Welcoming Shame

Shame is such a common feature of many of our emotional landscapes. It can lay hidden for a long time, and it can stop us in myriad ways from expressing our true natures. I imagine you heard this as a child: “You should be ashamed of yourself!” Many of us grow up learning to be ashamed, and we keep that shame with us even when we’ve know as adults that the childhood shaming wasn’t about us – children truly have nothing to be ashamed about. Many of us grew up learning to be ashamed of our bodies–whether it was that they were too big, or too small, or just perceived as somehow not right. We learned to be ashamed when we made mistakes. Maybe we’re ashamed of our financial situation,  what we do for a living,  who we love, or failed relationships. We can hold on to shame for a long time.

But shame has no usefulness. It does us no good to live in that place of shame – it only keeps us back, hinders us from growing, and keeps us from joy. This is not about not acknowledging when we’ve made mistakes, whether they be small or big, or hurt only ourselves, or others. Taking responsibility for what we have done is not at all the same as being ashamed.

Like many difficult emotions, shame can be hard to accept. But accept it we must, just like any other difficult emotion. It is only by accepting it that we can release it, and let it stop hindering us.

There is a practice I’ve recently learned that can be helpful with shame, as well as other difficult feelings. It’s called the “Welcoming Prayer.” It is a practice that is related to Centering Prayer, and comes from Contemplative Outreach. The practice is pretty simple, and quite powerful.

Welcoming prayer is: “a method of consenting to God’s presence and action in our physical and emotional reactions to events and situations in daily life.” It’s purpose is to “deepen our relationship with God through consenting in ordinary activities. The Welcoming Prayer helps to … heal the wounds of a lifetime by addressing them where they are stored — in the body.”

It is related in nature to Metta and Karuna, the Buddhist lovingkindness/compassion meditations. It is also similar to awareness practices in that it cultivates our willingness to be present to whatever is, in the moment. It does have a uniquely Christian origin, however. It’s based on the writings of Jean-Pierre de Caussade, who wrote “Abandonment to Divine Providence.” (A book that has been on my reading list for a while now.)

The practice is as follows (here using shame as an example, but it can be used for anger, sadness, pain, etc.)

When shame comes up, feel the feeling in your body. Notice, and focus on that feeling.

Welcome the presence of the Spirit, the Divine indwelling in that feeling, say “Welcome shame.”

Then, let go of the shame, saying: “I let go of the desire to change this feeling/sensation. I let go of the desire for security, affection, control.”

It might be fine for you to do this only once. Or you might want to repeat any of that multiple times. You can do it briefly whenever the feeling comes up. It’s a powerful practice, one I am just getting to know. It’s a combination of being present with what is, and allowing God to help us let go of those things that are hindering us.

Here is a recent teaching I recorded on Welcoming Prayer:

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michelle