"We live not just in an age of anxiety, but also in an age of shame. I find very few people who do not feel inadequate, stupid, dirty, or unworthy. Guilt is about things we have done or not done, but our shame is about the primal emptiness of our very being, an ontological question. It is not resolved by changing behavior as much as by changing our very self-image, our alignment in the universe." -- Richard Rohr, from Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety
I've been reading Henri Nouwen's Genesee Diary this morning, and identifying all too closely with the ego struggles he's uncovering as he learns to live in a more stripped-down environment. Thinking about it later, as I attempted to meditate with a very knead-y cat on my lap, I realize that he was considerably younger than I am when he wrote the book, and had yet to learn some of the things that inevitably emerge with age.
But then this quote from Richard Rohr showed up in this morning's email, and I see I must confront again the awareness that the root of the struggle seems always to be that sense of emptiness at the heart of being. My own struggles of late -- like Nouwen's at the monastery -- seem to be a mix of wanting more (attention, recognition, approval) and anger/irritability with the demands and restrictions placed on me by others -- which chafing tends to result in bitchiness with my loved ones and an intense longing for solitude and isolation.
But when I finally get that solitude I chafe and flail there as well, and can't seem to calm enough to allow the balm of love to fill my soul. And so I grow increasingly self-critical as the emptiness looms, rather like the dark hole at the center of all those lovely leaves in this picture.
What age teaches me is that this is all part of what has become a familiar cycle, and "this, too, shall pass." Which doesn't mean it isn't real, or that I shouldn't stay with it, sink into it, explore it, and learn from it. I just have to remember that this isn't a permanent state; that this sort of childish snarkiness isn't all there is to me. I am capable of generosity of spirit, just not right now.
And that's okay. I will, I think, be kind to myself today. I'll listen to what my sad parts have to say, do what I can to honor their concerns, allow the mood to teach me whatever it is I can take in, and try not to get mired in it all. In the past I've found that tidying up my outer environment can help clear out the moss and cobwebs that litter that inner environment, so I think I'll try that as well.