Andy Bradley encourages those of us who may be consciously or unconsciously inhibited by shame to approach themselves with greater compassion, writing both a letter to the reader and to shame.
I hope that there is something in my following letter to shame that speaks to you or that you find helpful in some direct or indirect way.
My intention in writing the letter is to say something open and real about my personal lived experience of making peace and reconciling myself to the on-going presence of shame in my life.
Getting to this point in my healing following my crisis has been complex and at times a very bumpy road. People who love me, my meditation practice (‘Quiet Mind, Open Heart’), Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) have all been essential to my feeling that I can love my life again and jump back into the flow of this mystical and magical unfolding universe.
My experience of being human is that it’s messy and difficult – I sincerely hope that you are finding a path through that feels right for you. I hope to encourage you, the reader, who may be consciously or unconsciously inhibited by shame to approach your precious self with greater compassion.
This is a kind of shift from our fight flight response, which is reptilian and can be self-attacking, to an attend and befriend disposition, which is mammalian and more self-understanding. Compassion gives us the courage and space to turn towards difficulty and to recognise that guilt and shame are natural responses to some of our most primitive feelings – in the space compassion can open we realise we are not alone. Just like you, I feel shame. Just like you, I hope to be happy and healthy.
May you be happy, may you be safe and protected from all harm, may you be healthy in body and mind, may you live with ease and well-being and may you be free,
Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to speak with you again.
You nearly got me there, back in December – was that you on the train platform? Had you found your way out of the basement, come up the stairs and through the crack at the bottom of the door. Into the light.
Was that you, those tears streaming down my face, telling me to jump. Urging me, almost pleading with me.
Telling me that people I love would be better off without me.
Telling me that my race was run, my time was up?
Was that you?
I am sorry that I took so long to meet you and that you had to resort to such behaviour for me to feel your presence, to acknowledge you, see you and hear you.
Is it you that still sometimes makes me feel unable to live inside my skin – makes me desperate for a way out of now, out of the fundamental difficulty that I still sometimes feel in being me.
Something has begun to shift in me since that moment on the platform when I came so close to doing what you were asking me to do – to killing you and all of the other aspects of myself in the process.
I want you to know that you are becoming dear to me.
I know that it is early days for us and that for most of my life I have disowned you – shoved you down in the basement and ignored you when you banged on the ceiling, first quietly and then with anything you could lay your hands on to turn up the volume.
I am giving myself time and space to heal and I am working on integrating you so that you can remain out in the sunlight of my awareness and be included along with all of the other little I’s that make up big me. A friend of mine who was with me an hour after I nearly jumped in front of the train told me that he felt I needed a Lacuna – an unfilled space. I am writing to you from my lacuna – where I give myself the gift of gentle holding and uncertainty – where I can bathe in a different kind of knowing. A knowing that celebrates my hereness and my aliveness – a space that says that whatever comes up is perfect and that I am enough. I think that this lacuna is giving you the space you need too.
Some other aspects of me are helping me to get to know you and to understand your needs, and maybe even your purpose, your reason for being, what gives you your mojo.
Here I am, I am alive.
I won’t always be.
Shame – you are an integral part of me but you do not own me.
I want to introduce you more formally to some of the aspects of me that have helped me to be with you, with less judgement and more compassion.
I want to tell you something about the qualities of tolerance, forgiveness, patience and love and how they are helping me to begin to soften around you, to give you space to be who you are and say what you need.
Being depressed and suicidal was a clear expression of what felt like a radical and complete intolerance of myself. I felt that what I had done, the harm that I had caused. The deep way in which I was feeling so alone as a result of your presence was driving me to despair.
Beginning a new relationship with you began with me just sitting with the pain and learning to tolerate it. Or just knowing that it was pain and that I was suffering with it and at times not tolerating it – but knowing that tolerance was offering me some kind of compass for my feelings – the lack of it or the presence of it – its reduction in given moments or its expansion. Being in touch with some felt sense of tolerance was the first step for me in being able to stay with you – with ‘my shame’.
So, here I am writing to you, telling you about the quality of curiosity around tolerance that I think was a first step in my healing – in our healing.
Learning to be more tolerant gave space for the second integral quality in making peace with you – forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well – Wikipedia
It feels to me that you don’t really want me to do this – that your role as shame is to make me feel that what I have done is unforgivable – you perform this function well because, even as I write this, I can feel you interrupting the full flow of my forgiveness for myself. However, I continue to choose the path of forgiveness, not to exclude you shame, but because I have a life to live, people to care for, a purpose to serve and my wish for myself is that I have the energy and lightness of spirit which enables me to be here, present to whatever is unfolding, in the flow of events.
Here I am, tolerating you and forgiving myself – this is not an easy inner shift. Patience is required and its presence is wise and healing. I have realised within my lacuna that to hurry is to miss some of the patterns that you have laid down. Here I am, being patient, allowing myself time.
Tolerance, forgiveness and patience are helping me to be with you – my shame – to include you in my awareness, to approach you gently and even on occasions to smile as I realise that you are part of me, but that you are just one of the many little I’s that make up my big I!
As my letter to you draws to a close shame, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart and to tell you that you are loved. The whole of me loves the whole of you – I think you know that you are not easy to love but you have taught me so much! As a result of you coming up from the basement, I feel I have learned so much about myself and our human family. I feel humbled, closer to being of service – aware that this life is such a precious gift.
Here I am – mind quiet, heart open – here we are.
Shame, tolerance, forgiveness, patience and love.
All held by compassion.
About the author: Andy Bradley is Founding Director of Frameworks 4 Change, whose mission is to create and sustain consistently compassionate caring environments for older people (including those with dementia), people with mental health issues and people with learning disabilities. Andy was named by NESTA as one of Britain’s 50 new radicals.