nights my last thought is a plan of how I will do better tomorrow, and on waking my first thought is how I will do better today. The idea of just being ok with how I am now, and now, and now…seems almost impossible. What would I do with my life if I was not chasing some ghost of perfection and worth?

The self help world does not help. I can scarcely begin to imagine how many guides to finding your worth, creating self worth rituals and becoming worthy there are lining the shelves of the local new age bookstores. The sorrowful thing is that as well meaning as this all is, it is actually nothing more than a distraction and a fantasy. What if we could simply feel that we were already worthy, that we have great value, that we are in fact mandatory to life as we know it. How would it feel to live in that reality? Awesome, it would feel awesome. You know who would not feel awesome about it? The publishers of self help books, the marketers that sell us products, the fashion industry, the car sales lots. The list could go on and on.

The capitalist, puritanical, colonizing voice of our culture sings loudly in our ears, ‘you are not enough” from the cradle to the grave, and we listen. We listen and we purchase. If we stay distracted by this never ending hunt for value and a sense of worth, we will continue chasing our tails in circles in a dark room. It is by turning to face the faceless voice that beguiles us, and challenging it that we can begin to come into right relationship with our own lives and the lives of those around us. You cannot put a price on that. It is valueless, or, is in invaluable.

As a woman living in North America I am personally deeply and darkly acquainted with this quest for feeling enough, and I see it in other woman as well. We all walk around quoting the same two lies, I am fine, and everything is ok. We say it so much we believe it, we say it so much when another woman breaks the mold, we condemn her. We are our own thought police. Living in cages that we have created and enforced, the cell walls of our own denial of suffering. In failing to speak our fears and inadequacies we add bars to the cage, so that less light can come through. All this is part of the ruthless oppression of the concept of worth and the constant searching and hoping that we can become more worthy and more whole.

I do not know how to banish from  mind and spirit the idea that I am unworthy. I do not know how to disconnect from my cultural conditioning and let go of these thought patterns that live so deeply in me. This way of viewing myself and my life may be here for the long haul. Thank god I do know, that I do not have to believe everything I think, and that shame cannot live in the light. It is dwells in the unspoken darkness and does not care for conversation. In being brave enough to dissect in myself this worthiness lie, and speaking of this process to others, I am putting a nail in the coffin of this manifestation of our cultural madness.

Healing does not happen in isolation, it happens in community. In the community that I share my sorrow, grief and shame in, and in my own inner community. I am learning to welcome home the parts of me that I have been hiding from. Learning that the very things I have felt made me unworthy are actually some of my greatest gifts. Retrieving  the pieces of me that I abandoned and beginning to do the work of figuring out why I abandoned them in the first place. This internal family that makes up who I am.

Instead of measuring my worth, I want to feel my life. Knowing that simply being here is enough.. The pleasures of having a body, a quite moment alone before dawn, the unspeakable beauty of morning birdsong. I am as whole as the birds that sing, as worthy of life’s beauty and abundance as the squirrels that visit each day. I do not have to be, do or change anything in order to claim my place in the order of things. I simply and sweetly show up in my life, and today, that is enough.



13 thoughts on “A Measure of Worth

  1. Nathan says:

    I love this… and it strikes home for me. Growing up in a religious context that teaches unconditional love and that my “works” won’t bring me more love, I sure learned that being “better” than yesterday was important. Morality… hope… progress… worthiness. The songs might as well have been saying, “I’m not worthy. I’m not worthy.” I have a chaplain friend who calls it “Wayne’s World spirituality.” I think you are on to something, though. Putting a nail in that coffin. Naming it. Saying, no more… I’m not going to try to be MORE worthy, I’m just going to be me.

    I think too, that there is so much to just paying attention and simplifying (stripping away). It is amazing what connecting to the earth teaches us, right? We know we belong… because, we just do. The birds and bees and squirrels don’t wonder if they are worthy because they just do their thing and are part of it all. I am no “better” than they are because we an all be part of this beautiful dance of living.


    • mariannalouise says:

      Yes, it is amazing what the earth teaches us! I feel like a child at times, so much I do not know, or even know how to begin to adequately begin to learn. The thoughts I put forth here feel real to me and yet there is so much more to unpack…
      my childhood of religion had so many layers of blame and shame rolled into what from the outside looked like a healthy communal life. I am so glad to have the connection that we are building, both online and in real life. I am going to give you the biggest hug in October!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jen says:

    Oh Marianna…..THIS. This resonates so deeply and is something that I have been wrestling with since my ealiest memories. You have so beautifully brought this into words and there are so many conversations that can be had about this. Let me know if you want to go to tea sometime and talk. Love you and your writing.


    • mariannalouise says:

      I would LOVE to spend some time together and discuss this among other deep subjects. I am touched that this resonates with you and that you enjoy reading me. I Love you too, dear one, let us make a tea date happen soon!


  3. Caroline says:

    What an excellent exploration of something we all so deeply struggle with.
    There is so much that could be said, but I want to share the fruits of some of my exploration into the root of these feelings . There is a baseline anxiety that I feel frequently to greater or lesser degrees.It is a challenge learn to feel into this feeling. T he gut response is to want it to stop, or run away from it with all the kinds of behaviors that humans employ not be in their present feelings.When I can get deeper into this feeling I touch that part of my humaness that lives in uncertainty .This is a real and honest and truthful state of being, a cousin to the oneness of beginners mind. Allowing and embracing the edginess and vulnerability of that feeling sense, I open up.
    How this connects to unworthiness for me is that the ego abhors feelings of unsafely , that part thinks I should always feel content and in control, and when I don’t there must be something wrong with me that should be fixed.This is not so. Bodies need to be full and empty, active and resting etc. Souls and hearts need to have empty times
    Namaste. Thank you for this beautiful blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. mariannalouise says:

    What a beautiful look into your own experience. I resonate with you reply, this underlying anxiety can seem so huge at times. There is so much wisdom in what you share here, touching the part of our humanity that lives in uncertainty. I do so appreciate this honest and thoughtful comment. Such a blessing to travel through this life with you. Thank you for reading me.


  5. Hank says:

    There is much more I wish to say, you so often unlock the doors to my perception, but for now here is this.

    Worth is a false idea, it is empty.
    It was invented a very long time ago
    To control behavior.
    We accept it as we accept the mountains.

    There must be a scale
    From worth to non-worth
    For worth to exist.
    And there is no such scale.

    For such a scale to exist
    There must be a worthiness judge.
    For thousands of years people
    Have tried to create a worthiness judge.

    We have called these judges
    God, Gods, Goddesses.
    But they have all been false,
    Because they are all human made.

    But God, Gods, Goddesses are useful.
    Priests, holy men/holy women use them
    To mold their bit of humanity into
    An understandable controllable whole.

    What if you do not accept
    Worth as having meaning?
    What if you accept yourself
    As who you are?

    Without worth?
    Beyond Worth?
    Outside of worth?

    Then you cannot be controlled.
    Delison 2017

    Liked by 1 person

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