I just started re-reading the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert; I read it, I don’t know, last year or the year before, and liked it alright, but didn’t love it. Funny, though, how my perception of the book has changed in reflection to how my life has changed. If I recall, there were a lot of good things about the book but it wasn’t life-changing for me in any way-I was too busy being resentful because not everyone has the opportunity to travel for a year after a divorce looking for spiritual enlightenment, right? So she wrote about eating pasta in Italy and in my head I was thinking,”Oh goody for you, let me go heat up another box of generic macaroni and cheese,” which wasn’t an attitude conducive to reading a book about spirituality. So this time, I don’t feel that same sense of bitterness that I did way back when-which means that I may or may not like the book any more than I did last time, but that at least I am becoming softer and more gentle with time.
Tonight we go to the Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner at my friend J’s church. She is Episcopalian, and I am not but sometimes think I would like to be. Besides being especially liberal as an organized religion, I find I like the sameness, I like the rituals, I really like and enjoy being around some of the congregation. I have been to lots of churches where I couldn’t say the same, let me tell you. Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, of course, which also signifies the beginning of Lent-which is a time of introspection, a time to look at your life and submit to the will of God and basically give you a chance to make positive changes in your life (and this is completely my take on it; I have no expertise in this at all, I promise you). Which is pretty much what I *try* to do on a daily basis, thanks to my AA 12-step work. Still-I love the idea of symbolically taking part in these age-old rituals of fasting and making myself right with God, so to speak.
Traditionally, I think we are supposed to “give up” something for Lent; maybe chocolate or swearing or chewing gum or sleeping with the neighbor’s wife, I don’t know. I don’t normally do anything like this, because it smacks of New Years Resolutions, which I avoid like the plague, and also because I am not Episcopalian or Catholic. In my mind’s eye, I can see some man in a robe knocking on my door to tell me that I am in trouble for stealing one of “their” rituals, practicing religion without the proper qualifications (hm, feel unwarranted guilt much?). This year, though, I thought I would live dangerously and actually give something up. Not food, not swearing (puh-leaze. Are you fucking kidding me?), but something small that really does affect my life on a daily basis. And I have heard from several people lately that this is, in fact, something I need to be working more diligently on, daily.
What is this thing, you might ask? Negative self-talk. And you wouldn’t think that it would be a sacrifice to give that up, would you, but I think for me it is. Not just the shit-talk like when I get dressed in the morning and tell myself how fat I am, or how much I hate the way I look; those are surface things that have to do with appearance only, and while I am completely refusing to give in to the negative vibes as far as THAT goes, my primary negative thoughts are about who I am, not how I look. There have been a few problems lately that have ended with broken friendships, and while of course I have a part in that, I refuse to take all the responsibility-which means I have to stop telling myself what a shitty friend I am, what an awful person, how fucked up I am. Those things are all true to varying degrees, of course-they are in ALL of us. But what I have to stop myself from doing is letting that become who I am rather than a very small fraction of the panoply of things that is me. This is just one example-there are a thousand others. When I lose my temper with one of the kids (lately, Sam, very much so), that doesn’t mean I am a shitty mom-it means I had a bad moment. When I make a mistake at work, it doesn’t mean I am a shitty agent, it means I made a mistake. Stuff like that. I get tired of the constant negative feedback in my head, in a voice that sounds so much like my mother’s that I want to scream-so THAT is what I am giving up. Maybe it is a small thing, and maybe not much of a sacrifice in religious terms, but the thing is, when that negative shit is gone, I have to fill it with something-which means I have to consciously practice positive self-talk. And THAT? Will be hard.
I don’t know; the idea of getting right with God in a religious sense is a concept I have a hard time with-but I believe that God loves me and delights in me right where I am. I think (and this is just a feeling, as I haven’t gotten any major signs from The Big Guy proclaiming this) that God wants me to love myself, because isn’t that what his true manifestation is? Love? And of course we are supposed to love other people, which most of the time I do, but I also think God wants us to be happy with and USE the gifts he has given us, and when I am constantly talking down to myself, I am only putting limits on those gifts. I don’t expect this to make sense to anyone else-but it makes sense to me.
None of this is new stuff to me, either-but this is the first time I have made a conscious choice to love myself out loud. I am reading that book because I am still on a path toward enlightenment, and I hope I always will be-but I might learn something new in rereading it. I am taking good care of myself physically, which is necessary, and emotionally (as a whole, at least), I am in a far better place than I was a year ago; now I think it is time to work toward finding a balance between all of them.