I do remember, vividly, riding as a five-year-old in the front passenger seat of our aging car, eyes riveted to the hole in the floorboard beneath my dangling legs. I watched the pavement race by and felt the wind circling my legs, hands clutched tight to my seat lest I be sucked into this terrifying hole. I now know the whirlpool image represents my terror of being alone and overwhelmed by the strength of sadness, anger, fear…and of being pulled deeper and deeper into these feelings—perhaps into non-existence. These fears had accompanied me for decades.
In the second scene, a solitary child stands in the dark, nose and hands pressed flat against a window, looking in upon a brightly lit scene—a family sitting around a table sharing food, laughter, and conversation. This I came to realize represented my deep longing for loving human companionship and my dread of being shut out from it.
These suspicions, coupled with a childish belief in my own power, shaped the lessons I drew from childhood. In my fifties I captured them in words:
Lesson 1: Life is not to be trusted. Hard things keep happening to you and those closest to you.
Lesson 2: People are not trust-worthy. Your needs increase their fear, anxiety, or anger and make them more self-absorbed and unable to see you, know you, or help you. Only you can help yourself.
Lesson 3: Hide all the parts of you that could possibly bother others. Work to head off or alleviate others’ distress.
Lesson 4: Your actions determine how others feel about you and if they’ll attend to you. Actions carry value. Your intentions, desires, thoughts, emotions—who you are—do not. Therefore, achieve.
Lesson 5: Males are more important than females. Find a man to love and care for you and you will feel safer, less lonely, and more lovable.
Lesson 6: Do not feel sorry for yourself; others have it harder. Suppress or deny troubling emotions. Just grit your teeth and keep working. Keep doing.
How did I come by these lessons? What gave them their power? And why did I cling to them for so long? Even now, almost twenty years after embarking on this journey of emancipation, why do remnants of these childhood lessons sneak up on me in new guises? I needed to look again at the childhood I’d tried to escape.
Lessons in Simply Being is the memoir of a recovering control addict who finds meaning in life after the collapse of all she had clung to. Plunged into despair, she calls upon the skills honed in her thirty-four years as a behavioral scientist and professor at Duke University. She searches for order, change, and meaning as she walks through much of what she most feared and discovers a mysterious loving presence that permeates her world, even its darkest corners.
…deeply personal, warm, accessible, and highly readable. I couldn't put it down. Rev. Margaret B. Guenther, Professor Emerita, General Theological Seminary, and author of Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction
...brimming with existential and spiritual insights Rev. Tilden Edwards, Founder and Senior Fellow, Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation.
Carol O. Eckerman is a developmental scientist, a Christian contemplative, and a spiritual director who lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
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