Not Good Enough

“… let the soft animal of your body love what it loves …” (Mary Oliver)

Hearing these words recited this morning brought tears for how unkind I’ve been to myself. Judging. Dissatisfied. Rarely grateful, welcoming, or loving. Sixty-nine years of life with this harsh and critical voice in my head. Why?

            Not Good Enough. A witchy figure sits in the corner of the room, hovering in a dark shadow over the open notebook of my manuscript. She wags a disapproving finger at me.  Exhorting, demanding, criticizing. The time I spend on writing and editing is not good enough. The effort, the creativity, the authenticity I put into the manuscript—not good enough. The manuscript in its entirety … not … good … enough.

            Imagine my surprise at my niece’s response to my whining self-disparagement.

“It’s 860-some pages! Ridiculously too long. It must be cut down.”

Upon hearing this, she gasped. “860 pages! I’d be clapping at such an achievement.”

Clapping? How is it possible that clapping has not once occurred to me?

            She and I ponder our shared burden, carrying this harsh and heavy inner figure on our backs for as long as we can remember. A hag who goes on and on, endlessly repeating insults: Inadequate. Insufficient. Not good enough.

            Can we try to see her differently? What if she needs our help? What if our hag were partnered with a light-bearing sprite?  Might she be less miserable? For miserable she surely is, hence, misery is what she brings. What if, rather than wishing to banish our witch from the house of our psyche, we were to accept her as part of the inner multiplicity of being? Each subpersonality haunts … or … offers to guide, remind, inspire. What if we were to dig deeper, to look for what emotions, needs, and complexities drive Not Good Enough? She could embody the (distorted) longing to give, create, and be our best selves.  She could personify too-high standards, the urge for creative expression that has sadly run amok. Perfectionism carries a fearful and desperate wish to be in control. When life, disappointment, love, or grief unsettle our sense of how we need our world to be, we may ally or bind ourselves to perfectionism. Not Good Enough. When we are less than aware of whose arms we’re running into, we lose the opportunity to choose. When we judge the judge, we’re caught on the treadmill of futility and self-harm. If on the other hand, we give every inner voice a receptive ear, every figure in our inward cosmos a seat at the table, we might find they have something to say, something to remind us of, something to teach. Even Not Good Enough.

Not Good Enough might serve to keep us humble. She might return us to a gentler sense of proportion when we’ve unwittingly become inflated with self-importance. (I’m reluctantly looking at the possibility that my self-denigration is yet another unwitting form of too much attention to self.) Not Good Enough might remind us of our place in the larger, more beautiful world and spiritual dance to which we belong, in which we wish to participate and contribute to. She might even gently mother us when we fail. What might that be like?

            What if Not Good Enough were seen as a kind of inward balancing force. If befriended, might the gray, heavy-handed, finger-pointing hag offer useful and mediating energy? When I’ve slipped into taking myself too seriously … When high expectations become impossible perfectionistic demands, maybe I can shift from admonishing, fault-finding, scowling, and glowering. Maybe the Sprite will invite me to a more playful and generous way of being. In her contrasting translucence and light, she could hover over my manuscript smiling, waving, beckoning. She might point to what’s been accomplished, what’s gone well.

She might clap!

A Sweet Birthday Memory

Christmas 2016

Dear Joan,  

Only today looking for your email address to send my usual Christmas greetings, I found that I missed reading your reply last year. So, only now I learn that Philip has passed away. I’m very, very sorry for your loss. You were a special couple, different from most of my clients, and because of this, I always remember you and your stay with great pleasure. My prays this Christmas will be for Philip.

All the best, Joan, and warmest regards,

Roberto

This email arrived in my inbox on Christmas morning 2016.  It was from the host of the inn above Santa Margherita, Italy. Philip and I stayed there for a week in the summer of 2011. We loved Roberto–warm, funny, intelligent, and generous.

Philip was a terrible traveler whose romantic ideals were nearly impossible to satisfy. But he was happy at Roberto’s inn. No complaints, no grousing. Ahhh … peace. Our room was comfortable and quaint. The inn was poised above the bustle of Santa Margherita, and the turquoise sea below glittered in the Italian sun.  

View of Santa Margherita and the sea from Roberto’s inn

And if that wasn’t enough, there were ancient fig trees … and … it was fig season.  Luscious ripe fruit dropped from the trees. Philip was in heaven.

Hugging trees wherever he went

Our days were sweet with figs. We kissed with figs. We re-enacted one of D.H. Lawrence’s most sensuous scenes from—was it Women in Love? –when a fig is delicately pulled apart, its pink flesh compared to a woman’s most private part.  

However, picking up fallen treasures from the ground was not enough for Philip.  So, I found myself standing beneath a 100-year-old tree anxiously looking up as Philip clambered from branch to branch to reach the top. This was where–he predicted–the best sun-ripened fruits would be. At 64, climbing trees was still in Philip’s repertoire, especially when motivated by fruit. All over Europe and England, I stood like this as he happily scaled the branches of trees and trellises reaching for stolen cherries, apples, peaches, and plums.

