Yesterday morning I had my first session with the new therapist.* It was the predictable fall-apart sob show. I think I’ve gotten so numb 90% of the time that given half a second of encouragement, I just completely stop holding it together. There is no in-between. All of the chewing gum and duct tape that are getting my psyche through the days just peel right off and I slide into a heap of gelatinous misery. This is how I know I’m still depressed.
She gave me an assignment for the week: to come up with an answer to a question I couldn’t answer in the session. The question I couldn’t answer, that only made me tell pointless stories about heaven knows what, was What do you deserve?
I have been turning this over in my mind. How does one answer that question? What does a person deserve, and who gets to decide? I decided to start with something I am quite sure I believe in: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These are rights. They belong to everyone. They’re human rights, not humans-who-measure-up rights.** That means I deserve (shamelessly abridged; please read the whole thing if you haven’t before):
- Life, liberty, and security of person.
- Freedom from slavery or servitude.
- Freedom from torture or degradation.
- Recognition as a person before the law; equal protection under the law without discrimination; rights pertaining to due process, both for violations of my rights and for offenses of which I am accused.
- Privacy without arbitrary intrusion.
- Freedom of movement, including the freedom to seek asylum.
- The right to marry and to found a family.
- The right to own property.
- Freedom of thought, conscience, religion, opinion, expression, and association.
- Public service including access to government, social security, and participation in government.
- The right to work for equal pay, to unionize, and to rest and leisure.
- An adequate standard of living.
- An education; participation in cultural and scientific advancement.
Do I deserve anything beyond basic human rights? And again, who gets to decide? And just how good do I have to be? Buddhism has taught me that I deserve to be on the path, no matter how slowly I move: I deserve to want to wake up. I deserve to try. The brahma-viharas apply to me.
I think I can start there. I deserve the same human rights as anyone else. I deserve the same spiritual path as anyone else. I deserve the same compassion as anyone else. That feels like riches.
*The whole hour I kept thinking of my previous therapist with nostalgia. “C***** would never have said that.” “C***** would have known what I meant.” Because it’s totally fair to hold someone I just met to the standard of someone who knew me for months! (And about whom I complained incessantly!) My students sometimes do this when they start taking lessons with me after having another teacher. “My old teacher said…” “Well, that’s not how I learned it.” Now I understand the impulse.
**To deserve these things is one thing; obviously not everyone has them. This is why I give to Amnesty International even when it means cutting out of my own budget.