Wednesday, September 21, 2016

An Excerpt from Elizabeth Lesser's "Marrow: A Love Story"



MarrowI'll admit that when I first heard about Elizabeth Lesser's memoir, Marrow: A Love Story, I didn't want to touch it with a ten foot pole. My Pops passed away not long before he was due to receive what we hoped would be a life-saving bone marrow transplant, so I wasn't keen to read about someone else's heart-wrenching journey. But misery loves company, and thankfully in situations such as these, there is a surprising amount of light that counters the dark. Marrow is about Lesser donating bone marrow to her sister who had cancer, yes, but it's also about the healing of their fractured relationship. This required both women to let their guard down in ways they never had before, which cleared up some misconceptions, and brought them closer together. In this edited excerpt, Lesser talks about how trying to present a perfect facade can be a kind of cancer. The cure is having the courage to be vulnerable, and authentic. 

AUTHENTICITY DEFICIT DISORDER

It never ceases to astonish me how much we all suffer from ADD. Not Attention Deficit Disorder. The ADD I am talking about is Authenticity Deficit Disorder, a condition you won't find in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders because I made it up. But still, it's real. And like many disorders, Authenticity Deficit Disorder manifests along a spectrum.

Most of us fall in the middle of the ADD spectrum—sometimes pleased about who we are, sometimes ashamed. Sometimes clear about our path in life, other times befuddled and stuck. In the privacy of our own nutty heads, we imagine everyone else got the instruction book, but not us—in fact, we suspect there may be something uniquely wrong with us. But we keep that insecurity to ourselves; we keep it a secret. And then we try to cover it up with all sorts of facades and defenses that over a lifetime become habitual. We try to look the part of someone who's got it all together. Depending on what we think the world wants from us, we try to sound cool, act strong, be smart. Or maybe we hide behind a macho mask, or a good girl persona. Maybe we act the good girl part when what is called for is to be the rebel, or maybe we act the rebel part even when there's nothing to fight.  Meanwhile, back in the marrow, our shining soul is what the world really wants. But we don't believe that. We believe the opposite—that if we looked too deep or shared too much, our basic unacceptability would be found out.

And so we relate to each other on the surface because we're afraid if we show all our cards we won't belong. We'll be taken advantage of. We'll be judged or excluded. But that is a supreme misunderstanding. If all we show to each are our surface scars—our defenses, our reactivity, our false intimacies—then that's what we get back. Show me your surface and I'll show you mine.

Here's the real truth: Underneath the facades and scars and coping mechanisms, you are good to the core. You are not perfect. But you are good. When we show each other our whole selves—scars and all—we get down to the marrow, to the soul. This isn't the easiest thing to do with another person. Sometimes it means admitting that you're scared to go there, that you don't trust the other person, that you have been hurt in the past. But if you can do that, you'll inspire truthful intimacy in the other. It's not a perfect equation—some people are hard nuts to crack, and some people will never break open to you, but it is always worth the effort. Always.

It's in the depth where we're given the chance to lay claim to each other's goodness and to bring it up into the relationship. This may sound way too laborious, way too risky. But I think it's more risky and labor-intensive not to do it. We spend so much time and anguish circling each other's inauthentic, wounded selves. It's shockingly liberating to break the cycle of authenticity deficit disorder. And a first step in doing so is to realize how we all suffer from ADD.   

In my many years of working at Omega Institute, I've been like a spy in the inner sanctum of the human potential movement, trying to get to the bottom of what really helps people heal their wounds and uncover their gifts. I've sat in on hundreds of workshops and conferences. I've interviewed healing practitioners, spiritual teachers, business leaders, Nobel laureates, artists and futurists and scientists—all so I could chart this journey of how human beings can recover from authenticity deficit disorder.

People often ask me, "Wow, you've hung around such amazing teachers—what's the most enlightening thing you've taken away? What's the big secret?" I hope my take-away doesn't disappoint you. The big secret is this:  Every teacher or author or leader or artist I've worked with is an ordinary human being—every single one of them. That's the big secret. Yes, they are wise and they are profound, but they are also just like you and me. They forget where they put their keys; they quarrel with family members. They try to live up to their noblest ideals, and sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't. They have their heartbreaks and blind spots and contradictory behavior; their weird neuroses and surprising insecurities. We look to them for answers, but they too are still searching. This realization has ground into me the truth of what has been said across the ages, but somehow we never really believe: that the answers are within you; that you, yourself, are the answer.

In my early years at Omega, when I was in my twenties, I found it disconcerting when teachers started falling off their pedestals.  Like discovering over dinner that a renowned relationship expert was getting divorced; or hosting a retreat for peace activists and finding out they were very angry people. Or the depressed happiness researcher. Or the monk with a big ego. At first this upset me. But as the years went on, it made me more tolerant of all people's inconsistencies, and it made me more compassionate toward myself. It showed me that no one is living the exact life you think they are, so if you compare your life to another person's, you're usually comparing it to a fantasy of your own making. Seeing the imperfect humanness of my teachers, side by side with their genius, has helped me stop expecting perfection of myself. My close encounters with the wise ones, have helped me relax and lighten up. I've let go of the goal of perfection and taken up the goal of authenticity.

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