“Good enough”: the power of modest affirmations

A few days ago I was having an episode of crazy – of not feeling good enough – of all kinds of ridiculous internal pressures. That happens… and often there is this pressure to be AMAZING – to be special and wonderful and outstanding and awesome and all of these over-used superlatives.  We overcompensate for not feeling good enough by reaching for the stars (which has often struck me as an ironically air-grasping metaphor). Affirmations usually favor big words, but perhaps there is a quiet power in small humble statements: I’m good enough. Everything’s okay. Relax.

“I’m good enough” is digestible. It’s believable. It’s no great commitment, no great pressure. It’s acceptable, and it’s honest. There’s nothing wrong with being a good-enough mother, a good-enough daughter, or granddaughter or student or academic or writer or any of the other labels people tend to accumulate in their short lives. It is a calm, contented centre in an otherwise chaotic storm of great vulnerability, expectations and obligations. It’s an in-between road that is not a dead-end or wild goose-chase shortcut. It’s just a simple breath of fresh air. I’m good… enough.  It’s an invitation to let go.

This is a time of letting go. It has been a frustrating and transformative couple of years.  Today is about endings, about letting go, mourning the death of the old paradigm and making space… and resting… and allowing the new to arise. Today is a good time for acceptance, for allowing, for letting things be. Today, “good enough” is enough… and probably, tomorrow it will be too.

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Forgive life: Neptune squares my natal Chiron


I don’t quite know how this one snuck up on me, although it does make sense considering Neptune is so elusive and my natal Chiron is in the 12th house of hidden and subconscious things. Perhaps I should have noticed when the stability I had been enjoying since my Saturn Return seemingly morphed into what feels like several months of PMS. I was feeling SO emotional, but couldn’t cry. I even resorted to watching the sad parts of kids movies and Thai life insurance ads (the saddest ever) just to force the tears to flow.

Neptune in a difficult aspect is a lot like a big dissolving/yearning/dream/delusion/spell which can feel impossible to live through and chiron is all about being wounded and healing, so there are some obvious emotional ramification here, but because this transit surprised me, I googled it to see what else the internets could tell me: not very much and came across a Saturn Rising post of an interpretation except (not sure where from) that resonates deeply:

The deeper meaning underlying the depressed emotional state
you are likely to experience is a need to face, understand, and
let go of the pain of the past. You may be clinging to hurtful
experiences in ways you have not realized, storing them up
and nursing an unconscious sense of grievance and mistrust
which may be secretly affecting many of your decisions and
responses to other people. It is not that your past experiences
are unimportant, or that your unhappiness is or was unreal.
But right now you are being challenged to find the capacity to
forgive life for not meeting your expectations. If you can see
where your idealization or unrealistic expectations might have
led you into disappointment, you could go a long way toward
healing these past wounds. Also, you may need to learn to
accept life as it is, rather than as you wish it could be. The
proverbial choice of perceiving a glass of water as either half-empty
or half-full applies to you now. If you see life only in
terms of its unfairness, you will become bitter, cynical and
martyred. If you see it only as wonderful, or maintain spiritual
convictions which are too simplistic or naive, you will be
disillusioned when life turns out to be more complex than you
thought. But if you see it as a mixture of dark and light, and
can be flexible enough to accept both, you will be able to find
the resources to cope with the dark while enjoying the light.

Despite being a glass-half-full person already, I could make some more ground with forgiving life. Faith is something I found, as a child, out of desperation. I was raised as an atheist, and got lost in the forest when I was eleven and prayed to every god I had ever heard of. I found Jesus at camp a few months later and converted to Christianity, then dropped it in favor of polytheistic paganism in my teens when I needed magic the most. Gradually, I let that go too, as I found my own power and needed gods and goddesses less and less. My spirituality evolved into an experiential one, moment to moment, interconnected with everything. The beliefs I have now, I am less attached to, they are lenses: tools for gaining clarity, wisdom and understanding… and yet, over the past few months I have felt this tugging absence of faith.

