(Keeping to my pledge to write thirty-four blogs, one every Monday, on how the Camino continues to affect my life– the same number as the days I walked the 500-mile pilgrimage)
I read Kitchen Table Wisdom so long ago; it was published in 1997, and I read it soon after. It’s sold over 700,000 copies now in twenty-one languages. I didn’t so much remember what she wrote as how it impacted me. I wanted to sit at that table with this humble Jewish doctor and listen forever. Recently, I stumbled across a quote from the book that spells out much of my experience on the Camino. And this time, I hear her words like crystal notes of clarity.
“Those who don’t love themselves as they are rarely love life as it is either. Most people have come to prefer certain of life’s experiences and deny and reject others, unaware of the value of the hidden things that may come wrapped in plain or even ugly paper. In avoiding all pain and seeking comfort at all cost, we may be left without intimacy or compassion; in rejecting change and risk we often cheat ourselves of the quest; in denying our suffering we may never know our strength or our greatness. Or even that the love we have been given can be trusted. It is natural, even instinctive to prefer comfort to pain, the familiar to the unknown. But sometimes our instincts are not wise. Life usually offers us far more than our biases and preferences will allow us to have. Beyond comfort lie grace, mystery, and adventure. We may need to let go of our beliefs and ideas about life in order to have life.”
― Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal
The first line alone is enough; I’ve never heard it stated more concisely. It’s as if we who are still striving for some unnamed perfection, don’t realize we are saying in effect, we don’t love ourselves as we are right now. And that judgment gets projected onto all of life not being okay just as it is.
I didn’t get much encouragement in my life to love myself as I am. Did you? I was aware and made aware of all the ways I needed to improve to be approved. I’m just now learning in these later years of my life to consider this simple reality–to love myself without editing. That. Just writing that feels like relief.
Dr. Remen suggests I will be much more content with life just as it is–without a preference. I had so many preferences for how I wanted life to be on the Camino. “The guidebook said there shouldn’t be rain like this in late April!” “Why is there never any room at the allergies? It’s not fair!” “Why is there so much snoring? I can’t get any sleep!” (to name a few.) Remen says, “in avoiding all pain and seeking comfort at all cost, we may be left without intimacy or compassion; in rejecting change and risk we often cheat ourselves of the quest; in denying our suffering we may never know our strength or our greatness.”
In hindsight, even though I did not love myself or the circumstances well on the Camino, the pilgrimage taught me those very things. I grew in compassion; I saw the quest through; I learned about a greater inner strength. Yet that next line is the one that I hold most dear in my understanding from the Camino; that by not accepting life as it is, we doubt “even that the love we have been given can be trusted.” Without this basic trust in life just as it is and in the Love that has created us, I lose my way on the journey. This accepting and loving myself as I am is directly connected to love of life and basic trust in the way of Divine action.
So how does that happen–loving oneself? I ask that question not in a narcissistic way. I mean to love oneself just as we are, without masks or need to change. If I try then I’m the one back in control of this quest. My ego will form a list of how to love myself or my inner judge will comment on all the ways that I’m not loving myself. Oh yes, I can how easily I could make even this a way to fix myself again.
This turn to loving oneself is willingness on my part and grace on the part of Love. It’s a whole new orientation. As Remen says, “We may need to let go of our beliefs and ideas about life in order to have life.” Jesus said something like that too. (And he was Jewish.)
This orientation is dropping the belief that I need to be fixed and changed– to just letting myself be. What does that actually feel like or look like? I don’t fully know. It’s unfamiliar. But I’m open to learning.
I think I’ll just set this aim, trust that this orientation to self-love will unfold somehow in the mystery, and relax. That seems like a good place to live into loving myself, loving everyone else, and having a life, loving life just as it is. My Little or not so Little ongoing Camino.