April 22nd, 2014
This is a real hairshirt made in France long ago

This is a real hairshirt made in France long ago

How’s this definition????

A cilice /ˈsɪlɨs/ was originally a garment or undergarment made of coarse cloth or animal hair (a hairshirt) worn close to the skin.  It was used in some religious traditions to induce discomfort or pain as a sign of repentance and atonement.  Cilices were originally made from sackcloth or coarse animal hair so they would irritate the skin.  Other features were added to make cilices more uncomfortable, such as thin wires or twigs.  In modern religious circles it simply means any device worn for the same purposes. (Wikipedia)

Rather than rephrasing a clear definition, thanks Wikipedia for doing the job.  Let’s add that cilces come from many different cultures, Turkish, Jewish, Catholic, for a few examples, and famous people have worn them, like Roman Popes, English King Henry IV, Martyr Thomas Becket, Charlemagne, Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator, Saint Patrick, AND modern people, like Father Oscar Romero and Mother Teresa. R.E.M. musicians wrote a song, Hairshirt, for their Green album. Whew!!!

I have owned many metaphorical ‘hairshirts’ in my time, and understand self-induced long-term discomfort.  I don’t need to wear one any more.  Alleviating mental punishment is today’s topic.  My friends assure me they will read my blog if I write about hairshirts.  I already know all about theirs. One friend will loan me one from her mental collection, if I should need to borrow.  Thanks, but no thanks, I have my own stack folded and ready-for-wear.

Sarcastically, this is one great topic, since I am in that tone of voice right now.  Emotionally, however, not a belly laugh going on.  When I feel that some self-hurt is a solution, “It ain’t funny, McGee,” my mother would say.  Not funny one bit.  My need to wear a hairshirt is the start of some serious negativity going down.

Origins be damned, hairshirts like my mine are prevalent, but I tend not to speak of mine to just anybody.  Frankly, I am embarrassed by wounding myself with constant reminders of my ‘badness’ as a breathing person.  Really?  Come on, Pru.  Do you have to wear it, AGAIN??  Wearing it is in ‘Martyrland,’ and my family raised martyrs.  I already atone for not being perfect, and not having a perfect life.  After all, I’m American, and insist on perfection and meeting deadlines.  My body needs to weigh a certain amount (it doesn’t), and I must look 25 years-old, when I’m decades older than that.  I’m supposed to ‘be happy,’ or ‘get over it.’   The hairshirt distracts  me with familiar pain, as a sidetrack.  TMI= Too Much Information, easier to ignore than feel ugliness, but in the long run, it’s not easier.

My culture can bring on discontent, and promote fear.  I know I am not alone with this perception.  Perhaps our Capitalistic ways have much to do with it.  Buy, buy, buy, eat this to not feel this way,….. I traveled to India a few years ago, and noticed people I met didn’t live and breathe fear like us.  Even though they drive or bicycle daily in insane traffic, live together in millions, it’s not bad. Their collective faith within the culture expresses human nature differently than we do.  Indians I met did not appear fundamentally concerned with righteousness.  They chose ‘Do one’s Duty,’ as their goal. They seemed content in their surroundings.   Attitudes toward living matters for us all, obviously, and I felt more relaxed in my skin in India, less pressure and less fear of imperfections.

So, living in America, how do I rid myself of a hairshirt?  First, I need to recognize I’m mentally off balance.  I turn off TV or try and sit quietly with my eyes closed for a moment.  Oh, I feel pain punishing me.  I don’t want to wear goat hair and barbwire anymore. Rather than putting on the shirt again, or distracting myself with a box of donuts (which makes me sick in another way), why not consider acting differently than I ever did before, try something radical?  I’m going to reach out and talk to a person about it.  EGAD, so damn frightening, not to isolate anymore.  I need to tell my trusted friend I’m wearing a hairshirt, as we speak.  Then what?

If my friend is into psychology, they might ask, “ What’s wrong,” and I probably don’t know.  But oh, well, at least I’m talking.  Maybe I can believe my friend cares, and isn’t blowing me off.  I told the truth, and  begin to feel some relief.  My friend might commiserate about hairshirts, I  listen, and a miracle occurs.   For one brief moment, I’m not thinking about myself.  Honest relief from self-involvement.  It’s embarrassing to disclose our weaknesses, but it’s also part of being human, right?  New behaviors, like reaching out with truth to a trusted friend changes me on the inside.

What will happen to me now that I’ve written this blog???  Will hairshirt lovers unite and come after me?  If they’re like Mother Teresa, they won’t.  I am still shocked that she physically wore a hairshirt, and my heart goes out to her need to do so.  She was one of my heroes. I’ve  drawn her blessed smile from photographs.  But I feel even more compassionate now that I discovered she wore a hairshirt for real.

If you’re looking in the dumpster, most of my hairshirts are in there, nicely wrapped and ready-to-wear, so you don’t need to wash them before you put them on. Please be aware, however, that I never, ever want them returned.

2 responses to “Hairshirts”

  1. Madeleine says:

    It is good to be aware we all have hairshirts. We all want to punish ourselves to some degree. Hairshirts, however, are not just for pain or punishment, but also to show humility. I suspect that is why Mother Teressa wore one. So many of the people she helped were in so much worse shape physcally that she maybe wanted to show her own humility before those people to herself and God.

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