From Alison: 31 May 2015 – I listened to a Jim Carrey commencement speech today. It’s long, twenty-six minutes, but the best of it starts from ten minutes in. If you don’t have time now, save it for a quiet moment and listen. It’s brilliant. It’s funny and moving and full of truth.
Three things hit me hard after watching Jim Carrey’s speech.
The first was a clarity that my life has been about what I can get. It has never been about what I can give. It doesn’t mean I haven’t been kind, and kind-hearted, and done nice things for other people, or that all of that hasn’t been genuine, but always running unconscious beneath the surface has been a kind of low-grade, and at times desperate, neediness. What does life have to offer me and how do I get it? From a feeling of inclusion, friends, support, money, love, all the way to wealth and fame – what can I get from life and how do I get it? Always fighting fighting, trying trying to get something. How do I get what I want? How do I get what I need? How do I get it – whatever it is? And most of all, how do I get beyond this rumbling undercurrent of dissatisfaction that has me always wanting something, always wanting more.
Several years ago, fed up with being dissatisfied for no reason, fed up with wanting more, the mantra arose: “What if this is enough?” I applied it over and over, day after day for months. What if this is enough? This could apply to whatever was happening in the moment, or it could apply to the bigger picture of my whole life. What if this is enough? It went on for months. The most obvious change that arose from this exercise was that spontaneously, and without thought or preamble, without even mentioning it to anyone, I quit smoking. Just like that. I was done.
Recently the same thought has been arising. What if this is enough? The clarity that spontaneously arose is that this blog has always partly been about what I can get, not about what I can give. The blog was supposed to be my way to get enough, to be enough. The raw recognition of this was heartbreaking. All about what I could get, not about what I could give. Writing this brings tears to my eyes, and a sense of shame, embarrassment, and inadequacy. I should be better than this! Should. This is not an intellectual exercise. It is felt at the deepest levels. The pain of grasping, of hoping, of trying, of doing all the things I imagined would help me get what I thought I wanted and needed.
Intellectually I know that loving is the answer, and that’s another thing I’ve been trying to do, over and over, hoping that if I could love enough I would get what I want, what I need. At the same time I’ve always felt that I was never able to love enough, that I was never good enough at loving. Why could I never feel the love that others speak of, except for a few special people, or only in certain situations, or only for brief moments?
The second thing that arose from listening to Jim Carrey was that I found myself asking a variant of the question “What if this is enough?” Suddenly I was asking what if I’m enough? Believing that I’m not has resulted in a lifetime of trying some how, some way, any way, to get to be enough. Trying to get whatever I can to prove that I’m enough.
I feel rocked to the core. It feels like a watershed moment. What if I’m enough? And what if I choose to make my life about giving instead of getting? Which inevitably led to the third thing that hit me: I have nothing to offer.
This is where I break down again. I’ve never believed I have anything of value to offer. It’s such a slap in the face to the creative force that arises within me, as me. I didn’t make me. Some Universal creative energy arose from nothing as me, and my chief response is I’m not good enough and I have nothing to offer. So here I am bleeding all over the page for a lifetime of trying to get what I can because I believe that I’m not enough, and that I have nothing to offer.
I’m reminded of how my sisters were completely shocked to hear that I didn’t think my dad loved me. He was a kind and gentle and loving man, equally to all of us. My interpretation was that he loved my mother and my three older sisters, but that he was just being nice to me because he was such a lovely kind man. I didn’t ever believe he actually loved me.
There are two reasons I choose to publish this. First and foremost is because Don and I made a commitment from the beginning to share the story of our journey as intentionally-homeless nomads, the inner journey as much as the outer, and to be completely self-revealing in doing that. Why? Because people relate to the truth. And so I offer the truth. I can at least offer that. And at the same time understand that it is also the most I can offer, the very best I can offer.
The second reason is that I don’t consider these self-esteem issues to be unique. I think many people experience, whether conscious of it or not, to some degree or another, a sense of inadequacy and a questioning of their worth to the world. I also think that the lives of most people to a greater or lesser extent are about what they can get. At the most basic level we’re all trying to get what we need to survive, and then doing what we think we need to do to get love, approval and a sense of belonging. What you’re witnessing is one ordinary human being coming to terms with the truth of the unconscious psychological energies that have been fuelling her life. The rumbling undercurrents that hold sway even when, actually, especially when, we are not conscious of them. Despite the tears and the bleeding all over the page it’s no big deal. Really. It’s what I do. In the final analysis I’m only interested in the truth. I celebrate the opening and clarity these insights bring. I relish the healing tears that come to wash away the shame and guilt and defendedness. It always inevitably leads to more inner freedom and spaciousness.
Several days later:
I have built this blog, and many other creative endeavours over the course of my life, through sheer force of will in the face of the following unconscious beliefs:
I’m not enough.
I’m not good enough.
I’m not wanted.
I’m not appreciated.
Others are not interested in me.
Others are not interested in what I have to say.
What I write is not good enough.
My photography is not good enough.
I have nothing to offer.
I am unseen and unheard.
Conscious awareness of the understanding that my life has been about what I can get, and of the belief that I have nothing to offer, is completely new. During all my many years of personal growth whenever I would become conscious of any of the beliefs listed above I would do “the work” to release the suffering associated with such belief structures, and let go of identifying with them. Each time there has been inner change and improvement, a feeling of being more grounded, and more comfortable in my skin, but never a complete freedom from them. They would slide like phantoms back into unconsciousness.
Now I find my approach is different. I’ve always found it a useful tool to deliberately practice coming to terms with the worst that could happen. So I asked myself “What if it’s true? What if it really is true that my life is about what I can get, that I’m not enough, and that I have nothing to offer the world? What if that’s true?” There’s a sadness that comes with that idea but it’s okay. These feelings too are welcome. I have long since let go of any resistance to so-called “negative” feelings. They are simply storms rolling through that leave me cleansed and refreshed. If it is true that I’m not enough and have nothing to offer what can I possibly do about it but carry on living my life? There is peace in that. A great peace. A letting go of striving, of trying, of hoping, and a settling into presence.
Several years ago someone accused me of being selfish, self-centred and self-absorbed. In the moment that she said it I knew it was true and owned it without hesitation. This seems to be another iteration of the same theme. If I can own it without judgement it has no power to hurt me. Life is what it is, and I am what I am.
Several more days later:
In the end there’s just love for it all. We all exist on so many levels at the same time. In presence I feel a great tenderness for myself, for all of us, for the whole human experience, for life. It has been infinitely freeing to discover these hidden unconscious beliefs about myself, and come to terms with them, rather than trying to change them. Infinitely freeing. And all during the time that this inner journey has been rumbling around inside me I’ve also been joyously engrossed in redesigning the blog – making it better! Not to try to be enough, no trying at all, just doing it for the love of doing it.
Two of my favourite quotes from Jim Carrey’s speech:
“My soul is not contained within the limits of my body. My body is contained within the limitlessness of my soul.”
“Risk being seen in all of your glory!”
Photo of the day: The newest generation of Canada goslings, Vancouver, Canada.
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.