Last night I wasn't feeling well, so curled into bed early with a good book while my daughter took over the dog-walking chores. She came back to me to unleash the dog (she can't touch him due to allergies) then curled up beside me for a chat.
I remember visiting a friend who had a seven-year-old daughter when my girls were still toddlers. My friend's daughter crawled into her lap during our conversation, and I was enchanted: "Oh, wow! You mean they could still be doing that when they get older?" I asked -- at the time her seven-year-old seemed huge to me.
Yes, my girls still curl into my lap, all these years later, (they are almost 20, and 21) and it still feels wonderful to hold them; a special connection.
So this one curled into me, and, for a joke, put on my glasses. "Mom, how can you see out of these? They're so dirty!" And somehow my mind leaped to this picture, and to what I've been reading recently in Essential Spirituality about self-knowledge.
For many of us -- particularly as we age -- the idea of self-knowledge gets tangled up with the face we see in the mirror; a face some of us find increasingly difficult to look at. Self-knowledge, of course, goes deeper than that, but many of us find that deeper self -- with her mistakes, her questionable motives, her secret longings and shames -- even more painful to examine.
All those negatives become like dirt on the glasses of introspection: we can't seem to see past them, and don't really want to look for fear that's all there is.
But (as my bishop used to say) "the reality is" that as long as those flaws remain an obstacle, and unacceptable; as long as we refuse to examine and forgive ourselves, then we remain prisoners of our own imperfection, trapped in a cycle of fear and self-condemnation that muddies our vision, both of others and of the Divine self that lies deeper within us.
Psychotherapist Carl Jung puts it this way:
"Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses, and so acceptance of one's self...is the acid test of one's whole outlook on life."
Roger Walsh, author of Essential Spirituality, sees it this way:
"Certainly we have all made foolish mistakes. However, mistakes are far better used as an opportunity for learning than for self-loathing, which can be a terrible barrier to well-being and growth...Simply to see ourselves as we are, without exaggerating either our virtues or our failings -- simple self-acceptance -- does NOT mean denying our shortcomings or giving up our efforts to heal them. It does mean recognizing and working on our shortcomings without attacking and belittling ourselves for having them."
If your introspective lenses are smeared with past mistakes and failures, do for yourself what my daughter did for me: tenderly remove the glasses and wipe them clean, learning from and forgiving those mistakes and failures while knowing they'll happen again.
And while you're there, take a hard look, in the all-too-brief moment of clarity that follows, and see the true Self that lies beneath, the imago dei that opens the door to the Sacred within. That is your deepest mystery: rejoice and be glad in it!