We had a pretty good idea this was something Roberto would not encourage. Insurance might not cover guests falling from trees. Hence, we waited for when we hoped he’d be occupied. Philip rustled, figs fell all around me, and I whispered up to him to hurry. I imagined the local headline reading, “Guest falls from 100-year-old fig tree but dies fully sated.” Humming, laughing, and undoubtedly eating his way to the top, he was drunk on figs. Hissing at him to come down was pointless.

And then, much to my chagrin, along came Roberto with a newly arrived family.  Greeting me, they stopped to talk under the shade of the venerable tree. I’d just had time to warn Philip to be quiet, but his foot slipped, causing a rain of figs to cover all of us. 

When Roberto, looked up to see Philip peering down, he shouted, “You crazy guy.  Get down from there!”  

Philip climbed down, shirt stained, pockets bulging. Leaping gracefully from the lowest branch, he alighted–face fig-smeared and sheepish.  Roberto, shaking his head, quickly moved the family along. 

Later in the day, our kind host arrived at our door with a large bowl full of figs and said, “Senior Heiman, I bring these to you, please.”

                My guess is Roberto keeps this memory in his collection of crazy-guest-tales. I certainly keep it in my heart and was delighted to find it popping up as his birthday comes around again.  Hard to imagine, he’d have been 74 today–November 19. Happy Birthday, Love.

10 years and a lifetime since Santa Margherita and Philip in figgy-Heaven, Roberto and I still exchange Christmas greetings. Each year, his holiday message brings the sweet sorrow of joy and absence. As time passes (6+ hard-to-fathom years since Philip’s death), pain softens, memories soothe, tears bring smiles, and longings continue to kindle love.

Faith & Patience

9/8/21

A conversation with a dear friend brought old wisdom into new light. The conversation was about waiting for a partner to come to a deeper, kinder, more embracing position on a challenging issue. When my lovely, loving friend expressed her belief that her favorite person would get there in their own time, I was moved and inspired by her faith and patience.

Today, I’m imagining Faith and Patience personified as two angels who arrive to enrich our relationships. Two archetypal beings under whose benign influence, we realize we’ve agreed … we’ve committed. We give thanks for the deep wells of trust that fill our hearts and expand our inner reach. We will wait for him or her or them. We’ll respect and love them as they work towards resolution.

I see Philip and me standing on a bridge in Bern, Switzerland years ago. We were furious, red-hot enraged. Surrounded by ancient architectural beauty and the sun breaking through a cloud-covered sky, light glittered on the water that ran swiftly below. Yet we–caught in the division of our egos—were blind to beauty. We were like C.S. Lewis’s dwarves hiding in their hut—small and benighted by fear. The War was over, Winter melted into Spring. But the dwarves–lost in fear of change–were blind to the peace and beauty surrounding them. They still huddled against a storm that was no longer there. Philip and I, too, nearly missed the moment in Bern.

About to say something awful, another angel/archetype—Grace–descended. And I–as if struck by lightning–knew with more certainty than ever that I was not going to walk away, not going to call it quits—not then, not ever. Faith, Patience, and Grace stepped onto that bridge and brought sanity back. Our relationship shifted on that day, was saved on that bridge when I believed in Philip beyond the mess of that moment. Believed he would pull through the storm and come to a wider, more expansive place. Love would win … and we would each be better beings for it.

It occurs to me that my friend’s loving trust in her partner (and mine in Philip) calls forward an energetic response from the archetypal realm.  Trust creates the receptive atmosphere necessary for growth. And in this crucible of faith and patience, we and our partners find the strength to do the work. Individual support aided by the collective field of Trust is unconsciously felt and received. And in that fertile ground, the best of human nature germinates and takes root.  It is this space of faith that is our gift to give. As David Whyte says, “… we are a form of invitation to others …” Our trust is our invitation to partners and ourselves to become more of who we are meant to be, to grow larger in spirit and soul.

Mark Nepo asks, “Don’t we help birth another the instant we encourage them to see with their heart? Don’t we help birth the world each time we give someone confidence to build what they see with their heart?” I sense we accomplish this in the alchemical mystery and the supporting alembic of loving relationships.  When the other knows we’re not going anywhere, when they feel our underlying trust infused with that which is greater than the personal, then, as novelist Louise Penny reminds us, “Ca va bien aller” (All will be well).

The King of Cups was my tarot card this morning. The King of Cups as an archetype connotes a blessing, emotional balancing, and spiritual leaning into compassionate awareness. There’s loyalty, reliability, and consideration. These treasured qualities are embodied and flower under the influence of Faith and Patience.

A beautiful conversation, a reading for this date in Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening, and the morning’s tarot reading are signs for the day. They come together in a curious congruence that reminds me of the need for Faith and Patience. In my relationship with Philip, and in the friendships that grace my life now, this is one of the greatest gifts I have to offer…. and, to gratefully receive.

