What’s wrong with me?
Last Thursday Eliza King led a Dharma discussion on the topic of our search for perfection. The search for perfection may prevent us from accepting ourselves and others as our true selves. Our Dharma practice encourages us to become mindful of our innermost selves, to listen to and deeply understand ourselves and others. This is not always easy. It is sometimes painful for us to look deep inside and take the risk of being intimate with ourselves and with other people. It can be like asking the questions, “What’s wrong with me? Why am I this way? Why do I feel bad inside? Why am I hurting?” Wouldn’t we prefer to avoid that kind of pain?
I have been re-reading a book titled I’m OK, You’re OK by Thomas A. Harris, MD, in which he presents what he considered to be a new approach to therapy called “transactional analysis.” This has been helpful to me lately.
Harris says that transactional analysis constructs the following classification of four possible life positions a child may develop during its earliest years:
- I’m not OK, you’re OK
- I’m not OK, you’re not OK
- I’m OK, you’re not OK
- I’m OK, you’re OK.
For example, he describes what a child might feel like in the second position above. He imagines that such a child might have had a parent in its first year that held it and fed it, but that parent may have stopped giving the child many “positive strokes” after its first year. After that, the parent may have been less responsive to the needs and wants of the child. The child wonders why, and wonders whether there is something about itself that is bad, or is the reason for this loss of “positive strokes.” The child may feel there must be something about itself that it should be ashamed of. If so, the child may adopt the second position above, namely, “I’m not OK, you’re not OK.”
Harris says, “In this position the Adult stops developing since one of its primary functions – getting strokes – is thwarted in that there is no source of stroking. A person in this position gives up. There is no hope. He (or she) simply gets through life and (eventually may engage in) regressive behavior which reflects a vague, archaic longing to get back to life as it was during the first year during which he (or she) received the only stroking he (or she) ever knew – as an infant who was held and fed.”
I’m OK – You’re OK
Later in the book, Harris says that … “in the fourth position (I’m OK – You’re OK), there is hope…. The first three positions are unconscious, having been made early in life…. The first three positions are based on feelings. The fourth is based on thought, faith, and the wager of action. The first three have to do with why, the fourth has to do with why not? Our understanding of OK is not bound to our own personal experiences, because we can transcend them into an abstraction of ultimate purpose for all men (and women).… We do not drift into a new position. It is a decision we make.”
For me, the good news is that I can make the choice of “being OK” at any point in my life, no matter how old I am. [One definition of “OK” is “good enough.”] All that is needed is that I dwell in the present moment, let the sunlight of the Spirit into my life, and accept myself as I am, whoever that is in this moment. When I do that, I don’t have to adopt scenarios for dealing with others such as judging, condemning, criticizing, or attacking. I don’t have try to make them do what I want. I don’t have to try to make other people hurt because I am hurting. I can smile. I can be intimate with myself and let myself be who I am. I can let others be who they are and try to understand them and love them, too. We are one. We can live our lives and walk the pathway of peace together.
This Thursday, we will share with each other whether this resonates with us. For me, I see how I got the “I’m not OK” message strongly and clearly in childhood, and how I spent much of my adulthood learning how to reframe that understanding. I eventually found AA and was drawn into a new way of life. In AA’s 6th and 7th steps we try to develop the willingness to change. At first we may be able to make small changes, like not sending nasty e-mails whenever we get mad at someone. Eventually we look deeper and try to make more fundamental changes – like trying to go out into the world, accept other people as they are, and practice love and compassion – much like in our meditation practice.
I hope you can join us,
Quote from AA’s Twelve Step Book
From Step 12.
“The joy of living is the theme of AA’s Twelfth Step, and action is its key word. Here we turn outward toward our fellow alcoholics who are still in distress. Here we experience the kind of giving that asks no rewards. Here we begin to practice all Twelve Steps of the program in our daily lives so that we and those about us may find emotionally sobriety. When the Twelfth Step is seen in its full implication, it is really talking about the kind of love that has no price tag on it. Our Twelfth Step also says that as a result of practicing all the Steps, we have each found something called a spiritual awakening.”
Quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step
Twenty-Four Brand-New Hours
“Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand-new hours to live. What a precious gift! We have the capacity to live in a way that these twenty-four hours will bring peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and to others….. We can smile, breathe, walk, and eat our meals in a way that allows us to be in touch with the abundance of happiness that is available. We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living.… We have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.”
“What is preventing us from being happy right now? As we follow our breathing, we can say, simply, “Calming, Smiling, Present Moment, Wonderful Moment.”
“The secret to happiness is happiness itself. Wherever we are, any time, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of each other, the wonder of our breathing. We don’t have to travel anywhere else to do so. We can be in touch with these things right now.”
Quote from Pema Chodron, The Pocket Pema Chodron
“Remind yourself, in whatever way is personally meaningful, that it is not in your best interest to reinforce thoughts and feelings of unworthiness. Even if you’ve already taken the bait and feel the familiar pull of self-denigration, marshal your intelligence, courage, and humor in order to turn the tide. Ask yourself: Do I want to strengthen what I’m feeling now? Do I want to cut myself off from my basic goodness? Remind yourself that your fundamental nature is unconditionally open and free.”
Start where you are.
“Start where you are. This is very important.…What you do for yourself, any gesture of kindness, any gesture of gentleness, any gesture of honesty and clear seeing toward yourself will affect how you experience your world. In fact, it will transform how you experience the world. What you do for yourself, you’re doing for others, and what you do for others, you’re doing for yourself.”
Quote from “Living in the Light of Death,” On the Art of Being Truly Alive by Larry Rosenberg
Intimacy with Living and Dying
“We all want intimacy, or at least think we do, but what we actually feel is loneliness, separation and isolation. And the fact is – though no one wants to hear this – that we can’t have intimacy with another person until we’re intimate with our loneliness. We can’t be intimate with someone else until we’re intimate with ourselves. Intimacy is an experience of nonseparation, of being at one with whatever is happening…. Practice involves a profound form of reeducation, taking our mind away from what we want to happen and planting it in the middle of what really is happening.”
A book about joy offered by Mitchell Ratner (available in the Takoma Park Library): The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Abrams