Growing up around Catholic grandparents, I regularly heard them reference going to confession.
They’d ask my mother, “When was the last time you went to confession?” To which she’d roll her eyes and say something along the lines of, “No earthly man can absolve my sins,” referring to the priest.
My mother was a “born again Christian,” and the more I observed the patriarchy’s treatment of women in the church, their judgments, condemnation of gay people, and overall self-righteousness, the more I sought spirituality outside of religious constructs and rules.
I feigned to play along enough to stay under the radar of judgment and avoid arguments with my parents, but church and religion never felt right for me.
Fast forward 35 years later, I still don’t subscribe to any specific religious belief or practices, though I have a strong spiritual practice. From that perspective, I am able to compassionately understand the basis for religious practices and the benefits they may offer.
Instead of praying to the God of fire and brimstone, I give gratitude for the abundance in my life. Instead of giving alms at Sunday service, I lovingly make offerings to the plants and soil of my garden as well as the birds who grace it. Instead of studying the bible, I mindfully watch the way the wind moves the leaves, flowers grow toward the life-giving sun, and the dew collects on blades of grass. Instead of singing hymns, I sway to the hum of a hummingbird, the rhythmic crashing of waves, and chatter of squirrels, scurrying along branches.
Until recently, the practice of confession illuded me as to its purpose. In my ego-mind, it was an act of control and dominance to require so-called sins to be confessed to a designated “man of God” and absolved in order to go to heaven.
Then, I had three life coaching clients in a row who shared with me something they have felt great shame about in their session. I was either the only person or one of very few whom they entrusted with this burdened secret they carried.
As they cautiously shared, their eyes were searching mine for judgment. When they found none, they cried a deep release.
Shortly after these client sessions, a friend (who is undergoing cancer treatment) told me, “You’re the only person I’d pick up the phone for because I knew you wouldn’t judge me for doing nothing.” She was referring to when the doctors had given her a diagnosis of two weeks to two months to live and she decided to move to the beach and simply be still and present with herself.
Along the full spectrum of human emotions, shame carries the heaviest and densest vibration. Its weight is exhaustive and parasitic. The fear of judgment keeps it buried.
I remembered the times in my life when I felt the most shame. For a period of 10 years, I blamed myself for my mother’s suicide and carried great shame around the details of her death. I finally got the courage to share them with a small group of trusted peers in the safe space of a retreat, led by my mentor who asked each person in the circle to respond to me and my story with what was in their heart.
To my great surprise, what I found in their eyes and words was compassionate understanding and love. Some called me brave, others affirmed I had no blame and couldn’t have known what I didn’t know. This response was one of my life’s greatest gifts.
In the words of Brené Brown, “Shame dies when stories are told in safe spaces.”
In my late 20s, a so-called friend duped me into a fraudulent investment right as I lost my job. The shame I carried around this kept me from reaching out to the family and friends who could help me navigate this challenge and (quite literally) give me the money to eat until I could get back on my feet.
When I finally did share this with those I most trusted, I was able to forgive myself and find a clear and empowered path forward.
In a way, I find some truth to “confession” as a path to heaven. For me, heaven is a vibrational state that any of us can embody. The more we release our limiting beliefs and heal our old wounds, the lighter and freer we become.
If shame is our densest vibrational state, it makes sense to kill the shame by finding a safe, nonjudgmental person to hold that space for us in order to release it. The more we release the heavier vibrations, the higher we vibrate. The higher we vibrate, the more we create heaven on earth.
If you’re carrying shame about something, I encourage you to find a compassionate witness whom you trust to share this with.
Let them help you see that there is really nothing to be ashamed of. We’re all doing the best we can in each moment with what we’re given.