Nothing brings us closer as humans, than our shared foibles and vulnerabilities. The old aphorism states that “Errare humanum est” (it is human to err)…and yet, I think it is errors that make us human. Behind every deed there is an attitude, our outlook on life. But behind that, there is a mental pattern of associations that we create from our beliefs. So behind every error, we must look for the faulty thought-sequence we believe to be true.These are some of my errors, which I share, not with the false expectation that they will help you avoid repeating yours, because somehow we each have to live our own mistakes, but in the hope that my boldness will encourage you to seek and reset your own false belief systems.
The hardest thing in my life has not been: becoming a doctor or a master in public health, or my field training in epidemiology, or my training as a military; nor running a national program against AIDS or spiking risk among adolescents to build resilient, life-driven pathways from death to health, but rather- having been born a girl.I was the first-born of a Mexican patriarch, and not being a boy, I was born a disappointment. Perhaps to appease such grievance, my father named me after his first mistress and as a child I became his girlfriend; he called me: “novia mia”. That was my first confusion. He used to give me money, while keeping it from my mother. I embedded rivalry, guilt and carried shame and misgivings.
Now, he would have had me become a lady, since he inscribed me to Vogue magazine when I was fourteen – but oops! second disappointment. When I became ‘of-age’ for the ‘sex-talk’, he insisted I shun all male relationships, lest I become a whore. Little did he know I was no longer a virgin and his lecture was only branding me: ‘disgraced’.Now my Mom taught me that to love was to suffer. And boy, she suffered enough: being an American single daughter, who ran after her love from the first-world, to live in the third-world was in itself a sacrifice. But then having five children, each 10 months apart, epitomized it.
I also lived ten years with our British tutor with whom we sang as a family quintet, songs that set the tune and rhythm to my life: the Impossible Dream, the Quijote of the Mancha and Sound of Music.So my guilt came from my father; my self-sacrifice came from my mother; and my idyllic fantasy, from my tutor. These became my belief systems.
When my prince charming appeared, a stalwart Catholic believer, and asked me to marry him, I felt unworthy. And of all things, out of love for him, I self-sacrificed becoming a nun; a cloistered nun at that! Of course, I was fully equipped to enter the monastery: I was a whore in disgrace, who needed penance, to love; a “problem to be solved”-like Maria in Sound of Music. I even remember singing to the St. Joseph’s Carmelite nuns, from a ladder, as I enacted the theme song : “The hills are alive”. Little did I know it was the first scene to the screen-play that I would play-out throughout my entire life.
Now, my monastic experience was heart- wrenching but glorifying. Away from TV, radio, computer, newspaper or even books, with a vow of silence, poverty and obedience, I learned to wash, clean, mend and soothe my soul. My past Harvard aggrandizement of self-worth, mopped away. My years as a postulant, as a novice, and as a nun committed by marriage to God (in my Mother´s wedding dress) confronted me with the inner battle between my higher and lower selves. Everything became a metaphor: medieval ceremonies such as laying in meditation in a coffin, as a symbol for the need to die to the body in order to be reborn in spirit; old nuns in brown and black coiffures singing rocking songs to an enamel representation of Jesus, throughout the night; the intention of saving souls with every spot, obsessively cleaned…are memories that have rescued me from turmoil later in life. The grounding experience would have been enough to save me had I left, from my own free will. But my belief system (and cowardice to face life) was wired to have me play out the shame of having been ‘put out’. My restlessness could not be acquitted with self-flagellation; too much of a free thinker, too much of a dreamer. Imagine the disgrace and drama of having been rejected not only by nuns but by God himself. ..paradise lost…and with it, the hope of being ‘good’. It just ratified that I was unworthy; painfully defeated as I witnessed my prince-charming’s marriage to someone better, when I returned.
Now these are examples of how we thread the canvas of our lives into self-built dramas; the threads of thought and their color are set by our beliefs and attitudes.
I won´t abound on the same dramatic pattern I have relived over and over again: my marriage to an older, wonderful man, defeated unto death by the guilt of his son’s suicide; my remarriage to a problem drinker, damaged by resentment against a mother who let her lover abuse his sister…
On and on… I have continued playing out the Impossible Dream, fighting ‘the unbeatable foe’ of AIDS, trying to ‘ right the un-rightable wrong’ even unto court, in an international white-collar scandal that deviated AIDS funds and unjustly blamed me ; fighting for women´s rights among sex-workers, and dignifying the right to love beyond color, race, sex, social institutions and even personal judgment. Love should not be erased by contract or divorce. Love is eternal and we should strive to strengthen its bonds, networking with good will. And yet, we are what we believe.
Now, none of this is true. Its a product of my own thought formation. We build associations with what we believe.
Check your own belief patterns. Which ones have molded your lives?
Be selective. Not all beliefs are bad. My heavenly husband still walks with me and despite my unworthiness, even gave me a late child born on Christmas Day.
Some beliefs do come true.