This post is adapted from a speech I delivered at First Unitarian Universalist Church in 2004 at a service led by the Young Adult Group. The theme of the service was “Sacredness”.
What is Sacred to me?
- Dissociating from myself when I’m uncomfortable
- Protecting myself from pain by avoiding intimate relationships with others
- Letting what I “should” do and “have-to” do dictate my behavior
- Sharing my truth only when I think it will please others
- Doing the one “good” thing and not one of the many “bad” ones
- And holding on at all costs
These are the things that were sacred to me.
I learned to read and write at a young age. But reading and writing were not the most significant things I learned. I learned philosophy! I learned a paradigm of the world and where I fit into it. This paradigm can be summarized with two seemingly benign words – “Be good”. As in “Be good, David!”
Being good was a sacred act! Not only did it allow me to receive strokes from my parents and teachers, it kept me in a good place with God and OUT of trouble. So I decided early on that I would do everything I could not to be “bad” as if “badness” was an abyss from which I would never escape.
One result of the choice to always be “good” was that I temporarily revoked my universe-given right to self-worth. When I linked my value as a person to my ability to guess and provide other’s what they wanted, I became a “people pleaser”. As a “people pleasing” youth and teenager, I was able to do what was “right” – getting good grades and behaving obediently — and to avoid the duel traps of alcohol and sex that ensnared many of my classmates.
I was good at being “good”.
Then I started college and my trusty paradigm was tested by Fortran 77 – a computer programming course I took as an Engineering Major. After two months of “below average” performance in this class, I learned three powerful things: 1) I had no future as a computer programmer, 2) I was clearly not “good” at Fortran 77, and 3) Not being “good” felt very “bad”. The low level depression I had been experiencing blew-up as I judged myself, no longer meeting the expectations of others, as “bad”.
Thus began my path toward change. Searching for clarity, I saw one therapist, then another, then another, then another – well, you get the picture. In the process I named my paradigm, learned why it no longer worked for me, and changed my major to Psychology.
As I moved to San Diego and continued my quest to find ways to look at the world that honored me as a whole person, I learned the importance of valuing my needs by studying and practicing a communication model called Nonviolent Communication (NVC).
During an NVC training, I heard this statement: “Depression is the reward for being good”. This immediately made sense to me because I saw that focusing my consciousness on meeting other’s expectations led me to lose touch with my heart. This, near-tragic separation, manifest in the form of a destructive depression that cycled through my life twice a year.
With this insight, I committed to work to stay connected to all parts of me (including my feelings) at all times. Rather than choosing to seeing the world as a struggle between “good” v. “bad” and striving always to be “good”, I decided to perceive my world as a place where people act, in each moment, to meet their needs regardless of the labels attached to those actions.
My new worldview often put what I did in conflict with what others wanted me to do. At these times, not only could the other person perceive me as “bad”, they might call me “bad” or worse! Rather than slipping into my childhood abyss of “badness”, I decided to focus my energy on understanding the other person’s views and working together to find mutually-satisfying solutions.
My continuing practice of Nonviolent Communication has led me to new values, new paradigms, and a new definition of sacredness:
- Connecting with my heart and its feelings and needs in each moment
- Connecting deeply with others knowing that both pain and growth will result
- Honoring my free will, not the false demands of the world
- Valuing honesty and openness in asking for what I need, when I need it
- Seeing the world through a lens of discovery and fascination, not good and bad
- And letting go at all costs
These are the things that are sacred to me.
I believe that we can choose to join Rumi in his field “beyond rightness and wrongness” (and goodness and badness) where everyone Communicates with Heart. ~ Dave