I have the luxury of being six months pregnant. I say luxury because there really is no better word to describe it. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually it has been the greatest granter of perspective I've ever had– an ongoing, in-body experience that contests the mind from within and reminds me of what truly matters.
Marriage for me has been similarly transformative. To view the world through another's eyes and not only love, but long for the realization of that world as much as my own has been one of the most beautiful gifts I've been given.
For some, these statements might seem odd, if not entirely off. Many think of pregnancy and marriage as sacrifices... the beginning of a series of tradeoffs and compromises one makes in a life ideally spent in self-actualization.
For me however, it is quite the opposite. Rather than resist the deterioration of the boundaries and borders around my notion of "self," the selflessness required to be an effective partner and mother– as well as community member and friend– has provided for the most whole, true, and actualized notion of myself I have ever known.
How? By demonstrating how ineffective and false so many of those boundaries and borders were to begin with, as well as revealing the blind righteousness of the persona– rather than the person– they were protecting.
Unfortunately, in our culture of competition, individualism, and success-driven mania, we generally do not view selflessness as the opportunity it is. Instead, we are taught from an early age that "who we are" is a function of what we accomplish and where we rank against other people and according to a host of measures– as well as the thoughts and anxieties that come with both– rather than how and with whom we spend our time, the quality of those experiences and relationships, and the fullness of the contributions we make to others and the world.
The problem with this view is its implication that our worth is a variable function of achievement, rather than an inherent truth of being. And that only through progressive steps toward their end– proving, doing, and striving– may we fulfill and even become who we are.
Selflessness and the commitments they stem from, on the other hand, provide us with a more accurate and healthy view of the human condition. That we are– each of us– inherently worthy creatures, whose accomplishment of true success is fulfilled when we are present to and fully participating in life, as well as deeply connected to those around us.
I am reminded of my friend John's years in the Marshall Islands, which taught him this important lesson. The notion of "who a person is"– their inherent worth– is bestowed at birth. You are a member of the Marshallese community and thus, have already succeeded in life. The rest of what you choose to do, however you decide to explore and experience the world and yourself in it, is icing on the cake. And not surprisingly (to the Marshallese, anyway) that freedom often allows for more fulfilling, as well as successful, relationships and lives.
While not a common view here in the states, we too can choose to relax our stronghold on the "achievement as worth" conversation, along with the insecurity, anxiety, and scarcity-based thinking that so often come with it. When we do, we begin to experience the peace and fulfillment– and true sense of accomplishment– that come from participating with others as already complete and successful beings, rather than struggling, straining, and striving on our own to become something we believe we inherently can never be.
As Mother's Day approaches, I am humbled by these lessons of partnership, as well as those of parenthood– the privilege of birthing your best teacher, seeing your clearest mirror, and walking beside your greatest reminder for a lifetime.
The opportunity waits for us all, to know our true selves by embracing responsibility and accountability to the people in our lives. Those who– if we let them– teach us that only when we give up life as an "all about me" exercise do we find true peace, joy, and fulfillment... as well as who we really are.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today. For more information about Jennifer, her books, and her work, please visit: www.jenniferhamady.com
Labels: inspiring, learning