been my best friend since kindergarten. We met in Los Angeles, where I was
born, and attended the same grammar school together, a little place called St.
Augustine By the Sea. It was a hippie-type school, actually -- a place
where, if they asked you, "What is two plus two?" and you said,
"Five," they would say, "Well, if five feels good to you,
I didn't grow a lot academically at St. Augustine, I did learn everything I
needed to know about friendships and feeling good about myself. Most
important, it's where I met Mary. She has always been a soul sister to me
and always tells me the truth.
was this more obvious than years ago when I was going through a bad time with a
boyfriend of mine. I always seemed to be unhappy. Although I loved
him, there was something about him that made me believe I was never enough for
him. Day after day, I picked apart our troubled romance, all the while
crowding my mind with thoughts like if only I were smarter, or more beautiful,
or wittier; if only I were all those things, I could somehow get my boyfriend to
care for me the way I cared for him.
mind works in a linear fashion. I certainly don't have low
self-esteem. And yet, for some reason, my relationship was making me doubt
myself and my instincts. Because these feelings were so new, I couldn't
let them go. I was driving myself crazy.
this, Mary and I decided to attend a weekend workshop in yoga and meditation at
a Japanese Zen Buddhist monastery up in the Catskills. We often did
interesting things together, but this was a flight of fancy for us -- we had
never been on a retreat before. The schedule was, to say the least,
unique: We would get up at five -- to gongs -- put on our robes, then
meditate for forty-five minutes without moving a muscle. After that we
would have sessions in chanting and yoga, then eat lunch in silence; eye contact
was not permitted. Admittedly, some of this was bizarre, and at moments it
was really hard for Mary and me to keep from laughing; we had been friends since
kindergarten, after all.
would think that in this serene setting, I would shrug off the bad feelings I
had been harboring about my boyfriend and enjoy myself, but instead, I felt the
bottom drop out. Looking back, I suppose this was inevitable. When
you're in an environment that is so still and pure -- when you don't have all of
that outside noise -- the volume on your inner monologue turns way up, and along
with it, whatever unfinished business you may have in your heart and soul.
there we were, sitting by a beautiful lake after our morning activities and,
once again, I was complaining, telling Mary how bad I felt, listing what to me
was an unending stream of offenses -- whether it was not calling me back when he
said he would or not showing up when we had plans.
is so awful," I finally said to Mary. "Why am I doing this to
myself? Why do I feel this way?"
paused for a moment. "Gwyneth," she said, taking a breath,
"you feel this way because you are not getting what you need."
do you mean?" I asked.
simply and calmly repeated her words. "You're not getting what you
I didn't respond immediately. I remained silent for a long while.
Maybe it was the setting, maybe it was the simple directness of Mary's strong,
loving words. But suddenly, I realized that I was, in fact, a valuable
person who, for some reason, had permitted an unhealthy relationship to provoke
these awful feelings. Like a fog lifting, it instantly became clear o me
that my boyfriend wasn't the problem -- I was, by not allowing myself to get
what I needed. In other words, I was taking care of him, not me.
the day wore on I began to feel a little angry, resentful even. After all,
if it was true that I wasn't getting what I needed, then the obvious conclusion
was that this guy wasn't the right person for me. And I wasn't ready to
accept the verdict.
the rest of the weekend, Mary's words played in my head. I actually felt
glad to leave the monastery and return home where I could clutter my days with
distractions -- shopping for groceries or returning e-mail or remembering to
give my dog his monthly flea pill. In retrospect, I was clearly relieved
to steep myself in activities that kept me from doing what needed to be done.
of course, it wasn't long before I acted on Mary's advice. I broke up with
him and everything started to look brighter.
this day, Mary's lakeside counsel continues to have a profound effect on
me. Whenever I feel displaced or off balance, those simple words --
"You're not getting what you need" -- can still set me straight.
I have chosen a profession in which demands, reasonable and otherwise, are
frequently made of me, whether it's working overtime or making a public
appearance after a thirteen-hour workday, when all I really want to do is
sleep. And in these situations, when I find myself struggling to be a
version of myself that would please somebody else but not me, I quietly ask
myself, "Are you getting what you need? Are you drawing
boundaries?" And if the answer is no, I immediately know what I need
is a fragile thing, and I've learned that. In the end, it's within our
power -- it's our responsibility, actually -- to take care of ourselves and
nourish feelings of worthiness.
from The Right Words at the Right Time,
passage by Gwyneth Paltrow, actress