How often do we ask ourselves, “How many times must I learn this lesson?” Or how often do we say, “I thought I was over this; I thought I had already learned this lesson.” Or, “Why do the same certain things that some people do always frustrate me?”
I am beginning to believe that the answer to these questions is that each of us has a single lesson that we must learn in the course of our lives, and it is tailored according to our own deep personal wound.
I think the “lesson” goes something like this: “Learn to act from a place of courage and abundance in regard to your wound, rather than a place of scarcity and fear.”
Allow me to elaborate by way of example – my own personal wound. This story reaches far back in time to the wonderful early 2000’s.
I remember distinctly when the world was going to end.
I was in 4th grade. I had just gotten in “serious” trouble with my teacher for the third or fourth time that year (Surprise, surprise, I was an ornery child in elementary). There’s a much longer, more interesting conversation surrounding the forms of punishment in private Christian elementary education, but suffice to say that I received the ultimate punishment, a penalty of 30 minutes off of recess. This simply meant I would sit on the sidewalk during recess watching other kids play for a total of 30 minutes – the duration of recess. As a 4th grader, I would have rather faced the rack than the cold, unforgiving concrete sidewalk.
My dad had picked me up after school that day and was having a discussion with me about my behavior on the way back to the house. I remember the exact stoplight we were passing under (I-40 WB exit at NW 10th) when the earth stopped spinning and began to careen madly toward the sun. He said something to the effect, “Seth, you need to figure this out, stop being troublesome, or else.” To be fair – the conversation was warranted. I had been extremely mischievous.
As a 4th grader, however, this truly seemed to be the end of the world. I distinctly remember thinking, as my gut sank lower and lower, “I don’t know how to do what my dad is asking…. How am I going to figure this out? How am I going to not be troublesome and ornery?”
Well, I eventually figured it out. Over the course of my schooling, I learned it was much easier to navigate life when I chose to meet someone else’s expectations for how I should act, rather than to live true to my own sense of self. I learned how to read what other people wanted, learned how to be the “good” kid that all the adults spoke of admiringly. This, of course, was much easier for me than saying what I wanted, or doing what I wanted.
The wound: “I need to be something other than what I am in order to be accepted, in order to avoid undue attention.”
The corresponding lesson: “I must not reject myself in favor for some other fiction I think will gain me acceptance, but instead must courageously allow myself to be the person who I am truly meant to be.”
I have had to learn this lesson in countless relationships and in countless situations. Some variations of the wound go something like this:
“I don’t trust my knowledge on this project – because what I think will surely be problematic or difficult – therefore I will not say anything or will agree with the project manager/ customer.”
“I need to be the ‘perfect boyfriend,’ being what they want me to be, rather than being honest with what I want and what I expect out of a relationship.”
“I cannot cry or show emotion right now because that would be upsetting and odd for many people, so I will instead ignore these emotions and feelings.”
“I don’t want to share my doubts about faith because that could cause other people problems and make them suspicious of my own beliefs, therefore I will say everything is fine.”
“If I write this blog or poem, people will think I am a weirdo who is too self-reflective and I don’t want anyone to think me odd or unusual or out of place.”
And so on and so forth. One can see how these all stem from a particular wound, and in each situation there is an opportunity to learn anew the “lesson.”
Here’s where it gets interesting: The goal is not to out learn the “lesson” and move on to a different one. If there is anything to truly master, it is in recognizing when the “lesson” is reappearing.
We must learn to be attuned to our wound and lesson, their coming and going, and the ways in which they will continue to re-manifest themselves throughout our lifetime . However, this perspective is anathema to western/scientific notions of progress, which say that progress is found in the checking of boxes, graduating from institutions, and climbing the “ladder.” In other words, progress is up and forward, certainly not in circles or cycles.
Recognizing this truth is freeing in a very tangible way. When we can embrace the notion that we must learn the “lesson” over and over again, our frustrations at our lack of progress will dissipate. We can relax, breathe deeply, and focus on the people and situations around us, rather than on our lack of mastery of the “lesson.”
I believe that you, dear reader, are in a similar situation. You have a deep wound that is prompting a “lesson” to be learned, the same lesson over and over. Do not lose heart when after decades, you find yourself still learning the “lesson,” the same lesson you thought you were finished with many years ago. Learn to see the appearing of the “lesson” as it comes around the bend. Welcome it with open hands, eager to turn the same diamond in order to reveal a new facet.
Each new life event results in a re-framing of the lesson. Each new relationship, each new job, each new situation creates a different environment such that the same lesson is expressed in a new way. Perhaps this is why we can never quite attain mastery over the lesson, because it is “new” and “old” at the same time.
Finally, the wound is the source of our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. In learning to be what others wanted from me, I learned how to read individuals, how to feel them out, and how to connect with most people. I also spent a long time self-monitoring my own ideas and thoughts, filtering them through various lenses to see how others might receive what I say.
Consequently, I am able to win people over and meet them where they are, because I know what they want. I can evaluate ideas from multiple perspectives, which has been a great source of creativity, and I am constantly observing, picking out details others might miss. This is all due to my wound, and for this reason, we must not avoid our wounds.
There is only one lesson, and I am constantly having to re-learn it. I imagine there is only one lesson for you as well, dear reader. I believe that when you and I accept our wound and our lesson, we can begin to live from a place of sincerity, authenticity, and wholeness.
The featured image is Van Dyck’s Samson and Delilah. Immensely revelatory for me in regards to learning the same lesson over and over again. The feelings generated by the detail Van Dyck put into Samson’s eyes brought me to tears. One cannot help but feel something, some sort of empathy, for this bumbling oaf who continued to return to the same place, night after night. In this snapshot, one wonders whether he has realized his error or is simply agonized by the fact he is being torn from his loved one.