6 Years Gone By

March 15, 2021

Envoi

Sometimes

A voice is sent

To calm our deepest fears

Sometimes

A hearty laugh

Will banish our tears

Sometimes

Words will wing

Our dreaming ever higher

And sometimes

A mind will set

Our imagining afire. 

Reading this poem, I immediately found myself saying, “This is what Philip was for me.”

The poem was written and recited by John Quinn in memorial to his friend, the Irish poet, John O’Donohue. Quinn was one of many who gathered in January 2008 to celebrate the life and mourn the death of O’Donohue–poet, grand human being, and inspiration to many.

I hope Quinn won’t mind my borrowing his poem to mark the sixth anniversary of Philip’s death. In fact, I’m enjoying the image of the three ‘fellas’ (two as Irish as the day is long) sitting together in an Irish sort of Heaven (a pub), enjoying a glass of “the black stuff” (a Guinness) and engaging in ‘fierce’ (good, great, excellent) conversation.

As my envoi, Philip’s voice soothed my heart like warm honey in tea. His laugh tickled and delighted, while his words were a constant inspiration.  His mind never stopped reaching, imagining, and drawing me forward.  I doubt I’d ever have traveled as far or wide or deep (in the world or in myself) without the initial impetus of his longings and creative courage.

We are often called further into experience than we’d like to go, but it is this extra leap that lands us in the vibrant center of what it means to be alive (Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening).  

This, too, Philip did for me. He ‘landed me in my vibrant center’ of meaning and aliveness.

On this sixth anniversary of his death, I turn to the photo I took from my Eastern facing windows the other evening—a magical but fleeting moment of splendor in the sky. The beauty filled my heart with gratitude and sweet sorrow. I still wonder where the spirit goes when it leaves its earthly body. Alongside sitting in a celestial pub having a crack with two Irish poets, I like imagining Philip gently nestled in a couch as light and soft as these clouds, softly chuckling over some good book. I imagine cuddling up with him to share his love and laughter, his pondering and dreaming.  

I’ve learned much in these past six years—six years that have been long, short, and everything in-between; six years I still cannot believe I’ve lived through in the absence of Philip’s physical presence. Perhaps the most reassuring thing I’ve come to understand in these years is that he was, and perhaps, even more so now, has become, an integral part of me. The person I loved is a part of who I am and a big part of who I love in myself. I still live within the sanctuary of the life and the love we created together.

Of course, I’d give everything to hear his laugh or a song right here, coming from his person. I’d even give a lot to have one of our heated conversations in which, in frustration, he’d finally say, “Just listen again. You just don’t understand yet. When you understand, I know you’ll agree with me.” Oh, infuriating man.  

But return in the body … no, that’s not how this story goes.

As so many before me who’ve struggled with the loss of the one they love, I carry on in the life I’ve been given to live. I find John O’Donohue has words for this:

There are journeys we have begun that have brought us great inner riches and refinement; but we had to travel through dark valleys of difficulty and suffering. Had we known at the beginning what the journey would demand of us, we might never have set out. Yet the rewards and gifts became vital to who we are…” (To Bless the Space Between Us).

On this day, I feel compelled to give thanks for the love Philip gave me, and to express gratefulness for his leading me to all that’s vital to who I am and who I am ever becoming. My love flies out (and in), always. And, particularly today, in special heart-aching, heart-warmed grace and gratitude.

This Precious Life

During the last few days, a dear friend’s daughter gave birth to a little girl and another friend’s 97-year-old mother went to sleep and didn’t wake for three days and three nights. Celebrating birth, I received texts and phone calls and adorable newborn baby photos. Contemplating imminent death, my friend, sitting sleepless at her sleeping mother’s bedside, and I texted about letting go. In a 21st century conversation, with words pared down to the minimum and no disturbance to her somnolent mom, we shared fear and love.

In the last few months, I have found much solace in meditations by The Art of Meditation teacher—Burgs. He explains that in the Buddhist tradition, this human incarnation is a rare and precious event, not easily achieved, not to be taken for granted. Certainly not to be wasted. He ponders why we have arrived here now. How long our souls may have waited and longed for this opportunity to be blessed with the extraordinary good fortune of our human birth.

As I listen to him, I imagine a celestial gathering of souls lining up and waiting with saint-like patience for their turn to enter a human body. Like waiting in line to get into the Beetles’ concert at Shea Stadium in 1965? A once in a lifetime opportunity. No, that’s not right …. And not nearly serious enough. A soul achieving this highest of births is an exceptional spiritual happening. A privilege and an opportunity. How do we forget this?

Buddhist or not … I am gifted, reminded by the darling little being who’s just dared to enter the world and by the 97-year-old, who, like Sleeping Beauty, has waked from her three-day sleep. (She’s still here, still wants to participate in her extraordinary life). Both brave beings inspire me to ask what I am doing with my one precious life. Am I treasuring this brief time? Am I choosing Life and Love so that my soul extends and expands to its greatest potential? And if not, hadn’t I best get started?