The 12th-century poet Rumi said each of us is trying to hide the same secret from each other. It isn’t anything malicious — we’re just hiding the mere fact of our flawed humanness. Rumi called it the “Open Secret.”
I know that I expend too much energy feeling less-than-adequate and I expend even more of it trying to remind myself that I am just fine exactly the way I am. For me — and probably for you, as well — a lot of my feelings of inadequacy stem from a sense that other folks have it more together than I do.
But I do it to myself, too: I recently shared with a friend the things I do that contribute to my feeling inadequate: I compare myself to others (and I always come up short), I struggle to celebrate others’ successes (they’ve got friends and family who will do that, right?), and I daydream about being “saved” (my book on personal development will be wildly successfully — with no more effort on my part, or I’ll receive a large inheritance from a long-lost relative — even though I have none, or I’ll win the Powerball — which I don’t play).
Yet I suspect that even the people who seem to be living out what I would call the “perfect” life probably have an Open Secret, too. And while the friend who let me catalogue my self-sabotage strategies didn’t say that she has the same weaknesses, she accepted them without judgment. And it felt good to share them.
But within a short time I found myself once more comparing myself to the more-together-than-thou in my life. And once more having trouble accepting my own foibles as right and necessary. Why is that?
This difficulty is especially mysterious to me because I’m not all that interested in sugar-sweet, sun-filled stories anyway.
In fact, all of my favorite stories are pretty bleak and don’t end particularly well. (I loved Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road.) And yet in every one of the stories I get the most out of, love for others — and true connection with them-bring meaning and solace. My favorite tales are about hope and hopelessness; home and exile; joy and sorrow.
Great writers are supremely gifted at creating characters who wrestle with great challenges and experience a more profound sense of meaning and joy because of them.
If you are feeling alienated, or anxious, or full of grief — or if the despair of the world is weighing heavy on your heart — look no further than any number of classic stories to help you find light in the darkness.
Think of The Lord of the Rings. It’s the ultimate story of strangers creating community, sharing a difficult journey, helping each other to achieve success against all odds — and ultimately learning though adversity to savor the passing moments of their ordinary lives.
Getting to the space where you can do that, of course, may mean making peace with the darkness first. To do this, I take a page from another of my favorite novels: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.
In this book the protagonist, faced with a rough patch in his life, is told by a wise man that he must “sit at the bottom of the well” for a while — he must face his difficulties and, for a while at least, not strive against them, but seek to understand the lessons they offer.
I have taken this so much to heart that most of my friends know that “sitting at the bottom of the well” is my way of saying that after a tough day, or week, or month I am going to my quiet place in order to discover what I am supposed to learn.
So, first you accept that “there are feelings of depression in you” (I learned from Eckhart Tolle in A Whole New Earth that you never want to identify so strongly with negative feelings that you say things like, “I am depressed.”). Accept the feelings without judgment. Just let them be. Then, start asking powerful questions.
Here are the questions that I try to ask: What is the situation that’s stressing me out most right now? Why is that so? What am I doing or believing to create or maintain or worsen this situation? What is the benefit or payoff for maintaining this situation? What is the cost or downside of taking action to change this situation?
The responses to those questions form the basis for powerful responses that can give you enormous insight into you and your situation. And when you stop trying to keep yourself a secret, it’s a whole lot easier to be you.
So — how are you?