Learning to own responsibility for everything that happens to us is fraught with difficulty if we have internalized shame and blame. Many of us were shamed and blamed as punishment when we were children; we also used them to avoid punishment, or at least to get the punishment aimed at someone else. There is also a good deal of shame and blame in Biblical stories: Eve is blamed for offering the apple to Adam, and therein lie the seeds of ages-old doctrines that make women both culprit and embodiment of sin. Similarly, the Christian concept of "original sin" is and has been used to make us feel shamed -- the other phrase used is "hereditary stain" -- from before our birth.
These concepts are terribly destructive to our self-esteem. They stand in the way of our learning how to take responsibility for our lives and our actions because we were taught that if we were responsible for a problem or an accident, we were bad and we deserved to be punished. And so we found ways to avoid responsibility.
But what Diane Mariechild says (in "Open Mind -- Women's Daily Inspirations for Becoming Mindful") is this:
"The development of self-responsibility without blame, either for self or others, leads to the lessening of attachment to the goodness or badness of a situation. We look to each situation in a less personal way. When the attachment is lessened energy is released."
The energy released when we de-personalize our life circumstances and events allows us to step away from the tangled mess of the shame we feel for ourselves or assign to others. It obviates the need to point out blame.
Perhaps it is the same energy, but employed instead for positive, self-affirming practices. Once we have turned away from the darkness of our emotional response and personal attachment, we no longer say, "It's her fault!" or "I am a terrible person for doing that." We say "What can I learn from this?" and "How can I grow?"
The energy is freed to be used in the service of self-knowledge and wisdom.
"We begin to see what we can change and what we cannot change and we develop the wisdom to tell the difference." Surely, Mariechild is purposefully echoing the prayer we know from the 12-Step programs, but which was first prayed by Rheinhold Niebuhr.
It seems to me there are three things Mariechild is recommending:
that we release ourselves from learned habits of feeling shame and assigning blame;
that we pray for the wisdom to understand what is in our power to change and what is not;
that we bolster these new practices with a daily habit of meditation.
It is freedom we are talking about: freedom from the incessantly negative and blaming voices in our heads; freedom from searching outside ourselves for that which makes us victims; freedom from the binding chains of low self-esteem and suspicious thoughts. Mariechild says this freedom is about respect for all living beings.
Which, we have heard many times but cannot hear too often, can only be part of our world-view when we have first learned to be respectful of ourselves.
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Carol D. Marsh
- With a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction degree (Goucher College, August 2014), I am looking at a new phase in my life. From 1992 to 2009, I served as Founding Executive Director of Miriam's House, a residence for homeless women living with AIDS. I left this position when Chronic Migraine Disease overtook my ability to do my job. Now I hope that a writing career will both accommodate the migraines and give me a creative, productive outlet. And soon, September 4, I will launch my Inkshares author page in a bid to hit the 1,000 pre-order goal in 90 days. The book I want to publish is "Nowhere Else I Want to Be," a memoir of ten of my years at Miriam's House.