You often say, “I would give,
but only to the deserving.”
The trees in your orchard say not so,
nor the flocks in your pasture. (Kahlil
Gibran, The Prophet)
Recently I worked with someone who was upset because her life had become so happy and she couldn’t seem to enjoy it. She believed she didn’t deserve any of the happiness that was coming her way. So her thinking was that she should know she deserved it 1) just because she was alive and 2) because she had “suffered” so much previously. The fact was that she couldn’t enjoy what life was giving her because she believed she should feel entitled to it. Her thought went something like this: “I am angry because I don’t believe I deserve all the good things I am receiving in life.” It was a double whammy! She wasn’t enjoying what she was getting and on top of it, she was punishing herself for not enjoying it. So I went for the jugular.
“So you deserve what you are getting in life, is that true?” and then proceeded, internally to do my own Work.
How do I react when I believe that I deserve all the good life gives me? What happens when I believe that either my previous suffering or my hard inner work has earned me the blessings that are showering down on me day after day? Oh, how the Ego loves that! Oh, how it puffs up! I earned this; I am doing it right. Or perhaps it turns judgmental and feels it is about time it got something good! After all I have done, after everything I’ve been through, how can life treat me like this! What the Ego doesn’t do is feel grateful, and gratitude is the attitude (rhyme on purpose) that fills me with joy.
To begin with, I didn’t do anything to deserve being born; I wasn’t even chosen. I just happened, popped into life so to speak, and there I was. I did nothing either to be loved and cared for and not left to die the moment after arriving. As a matter of fact, I did all the opposite. I screamed for food or warmth or comfort or attention; I peed and pooed my diaper making a stinking mess; I didn’t let my parents get any real sleep for a long time after coming and, later on, I ignored their wishes at every opportunity and did whatever I pleased. Besides that, I never thanked them for a thing; quite the reverse, I blamed them for every little supposed “trauma” that I believed I had (until I stopped believing that traumas actually exist). Seen with clarity, I didn’t even deserve to live. If any parents were in their right mind, they would do us in immediately after birth if they had the bad luck to get pregnant and allow that state to evolve, ungrateful little wretches that we are!
Oh, but I was sooooo cute! Really! Drooling on my mother’s silk blouse, making tooth marks on the gold locket my father had just given her, being born with four toes on my left foot so that my parents had to spend a fortune making sure both my legs were more or less the same length when I grew up. Wetting my bed stubbornly until I was eleven… What was cute about me?
And after the age of six, when I fell absolutely and uncontrollably in love with the idealized image of my father, I treated my mother like a second class citizen. I made it so obvious that I didn’t want her along on our walks that most of the time she would let me go alone with my father; later, I decided she was beautiful but stupid so I would be intelligent and win my father’s love away from her. Many a night while my mother went to bed, I sat up with him discussing important things that she wouldn’t understand. And I did my mother the favor of hating her because she wouldn’t let me have him. My poor mother! What had she done to deserve me as a daughter?
And my mother wasn’t the only one I couldn’t stand. I didn’t even go near my little brother, who was six years my junior, except to torture him and make him cry. I remember one day in a doctor’s office, I wouldn’t stop picking on him and my mother finally got so desperate she lost her temper and slapped me across the face. Of course, I never forgave her for that one time or understood her desperation. Arrogance was my middle name: I definitely deserved a different mother or perhaps no mother at all so I could have Daddy all to myself. Now I know that if I deserved anything it was that slap and many more!
But somebody somewhere seems to have come up with the strange idea that we deserve everything good simply because we exist or that we don’t deserve anything because we haven’t lived right. Ha! And then when we get the good things, we can’t really enjoy them because we can’t figure out what we have done to deserve them. And, unless we judge them –which we do sometimes- neither can we figure out what someone else has done to deserve his or her “ghastly” life. Well the answer, at least in my case, is NOTHING.
That is why, that signal day, when I couldn’t understand why I was so miserable when I had done everything I knew to do to be happy, my thinking was exactly that: having done the work, I deserved the prize (happiness) and Life wasn’t doing its job! So Life finally sang it to me as it was: Brianda, Life doesn’t owe you anything.
Since then I live mentally (and sometimes physically) on my knees in gratitude for all I have received, never having once done anything to deserve it. Or as Kahlil Gibran says in The Prophet: “For in truth it is life that gives unto life –while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.”