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.



My Hungry Ghosts

Sikkim - Land of Discovery

I have been roaming around the house. Aimlessly cleaning, wiping surfaces and loading dishes in the dishwasher. I ate two paleo truffles, dark chocolate and with maca and cardamom, and six pieces of bacon. Dinner. I was full but still searching for something to fill me. I came home from work on the late side today. It’s dark and rainy. My dog still wants to walk but I don’t. I am all stirred up. Restless, irritable and discontent. I know this place too well, it should feel friendly by now but it does not. These feelings are not welcome, but still, they are here. My ghosts are hungry.
Gabor Mate, in his incredible book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, tells of a Tibetan Buddhist story. Of ghosts with small throats and large swollen bellies. Their throats so small that never enough food can pass through to alleviate their great hunger. They can never be filled, are always hungry, always craving, longing, wanting. This is a perfect  analogy for addiction. The hunger that never stops, can not be filled, and takes many forms.
I haven’t had a drink in two years, two years, it feels like a along time to say it. In reality it feel like no time at all, its just my life now. The first two months of sobriety felt like  a way bigger deal than the two year mark. I was like a baby those first months, everything was new. How did people do life without alcohol? So many firsts. My first sober dinner out with my husband, his martini was painfully distracting. My first sober beach trip, who knew, you can actually have fun at the beach without wine, and yet still long for it with a gut level ache that words cannot due justice. Every new experience felt like a big deal, yardwork (look at me working in my garden, sober!) hiking, hanging with friends. A hundred firsts. Learning a new way of being in the world.
Somehow, quite sneakily if you ask me. Alcohol had woven itself into nearly every area of my life, settled in and made a home in me. So cunning that I did not see it taking up occupancy until it had become so deeply  entrenched in my daily life that I felt I needed it to survive. Can people really do laundry sober? Boring. I had somehow come to believe that in order for life to be fun or fulfilling that I had to have a glass of something in my hand, better yet a bottle of something. A glass didn’t last nearly long enough.
Addiction is such that once seen it cannot be unseen, you can hide from it for a while. Most of us do, but the knowledge that something is not quite right will not ever really go away. I tried to hide for a long time. I tried everything under the sun to get away from the fact that I was dependent on alcohol, that I had lost control. But truth is persistent, and usually wins in the end. For me the truth was, I could no longer drink alcohol. I still  cannot drink alcohol. It is a hard truth to see, especially when we live in a culture where it is the common currency of social bonding, the sweet lubricant of conversation, the easiest way to connect with other humans. To not drink is to choose to learn a new way of living and connecting. Not an easy task, but truly a worthwhile and rewarding endeavor. I may write more about my process of choosing and working for sobriety in another post. Today this feels like enough. I have never spoken so openly about my recovery before and I feel vulnerable in doing so here, but it feels right as well, and most importantly, true.
So here I find myself, sober, having learned so many new ways to be. Yet still suffering. My ghosts are still hungry. They still will not let me rest . Some days I am tormented by longing. I just want something to make me feel better. I don’t always even know what it is that is hurting, what I am running away from. It can manifest as this aimless restlessness, almost a feeling of being lost, of despair. This is where I found myself today. In the realm of my hungry ghosts. I want to put things in my mouth, just for the sensation of tasting. I can get away from me for as long as I am consuming something else. I can fill myself up, if only for a moment… food never really fills the hole. There simply is no physical solution to a spiritual problem. Addiction doesn’t go away because you sober up. It still lives here. I still have all the pathology living inside of me that lead me to drink. Yes, it is better. Much healing has happened here for me. Still, there is a lot of healing yet to come. Maybe it will never be completely over. Maybe I will always have days where the ghosts roam through me, hungry and longing. I don’t  know, but I imagine this is so.
I do know that I can survive this. I have survived much worse. I do know that I can sit right in the seat of my own discomfort and still find a way to smile. I have learned that I do not have to be perfect or happy all the time to have value. I have value simply by the virtue of being born here in this human form. And maybe some of that value truly comes from weathering the storms of this messy imperfect life. The perfection of my imperfection.
I can let go of any ideal of what my life needs to look like. I can rest, I can surrender my need to control, I can eat bacon, I can let the ghosts howl hungry all night long….