We all have secrets, past or present. Things we’re afraid folks would judge or reject us if they knew. Things we wish we hadn’t done, or might even be secretly glad we did. Life choices we’ve made that led to a loss of autonomy, authority, power, or pride. Almost always they’ve tarnished our integrity and self-esteem and become embedded into our sense of self.
Nothing’s heavier on the soul than shame. Even guilt or grief, tough and strongly debilitating, take a back seat to the blemishes we fear have stained our souls.
There’s a powerful scene in Ursula Hegi’s wonderful WWII novel Stones From the River, where the protagonist, a dwarf living in a small German town, is being interrogated by a Gestapo officer. He’s fascinated by her and asks how she goes through life looking as she does. She says (roughly), Think about your most terrible secret. Now imagine walking around every day, having your shame pinned to the outside of your heart for everyone to see.
That’s what this week’s reading is about: secrets and shame revealed, and then healed.
Spring’s when we clean our garages and closets. So now’s a great time to release any darkness you’ve been carrying. To undo the hold of whatever’s diminishing you, whether it‘s a memory, fear, guilt, unrequited longing, or sense of powerlessness in any aspect of your life.
It helps to believe you deserve to be healed. (Yes, a little catch-22, but hopefully you’ve grown since it appeared.) Helps to be ready to sincerely let yourself off the hook for bad thoughts, bad choices, bad relationships: situations where you gave away too much or asked for too little. Times when your diminished self-esteem made you feel smaller than how you now know yourself to be.
Spirituality offers many cleansing rituals. Everything from silent retreats to the confessional. Judaism has the mikveh, a deep bath that involves three complete immersions: one to release the hold of the past; one to release any illusions that you control the future; and a third to remind you to be fully present in each moment of now.
I always want the water warmer, a comfy rebirthing. But the ritual’s in part about waking up. About feeling yourself open with the shock of saying, This is who I’ve been. l I forgive myself my past. I welcome a purer me.
That forgiveness is a huge step. It means acknowledging who and how you were, what you needed then, and how you’ve changed. You gain perspective and freedom.
Immerse as often as you need to. Every time you do, you’re pouring holy water on your soul. You’re whitening the spots and scars. And strengthening your ability to forgive yourself. It does get easier with practice and time. You’ll know it’s working when you start to feel lighter and cleaner. When you can remember hurts with a rueful smile instead of pain.
Exercise: Write each thing you’re ashamed of on a piece of paper. Then burn each page and watch it go into ash.