Transform Self-denigration into Self-actualization by making some much-needed edits to the sentence “I am Never Good Enough in My World.”
Ted was in another of his deep dives into depression. “Most days I find myself praying to not wake up in the morning,” he said. After checking for imminent suicidal risk and being reassured he was not going to harm himself, I asked Ted, “Have you ever gone to any kind of rally for social justice?”
“Sure,” he said. “I went to some Black Lives Matter rallies in town last year.”
“So you’re willing to take a stand on the value of the lives of other people. But my question is whether you can take that same stand on the value of your life,” I said.
This was not a matter of the politics of competing slogans (Black Lives Matter versus Blue Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter). I was asking Ted, a gay man who felt rejected by his Catholic faith tradition, to see that ground zero in raising his consciousness to fight for oppressed people was to know his immeasurable worth and dignity and to fight off the persistent illusion of his worthlessness.
After some discussion about internalized homophobia and how easy it is to absorb self-denigrating beliefs, I took a writing pad and wrote in large capital letters: I AM NEVER GOOD ENOUGH IN MY WORLD. I handed the pad to Ted and we talked about how most people carry some version of this belief. “It’s like the chickenpox virus before there was a vaccine—almost everyone came down with it,” I said.
Handing him the pen, I asked Ted to do a bit of editing on the phrase I’d written. “Cross out NEVER and ENOUGH and one of the O’s in GOOD,” I said. “What does it say now?
Ted paused to see what was left of the original phrase, then read aloud: “I am God in my world.”
“Some people might consider that arrogant or even blasphemous,” I said. “But what keeps it from crossing over into anything close to arrogance is to add to it: “I am God in my world and so is everyone else.”
Ted agreed that this truth hidden in a self-deprecating illusion was consistent with his spiritual tradition. Regarding serving the poor, Jesus said, “When you do it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.” As a boy, Ted had been taught to see God in the poor, but it had never occurred to him that his ability to see God in everyone else depended first and foremost on seeing God in himself. This is a core truth of the mystic tradition in Christianity and other religions.
The mid-nineteenth century transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred.” For me, an equivalent idea is: “If God is anywhere, God is within me.” We can practice a kind of inner social justice by noticing how often we treat ourselves worse than we would treat people we truly love and calling ourselves back to the awareness that each of us is a unique and sacred presence in the world. This inner practice prepares us to stand strong for social justice in the world.
Mahatma Gandhi was a timid attorney prone to anxiety attacks until he began building his inner power through daily meditation. With a sense of direct access to the highest source of courage and nonviolence, he was able to stand up for the dignity and rights of his people and free a nation from oppression.
A “spirituality of immanence” is rooted in a perception of God or Source saturated through everyone and everything. The root word of immanence is the Latin verb manere, which means “to remain or stay.” Practicing this kind of spirituality involves assuming a Source that manifests as the entire material universe remains saturated through or “immanently present” in it.
As our session came to a close, I reminded Ted of what I consider to be a crucial question when suicidal thoughts arise: “Remember, we need to switch the question from who needs to die to what needs to die,” I said. When we ask “What needs to die?” we can stop focusing on the mistaken perception that “I need to die.” In Ted’s case, what needed to die was the illusion of his worthlessness. When we practice knowing that we are saturated with and flowing with Source itself, the illusion of worthlessness withers like an unwatered houseplant.
Here is the title piece from my recent collection of nested meditations: