I was recently re-visited by an old friend, shame.
We used to be really tight, me and shame. In fact she moved in, uninvited, sometime during my adolescence, and I couldn't get the bitch to move out until I was 32 years old.
She still sends postcards and calls on occasion, but we've managed to stay strictly friends. Sometimes she pleads to come home, but I just remind her lovingly, that although we've had some good times, we've never been good together. We're like oil and water, I tell her, — she's the oil — and if she comes back around here, I'm gonna light that shit on fire.
But the other morning, she showed up on my doorstep unannounced. Of course I slammed the door on her face, are you crazy? But later she turned up in the dark corner of my room, and she sat there, quietly sucking me into her vortex for the next few hours.
The truth is I had been expecting her.
So I got up and put on some tea for the both of us. She made some comment about a stain on my pajamas, and about what I had for dinner. Typical. She then proceeded to make comments about my body and about other past events that she hopes I haven't forgotten about.
And as the tea water came to boiling, amazingly — I did not.
I sat down across from her and handed her her tea, listening to everything she said. She regaled me with a bevy of gut-wrenching doozies, hissing every word with her usual theatrical flair.
I drank it in, as I drank in my tea, pausing only to try to make eye contact — but there was none of that — shame does not make eye contact. Shame looks no one in the eye.
When there was a pause in her hissing, I asked, in an eerily calm voice: "So what you're saying with all of this, is that I'm basically BAD. Is that right?"
"Well it's a lot more complicated than that!" she snarled, "but yes, basically."
"Oh. I see."
"What do you mean you see?! I don't think you see anyth…."
"Yes, I see. Okay, I'm bad. Let's just get on the same page for a second here. Let me just join you completely in your accusation. Let me, for one hot-fucking-minute of my life, not be good, and not try to be good, and not try to prove myself good, and not defend my goodness, and not try to make myself good to apologize for the badness of my mere existence. Let me, for just one fucking minute, not compensate for, or defend against the inherent failure of my being - in regards to being "good", or "good enough". Let me just join you there for a moment, so we can both stop running, okay?"
Shame, looking stunned, replies timidly now, "okay."
I take another sip. I ingest this apparent "bad" along with it. This "bad" I've been running from all of my life. This "bad" that takes on so many other names. This wrongness, this "badness"... this perpetual failure. Failure to do the "right" thing, whatever that is. I let it course through me, arms wide open.
"Hmmmm… now that I've joined you in this badness, with no defense against it, I just have one question for you…"
"Who exactly are you trying to be so good for?"
Shame, stunned once again, has not fully considered this in awhile. She stammers for a minute and then gets her bearings and blurts out, "Well it used to be for parents and family, and then teachers, and then friends, and boyfriend turned husband, and colleagues and clients."
"Hmmm… well there's only one flaw with that premise, love, and that is that I no longer believe in being fulfilled and/or validated by anyone outside of myself. I tried my hand at that for years — with you, remember? The problem with that theory, is that I don't trade my inner-peace and harmony for another persons approval, not even my family and friends. Because they can't give it to me, and I can't give it to them — we can only ever find it ourselves. If I don't, no one will do it for me, and I will not be able to love others fully, in that lack of love in myself. This is my one precious inner-life to live, nobody can live it for me. And you know I don't believe that anymore, so I ask you again, who are you trying to be so good for?"
"Well, maybe God, or the Universe or whatever you want to call it, maybe that."
"Again, love, I don't believe in any god that punishes or shames. I don't believe in any god or universe that is anything less than unconditional love, or that is separate from us in any way, that is my only experience of "god" and the universe, my real and direct experience, and you already know this too. You know I don't believe in duality or these ancient punishing thoughts anymore, so I ask you again, who are you trying to be so good FOR?"
She takes a long pause, she fidgets with her tea cup, and then gets very still, she looks up, for the first time in the entire time I've known her — she looks me in the eye...
"I don't know."
"Me either, honey. What does it mean to be good?"
"It means to be loved."
"What good is being loved if you don't love yourself? What good is being loved with this violence inside? This war you wage on both of us? What stamp of approved-goodness could compensate for this hell that you are living?"
A look on her face appears as if the kaleidoscope of her mind has just locked into a new position, and she has seen some clear pattern for the first time in her life…
"There is nothing that could compensate for that" she whispers.
I smile at her, knowing she is catching on, and loving every minute of it…
"Tell me who benefits from a person living in shame? No matter the reason, tell me who benefits from that? What good comes of living in shame and guilt? Tell me how it makes everything somehow better..."
"it doesn't." she interrupts. "No one benefits. NO ONE. It's an endless chain of pain, it doesn't make anything better, it doesn't set anything "right", it doesn't change anything, it's useless. It makes everything worse, for self and others."
She is crying… sweet, joyful, freeing tears.
"That's right, love. That's right. Maybe you could look into a new line of work? Surely someone with your persistency and follow-through could get hired-up in an instant. I mean for god sakes woman, you can manage some serious shit."
Shame laughs out loud. Her eyes are wild. There is a twinkle that comes from that upside-down knowing, and my dear old friend, has been turned upside down, indeed.
We hug and laugh, and I offer to make her a sandwich for the road. She accepts it without any commentary on the bread, and disappears out my front door. I'm sure she will drop me a line if and when she forgets this…
but I won't forget.
I will never forget this.