This that I am arises from nothing. One can say it arises from the coupling of the parents, then the joining of the sperm with the egg, and then the growth of the fetus culminating in the birth of ‘me’. But still it all arose, and continues to arise, from nothing. Before the coupling of the parents there was nothing, not even a hint of a ‘me’. From nothing arises something. Each of us is something that arises from nothing.
Long ago, at a retreat, I heard our favourite spiritual teacher, Adyashanti, say that if you could accept yourself exactly as you are, to the depths of your being, you would be free. He said many things but this one stuck with me and became one of the main foci of my quest for inner peace. Accept myself, just as I am, arising in this very specific and unique way, from nothing. I’ve written previously about self-acceptance. Several times I think. As I said it is one of the main themes of the inner journey for me. Just when I get to think I’ve ‘arrived’, another layer is revealed.
It became a kind of meditation, dropping right into the feeling of being this ‘Alison thing’, this whole body-mind package that is called Alison. And every time I dropped deep into the feeling of being me I would sense a bottomless well of grief and heartache and resistance: everything was wrong about me. Unacceptable.
It was easy to see the things that were wrong with the body. The teaching is so insidious, so pervasive in western societies, and more increasingly in other societies, that tall and thin is it, and anything else is less than, is not good enough. Throughout my life, with relentless inner conflict regarding food and exercise, I have achieved reasonable success at the being thin part, but the tall part I could do nothing about. I had swallowed the teaching whole. At just over five feet tall I was not good enough. Unacceptable.
As for the personality I can barely find words to describe my feelings about it. In one way or another I have been given the message that the way I am is not good enough. I shouldn’t be so . . . . . sensitive, defensive, angry, fierce, fake, self-absorbed, selfish, dishonest, weird, different, flakey, judgmental, emotional, critical, unsuccessful, unstable, unlovable. There is no blame for the people who gave me these messages. They were frequently right. And I was incapable of receiving a different message. Because I believed it all to be true. To be me was unacceptable, so why would I not believe it? Why would I not resist it? To be me was nothing but pain and grief and heartache.
Over the years as I swam in the dark waters of the psyche, deeper and deeper, as deep as I could go, and released all the painful feelings lurking there, things slowly began to clear. I developed a complete lack of fear of the so-called negative emotions. Anger, shame, guilt, pain, all were there only to be felt. All were seen as visitors in the house of me, each one needing only to be acknowledged, heard, and experienced. I could become both the person in such deep pain that it felt impossible to cry hard enough, and at the same time the simple witness to the emotional storm. It was just pain after all, and all storms pass.
It has seemed over the years that there was to be no let-up, no end. No matter how much I cleared, every time I dropped deep into the feeling of being me, being this ‘Alison thing’, this something arising from nothing, there was only sobbing out the pain and the heartache and the grief of being me. What I found in those depths was as far from acceptance as one could possibly get.
I began to wonder if it would ever end. I couldn’t understand why I continued to be in such tenacious resistance to being me. It was so painful. Then last week came a day of feeling the feelings. A day of tears, letting them flow, tears for me, tears for the world, tears for the human condition, tears for all the ways in which we cause suffering for ourselves, tears for the something that arises from nothing.
From this arose the clarity that the core belief is that I am not worthy of love. It doesn’t matter that Don loves me. It doesn’t matter that my family loves me. It doesn’t matter that my friends love me. It doesn’t matter that apparently even people I have never met love me. It was patently clear that if I could not love this me that arises here, in all its imperfections, then I could not really receive the love of others, but more importantly, I could not fully and authentically love anyone or anything. If there is not love in the heart there is not love in the heart.
It is not true to say I have never felt and received love from others. It is even less true to say I have not felt love in my heart for others. I frequently look at Don and my heart melts like soft butter. What is true is that the love is not abiding and that unlove can be triggered at the slightest hint from someone that I’m somehow unacceptable. Not good enough. Wrong. And of course it is nothing but a mirror of my own inner beliefs about myself – somehow unacceptable and therefore unworthy of love.
One thing that has become clear is a lifetime of complaint, beginning of course with the endless complaints about myself. Unacceptable. Not good enough. These complaints, when not directed at myself, were often projected onto others or the world at large. How easy it is for us to complain, about the behavior of others, about the weather, about the state of the world, about anything and everything. I can finally see with clarity how this most essential definition of myself as unacceptable has lead to a lifetime of unconscious low-grade complaint.
It’s not as if I have never felt gratitude and appreciation. On the contrary one of the things that I’m most grateful for is that I have, later in life, finally learned to authentically feel gratitude, and to recognize and appreciate how blessed I am. And now I see there is still room for improvement. I have nothing to complain about. And every reason to be grateful for all that I am, for all that arises here as this body-mind package known as Alison, for this extraordinary gift of Life that arises as me.
Something has shifted. I started playing around with the idea of being worthy of love. Love from me for me. Love for this something that arises from nothing, this body-mind package, this ‘Alison thing’, this thing that arises from the great Mystery that is Life. Why not? What if I am worthy of love? It’s a rhetorical question to trick the mind into opening to new directions, new ways of being. And if not love, or even acceptance, then at least a letting go of relentless resistance. How grand it would be if love could arise here from me for me and from that spread out to include everyone and everything, which I believe would be the inevitable result.
Now when I drop deep into the feeling of being me there is no more grief, no more tears, no more resistance or inevitable judgment. Now it’s a kind of soft bewilderment. What is this? It is not love yet, but it is certainly finally no longer unremitting outright heartbreaking resistance. Progress.
Photo of the day: Early morning, False Creek, Vancouver
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.