Feeling confused about my life, anxious about not knowing what the hell I’m doing, I have been intellectualising too much – trying to think my way out of feelings of powerlessness. Feeling frustrated with Uranus on my Midheaven, squaring Pluto in my seventh house, I have been going around in circles into brick walls trying to figure out what to do about my ambitions and relationships… I have been getting stuck on “how?” – the impossible question, when one is walking in the dark. I have been willing myself to have faith. I have been trying… but I don’t think I can find faith in desperation anymore… I think I have to find it in letting go… in forgiving life.

When I was fourteen I chose to write my school speech about forgiveness. It seemed like an important thing at the time, I remember a quote I found in my youth bible: “resentment is like a hot coal in the palm of your hand – the longer and tighter it is held, the deeper the burn, bitterness will leave a scar than even time cannot heal.” – That was when I was learning that forgiveness isn’t about letting someone/thing off the hook, it’s about releasing yourself from pain. I have been progressively seeking out and releasing pain from old wounds, releasing myself from depression, working towards forgiving specific people, but I haven’t yet framed it in terms of ‘forgiving life’. Life is hard and often painful; it’s complex and beautiful and joyful; it can be agonising. Life is full of injustices and unfairness, of vulnerability and betrayal, of being hurt, of fear and powerlessness. Life is a big thing to forgive.

Neptune is all about dissolving, and combined with Chiron there is a great opportunity to both dissolve into pain and woundedness and to dissolve from it – to release it. Towards the end of my last Neptune transit I started writing a poetic journal: “The art of dissolving.” I think I will go back to that now, especially as Neptune is also opposing my Venus and I need a positive creative channel to avoid getting lost in a lower-Neptuanian ocean of spaced-out yearning. In these moments of unreasonable despair I will allow this emotion to come up and affirm the thought that is bringing in light and space right now: forgive life.

write a list

Doing Shadow Work

I was about fourteen the first time I was introduced to the concept of the shadow through Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet, in which Ged split off a part of himself out of a foolish desire to prove himself and spent many years running from his shadow.  Later, when I was sixteen, my counselor, Fiona (who was also practiced in Celtic shamanism) explained the shadow as all the parts of a person they don’t like – that they are afraid of – that they don’t want to deal with. She talked about bringing the shadow into the light of awareness and encouraged me to write a list of all the things in myself that fitted this description. It was easy to pinpoint external things: the things I felt guilty about, the obvious things I struggled with. It was harder to dig deeper than that, into the tangled unconscious web of depression and trauma that I wasn’t ready to face. I wanted to make things special and spiritual. I didn’t want to deal with the raw ugliness of reality.

The shadow is the realm of nightmares and the parts of psyche that are hard to face: pain/sadness, fear, rage, the horrific: too hot or too cold for comfort.  A friend of mine who was who was practiced at lucid dreaming was warned never to try to meet his shadow. He took that as a challenge and so one dream, while he was flying along, he decided to do it. Suddenly a figure appeared, a doppelganger of himself, but darker, with a malicious grin. The dream abruptly morphed into his worst nightmare and my friend, an arachnophobe, was being eaten by an enormous spider while his doppelganger laughed.

The shadow is a terrifying concept, yet compelling. We might know there is something there but we don’t know what, and perhaps there is another level of naivete, or several more layers, or hundreds. We will never know until we begin the arduous task of peeling them back. We may hope for specialness, for treasure, but that is unwise because it opens us up for unhinged delusions and losing our path.

I think of shadow work as stumbling in the dark, like the le Guin’s priestess in her underground labyrinth, there is danger in rushing in: the danger of being lost to the blackness, of starving to death. We have to feel our way, to edge carefully around the walls until we learn the map. Then we can be at home in the dark landscape of unconsciousness.   That is why the work is worth doing: because when you face the most terrifying parts of self, there is nothing left to fear and as if we can process these things in the light of consciousness, they don’t need to manifest externally.

