Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, a physician and author, describes how the master psychologist, Carl Rogers would approach a therapy session with a patient. Rogers said:
“There is something I do before I start a session. I let myself know that I am enough. Not perfect. Perfect wouldn’t be enough. But that I am human, and that is enough. There is nothing this man can say or do or feel that I can’t feel in myself. I can be with him. I am enough.”
Dr. Remen adds that when she heard this,
“I was stunned…It felt as if some old wound in me, some fear of not being good enough, had come to an end. I knew inside myself that what he said was absolutely true. I am not perfect but I am enough. Knowing that…allows healing to happen.”
Occasionally, I suffer from asthma. My chest tightens, it’s hard to breathe. For those moments, I keep my inhaler handy: two puffs, and I can breathe freely again.
Perfectionism, or the fear of not being good enough, the fear that we are somehow disqualified, is a little like asthma. It restricts us. We can’t quite breathe freely.
That’s when we may find it helpful to keep those three words handy—“I am enough”—and “inhale” them quietly for a few moments.
Yes, I have strengths and limitations, but I am enough…yes, I have gifts and wounds, but I am enough…I may not be as smart as some or as lucky as some, but I am enough…I am enough to face anything I have to face…I am enough for the important relationships in my life…I am enough to follow my dreams…I am human, I am unique, I am enough.
And then, in the words of Don Quixote:
“Take a deep breath of life and consider how it should be lived.”
Elie Wiesel, the writer who survived World War II’s concentration camps and lost many of his family there, thought about how to make a difference in this world and wrote:
But where was I to start? The world is so vast, I shall start with the country I know best, my own. But my country is so very large. I had better start with my town. But my town, too, is large. I had better start with my street. No: my home. No: my family. Never mind, I shall start with myself.
When I first read that, I thought that sounded like a pretty weak strategy.
But as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to see that it’s really the only strategy.
One of our greatest needs these days is to reawaken and explore the significance and the possibilities of what it means to be a human being, to be just one person.
We need to remind ourselves again and again some things that are undeniably true about being a person:
a. A human being is the most valuable thing in the world—and that’s what you are. There is nothing more valuable than a person.
b. You are greater than the sum of all your days, all your experiences.
c. You are greater than all your failures. And, just as important, you are greater than all your successes, all your joys.
d. You are unique, one-of-a-kind. That means that you have a place to fill that no one else can fill (and if you don’t fill it, it won’t get filled).
Jack Nicklaus, the golfer, was asked: “Who is the toughest competitor you ever faced?”
He said: “Myself. I can’t control the weather or the course conditions. I can’t control what the other golfers do. I can only control what I do.”
To be a person is a priceless gift…a journey…a challenge. It is tears and laughter, failure and success, wisdom and foolishness, richness and poverty.
And it is always the place to start.
Today, an atmosphere of uncivil discourse seems to surround us like a bad weather pattern. And like the weather, it’s a problem that everyone talks about, but no one knows what to do about.
So maybe it’s a good time to be reminded that there are some unexpected ways to respond. For starters, Oscar Wilde said:
“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”
It’s true: bringing a spirit of forgiveness and mercy can be surprising, and can ease the tensions in difficult conversations.
But this is not easy. We humans can be pretty exasperating, and sometimes, the spirit of mercy and forgiveness has to sit side-by-side with a little humor.
After H.L. Mencken, the outspoken Baltimore journalist, had written one of his columns stating some strong political opinions, several of his enemies angrily demanded to meet with him to debate. He agreed.
When they all gathered, tense and ready for a big argument, Mencken announced, “I think we should begin by singing the national anthem.” Of course, who could refuse? It’s something they all had in common.
So, Mencken started the song—and intentionally started it too high. The group struggled along, but when they reached the highest notes, they simply couldn’t continue…and dissolved in laughter. After that, the conversation proceeded with a more civil tone.
Throughout his career, Mr. Mencken often received what we would call today “hate mail”—attacking him and his opinions. He had a form letter he used to respond to all of these letters. It read: “Dear Sir or Madam: You may be right. Sincerely, H.L. Mencken.”
This at least saved him from a lot of unnecessary negative emotion!
Maybe the lesson is, when it comes to difficult communications, be a little merciful…and be unexpected!
Someone said, “When life stinks, improve the aroma: stop and smell the roses.”
Well, yes. Maybe the stuff that makes life stink also makes the flowers grow!
Henry David Thoreau expressed a similar thought in a somewhat more elegant way when he wrote:
“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun and call it hard names…the fault-finder will find faults even in Paradise. Love your life.”
With all the “smelly stuff” that can happen in this world, it’s not hard to get down on ourselves or our lives.
But to shift to a metaphor with a (usually) better aroma…
Maybe we should try looking at our lives the way we look at a baby.
You wouldn’t think of calling your newborn child or grandchild “hard names” for not knowing how to walk or talk or eat properly (or even go to the bathroom).
In fact, the child’s vulnerability and limitations make you love him or her all the more.
With this in mind, here are some thoughts on loving your life:
(1) Love your life. Cherish it, appreciate it, take good care of it no matter what. And the more the problems, the more it needs your love. It’s the only life you’ve got.
(2) Love your life. Your life, like that baby, is one-of-a-kind. No one has ever had a life exactly like yours. Accept and embrace your particular life with its particular problems, situations and joys.
(3) Love your life. Whatever else happens today, and each day—whatever stresses or obligations you may be dealing with—don’t forget to celebrate your life, just as you would celebrate and enjoy that child. Don’t forget to live.
What do you do when the Irresistible Force of “following your dream” runs into the Immovable Object of “needing to be realistic and practical”?
Hans Selye, the psychologist reflects on this, writing:
“’Realistic people’ who pursue ‘practical aims’ are rarely as realistic or practical, in the long run of life as the dreamers who pursue their dreams.”
Is Selye suggesting we all need to quit our day jobs, or move to Katmandu, or start an orphanage, or live as starving artists in Paris, or some such thing?
In other words, are Dreams and Practicality mutually exclusive? Is it one or the other?
I don’t think he’s suggesting that.
Maybe he’s simply saying that your deeper yearnings or longings or dreams are at least as important to your health and life as your to-do list and bank account—if not more so—and should not be abandoned or swept under the rug.
Of course, it’s not easy to keep a dream alive.
This is why Bruce Springsteen said:
“Talk about a dream, try to make it real.”
And in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for literature, novelist Saul Bellow said that the hardest thing, for him, was “finding enough dream space.”
What is dream space? Perhaps it’s a small space in your day in which you give yourself permission to think about, talk about, reflect on or do something about that deep yearning or longing or dream—something that’s really important to you.
Today, no matter what else is going on, could you give yourself just a little dream space?