I can be hard on myself. Too hard. This hardness comes from many years of expected too much from myself. Over time there has been some improvement in this state of mind, improvement that happens as my psyche inches into grace.
There is a wonderful song by Luka Bloom called Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself. This song has been with me for many years. It’s one which I tend to play when I do feel low. If I am feeling low and somewhat overwhelmed by what is going on around and within me, well that’s when this tendency to be hard on myself can rise, or indeed is already active.
One reason for this tendency is the sustained rejection which I have experienced in life. This happened mainly in my adolescent years. The logic of my hardness goes something like: ‘be good enough and no one will reject you.’ Call it the product of rejection anxiety. Call it perfectionism. Call it ego’s lie. It has been quite a challenge to live by this axiom. Parts of my life have had to fall apart under the strain of hyper-expectation and anxiety for me to learn the art of gentleness (an ongoing journey).
Recently the tendency to be hard on myself became quite energetic. This is understandable. I am living on the other side of the world, living with people who are new to me, and in a place and lifestyle which I am still getting used to.
The problem with high expectations is that these expectations can easily turn into judgement and condemnation. When this happened recently, rather than experience this harsh judgement of myself from myself, I projected it outward and onto the others around me. They were the ones doing it, not me. I was unaware that I was doing this. I was just so caught up in the dynamic. A meeting with a wise member of the wider meditation community helped me to name and re-member what was going on. The projection seemed to come full circle when this community elder looked at me and wisely said ‘I’m not judging you!’.
Before the meeting I was questioning (to myself) my fellow community member’s motivations for being a part of the Meditatio House community and judging their personality traits (or at least my perception of them). Ego was having a field day. Humility and the deeper self fell out of awareness. Compassion dried up. Spiritual pride began to rise: ‘I’m better than them, I’m more spiritually mature.’
The people around me were like movie screens onto which I was unconsciously projecting certain traits and feelings held within my own personality that I did not want to see. If I was to see them within myself, well there was the risk of self-judgement and self-rejection. This risk seems heightened when we are caught in the dynamics of ego (as I was).
So what were these traits, feelings? They are a part of the shadow of personality; those hidden aspects which we do not want to know about or live out of, and consequently have difficulty facing. And yet they do exist in the darker places within us.
Arrogance..jealousy..the anxious need to control..shame..perfectionist Prejudice..hatred..anger..harshness..possessiveness..puerile..miser
These seem to be some of the traits and feelings that have been coming up recently for me as I sit with these projections. The energy in motion (emotion) empowering my projections resonates with these names.
This ongoing process of naming and integrating ‘negative’ or ‘dark’ feeling and traits is the fruit of a stable enough grounding in love. The practice of Christian meditation grounds our attention in this love. The glow of the divine love-life soon warms and permeates more and more of our inner life. A soft and enduring light and warmth is experienced as emanating even from those crannies of psyche which we have long turned from in abject shame. Over time there is the graced acceptance of our own lovableness – crannies and all. God never gives up on us. Our psyches come to be built on rock.
We become less dependent on the fractured expressions of love that come to us from ourselves and others. And yet over time our own expressions of love grow gently in this divine fullness within us, and we come to appreciate anew the human expressions of love that happen around us.
The wonderful thing is that once we realise and accept that we are projecting and can come to a place of naming what is feeding these projections, the energy around the projections subsides and the feelings diminish. As these parts of our shadow come out into the light of awareness they are slowly integrated into the overall personality. This is the gift that community can be – if we can stick it out.
Once we come to see that we are projecting it’s like the people around us are holding up to us a mirror. Someone we first judge as arrogant is seen as holding up to us a reflection of our own hidden arrogance; someone whom we may judge as petulant is holding up a mirror reflecting an intolerance of our own temperamental selves.
As this process unfolds we grow in a forgetfulness of ourselves. We go beyond, transcend, those parts of us that get in the way of love and living. Energy is released from the need to repress the dark within us. Darkness becomes light. Attention grows in a freedom for everyday loving. The mantra’s roots grow even deeper into the heart. Grace enlivens us.