I was watching a movie the other day in which one of the characters said to another – “you have had a life, but you haven’t lived”. I found this statement to be so true and so relevant. It’s easy to get caught up in the blame and regret of the unlived life, but the truth is, “living” is one of the hardest things to do. It seems counterintuitive, we “live” everyday. We wake up, take a shower, go to our job, talk to friends, eat, shop, read, have sex, exercise, meditate etc.., but what is really happening here? Isn’t there more than what we consume and produce that makes a human life valuable? And an even deeper question is, is it the inherent lack of interest as a society in a different quality of experience?
Is our life worth more than the sum results of our “doing”?
I believe as a culture, we are evolving towards this aspiration of self actualization, interconnectedness, de- personalization and the importance of self love and generosity. Finally people are beginning to give validity to the individual experience and understand how much stronger a community is when the people in it are in mature relationship with themselves first. What I mean by this is, truly turning towards the direct experience of what is happening to you and feeling it, without first blaming, shaming, projecting, or judging someone else for the feelings that are inside at the present moment.
As a child, I felt this pull towards purposeful personal expression, accountability and tolerance. I don’t know where it came from – an ayurvedic astrologer that I see once a year told me back in 2008 that I was a buddhist monk in my past life – so there is that. But, if regression therapy isn’t your thing, we can say that perhaps I was just tuning into something bigger that has guided me throughout life.
I wish I could say it was easy. I wish I could say, I found my truth and it led me to the land of the living enlightened, but this is in fact so far from it. I spent so many years hiding in the most creative ways. I held on to deep rooted values and beliefs even though my outer world expressed the opposite. I continued to feel small, misunderstood and short of making the impact that I felt was available in my heart.
I shied away from romantic relationships and anything that made me feel too much. Fiercely independent, I had a hard time living in the intimacy of connection. When I was a teenager, even as a talented and well respected singer, I would turn and face a wall when performing for small crowds, because I didn’t feel worthy of being great. I didn’t feel that my contribution was good, or big enough to be seen. In fact, I felt in the most vulnerable place in my soul that sharing in my most natural way, truly expressing without censorship, curation or permission would make me a bad person. It would make me selfish, a show off, trying to hard, too much – and I would be exiled into loneliness, rejection and humiliation. This is the truth I lived with for 34 years of my life. This is way I lived.
The reality is that this isn’t just my limited belief. This framing of life is mirrored through many conservative and dogmatic cultures, including more primitive generations of human beings fearful of “others” as a threat to their mere survival. These beliefs are continually reinforced in the schools, and social circles I participated in as a teenager and young adult. I experienced so much pain as a result of this universal consciousness. I was criticized, bullied by my peers in regards to my physical appearance, and eventually self-inflicted harm and interpersonal conflict.
The interpersonal conflict is still an ongoing practice and the one most prevalent as an adult woman navigating these rapidly changing times, especially when there are such strong and deep rooted beliefs and values around the community and its obligations from the individual. These values are in fact the opposite of the self expressed, personal development, self love paradigm as a means to serve at the highest potential for humanity, that I believe the world is fastly moving towards. This remains extremely challenging and sad, and I implored sophisticated measures, for many years, to get around feeling it. But I have reached the end. There is no more back road that leads to anywhere but more suffering, and I have finally thrown the white flag.
I am still unsure how to navigate this chasm in beliefs, when the interests are so different and yet we are still so interconnected. I so badly want to be able to have an inclusive relationship with all communities, one where I don’t feel like I have to reject anything and isolate in order to be truly free and expressive, because I know that is not where it leads.
In my heart I know there is a higher path, I know there is a way in which we can stop expecting the other to change, stop personalizing each other’s actions as though it reflects upon us. The rub is this – the conflict and the feelings on both sides are real, but they are not the deeper truth.
So how can we evolve? The answer lies in our willingness to connect to ourselves.
I have had many incidents over the years where with the arising of difficult emotions, I abandoned myself with unhealthy dissociation behaviors. I spent years getting trapped in a cycle of choosing men who are unavailable, over a decade of binging and purging, and engaging in friendships with people who are apathetic and contentious rather than encouraging and supportive of my creative pursuits, reinforcing my insecurities and defensiveness. I so badly wanted to be seen and loved for who I am, and that was the underlying desire.
However, it was me who was keeping myself invisible, because what I deeply wanted to feel was right there in the response to the suffering I was ignoring. I was subconsciously choosing to not be seen. I wasn’t attending with kindness to my own emotions that were right there, taking long term residence in my body and long forgotten. In turn I had these great expectations on others to validate me, sacrifice their own expression of direct experience and offer me accolades so that I would feel understood, worthy and valued. Of course this is unrealistic and only served to reinforce my insecurities and fears. In the end, I am responsible… but not to blame. Forgiveness.
This insight has been incredibly freeing for me in my relationships, yet remains to be a challenge in the face of antiquated societal constructs such as the role and expectation of a woman’s contribution to society and a certain linear conformity which represent these patterns. After many years, I have begun opening myself to self-expression and sharing myself without censorship, something that leaves me feeling very vulnerable. I often receive feedback from more conservative communities that my creative choices in expression are harmful, disappointing, and potentially dangerous to my future and reputation. When I share that I am not ashamed, I don’t feel there is controversy, and there is value to my contribution even if it does not please everybody, I have heard responses such as – ‘ so what about the people that say they value it, what about all the people that don’t?’ ‘Shouldn’t you think about the people that don’t share your same ideology and how your actions make them feel?’ There is really nothing to say. I deeply believe it is in service of the greater good to be transparent, authentic, and empower people to expand their perspectives in a non-harming, non-violent way.
And even though I don’t believe these labels and lines of inquiry to be based in a deeper truth, all the fears I suppressed, years of proving through consumption of degrees, founding and operating a valued community yoga studio, living in a comfortable apartment and collecting material possessions, I still struggle with feeling safe, truly being myself, and sharing my unique gifts and creativity. Even after all the years of collecting knowledge, practicing and teaching yoga and meditation, producing in the way we are taught to, my worst fears of feeling judged, abandoned, exploited, criticized, shamed and unwanted have been made conscious.
And as I continue to undress from all the layers I wore to keep me hidden, I am feeling that hit of self-consciousness, rejection, paralyzing fear of isolation, and judgement that I touched into and ran away from over and over again as a young child, teenager and young adult. But I am staying with it this time because I feel the power living in my transparency rooted in a sincere contribution, in my courage to show up authentically without restraint, hopefully empowering others to know and feel it is safe to do the same, and there is a community and a full successful life waiting to be realized.
As an adult woman, I am stepping into my agency and answering the call that rang all those years ago that as a young girl I didn’t have the tools to live in. I am holding the space for my own vulnerability and feelings, giving them permission to abide and be responsibly visible through my creativity without feeling shame or exploited. I am releasing the notion that my value is in the hands of other people’s approval, that receiving help to realize my aspirations make my efforts less than valuable, and I am reaffirming my commitment that accepting others and being accepted is an opportunity for a deeper intimacy and understanding.
I am extending value and gentleness to my disappointments and sadness in the face of being viewed as selfish. I am valuing my expression as a human over the unverified truth and belief that my sincere, pure based actions will do harm to others if I am not always pleasing to them. I am extending space and love to the fear that I will be estranged, isolated and unsafe by living true to the voice of my soul. And I give value to the real but untrue belief that continues to live in the consciousness of others with compassion.
This is my contribution. This is my sincere interest. Today I begin living.