As so often happens with me, a recent interview I saw on Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday led me to my next soul-journey book. This wasn’t the first time I had seen Oprah’s interview with Elizabeth Lesser, but it was the first time that the interview led me to buy and read this book.
Oftentimes I am inspired by a spiritual teacher I see with Oprah, I purchase their book, and about a third of the way through I discover another teacher/book, and I am like a squirrel, not sure which delectable nut to chase first. The end result is that I start a lot of wonderful books, but finish few.
Not so with Marrow. This book met me right where I live. When Elizabeth shared with Oprah that her sister Maggie told her the last year of her illness, the year before her death when she was in emotional and physical pain beyond our understanding, was the best year of her life, I knew I had to know more. What could have led Maggie to feel this way? What can we learn from Maggie so that we can live the best year of our life every year without having to endure a life-ending illness to get there?
Conditions of Worth
Psychologist Carl Rogers wrote about conditions of worth – the standards of behavior children believe they must follow to receive love and avoid criticism. Children internalize conditions of worth and then use them as instructions for living. These instructions follow them into adulthood. He isn’t saying that it is the fault of the parents or anyone else – the four Lesser sisters all had the same parents, but each had different conditions of worth. I believe it is more the result of how we are wired, combined with our environment and experiences.
Maggie’s conditions of worth had led her to live her life as a pleaser. Do everything she could to please everyone else, without ever expressing her own needs or opinions out of fear of not being loved. Oh, you’re speaking my language sister. In Elizabeth’s book Marrow, she shares how a lifetime of family dynamics combined with who Maggie was led to Maggie’s habits of not knowing how to love others and herself at the same time, and she shares a plethora of lessons that ultimately broke down these habits and allowed Maggie to be her full-on authentic self during the last year of her life.
“What’s important in this life is to learn the soul lessons. The soul is the conductor. Put your soul in charge of your life.” Elizabeth Lesser
So how do we unlearn these conditions of worth that we have somehow internalized and used as our rules for living throughout our lives? Elizabeth shares many helpful thoughts on the value of meditation, and how it can help to interrupt the incessant voices in our heads that come from these conditions of worth. We have anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 needless (usually negative) thoughts running through our heads on any given day. Taking even just a few minutes to be still and quiet, to listen to your spirit instead of your head, can help to reprogram your thinking.
I think of meditation as a prayer of listening vs. a prayer of asking for something. My most successful meditation time is in the morning before I even get out of bed. I’ll lie there quietly, ask God to guide my steps throughout the day, and then just be still and try to receive whatever instruction He is sending my way. It is equally successful for me to do this at bedtime, if I can stop reading before falling asleep. I will think about my day: what was successful, what do I wish I had done differently, what didn’t get done that I wish had been done. I’ll then turn it over to God once again, asking for forgiveness for the mistakes I made today, help changing the things that I need to change, and direction for the coming day. It is a very peaceful way to go to sleep.
The Four Agreements
Having respectful, purposeful communication can also help to move away from old habits of negative thinking (“I’ve never forgiven him for that thing I made up in my head!”) and into a positive, authentic way of living. Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements is a good guide:
- Be Impeccable With Your Word
- Don’t Take Anything Personally
- Don’t Make Assumptions
- Always Do Your Best
Being positive and loving does not mean being a doormat or giving your heart away to every person who enters your life. “Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt” Maya Angelou
Being in touch with your own authenticity gives you an inner strength that allows you to be open to others without giving your love to those who are not worthy of receiving it.
“Those in touch with their authenticity share similar traits. They are gentle and strong in equal measure. They are not overly concerned about what others think of them, and yet they are greatly concerned about the well-being of others. They are so in touch with themselves that they are open toward everyone.” Elizabeth Lesser
My soul is hearing you Elizabeth, and it thanks you for reintroducing these concepts to my very active brain. I hope that you will know that Maggie’s story will help many of us to experience the best years of our lives without having to endure the pain that she suffered to bring the lessons to us.
P.S. I have only touched on a very small portion of all of the insight that Elizabeth shares in this book. I highly recommend it! You can find it on Amazon here.