“You put your right hand in, you put your right hand out. You put your right hand in and you shake it all about.
You do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about!”
The basket made its way around the circle of women and came to me. I pulled out a strip of paper and read, “What if the hokey pokey really IS what it’s all about?”
I was at a Centering Prayer meeting and the basket contained Scripture verses, words of wisdom and random quotes that had been prayed over profusely at a retreat our facilitator had just attended. It was like opening a spiritual fortune cookie. Without the cookie. As I read the message aloud, I laughed a confused laugh and passed the basket to the next person. It sounded almost sacrilegious. What a strange, even silly, message.
After the basket went completely around the circle, we reflected upon the words we’d received. Hmmmmm... I thought. Hokey Pokey? Most of my adult life I’d taken myself pretty seriously, tried too hard. Maybe it was time to lighten up a little? Cut myself some slack? I tucked this possibility, like a seedling, somewhere into my psyche, and then didn’t think much more about it.
My serious side seems to have dominated my life ever since my divorce nearly 30 years ago. After that big “flop,” I focused on growth, on my spiritual life, on mastering a Plan B career I got tossed into, on repairing relationships with my children. My life was one big self-improvement project! Now, maybe that’s what I needed to be doing at that stage of my life, but there was more duty in it than joy.
Looking back over the past few years, though, it seems to me that the strange message bore fruit. And one of its fruits is the 80% rule. Seeing how hard I was on myself, a friend told me how this little ploy helped him to kick the perfection habit. There are two ways I use this little 80% gem. If I catch my inner critic wagging its finger at me for a less-than-perfect job, I still it by saying 80% is good enough. Or the “non-success” gets stashed in the 20% allowed-failure zone. It isn’t that I’ve turned into a slouch; I nail things often enough. It just brought me more into balance; loosened me up a little.
Another one of its fruits is that I laugh at myself more often whenever I goof up, or I’ll just get pissed off at the situation, instead of myself. Maybe someday I’ll be so enlightened that I’ll never get pissed off at anything, but until then, spouting off at the situation is a good outlet.
Little by little, the fun-loving, happy-go-lucky kid I’d once been began poking her nose out more often. I just seemed to relax and enjoy life more. As all this was happening, I left organized religion behind. Not that religion is a bad thing; but the faith of my 1950’s childhood had focused too much on unworthiness. It seemed to reinforce my need for perfection; made me too hard on myself, and it no longer seemed a good fit. It was a gradual letting go. My faith is more customized now. I sit with God and myself twice a day, open myself up to stillness and let go of the reins, with no expectations.
Life is just easier now. I’ve reclaimed a part of myself that I’d misplaced. Not that I’ve ditched my serious, sensitive side; it’s still very much a part of me and that’s a good thing. But that message in the basket made me realize there’s much more to life than duty, striving, growth, sacrifice, and a self-imposed bar that’s often too high.
Was that message really meant just for me? I don’t know. If someone else had pulled it out of the basket, they may have gotten something totally different from it, or nothing at all. They say when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I guess I was ready for a Hokey-Pokey state of mind!