It seems that many (all?) Seattle neighborhoods—including mine—have these small kiosks where we can drop off books for others and choose from what's there, all for free. That's just so cool for someone like me who loves to read and I often wonder if others appreciate the ones I drop off. The other day I found "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. I started reading it and loved it so much. I found myself literally laughing out loud while reading it in coffee shops!
On Sunday morning I curled up on my couch with a cup of coffee to finish it before getting ready to join some friends for lunch. In the last pages I came across some paragraphs that spoke to me directly:
Excerpts from “Eat, Pray, Love”
On my ninth day of silence, I went into meditation one evening on the beach as the sun was going down and I didn’t stand up again until after midnight. I remember thinking, “This is it, Liz.” I said to my mind, “This is your chance. Show me everything that is causing you sorrow. Let me see all of it. Don’t hold anything back.” One by one, the thoughts and memories of sadness raised their hands, stood up to identify themselves. I looked at each thought, at each unit of sorrow, and I acknowledged its existence and felt (without trying to protect myself from it) its horrible pain. And then I would tell that sorrow, “It’s OK. I love you. I accept you. Come into my heart now. It’s over.” I would actually feel the sorrow (as if it were a living thing) enter my heart (as if it were an actual room). Then I would say, “Next?” and the next bit of grief would surface. I would regard it, experience it, bless it, and invite it into my heart, too. I did this with every sorrowful thought I’d ever had—reaching back into years of memory—until nothing was left.
Then I said to my mind, “Show me your anger now.” One by one, my life’s every incident of anger rose and made itself known. Every injustice, every betrayal, every loss, every rage. I saw them all, one by one, and I acknowledged their existence. I felt each piece of anger completely, as if it were happening for the first time, and then I would say, “Come into my heart now. You can rest there. It’s safe now. It’s over. I love you.” This went on for hours, and I swung between these mighty poles of opposite feelings—experiencing the anger thoroughly for one bone-rattling moment, and then experiencing a total coolness, as the anger entered my heart, as if through a door, laid itself down, curled up against its brothers and gave up fighting.
Then came the most difficult part. “Show me your shame,” I asked my mind. Dear God, the horrors I saw then. A pitiful parade of all my failings, my lies, my selfishness, jealousy, arrogance. I didn’t blink from any of it, though. “Show me your worst,” I said. When I tried to invite these events of shame into my heart, they each hesitated at the door, saying, “No—you don’t want me in there … don’t you know what I did?” and I would say, “I do want you. Even you. I do. Even you are welcome here. It’s OK. You are forgiven. You are part of me. You can rest now. It’s over.”
When all this was finished, I was empty. Nothing was fighting in my mind anymore. I looked into my heart, at my own goodness, and I saw its capacity. I saw that my heart was not even nearly full, not even after having taken in and tended to all those calamitous urchins of sorrow and anger and shame; my heart could easily have received and forgiven even more. Its love was infinite.
I knew then that this is how God loves us all and receives us all, and that there is no such thing in this universe as hell, except maybe in our own terrified minds. Because if even one broken and limited human being could experience even one such episode of absolute forgiveness and acceptance of her own self, then imagine—just imagine!—what God, in all His eternal compassion, can forgive and accept.
I also knew somehow that this respite of peace would be temporary. I knew that I was not yet finished for good, that my anger, my sadness and my shame would all creep back eventually, escaping my heart, and occupying my head once more. I knew that I would have to keep dealing with those thoughts again and again until I slowly and determinedly changed my whole life. And that this would be difficult and exhausting to do. But my heart said to my mind in thre dark silence of that beach, “I love you, I will never leave you, I will always take care of you.” That promise floated up out of my heart and I caught it in my mouth and held it there, tasting it as I left the beach and walked back to the little shack where I was staying. I found an empty notebook, opened it up to the first page—and only then did I open my mouth and speak those words into the air, letting them free. I let those words break my silence and then I allowed my pencil to document their colossal statement onto the page:
“I love you, I will never leave you, I will always take care of you.”
Those were the first words I ever wrote in that private notebook of mine, which I would carry with me from that moment forth, turning back to it many times over the next two years, always asking for help—and always finding it, even when I was mostly deadly sad or afraid. And that notebook, steeped through with that promise of love, was quite simply the only reason I survived the next years of my life.
My thoughts turn to something I read once, something the Zen Buddhists believe. They say an oak tree is brought into creation by two forces at the same time. Obviously, there is the acorn from which it all begins, the seed which holds all the promise and potential, which grows into the tree. Everybody can see that. But only a few can recognize that there is another force operating here as well—the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, drawing the seedling forth with longing out of the void, guiding the evolution from nothingness to maturity. In this respect, say the Zens, it is the oak tree that creates the very acorn from which it is born.
I think about the woman I have become lately, about the life I am now living, and about how much I always wanted to be this person and live this life, liberated from the farce of pretending to be anyone other than myself. I think of everything I endured before getting here and wonder if it was me—I mean, this happy and balanced me, who is now dozing on the deck of this small Indonesian fishing boat—who pulled the other, younger, more confused and struggling me forward during all those hard years. The younger me was the acorn full of potential, but it was the older me, the already-existent oak, who was saying the whole time: “Yes—grow! Change! Evolve! Come and meet me here, where I already exist in wholesomeness and maturity! I need you to grow into me!” And maybe it was this present and fully actualized me who was hovering four years ago…
Liz started her life-changing journey four years earlier. My journey also started exactly four years ago in 2014 when I started seeing a new therapist. At our first meeting I told him that I carried a tremendous secret shame that I'd never fully divulged to anyone and that, this time, I promised to go "open kimono" if he'd be patient and encouraging. He was kind and patient as it took me several months to even broach the possibility that I might be transgender.
Throughout our 3+ years together he talked about how to listen to our inner turmoils, accept and love them, and gently put them on a treasured shelf of trophies in my mind. Like many things like this it's much easier said than done. I think I know now how correct he, Zen, and Liz are.
To paraphrase the last paragraph I absconded from Liz's book: I think about the woman I have become and am becoming, the life and joys I am living, and how much I always wanted to be this person and live this life. Truly, I've never felt so at peace, such love, and happy. It's like I'm channeling Sally Field as she accepted her Oscar, "You like me, right now! You like me!" I'm a happy girl.
P.S. I suspect that Liz and her publisher would be okay with my copying about 1,000 words from her book. I heartily endorse it (and not just to appease the Plagiarism Gods). She's an amazing woman, a delightful writer, and tells an important story.