“Blessed are they who heal us of self-despising. Of all services which can be done to man, I know of none more precious.”
William Hale White, British writer and civil servant
Its proximity caused me to think about the work I do teaching and coaching, and pressed me to investigate White’s context and self-image.
In a treatise written after his death it was said about William Hale White (penned as Mark Rutherford) that he wrote peculiarly well about, “misery of diffidence and self-distrust . . . an extraordinary knowledge of loneliness and depression, and of self-deception and humbug . . . his pity for the poor and oppressed, for the lonely and the sensitive, for the unhappily married - for all the world, indeed, except hypocrites and landlords.” White was kicked out of seminary for the meagerness of his faith, and spent the better part of his life moving around looking for the perfect home. It’s not difficult to image White’s primary diagnosis as a lack of self-worth. No wonder he wrote about such things.
Fast forward some months to the Oregon Coast and our fall offering of Creating The Life You Want—eight people joined in community to find where they strayed off the path they thought would be their lives. In a group of high achieving, lovely people I was struck once again by the roadblocks they fashioned using fear and shame and guilt and unworthiness. I thought of White and his quote.
Because over the years it has been a constant theme among our learning communities, I wondered about universality. In our work even those who rise above self-doubt to pursue their dreams are haunted by “monkey minds” that chatter about their lack of worthiness. I concluded there must be an origin of fear, shame and guilt, some epic, mythological origin.
Mythology, for those of you who have forgotten, is a collection of stories that help us explain our beliefs and history; beneath their story-lines they confront major issues such as the origin of humanity and its traditions, and the way in which the natural and human worlds function on a profound, universal level.
Enter Hercules, the son of Zeus and a mortal woman named Alcmene. Hercules was born a great hero with god-like strength. Unfortunately the goddess Hera (Zeus’ wife) was furious about the birth of this child belonging to her husband and another woman. Hera made it her business to make Hercules’ life miserable. Hercules was able to overcome all of Hera’s challenges, until the day she cursed him with madness that caused him to kill his beloved wife Megara and his two children. Hercules was tormented by self-despising for his actions.
There it is--epic reasons so many come to us with the same issues in slightly different, very personal iterations. The foundations for self-despising weren't White’s alone. They belong to all of us beginning with Hercules (even though his evil behavior was not of his own making). I felt relieved to find some explanation for the existence of self-despising as a human trait.
In order to be absolved Hercules had to use his strength for the good of the Gods by completing twelve labors: slay a lion, a multi-headed serpent, a flock of birds, a bull and a herd of man-eating horses; capture a sacred deer and boar, clean a behemoth neglected stable, steal the cattle of a three-headed beast and capture a three-headed dog. And you might remember Hercules overcame his self-despising by repeatedly doing the impossible. He married again and eventually became a god.
There is no contemporary version for how we rid ourselves of our own self-despising since most of the three-headed creatures are long gone. But I do have an idea, and I actually like this rendition because all of the labors are intrinsic in nature, actions aimed at being our best (what greater service can be done for the gods), affecting our outlook and all of our actions. And there are only seven labors, though each must be attended to daily, weekly, relentlessly. All seven are within our control.
- Physical—fill up our bodies by sleeping, eating and exercising well.
- Social—hang out with people we love and people who help ground us.
- Emotional—learn about why we think, feel and do what we do; take responsibility to improve our actions accordingly.
- Occupational—find and do our life’s work.
- Environmental—keep our surroundings healthy (guard our home and the earth).
- Spiritual—connect with a higher source and with all beings.
- Intellectual—continue to learn and grow our knowledge, skills and abilities.