Rather than saying the traditional ‘Happy New Year’, I wanted to reblog this wonderful and thought- provoking parable by Dr Stein. I don’t know if I have ever made a New Year’s resolution – I always knew I was terrible at sticking at them. If like me, these resolutions are not for you, perhaps this parable will be for you instead. Perhaps you will recognise yourself standing at one or other of these doors; or as having walked through one or more of them already. Perhaps you will see a land you are adamant you do not wish to enter; or a land you desperately want to navigate, but don’t know how.
For my own part, I think I stand beyond the third door (in the land of those who feel themselves undeserving), but at the threshold of the fourth. One of the cruelties of the third land is that internally, it feels as though one is inhabiting the space beyond door two, and drowning in jealousy. So often, I feel I have no right to sadness, and that all I do is complain and want the happiness that others have. So often it feels as though sadness about my life is not legitimate and so it must be that I am a ‘bad person’ who feels envy and cannot be content with their lot.
When I commented as such, Dr Stein replied as follows: “If one feels he does not have the right to his unhappiness, then any amount of envy feels like further evidence of one’s unworthiness………..I’ve encountered many for whom their envy adds to a list of self-created demerits. Where does this sense of “badness” come from? Most often from parents who neglected or criticized (“big girls don’t cry”), discouraging the emotional openness of their children who wanted only comfort and understanding, but received distance and/or disapproval: emotional sterility. Less often, however, the parent can’t handle the young one’s emotions. The child cannot risk the emotional collapse of the parent, so sees his own feelings as suspect and dangerous to the parent’s (and his own) safety. When such children become adults they feel indulgent and selfish looking for more than politeness in a relationship, also expecting that their expression will damage someone dear. The therapeutic task is to grieve the unresponsiveness (or inadequacy) of those whose job was to stay strong, tolerate the child’s pain, and bind his wounds. At first this feels wrong and more evidence of ingratitude, holding the potential to harm another. In time, however, it heals.”
I would like to thank Dr Stein for that response, which feels spot-on as far as my own experience is concerned. And I would like to express gratitude to his profession, as far as standing at the threshold of door four is concerned. Only we can make the decision to go into the ‘hardest, least sure’ place; and to keep on going, when it seems impossible. But we have help – a great deal of help, care, support, inspiration and so many other things – from those therapists, counsellors, doctors and professionals of many kinds, who take that journey with us. There is no map for our journey – but they try and make a map of themselves. None of us knows the terrain or how the journey will unfold – but they and try and act as a guide anyway, to point us to something within ourselves. And some of them tell us parables, to try and help us understand the stories that we live and the stories that we tell ourselves.
So this new year, what will you resolve? As Dr Stein asks at the end of his parable: “Four doors. Which will you choose? Or will you wait, decide not, hesitate?”
Imagine you stand in a courtyard, four doors equidistant from you. One leads — you hope — to some version of material prosperity: stacks of crisp greenbacks, luxury, titles, accomplishments. Are they more than you need or what you desperately need?
Behind door number two resides jealousy. Here is the personal storehouse of unfulfilled wishes. A worker stands with a brush. He paints everything with the green of envy. No objects inhabit the place, only the ideas with which you fill your head, catalogued for your review: the kind of marriage of this one, the beauty of that one, the genius and happiness of another. To enter you must speak the language of complaint.
A third portal stands in the shadows: the door of the undeserving. Those who step through believe they lack the right to speak of suffering. They’ve been told their life is good. All their externals are…
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