Thursday, April 19, 2012

Humble/Gratitude List: Things That Remind My Ego It's Not "All That"


In therapy we sometimes recommend people do gratitude journals–to emphasize the positive of life and find personal humbleness. I think it is also an excellent spiritual exercise. My neurotic ego needs a kick in the *ss often. That pesky ego that fills us with the feelings that we are both the worst and the best, sometimes even in one breath–it feeds on complements given to it and nastiness directed towards it in equal measure. It can tug us more into “neediness” of the self & diminish our capacity to be compassionate to ourselves and others.

So, I here is my public foray in personal flogging and humility; because if it’s not public I can always trick myself into thinking it’s not there :) .

Humility List AKA “things I suck at and other personal confessions”:
  1. I am awful at sports. I was on the volleyball team for a year in high school but I got the “stage fright” and could never do what needed to be done when it was game time. A definite humiliating way to end a not-so-promising career. It was made official when running after the volleyball practicing in my own backyard I fell into the neighbor’s backyard and chipped my ankle bone.
  2. I am afraid of revolving doors–not metaphorically, actual doors. I have this perpetual fear that I will get stuck in it’s whip fast circular maze. I have had nightmares about it. A friend in graduate school told me he got stuck in one with a stranger who thought he could squeeze into the same cubicle with him but couldn’t–he said it was as scary as it was an awkward invasion of personal space. I only went to the bookstore on NYU campus once during graduate school because it only had a revolving door. What kind of cruelty is that?
  3. I cannot do math–even simple equations or tip on a check. I count with my fingers or in my head imagining the configurations of numbers on dice. Geometry, Calculus, and Statistics make me quake and groan in equal measure.
  4. I am pretty impoverished when it comes to poetry. I cannot, under any circumstance, be succinct. Poetry, at its core is about synthesizing things to their smallest denomination and making each word count. I can’t do that. I can’t be brief period. All my sentences are run-ons and all my paragraphs too long. I agitate anyone who is naturally succinct–like my engineer brother or all of my doctors. Doctors ask me things like “when did you last [fill in the blank for a symptom],” and I respond with something like, “Well it was July in Bolivia and there was this campesino strike…” They don’t like it.
  5. This is a big picture one. I struggle with being tolerant of people who are intolerant. It is a humungous paradox, I know. I struggle with it often in life but especially in faith. I am trying more to let God and grace and my limited contemplative mind to take over when I am confronted with this particular test, but it is a tough one for me.


Gratitude List AKA “things I’m blessed with (but don’t deserve)”:
  1. A husband who represents all the characteristics I don’t. He is a logical thinker (to an extreme–he was trained in the math of logic–insert my nightmare combo here) and balances my bubble of emotion and imagination. He can be my conscience when I need one and always gets me sweets when I feel like crap from one or another of my illnesses. I say that he is the “unbreakable man” and I am his alter-ego “mister glass”. We are like Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson in the movie “Unbreakable”–nothing effects him physically or emotionally and I fall down stairs and break all my bones. Like scales we balance each other (at our best–and can irritate each other at our worst). He is like Vitamin D to me, rays of sun that help my depleted system.  **side note: I am actually deficient in Vitamin D–which, living in Florida is like a joke of my sad immune system**
  2. I have three dogs that love me unconditionally. How great are pets? The oldest is a neurotic pitbull-lab with some subtle signs of doggie asthma who likes to swim laps in the pool with me and leap over high things in a single bound. He’s all muscle like an olympian–but he cheats when we swim laps, I swear he does. The second oldest is a beagle-pug (not a puggle) who was named “princess” at the shelter we adopted her from. We did not keep the name. She is a brat though and has the particular nature of a cat–she wants what she wants when she wants it and besides that she finds everyone else quite a bother to her. I imagine her with a British accent, like royalty (no offense meant, half my family is British). She is only half beagle so she can only half howl–the second half sounds like someone strangling a beagle. The third in line is a jack russell who walks like she has heels on and scavenges like the hunting dog she is. She is the smallest and the most vicious but she cuddles like a little baby in any warm person’s nooks and crannies. She is the crowd pleaser and also the animal mutilator. Like Marley from “Marley & Me”she was a clearance puppy–half off and the only dog I bought from a store. They all love me a ton and snuggle really well. They are awesome.
  3. I have a job that makes me feel good at least once every day. I can help people in trauma and woundedness and those people have such gratitude for the work we do together in therapy. Whatever comes in my professional future and calling this work has been a miracle in my life and my clients a blessing of open-heartedness. The work is as close to sacredness in secularity as I can imagine.
  4. I have shelter and more than that a home. It is a teeny tiny little ranch house but I have lived here longer than I have in any other place besides my parents’ home and it feels like home. I hope I never expect or neurotically feel like I need any more than I have. It is simplicity and security at the same time. And for the first time in my house-bouncing-history I have a place I can paint–both walls inside and shutters outside. My shutters are blue and remind me of the “casa azul” where the painterFrida Kahlo lived.
  5. I have love. I know that feels like repetition but it is really the essence of all gratitude. It is the roots and the branches of life. It is the heart and the soul of existence. And through my work I see so many people impoverished in the area of love–they haven’t been able to give it or receive it nearly as much as I have for so many reasons (abuse, trauma, anxiety, fear, circumstance). My parents love me, my siblings love me, my husband loves me, and my friends love me. People of many denominations and religions and no religion at all have, and do, love me. How great is that? My heart is a United Nations of union–and if I want to, if I choose to, I can see God alive and plentiful in every corner of my life. If I choose to.

This is one way I “shadowbox” as Richard Rohr (the theologian) and Fiona Apple talk about…in oddly similar ways. If you see below Fiona Apple is singing about a person, but imagine inserting the EGO/SELF in as the object of lust and need and danger–to me it feels just as, or even more, true. :
You made me a shadowboxer, baby
I wanna be ready for what you do
I been swinging around ’cause
I don’t know when you’re gonna make your move
Oh, your gaze is dangerous
And you fill your space so sweet
If I let you get too close
You’ll set your spell on me
So darlin’ I just wanna say
Just in case I don’t come through
I was onto every play
I just wanted you
Oh it’s so evil, my love
The way you’ve no reverence to my concern
So I’ll be sure to stay wary of you, love
To save the pain of once my flame and twice my burn. excerpt SHADOWBOXER LYRICS from FIONA APPLE.

How do you shadowbox? How do you deal with your own internal ego–that is both neurotic and grandiose by nature?
How do you remind yourself of humility when the world might build you up? How do you keep yourself grounded in the blessings in your life?
Have you done a gratitude journal, or something else like that–what they call in 12 Step programs “a personal inventory”?

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