Earlier this week I had a bout with ill health, the first in a long while. I’m a little weak today, but healthy once more and singing the praises of every molecule in my body for doing its job well. Sweet heavens above, I’d forgotten how much energy it takes just to to sit upright, much less go about my day in the usual fashion!
Despite my new-found gratitude and appreciation for my physical body, I was hard on myself in my dreams again last night. Or maybe it was because of this feeling of relief and thankfulness I was even more mindful of the bitterness of the dream scenarios…? WIthout going into details, I spent the first half of the night in an anxiety dream about travel: I couldn’t make it to the airport in time, I went to the wrong airport, I traveled to the wrong city: over and over I made the wrong decision about everything. Woke up, told myself YOU HAVE TO STOP WORRYING ABOUT THIS UPCOMING TRIP and went back to dreamworld where my unconscious mind put me in another strange adventure. Guess what: every task I had to fulfill, I failed. Shocker, right? I actually remember undermining myself in my own dream! Weird Tim Burton-inspired character tells me that the only way to get out of a maze is to memorize all the details of the things I see? My first thought is, “Oh, I’ll never be able to do this, but [Person X] could, he can remember anything.” I was so busy telling myself I was going to fail that OF COURSE I FAILED.
Goddammit I have got to stop this relentless self-critique! Your dreams are supposed to be the place where you CAN do all the things you can’t do in real life. My dreams should be NOT be a soul-killing repeat of the disappointments of every day life.
Ok, ok, so I’ll acknowledge that the above sentence is not a kind way to talk to myself. I’m not going to stop a cycle of harsh self-critique with a monologue of (what else?) self-critique.
I was mulling over all this as I had my morning coffee, with NPR on in the background. One of their recent features has been The Long View, in which they speak with older people well-known for making a difference in their lives (Desmond Tutu, for example). Today’s installment included a conversation with Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I listened with interest (my issues with the idea of a person-like god who can decide whether you deserve good or bad things aside) because he made some really insightful comments about finding happiness in your life. Speaking of old age and broken dreams, he says,
…Can you find the secret of failing and not feeling like a failure? The difference between the person who has a happy old age and the person who has an unhappy old age is not how successful they were but it’s how much the things they failed at continue to gnaw at them. And no matter what you have achieved, if you have not been able to still the small voice of disappointment, you are never going to be happy.
This interview centered on what Rabbi Kushner called “finding an accommodation with God” after facing his own personal tragedy. But I read over that statement and think that maybe an accommodation with one’s self is another way of interpreting it. I’ve been on this path to self-acceptance for a while now, and I’m still finding how deeply ingrained self-loathing can be. I suppose it’s important to take a moment and acknowledge how much work it has taken just to be able to *see* the ways in which I hurt myself. If I couldn’t perceive them for what they are, they’d seem normal and I’d never be able to change.