The Seven Deadly Sins Part 4 - Pride
(photo courtesy of JD Urban, creator of the Everyday People Project)
Life has gotten really good. Has that ever happened to you? Life gets good. And you're like...wow...this is exactly what I always wanted. And the moment you do that, it somehow insinuates that the rest of your life wasn't good. And you know it wasn't all bad. Sure you made mistakes and didn't always do things the way you should have or wanted to but, still, you can think of dozens of really good memories. You can envision how all those experiences have made you the person you are today. You can feel the love of the people who were in your life - who supported you, sympathized with you, showered you with generosity, made you smile.... So, it wasn't a BAD life, but you realize that, despite all the smiles, you weren't happy. Your brain tends to hold onto the good memories and the less than ideal ones are all stored away in a crummy cardboard filing container in the back right corner of your mind, lid half off and a cobweb stretching down the side. And you always look at that box and say to yourself - when am I going to clean that up? If THAT wasn't sitting there, this place would be perfect. And it's when you reach that happy place that you realize that box needs to be opened, gone through and sorted into keepers, yard sale items and trash.
I've been having that experience since starting a relationship that is more incredible and life changing than I could have imagined and that has accentuated through it's stark contrast the unhappiness that preceded it. Simply understanding I wasn't happy - in my case, I was living a life that was not who I was or for which I was destined - only solves the problem somewhat. To address the rest of it, I've had to admit that I'd had only a few moments of pure happiness since I was a very small child. How could I have lived this long only able to muster 75% joy for what should have been 125% ecstatic situations? It's clear to me why, but what does that really mean? It means that I've needed to admit to myself and others that as much as I tried and thought I was succeeding, they never really got to know the true me, because there was always a portion held back. And that, when I was hugging them and congratulating them on a major life event, the embrace they were receiving was given by someone who felt a hug was appropriate, but didn't feel like hugging. Defending a life like that, while you're living it, requires a great deal of stubbornness and pride. Creating such a life required pride in the way in which it is never healthy - pride in pleasing others; pride in being approved of. To retrieve myself from it is taking the opposite - pride in my core; in my soul; in my imperfection.
Even as I'm writing this, that dark side of pride continues to rear it's head out of habit. "True happiness is just for the ignorant and the movies", I say to defend what are pride-busting realizations. But it's not true, because even through the most wrenching bad moments that the past two years have brought, moments of happiness so bright they are blinding have found their way in - happiness like waking up on a sunny Summer morning as a child that I had labeled as pure, naive nostalgia. It still exists, so I know that this path - this pilfering through old, bad experiences, is worth it. Because with each stored-away episode of embarrassment, or disappointment or shame that I pull out of that dusty cardboard box and throw away, more room is made in my brain for beauty and light and warmth. This is necessary because, if not dealt with, bad experiences are really sticky - like that residue of dog shit on the street that's left by careless and lazy pet owners using cheap shopping bags to pick up the product of their morning walk. If something stinks really bad, there's always a stain left behind. First you clean up the shit, then the rain comes to wash away the stain. In the process, you might get dirty and wet, but it's the process.
What I'm also reaffirming, as I explore my life and the Seven Deadly Sins, is that everything is dual - even sin. Pride can be one off the ugliest. I've seen how it has affected me and convinced me to close myself off to others because I was afraid of admitting my own imperfections or lack of knowledge. I've seen how it has affected others in similar ways when they equate their own worth solely to their appearance, their career or their bankroll. Nothing that anyone else thinks, nor any physical possession has the power to control our worth. We're all born into this world with big fat baby heads. We might exit the womb into different situations, but we're all naked, helpless and blissfully unaware of the world's expectations. It is ourselves and our pride that place obstacles before us. It is what made me feel justified in the past in insisting that everything was OK, that I didn't need to make changes or improve, and that everything I needed to know I already knew. I was so wrong.
On the flip side though is pride in that fat little baby soul that came into the world with us - the little light within each of us, eager and ready to learn. That sort of pride is essential to avoiding the other. It is pride that we are OK as we are. It is pride that we always have more to learn. It is pride in following whatever path that we must in life to reach that place where happiness comes easy - real happiness, not manufactured or chemically induced or provided by another, but the kind of happiness that flows easily and...just feels right. Getting the balance right is something I am still navigating, but as each stain of false pride gets washed away, the easy kind takes it's place. And for being man enough to attempt this, I am proud.
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