I grew up HUGELY externally focused; my mother was exacting and unforgiving. So from an early age, when I was present enough to contemplate my impending actions, I naturally vetted everything I did from the viewpoint of how my mother would perceive what I was attempting. Sometimes, I chose correctly, and, in the vast sea of “not good enough,” there were exhilarating instances of praise, if short-lived.
As I grew older, I transferred that power over me to others: my younger sister, peers, dates, my wife, and even my daughter at times. This adaptation led to external approval, which then translated into a sense of enhanced self-worth. Unfortunately, this was not feeling worthy of my true self, but my adaptations, my false self.
I have not thoroughly examined my external referencing origins, but it was undoubtedly instilled by my mother’s Germanic, Roman Catholic, narcissistic, and Scorpio parenting style! It was not until I attended the University of Santa Monica (USM) to obtain my master’s of Spiritual Psychology in my early 50s that I learned to honor and celebrate my true self. To allow my heart to be my cheerleader, guide, and champion, what a concept!
While I do receive accolades now for my therapy sessions, writings, and even projects around the house, they no longer are the end-all, be-all. Each one is appreciated and heartening, but I accept praise and Love from me in even greater abundance. In mid-July, after my birthday, this culminated in the most glorious recognition I have yet encountered.
I was trimming my goatee, as I do periodically, and severely gapped myself. I still do not know how it happened; I have been doing this for thirty years without ever cutting so profoundly, but as I looked at the “Grand Canyon” on my upper lip, nothing happened. I did not cuss, get upset, or, worse, criticize myself.
There was a moment of disbelief and then another moment of wondering what to do, and that was it. Even now, in recounting the incident, I want to cry; I am so happy. I trimmed my beard down to a four-day-old stubble and went on with my life. The old Wade would have been apoplectic over what others would think; so far, only my wife has commented!
This one incident encapsulates four powerful lessons I learned at USM. The first, positive projection, is a bit round-about. Projections in psychology are when people attribute to others what is unconscious in their psyche, commonly called our shadow. An example is when we criticize others for what we do not want to see in ourselves; almost everything we condemn in others comes from our shadow side. As Ram Dass states, “What you meet in another being is the projection of your own evolution.”
Unlike traditional psychology programs, USM also teaches “positive projections.” We cannot see and appreciate excellence in others if we do not have that potential. Almost all the books we read at USM spoke to gaining authenticity, mastery, and equanimity. The Dalai Lama, Eckhart Tolle, and others encapsulate these great concepts, but my obtaining these qualities, yeh, right!
As time passed, even though I continued to work on becoming my authentic self, I forgot about the premise of positive projections. And yet, there I stood after “scalping” my upper lip, nonplussed. The old Wade would have argued that I had just matured, lost my vanity, etc.; is that not the definition of becoming more authentic, to lose what defined the old Wade? Our authentic selves are precisely like Michelangelo’s statues; he stated, “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.”
The next lesson was incremental achievements or the Three-Foot Toss. There was a game (a game-changer for me!) one weekend where stakes were laid out in three-foot intervals. We each had six rings to toss onto a stake, and scoring was the number of rings thrown onto a stake, times the stake’s distance.
The further the stake, the more challenging it was to toss a ring onto it despite the higher score. While a very few did score big on distant stakes, those who easily cast all six rings onto the stake only three feet away consistently scored the highest! That is my life’s achievements in a game!
While I consistently work on my issues, scoring many three-foot tosses, the flip side is I often do not see my progress nor my successes until something happens to highlight how far I have traveled. My equanimity after gapping my mustache was a HUGE ah-ha moment that spotlighted my incremental but steady growth.
The third concept was “Stackers.” That was USM’s term for our subconscious, which continues to challenge us to release old habits and actions that no longer serve us. If we find ourselves getting angry at someone or something (usually stemming from a developmental issue in our childhood), Stackers will ensure we keep running into that person, or another like them, until we heal our anger.
USM also postulates that, even after we have healed, Stackers will sometimes throw a situation at you to see if you have, indeed, become more authentic. Ram Dass has another beautiful quote on this subject, “If you think you are so enlightened, go and spend a week with your parents.”
When a client states that they want to get rid of a tendency that no longer serves them, I counsel them that they first incorporated that protection as a child to be safe and that it just no longer serves them as an adult. Rather than eliminating that defense, we change its focus to help them in an adult world. I seem to have done that with my Stackers; they no longer throw old situations at me to determine if I have genuinely healed but to bring to my attention all the three-foot tosses that have repaired my inauthenticity!
And, finally, Love (yes, with a capital “L”). We are talking unconditional Love; Love for the beloved without expectations from the beloved. The culmination of this Love is when we, too, count ourselves amongst the beloved!
While we covered Love extensively, I do not remember if the following specific concept came from USM, but I have no doubt it was discussed. I counsel many mothers who give their all for their family, that they cannot genuinely Love their family members if they do not provide the same Love to themselves. They need to be a co-equal recipient of their generosity!
USM teaches that when we lose our natural state of Love, we become fearful, and then as the fear metastasizes, anger erupts. Rumi offers the solution to our rage and despair, “Your task is not to seek Love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” For me, this incident with my razor confirmed the unconditional Love that I now have for myself. In this area! And now, onto the next psychological issue to conquer!
On the acknowledgment page of my dissertation, I wrote that my journey to authenticity had been an “E-Ticket” ride, a reference to how Disneyland used to price its most entertaining and exhilarating rides. And that ride hit warp speed at the University of Santa Monica. My journey has not been easy nor quick, but it has been uplifting and infinitely compassionate and rewarding.
I will close with two more quotes that encapsulate my life’s journey through this fabulous incident. The first is from a Michael Martin Murphey’s song about a country-western dance, “The two-step is easy, but the first step is hard.” And lastly, from my Ashtanga teacher, K. Pattabhi Jois, about yoga philosophy, “One percent theory, 99% practice.” Happy practicing!