I remember when I was in fifth grade. One day before lunch ended, I opened the door to my classroom and found that the room was empty. I was surprised. This was the first time ever that I was in the room by myself. With nobody else around, it was pleasantly calm and quiet.
I walked over to my teacher’s desk and took a good look. After all, it was the only place in the entire room I hadn’t really had the opportunity to inspect, until now. I looked inside the drawer and found her grade book. It was right on top. I opened it where it was paper clipped and saw all of our names with the lineup of test grades next to them. I looked for my name, and saw my grades, A, A-, B+, A+, A-, A … For a test we had taken just the day before, I saw, “B-“ next to my name. B minus? What??? That wouldn’t do.
I quickly looked for a pencil on her desk. My mind raced. “Would I erase it? Would I cross it out? No, that would be too obvious.” I decided to put a tiny mark on it to change the minus sign to a plus sign. It now read “B+.” My face was hot and my body was tingling as I quickly put the book away. I never got caught for that, nor did I confess, but it didn’t matter. I was on edge about it for a long time. I tortured myself about being stupid, being a liar and a fake, and, therefore, non-deserving of anything good in life, ever.
For decades I hid my dark and troubled spots. I was extremely hard on myself. I was a pro at chastising myself, which almost landed me in my grave. Do you remember the character “Pig-Pen” from the Charlie Brown comic strip? That was me: pretending that everything was okay and normal even though there was soot all around me.
In my healing journey, rather than beat myself up, I flipped a switch by honoring what I did to survive. I came to understand that by pretending my non-preferred experiences and my responses to them didn’t exist, I kept them firmly in place. I learned that by honoring what happened and describing my experiences without judging them allowed me to transform then release them.
To Clean = to rid of impurities; to purify.
When it came to changing that grade way back when, I came to understand that by getting good grades, I received praise and love I didn’t feel otherwise. I also felt that if my performance slipped, I wouldn’t receive praise and love. I doubt that my parents would have withheld their love, yet at the time I couldn’t risk even the thought of getting negative attention because I couldn’t face the humiliation.
I also came to understand that my perfectionist nature (which I’d be willing to bet I was born with) went into overdrive once I was sexually violated as a little girl. And finally, I understood that my constant self-chastising represented my fervent desire to be a good person.
In contemplating the glorious cycles of nature, springtime pulsates with the idea of renewal – of making a fresh start. When it comes to spring cleaning, I love the idea of ridding my closet of old clothes. The old clothes I speak of are not those I wear. For me it’s more about transforming non-preferred experiences so that I can shed old thoughts and ideas that no longer serve me, therefore creating space for the new and wonderful stuff I desire.
By stripping away the action itself (changing the grade) and seeking out the positive wish underneath (the desire for praise and love), I purified that experience. I was able to give my fifth grader what she so desperately needed – praise and love.
Here is the formula I use for shedding old clothes. Ask yourself:
What happened? What did you do or say that was non-preferred? What was your positive wish underneath your original response? It will typically be that you wanted understanding, acknowledgement, and/or love.
Now, replay the event in your mind, but instead, act or respond in a way that gives you the understanding you seek. If the event involved someone else, imagine the other person giving you what you are asking for (in the form of your positive wish). See and feel yourself receiving the understanding, acknowledgement, and/or love that you needed at the time.
Be creative. Understand that your subconscious mind doesn’t know whether something is occurring physically or virtually, the feeling is what it records. As you replace the old hurts with acknowledgment, understanding and love, you allow them to transform, thus lovingly shedding your old clothes to don new ones.
Experiences will continue to emerge from the shadows to receive light and transformation, and you will know how to do it. You have the ability to appreciate each moment rather than thinking that you need to fix everything in order to be deserving. May you come to understand that you are lovable anyway; that you are free to heal, to laugh, to love, and to express yourself, soot and all.