I started re-reading one of my books on the Enneagram this week, one I had started but never finished a few months ago. I find that one of the benefits of re-reading a book you've read before is that you get to rediscover little notes you left for yourself in the margins as you read along the first time.
This book was no exception.
A few pages into the first chapter, I found a line I had written at the top of one of the pages that took me back in time to the moment I wrote it. It was a moment of realizing my articulation of the deepest core belief, developed early on in life, that led to the development of my personal brand of defenses and coping mechanisms. The line I wrote was this:
"The world is not safe and I have to take care of myself."
I remembered the moment I wrote that line, how it had brought tears to my eyes. It wasn't a profound new realization — really, it's a truth I've known as my core belief for a very long time — but distilling it down to that one sentence? It was a powerful moment.
There. There it is, I thought. That sums all of it up.
Seeing that line of truth again this past week had a similar impact. This time, it caused a sharp intake of breath, as though the wind got knocked out of me. Then it was as though I could feel myself dropping inward, pulling back and back and back through some inner tunnel that landed at the core of my being in a very dark hole.
That dark hole was the safe place. My place of escape. The place I could go to flee the unsafe world. The place where no one could find or hurt me.
How much time I have spent inside that cave.
I took that image of the cave to my monthly session with my spiritual director this week, and together we explored it. What did the black hole look like? she wanted to know. Where was I in the image? Where was God?
The black hole was like a cave. There was nothing inside it but cold, dark walls and an opening to the tunnel that brought me there. The floor was cold and hard with packed-down dirt.
I was standing at the edge of the cave, looking out toward the tunnel that brought me there, looking out toward the light that faced me.
The light was God.
In the image, I appeared to be about five years old. We noticed together that I was not yet inside the cave but standing at the edge of it. I wasn't facing the cave but facing away from it. In fact, I didn't seem interested in the cave at all. I was enthralled with the light. With God.
There was a freedom in the self that I saw standing there. It was as though I was seeing who I was before I ever made the decision to turn inside that cave and make a home for myself there.
Myself as this young girl had not yet been in that cave.
Myself as this young girl could still be saved from it.
What I loved most about that image was the freedom. There was such a simplicity in my young self's demeanor. Such trust and openness to the world. Such captivation with God. Such unadorned being.
No armor. No hiding. No apologies. No shame.
I didn't know yet what those things even were.
This is who I was made to be.
What if we could experience that openness and readiness and vulnerability all the time? What if we could return to it?
I think that is the real invitation for us. This is why we do formation work. This is the way of the heart.
Getting in touch with our real story helps us know how it all began — the messages and beliefs, our interpretation of events and happenings, who we chose to become because of all those things. But it also presents an invitation to return to Eden. With God's help, we can examine what happened and learn what God would choose to give to us instead.
With God's help, we can learn how to trust again.
If you could distill your core belief from a very young age into a single sentence, what would it be?