In her memoir Why Religion? Elaine Pagels described noticing that she’s attracted to a female friend.
A little background on her: Raised by atheist parents, she chose Christianity as both a faith tradition and focus of scholarship in her early adulthood, becoming a foremost researcher of early Christian writings, particularly the ones that didn’t make it into the cannon of the New Testament; her book The Gnostic Gospels was the first major text on these writings. She approaches Christian scripture in a way that would easily rankle literalists; she finds there beautiful, human-crafted, allegory-rich, curiosity-provoking spiritual guidance.
At the time of noticing her attraction, she was married to a man who she loved deeply. She had no interest in disrupting their marriage and she had no intellectual bias against same-sex attraction. Love was love to Pagels.
And yet she noticed that she was uncomfortable feeling an attraction to a woman, despite her intellectual acceptance, despite her awareness that she didn’t have to and wouldn’t act on the attraction. As she brought curiosity to her discomfort (That’s some beautiful self-coaching there!) she noticed that while her conscious self had zero beef with same-sex attraction, while her conscious self didn’t buy into the scriptural interpretation that called those kinds of love sin, something in her, some little unconscious part of her, did beef, did buy into the sinfulness.
Some until-then unconscious part of her had absorbed teachings that her prodigious intellect had thoroughly vetted and rejected.
We do this all the time, reacting from ideas and values that have somehow stuck to us like lint to exposed velcro and yet don’t represent our actual orientation toward ourselves or the world.
I noticed this in myself just last week. In the midst of a move with the U-Haul truck already unloaded, carrying armloads of household detritus to my car that never made it into a box, I was tired and done and it was manifesting as anger at myself. Like Pagels, I brought some curiosity to it: What’s this anger about, self? (Or really, what’s this anger about, Whampus, my gremlin of should, of epic self-judgment?)
I realized I was mad at myself for being emotional. Here I was, in the midst of moving to a house we were able to buy, during an economically terrifying time for millions of people around the world, carrying possessions that we own because Theresa and I are and have been lucky enough to each earn money doing work we enjoy, at the end of a move rich in friends willing to don masks while hauling boxes, and I’m in a snit because I’m tired and overwhelmed.
Of course I was. Moving is stressful. Exhaustion compounds stress and amplifies emotion.
And yet, I had zero patience for myself in that moment. Some subconscious value of stoicism was yelling at me to suck it up, count my blessings, and stifle the sniffling.
Like Pagels and her conscious acceptance of same-sex attraction, I have a strong conscious rejection of stoicism of the suck-it-up variety. My conscious self says: Bring on all the feelings! I’ll take the heartbreak because it’s the conjoined twin of great big joy!
I discovered (again) in that moment just how deeply embedded stoicism is in the velcro of my psyche.
As Pagels did apparently instinctively and I did thanks to much coaching and training, treating discomfort as a flag waving us down for some attention, bringing curiosity to what might be hiding in our velcro, is a key to both greater self-understanding and creating our biggest, baddest life – the one that truly honors our values.
What might be stuck in your velcro?
Looking for support or community in understanding your gremlins and turning toward your discomfort? I’ve got space in my calendar for a new coaching client or two, and The Bigger Badder Crew is always ready to welcome one more!