Learning to be Gentle.

Do you notice your thoughts while you’re dropping something? A physical object, I mean – a plate of food, a wine glass, a crooked stack of books. There’s a moment when I think I can still recover. I don’t have to drop this.

Often, a louder, uglier thought follows right behind: you deserve to lose what you’re holding.

A few months ago, I watched my freshly prepared dinner, filled with healthy vegetables I spent time chopping and cleaning, splash across the kitchen counter, down the cabinets, and onto the floor, delighting my dog and sending me digging through the freezer for a burrito.

Fitting, I thought. Can’t even take care of myself. Wasted all that time and food – why do I even try?

Each time this happened, it was a small but real opportunity to demonstrate what I thought of myself. What bubbled up was cruelty, when I needed compassion.

My mom came for a visit earlier this month, and we had a lovely time together. We took three loads of old clothes and shoes and dishes to the Goodwill – things that no longer resonated with who I am becoming. We found a set of beautiful, delicate dishes at Williams-Sonoma, eggshell white with a sculpted wave pattern around the edge, and back at my house, we scraped the stickers off each dish, dreaming of dinner party décor.

Each time I rinse one of these new plates, I hear that familiar voice say I’ll probably end up dropping it, but now, a warmer, louder voice speaks second. I love these dishes, and I deserve to feel worthy of them. And though they are precious to me, they are simply ceramic molded into a pretty shape. If I do drop one, it will be an accident, not because I have decided to shame myself with the shards.

I wish I could get rid of all my self-doubt and perfectionism alongside my scuffed-up shoes, but for now I will rest easy in the knowledge that I am learning to love myself. I am learning to be gentle. And my heart, it turns out, is much less brittle than I feared.

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Small Victories.

Recently, I read Anne Lamott’s book Small Victories. I’ve loved her books since reading Bird by Bird in college. Bird by Bird gave me the first, tiniest breath of hope that I could allow myself to enjoy writing despite debilitating perfectionist tendencies.

In the book, she talks about “shitty first drafts” and how you have to allow yourself to write a first draft so bad you’re afraid you’ll die in the night and someone will discover it. She describes her own neurotic process and how she learned to give herself permission to begin. For someone who believed my first draft should be my final draft, reading her words was the first crack in my wounded worldview – it allowed the first beams of light to filter in.

I have had to learn this lesson many times since, which is a painful irony for someone who tries to be perfect at beating perfectionism. Each time I learn, I think, “I’ve got it, now. I’ll never make a mistake again.” Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, that’s not how it works: there are always more mistakes and more lessons.

Small Victories arrived on my book pile just when I needed it. I stopped by the library without a plan, and I walked where I felt led. I turned a corner, looked down, and there was a cheery blue cover, printed with a name that, to me, symbolizes hope and humor.

This little collection of essays was filled with stories of this vibrant and talented woman slipping into fear and doubt and blame, only to be redeemed by grace. She dips into fearful, wounded ways of thinking, but she always finds her way back to love and connection. And not by following a booming voice from the heavens, but by noticing small moments of kindness, resilience, or beauty.

It’s hard for me to rest in a sense of faith – moments of joy often trigger fear. I’m learning to breathe through this, but it’s a struggle. I’m learning that’s ok, too.

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