Deeper Listening – Recognising the Contradictions

I grow weary of the contradictions in my being. I really do. I am shooting for gentle, patient, kind, considerate, measured – serene may be a stretch. But often there is the ugly, niggly, uptight, stressed, antsy, self-righteous me which is hard to hide from those who love me most, or those who are in proximity to me for any length of time. Poor souls.

Our son and his partner rang the other day and he immediately picked up on my mood. “Mum, are you tired, or something?”, he asked. OK, can’t hide it. Yep, struggling today. Love it and hate it when those who know me best can so easily spot what I’m working so hard to hide from myself.

I appreciate that about my sons and husband, they know me well and they are gentle and honest in turn. The recognition of my mood helped me own it and toss it.  Yes, toss it! In the moments of clarity that followed kind exposure, I was given the ‘mirroring awareness’ I needed to help me choose a different response to what was getting under my skin that day.

Ok, being human is messy. But for any who are recovering perfectionists, you will know how difficult it is to deal with anything messy. Particularly responses to situations we cannot control, or situations we think we are good at, but stuff up in ways that leave us confused and confounded. Either way, I so weary of the tension that surprisingly springs up in ordinary moments on any given day.

I’m up for learning, growing and being transformed. What I am not up for, with any genuine enthusiasm, is the means and methods life uses to teach me how to grow and be transformed. It is humbling, painful and so not a perfectly smooth learning curve. I find it is more a crazy stumbling uncoordinated dance, where I’m flying solo in my foolish, “I must do it by myself’ style.

And this is where the deeper listening comes in. I want to accept the Father’s outstretched hand and dance in a duet with him. I want to forget my awkwardness and uncertainty and look up into His eyes, not down at my feet. I want to sense the rhythm of the beat through my connection to Him. I want to be willing to be led, to be guided, to surrender my need to control, to pretend, to perform. I want to be absorbed in the moment and movement of the dance with my heavenly Father.

Trusting that He knows me and is honourable, I know He will be gentle and honest in turn. Showing me step by step how to hear, to follow, to allow Him to lead me in the dance of deeper listening.

I’ll let you know what serenity feels like as this journey of learning progresses. I’ll be playing more music, walking along more beaches and mountain trails, reading more, watching less TV, listening to stories and sitting in silence savouring the moments.

It’s time to grow, again. Let the dance begin.

Fake it till you make it – or till they find out!

I genuinely couldn’t work out why or how I landed the job as a Principal of a school many years ago. I felt apologetic and embarrassed when asked what I did. I called myself a ‘small p principal’ just filling in until ‘they’ (always hard to nail who ‘they’ ever was) would realise their mistake in giving me such an opportunity. replacing me with a real Principal who would do the job so much better than I ever could.

It was not the first time I’d felt this way about myself. In so many arenas of life I perceived myself as a ‘wanna be’, never the ‘real deal’; always fearing people’s closer inspection and inevitable disappointment when ‘they’ realised, I wasn’t what ‘they’ expected. This led to an unconscious strategy come pattern of self-sabotage by withdrawing before something even got off the ground such as a friendship, further study, a new venture, a job opportunity, or any risky undertaking where I might be exposed and found wanting. It also led to a pattern of cutting and running when people got too close, or challenges mounted in a situation I would perceive as potentially unmasking my outer layer of well-constructed but fake confidence and capability.

I’ve lived with a constant undercurrent of anxiety in all facets of life. As a wife, mum, daughter, sister, friend, student, employee and so on. I’ve always felt lacking, never enough, not quite the real deal.

I’ve described it as having one foot facing in and one foot facing out of most of my life; poised, alert, ready to run for fear of being unmasked, judged and rejected. I’ve lived with a restlessness, a wariness and weariness, always on guard, anticipating, pre-empting and proving over and over that I truly am not enough.

Some years ago, while in the midst of ‘sweating all the small stuff’ in my role as the self-titled ‘small p principal‘ in a school community, I participated in a 3-year training in the Enneagram. I experienced quite a few ‘ahhah’ moments in the quiet of the nunnery where the gifted gentle trainers taught us through reflection, meditation, oral story-telling and solitude how to recognise and hold for the first time, our true self, our wounded self, our image of God self.  I recognised the Perfectionist; the good girl who strove to measure up, meet expectations yet always seemed to miss the mark. There is much more I could say and for anyone who knows and has worked with the Enneagram, you would agree it is one of the most intimate, wholistic and helpful journeys of self-discovery.

