I had a dream about my mom last night. We were out for a walk in the woods. We stopped for a break along the side of the path and I noticed a hole. I warned my mom to be careful and not to step near the hole. But she didn’t listen and fell in.
The hole was deep and dark. My mom was crying. I looked around, desperate to figure out how to help. First I took my water and dropped it in so she could have a drink. Then I took the shirt off my back and threw it to her to keep her warm. I spent the rest of the dream figuring out how to help get my mom out of that hole. She was so proud of me. I felt like a hero.
After I woke up I thought about that dream for a while. It was so real and vivid. And I realized that dream represented my life.
I’ve spent my entire existence rescuing others from holes, giving them the water I thirst for and the shirt off my back, only to be supremely frustrated when in the process I find myself in a hole of my own.
Can you relate to that? How many times in your life have you tried to clean up a mess for someone else and ended up messy yourself? But we still we do it, again and again … why?
The other day I was talking to one of my close friends. We were discussing a similar topic and he said to me, “I just want to ask my family how many times I have to rescue them from the fire before they stop running toward it. I’ve gotten burned so many times.”
“You know,” I told my friend. “Their answer, as hard as it is to accept, would be ‘We’re just doing what you signed us up to do.’”
This is the point in this story where I need to stop and take a really deep breath. I invite you to join me. This idea that the people in our lives are expressions of what’s going on inside of us is a tough one. First, the idea is abstract so we have to reach for it like cookies on the top shelf of the kitchen … really stretch until we can barely grab it with our fingertips. Second, we have to be willing to face the reality we discover when we look at this subject. It’s not always pretty. Why would we invite people into our lives who continually, repeatedly, over and over again, leave us hurt, bruised, and alone?
The answer I’ve learned, through many years of self-reflection, tears and picking away the scabs of my soul, is that the payoff is so big, so irresistible, that we knowingly, deep inside, accept the pain to have the opportunity to say, “Look how good I am … did you see how much I helped? Do you love me now?”
We spend our lives collecting fireflies and then run around desperately saving them from the fire. When upon closer examination, or perhaps better stated a bird’s eye view, we see that they were destined to fly toward the fire and don’t really need any saving from us. But to accept this realization, we have to be ready to accept the truth about ourselves. The truth that we are good, and loved, without doing anything at all. We are simply who and what we are … and that’s perfect. All the saving of others is a giant plea to save ourselves from the pain and fear we feel inside. We just want to be loved and we will burn our hands rescuing fireflies our entire life if that’s what it takes.
But it doesn’t. It isn’t necessary. And the healing begins with this awareness, by stopping, taking a deep breath and opening the door to the possibility that there is another way to find love … by loving ourselves.
Many people say that like it’s easy ― “all you have to do is love yourself.” But if it were easy there wouldn’t be so many self-improvement gurus talking about it. Check out the self-help section on Amazon some day and see how many thousands of books there are on this subject. It’s a guaranteed hot topic. Why? Because it’s damn hard to love ourselves.
That sounds odd, but it’s not when you think about it. From the youngest age all of us were taught the rules to be labeled “good” and, by extension, loved.
– Don’t cry
– Be quiet
– Sit still
– Dress nicely
– Say the “right” things
– Do as you are told
AND THE SINGLE BIGGEST ONE OF ALL …
– Help others … always … even at the expense of your own well-being
Let’s take another deep breath here. A really, long deep, one. I’m about to say something that will be hard to swallow for many of you.
This idea of helping others has caused so much harm, so much self-loathing and internal anguish that we really have to take a pause and evaluate what it means in our lives. For so many years we have gotten such praise and attention for “helping” that our internal GPS is set to “destination broken-down needs-saving human being” ― we seek out dysfunction like those computer-guided missiles Fox News gets all excited about. We know how to be appreciated ― fix a problem for someone ― and so we call into our lives all the problems we can find and then we exhaust ourselves, run ourselves into the ground (literally) helping everyone with everything until there’s nothing left for us.
So that morning I awoke fresh from rescuing my mom from the hole and realized the dream was a metaphor for my life. I broke down. I cried a good, long, healing cry, the kind of cry where the tears and the breath get all mixed up and you sound a bit like Eddie Murphy laughing in Delirious, remember? Like the bray of a lonely donkey … you get the picture. It was one of those really good cries from deep inside my being.
As I wiped away the tears, I looked at my life … hole by hole, stranded soul by stranded soul. I started by asking myself two questions: what are you getting out of the problem you’re fixing for somebody else? What’s the pay-off for you? And in each and every case I found that my friends’ and family’s issues, the ones I got all high and mighty and preached about, gave me the chance to be smart, helpful, and a really, really good boy … just like I was taught to be my entire life.
Today I invite you to explore another possibility of life. I invite you to take a sabbatical from helping, seriously. For the next week don’t help anyone but yourself. In each and every situation that pops up in your life where you’re asked to do something for someone else, answer this simple question: “What would bring me joy?” Let’s take another breath around that question. “What would bring me joy?”
If the answer is helping someone then do it … joyfully, with the knowledge that it’s what you choose, consciously, to do. But if the answer is not to help then also feel totally empowered to say, “No thanks.” Check in with yourself right now. How do you feel? Is this an easy concept? Or is your stomach slowly knotting itself into ball of anguish at the thought of not helping? That feeling, in the pit of your stomach … that voice in your head that says “its not nice to say no” … that subconscious programming that pushes you to do more and more to be loved is exactly what we are becoming aware of today.
So when you get that feeling pushing you to do something you don’t really want to do, understand the underlying need is love … self-love. This week as you care for yourself above others, as you help when it brings joy and walk away when it doesn’t, reward yourself, in both cases, with this loving message: “I love myself for who I am, not what I do. I am loved always, regardless of what others say or do. I love myself, just because I am me.” Say it over and over again this week. You’ll be amazed at how many problems solve themselves, how many helpless friends are not really that hopeless, and how much fuller your heart feels as you care for your needs.
May you feel loved, deeply loved, for who you are, not what you do.
Big hugs of love,