The great epochs of life come when we gain the courage to re-christen our evil as what is best in us. Friedrich Nietzsche
Reading these words hits my heart with such a sense of recognition.
It’s a challenging quote for a world so intent on knowing where the line between good and bad is, so intent on being on the right side of the distinction.
My heart doesn’t know what’s good or bad. My heart just knows how tired it is of all this fighting. It knows that I have been at war with myself for as long as I can remember. It bears the scars that prove it. My heart isn’t concerned with questions of morality. My heart just feels.
Now that it is coming to an end, I’m realizing that I have spent this entire summer on a quest to make peace with myself. Going into it, my goal was to be selfish, in search of self-reliance. But in trying to think of only myself, I was forced to face the enormity of my internal battle. To face how much I seek the gold stars and brownie points that count towards my “good person membership card”. To face that as much as I want to be my own north star, I am in fact keeping my ear to the ground for the sound of the approaching rectitude police.
I got to spend some time alone this summer. Truly by myself kind of alone, not just avoiding others kind of alone. It’s not something I have a lot of experience with. Making every decisions for myself, not having to think of anyone else. Being in that space is what allowed me to open my eyes to the truth of my constant chastising, my constant berating of myself. It’s kind of like opening your eyes under water. It’s not easy, it feels like it would be better to keep them closed. But you keep blinking until things come into focus. And then you see. You see the water. Like Foster Wallace’s older fish passing by young ones: morning boys, how’s the water? The kids looking at each other all puzzled, what the hell is water? My weeks of solitude have opened my eyes and I cannot not see the water anymore.
Let me tell you, turns out it ain’t pretty the way I’m used to relating to myself. And it’s not like I haven’t been on an intense healing path for years, or that I don’t use concepts of non-violent communication diligently, or that I don’t already believe in the importance of trumping hate with love. That’s what really got me. The realization that trying to feel good about myself by doing the right thing is actually the very thing that hurts me. Cause it sounds great, doesn’t it, doing the right thing, being the good person. But when I look under the hood of that, I see how much fear, pressure and shame lives in the pursuit of goodness. It’s like a tension line, propping you up, but it comes at the high price that it might be cut, and that you might fall down, right into hell. Plop.
For whatever reason, I’ve always had the compassion that makes me look at people who have done bad things and still see their humanity. Murderers, rapists, dictators aren’t a different breed, a different race, a different species. They’re just as human as I am. Thinking like this makes me feel like a spiritual hotshot, but it never occurred to me before that by judging my own worth against some sort of goodness template, I’m not being very consequent with myself. Like not at all. You can’t truly opt out of the stigma of bad while still holding on to the doctrine of good. If I really believe that a murderer is a fully worthy human being despite having committed an act of murder, than why the hell am I constantly holding the threat of losing my worth over my own head? And how is that threat not an act of war actively killing my inner peace?
What is my evil? All the ways that I have failed. All the ways that I am different. All the ways that I am difficult. All the ways that I am me. Me. Not the imagined best me that I will be happy with when I finally get to be it. No, me, the me that I am right now. I could make a long list of all the things I wish to change about this me that I am, and I used to believe that working through this list was called living, and succeeding. But isn’t all this saint seeking really not evil avoiding? And isn’t all this evil avoiding really not self avoiding?
This realization has felt like being slapped in the face, hard. The only reason it didn’t topple me over is because it comes with the recognition that I am wholly worthy just as I am in this exact moment. That holds me up like strong roots going deep into the earth. Nevertheless, feeling bad about myself is not just a belief, it’s also a habit. So, predictably, the habit still kicks in, everyday, but now I have a choice. I can remind myself that I don’t believe I am bad because I don’t do good and bad anymore. I choose to opt out, return my membership cards, thank you but no thank you.
It’s funny, it even says it right there in the phrase: I feel bad about myself. Yeah you do, because you feel that you are bad. If I don’t feel that I am bad, I stop feeling bad about myself. It’s deceptively easy. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to see. But my heart has always known, it didn’t need to see it to feel it. It’s been trying to tell me all along, by letting me feel it. But I was all confused, thinking that feeling bad was the proof something was wrong with me, making me feel even worse, leaving me no choice but to work endlessly at making me good, or else give up from exhaustion, making me bad. But good person cards, bad person cards, it’s all just paper. The worth of anyone, of everyone, is not an arithmetic game of good and bad. We are all 100% worthy, 100% ourselves, 100% human.
Oh and about courage, I’m repeating myself here but the root of courage comes from the word heart. What is courage? It’s love. Loving ourselves as we are is how we come to the great epochs of our lives.