During this time, I was finally given the skill and the courage to come face to face with my ‘inner critic’. I had been introduced to him during a prayer retreat some time ago and I’d dubbed him ‘the crow’.  I recognised him as the cawing strident ugly voice who constantly criticised, condemned, compared and crushed me. Yet seemingly he also protected me, prompted me, proved reality and truth about myself and my capacity in every situation.

He came out from the dark shadowy recesses of my mind and was exposed through the course of the sessions. I wondered why God had waited over half my lifetime to expose this nemesis hidden in my mind. He had done so much damage.

But now was the time to begin the journey, the painful hopeful letting go of this friend/foe.

It has and continues to be the ‘thorn in my side’ work for me.  God has been at work patiently teaching me to daily listen for the Shepherd, to recognise, trust and obey His voice in my life. A voice of ‘perfect love that casts out fear’ every day, every day.  As I write this blog, with niggling fear, because the ‘inner critic’ condemns every sentence, every phrase and even now wants me to hit delete, I know I am not alone in this journey of ‘unworthiness’ of which ‘imposter syndrome’ is a symptom.

Freedom, love, joy, peace and abundance have for many years been elusive. I haven’t deserved them, my ‘crow’ would say, as he reminds me of all my flaws and failings.

A friend once said in response to my ‘crow induced’ self-pity and habitual moaning about not being good enough, “Of course, Di, of course you aren’t enough, nor are you worthy. That’s the whole point of the gospel. That’s what God has been saying since the beginning. We as human beings are not able to live perfect lives, please everyone, measure up, be all that every situation requires. God knows this and gave us His son Jesus to set us free, to live an abundant life now and a life with Him in eternity. It’s nothing you can earn, nothing you need to fix or do. It’s God. It’s all Him.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I knew this. I knew this. But in that moment, my head and heart fully embraced the truth and as for ‘the crow’, well, his voice has for the most part, despite minor skirmishes from time to time, dulled, loosing his claws of control and his harsh pecking of power to steer my course.

I’m learning, still very slowly and haltingly, to enjoy being loved, appreciated, thanked, praised and equally misunderstood, criticised, judged and rejected. It’s all still happening, but how I respond is gradually shifting. I’m still hesitant around risks as I perceive them, still anxious first. But I do enjoy choosing to have a go, make mistakes, develop curiosity, wonder, awe and delight in the myriad moments of ordinary life.

I seriously could write a book. (Back off inner crow! – I could!) There’s so much to be gleaned from honest and open reflection as I have come to understand in the years of living that many of us crazy making humans are blighted/gifted with the ‘inner critic’. One thing I do understand is that this voice has given me an equal and opposite desire and hunger to hear God’s voice, to pursue a faith journey, to long for a fulfilling and satisfying life that I genuinely enjoy in all it’s imperfection.

I’m a teacher, a counsellor (a listener), a writer, a friend, a wife, a mother, a woman of God and most of all I am loved, cherished and treasured. I’m OK.

Transformed Thinking

Love hopes and believes the best.

What we listen to affects

how we connect and relate

to ourselves and others.

We listen to lies about our self

Formed from frail humanity.

Freedom comes when we

Forgive, turn, face the Son

Leaving the past in the past!

We listen to lies about others;

Framed pictures of painful betrayals.

Freedom comes when fears

Are faced and we take heart

Finding both hope and healing.

For we finally understand,

We all listen to the same lies

And all will be healed

By the same truth.

“Father forgive them,

They do not know what they do.”

They live with lies, shaping a reality

Giving brittle illusions of power,

Control, protection, connection.

We reject what we most fear.

Therefore, we first reject ourselves.

The pain of deep disconnection

More than any can bear.

We become a city divided,

Defeated, destroyed.

The gate is unhinged,

Open and torn

As we, with broken hearts,

Hide in a corner dark and small

Afraid to step forward

To claim what is ours,

Our birthright

As sons and daughters of the King.

We are never alone, not ever!

What a comfort He brings

The great “I am,”

The Lover of my soul.

It’s no longer I that live,

but Christ that lives in me!

He died to set me free!

Di Priest ©C-Change 2007

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