Nursing the primal wound

Every now and then someone will treat you really badly, whether it’s accidentally, incidentally or intentionally, and trigger all this horrible emotional stuff, right? Maybe it’s your boss, your current or former lover/partner, your best friend, mother, father or child. Maybe the’re triggering anger, detrayal, anguish, fear. Maybe you react assertively or barely react at all but either way the feelings are there. The projections run wild: “That bitch!/bastard!/creep!/idiot!/scoundrel!” How dare they? We feel wounded, underneath all the other emotions. We feel hurt. We probably feel like the other someone else has hurt us and is doing us damage, but most probably, the damage has already been done – was done ages ago – and we are re-living it over and over, and over…

The primal wound is the center of all other turmoil.  It probably comes from the drastic post-natal separation from the womb or some other very early childhood trauma and every other painful experience has compounded it. It is what Eckhart Tolle calls the pain-body. He describes it as a tangled mess of wounded ego – of trauma, abandonment, betrayal, hurt, fear and general suffering. The pain-body is often dormant. We wander around living pretty sweet lives until something nasty happens and triggers all this shit.

The wound is primal because it predates narrative-memory, it is part of primary human experience.  It is the wrenching separation from the feeling of being connected, of being absolutely safe and warm, of floating in the center of the universe. It is so difficult for us to learn that we aren’t the center of the universe – at least not to everyone else – because everyone is struggling to learn the same thing. This traumatic separation triggers our base survival fear. We are terrified of our limitations, or our mortality, of our insignificance. There is only so much a young ego can take before it ruptures and becomes wounded.

Although it’s obvious that living life through this woundedness is not in one’s best interests, we can become awfully attached to our wounds and the traumas and dramas that inevitably surround them. We construct our identities around them: “I am so-and-so and I am ____” insert addiction/trauma/negative label here. We can even be proud of what we’ve suffered to the point that we refuse to stop suffering. Our woundedness gives us an excuse to opt-out of life-obligations, it gives us an excuse to be nasty because we were once treated that way. Really, you don’t need the excuse. If you want to opt-out, do it, if you want to be nasty, go ahead. Excuses are just more unnecessary justification. If you want drama, there is plenty to create and share. If you’re over it and want to move on then begin the disentangling process.

We feel justified in our suffering, in our anger, in our vengeful thoughts. Maybe we are justified, let’s assume we are, either way justification isn’t useful. If we just stay ‘justified’ we tangle the wound even more. We can hold onto all the crap. We easily get stuck. Let’s try something different. Let’s try disentangling from current projections and old trauma. Drop the other people from the equation for a minute. Good work. Now, what is left? That wound. Over the years it has been pushed down into the unconscious to fester, it has been covered over with all sorts of ugly and pretty things. It has become like a boil, an infection seething under the skin and this new trauma, this new trigger of pain/fear/anger has brought it to the surface. It’s not a pretty sight, but it is a chance to clear out the pus, clean the wound and let it heal.

Awareness is always helpful, like a flashlight in the dark. If we can focus on this wound – not in an unhelpful dwelling-on-it-going-around-in-circles kind of way because that will only get us more tangled up – but in way that is clear of projections, in a way that regularly cleans it out and wraps it in safe thoughts, in a way that occasionally squeezes out more of the pus until there is none left, then we can give it all the right things to heal. We don’t do the healing in our minds, we just remove the barriers. Healing is automatic in the right circumstances. To speed it up we can nurture ourselves. We can eat the foods our body really wants (not the kind our wound-wrapped-mind craves for comfort), we can move and stretch and exercise in the way our bodies prefer. We can create and be with friends and in nature and do all those things that feed us. We can listen inwards to what we really need instead of looking outwards into projections of happiness on the buffet-table of life that may be all empty-calories and no nutrient-density. A special kind of freedom is possible when we can separate ourselves from the drama and projections of the mundane world, and freedom can be terrifying too, but at least it’s not tedious repetitive cycles of pain.