From dent to tend
From dent to tend
Last night as I unpacked the groceries I pulled out a small bag of frozen lamb bones, a treat I had bought for our very large, bright and adoring canine companion. Double-bagged and cemented into a frozen conglomerate, it was a task to pull a bone from the icy block.
I picked the bag up and dropped it on the bench. Bang. Nothing. Again. Nothing. Concerned that I may chip the laminate I moved to the table. Bang on the table. And again no single bone dislodged from its bind. As I picked the bones up this time though, to my horror I could see four distinct dents in the wood finish of the table, scars from my ‘get ‘er done’ / ‘get an icy bone’ earnest efforts. I stopped and in that moment I felt a flood of shame, regret and devastation. Four small dents in an otherwise smooth finish.
The table was a fir log table, solid, immovable and dedicatedly hand built by my partner. Each fir log cut with a chainsaw rather than milled (quite a feat) then notched, planed down until smooth, sealed with polyurethane and carried inside to assemble one semi-round section on top of the other. The table was built shortly after the house and hasn’t moved since. Somehow I perceived with its bulk and mass that it was indestructible. But there lay the scars in front of me, evidence that giants can be and are tender.
My partner was away, returning the next day and I thought how disappointed he would be. A slew of internal thoughts and self-talk circulated my head.
Self-scolding and self-demoralisation:
How could I have been so careless? What were you thinking? Dummy!
What is my partner going to say?
He is going to be so upset and disappointed. This table means a lot to him. Now when he gets home I will have to deal with his disappointment and maybe he will be angry.
Oh yeah well he’s screwed up before too you know, what right does he have to react or judge? This table is not so perfect anyway and it’s just a table. What about everything else I do around the house? I make such an effort to keep the house nice and he needs to appreciate that.
Regret and sadness:
I really wish I didn’t do that, hurting that table is like hurting my partner and I care about him, I care about this house and want to take care of things, it makes me feel so sad when I screw up. I feel so sad I want to cry.
Shame and blame:
Why do I have to be so destructive and careless? Why can’t I take better care of things? I wish I could be better at that. I really wish I didn’t do that. Stupid bones. Stupid dog. I find life so difficult sometimes, like no matter how hard I try I still get it wrong and screw it up sometimes. Poor me!
Somehow as this played out I had the wherewithal in one moment to recognize that old familiar feeling and ask: Why do I feel so ashamed? Where is that coming from? How could I feel so crap when most of today I didn’t feel this way? How does this one moment and a few dents / nicks in a piece of wood dictate the quality of my whole day? And the quality of how I feel about myself? Why can’t I shake these horrible thoughts and feelings? Where are they coming from?
The onslaught of self-incrimination felt much greater than the four dents in the table warranted.
I mean at the end of the day—it’s a table. We can hire a planer, plane it back and refinish it. Done. Everything can be healed, fixed or replaced. Also, one day in years to come we will sell the house, move and leave the immovable table behind. So why beat myself up? Is there a part of me that gets off on self-flagellation? Do I feel I deserve to be punished or admonished in some way? Why the shame? Why the internal drama? Why the defence?
I messaged a friend who is a skilled carpenter to ask if it were a big job to refinish; I am handy and I knew I could do it. He texted back: ‘Call me, I may have something that can fix it.’ I called. He shared how stuffing small pieces of warm wet paper towel in each dent can hydrate the fibres to pull the dent out. A solution to make things better and an offering of relief. I made four tiny balls of saturated paper towel and stuffed them in the dents. I knew at best it would reduce the indentations rather than remove them. Solutions aside, the shame and regret remained. I messaged my partner to prepare him and apologise. Still the shame and regret remained. I couldn’t shake it. Couldn’t? Or wouldn’t?
All it would take is a simple shift in perception and poooof! those thoughts would be gone. So why hang on to them? Why make myself feel so bad about something that is done and in the past? A moment that actually offered a great lesson: that even giants can be and are tender. And that there is a way to be in life where we can take care and be gentle with the objects around us, including ourselves and others. I had already dented the table, why add more dents to the equation? Each self-bashing thought, another dent, another pile of bones smashing my tender body and being.
What purpose does it serve to self-harm in this way? Practically speaking: none. It doesn’t un-dent the table, it is no CTRL Z (undo) on the keyboard. It changes nothing. All the shaming, regret and self-critical thoughts succeed at is in making me feel less. All that shame and regret does is make me feel bad about myself. And this seems to be the modus operandi of using shame and regret: it offers the excuse to reduce ourselves. To be caught up in distraction. To tend to worth-less-ness.
Fostering or entertaining those thoughts of shame and regret is like having a garden where you tend the weeds and pests instead of the flowers. How does a garden blossom and bloom when it’s the weeds and pests that are being fed and so taken care of? What if I focussed my attention on the flowers instead?
What if our focus of attention in life was on the fact that we are exquisite, delicate, sensitive, and worthy beyond measure? Worth being gentle with—just like the wood of the table. What if that became our emphasis? It’s a bit of a weed and pest killer really. In that garden now I can see the flowers and there is one thing I distinctly notice in their behaviour: they turn and face the sky or they turn and face the sun, open and radiant as if in conversation, the flowers like mini satellite dishes tuned into receiving a signal. And by their radiance this signal has no space for shame, regret or admonishment, for in the warmth of the sun, those concepts, that way of thinking, that way of perceiving does not exist.
I am tired of the self-denting thoughts of shame and regret; they are exhausting and kind of pointless. Next time I ‘dent the table’ I can see it differently—as a lesson to learn from, that’s it, so simple. And life is full of them. I can also remember that in any moment I can focus my attention on tending the weeds and the pests – or the flowers that face the sun.
Where I place emphasis will determine the quality of my thoughts, the quality of how I care for myself, the quality of my day and the quality of my sleep.
Now that is worth tending to.
Oh, and my partner’s response to my text?
“Don’t worry about it, I am sure it’s not that bad … it’s just a table after all.”
Well, it’s no longer just a table for me … it’s a beautiful reminder to take care of, honour and tend to the beauty and delicateness that is life, and all of us in life.