There was a moment of real confusion that happened around the time I resigned from my last position. After running at top speed for 18 months straight, I wondered what it would be like to slow down.
I have never for even half a second wavered in my decision to leave that environment. I knew I made the right choice. But this shift from non-stop chaos to living life on healthy terms almost seemed worrisome. If I was not putting out work fires and navigating a manic terrain of bizarre behavior 24 hours a day, what would I do with my time? Then I remembered that I am me and I never actually slow down. I just think I do. Life rises up to meet me.
Ram Dass is known for so many things, but he is probably best known for his book Be Here Now. Through his writings and talks, he has woven a consistent thread of knowledge, peace, and balance throughout my life. I have listened to his talks every morning of the past few years and am never surprised (always surprised) how his words align with whatever I am walking through at the moment. I have taken two essential ideas from his work. The first being that it is imperative that we focus on being present in our body, mind, and spirit. Simply put, be where your feet are, The second idea is that we are all connected and that our illusion of separateness is what destroys rather than defines us.
This week as I found myself in the very uncomfortable but exciting position of having to make choices about my next steps in both my personal life and career, I stumbled upon this talk from 1991 about fear and the journey of awakening. The timing could not have been more exquisite. At one point during the talk Ram Dass shared the following:
“I am a western wanderer. I don’t have a begging bowl and a loincloth. I have a car and a Uhaul truck following me that has all my boxes of who I am. Now and then I would look in the mirror and see this huge truck following me that has all these sealed boxes. And I never open the boxes, but I put them in my next basement or garage and then there is my “somebody-ness” and I figure you take photographs and old love letters and things like that because later you will want to go back and then I thought “Why will I want to go back? When will I want to go back? Am I going to run out of the moment?” And I saw that I was protecting my history, this kind of sentimental thing that I was wallowing in, so I said to everybody “We’ll have a big fire and we will burn my history!” The first night I put it all out in the trash, and I found myself in the middle of the night going through it thinking to myself “Oh my God, I will never see that picture again!” So I decided I have to burn it. I started to burn stuff, and I noticed I was building a little pile on the side. It is so subtle to watch the stages one goes through where one is trying constantly to be somebody in the world and at the same moment integrate the awakening that is happening into that somebody-ness.”
― Ram Dass
I felt his words echoing through all the chambers of my heart. How often do we all do this? It does not matter if the journey is an internal one or an external one. The experience is the same. We can spend our time lugging our boxes of past experiences and emotions, battle scars and triumphs, failures and missed opportunities or we can open up to the experience of the here and now. Who am I if I am no longer defined by why has happened to me or the things that I have done? Who am I if in every moment I recalibrate based on where I am physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally? Who am I without my lifetime of mementos? Where do I turn for grounding when I have shed all the physical remnants of my past?
I look within.
I slow down.
I look up in wonder.
Obviously, this appeals to me on a deep level. I lost my home in a hurricane, most of the people I love died within a short period of time, and then was robbed of the only possessions I had left. I was forced to turn inward for support, for grounding, for comfort, for familiarity and strength. I no longer had photographs to look at, old letters to read, or even familiar clothing to put on. I was naked and unencumbered at the same time. I was free and terrified. While it can be a scary thing to really look in the mirror and not hide your eyes from what is reflected back, it can also be the moving foundation upon which something everlasting and expensive can be built.
For me, I found it exhausting to lose all the things I had worked hard for. I had to battle with a core belief that said: “You don’t deserve good things.” I had to look at that belief every single day until I could replace it with “These things never defined you. You have the capacity to attract and rebuild. You did it once. You can do it again.” I also found it exhausting to walk away from working with a population I am so passionate about because at the end of the day, I was not walking away from the people I served. I was walking away from an unhealthy situation. I struggled with that for so long. The message was “You are abandoning people that you say you love. How can you do that?” Throughout the last month, that message has shifted into “You cannot let someone else’s mediocrity and poor behavior define you. Walking away has allowed you to find people, places, and things in alignment with your values.”
Walking away from the massive Uhaul of who you thought you were is never easy. But are we here for easy? Perseverating on the past is a great way to stay numb. It is the equivalent of watching 10 episodes of your favorite show on Netflix. You know the dialogue, the plot twists, and the ending. It is intoxicating because it never changes. We can hide there and replay the past over and over. But I was not born to hide, and neither were you. We were born to grow, to age and to eventually be reborn. Pulling away and waving goodbye to that Uhaul of physical and emotional baggage in the rearview mirror is the first step and it is invigorating.
Rebirth is invigorating.
Waking up after the dark night is invigorating.
Finding out who you are is invigorating.
The challenge of coming home to yourself in each moment and allowing the scales to fall from your eyes as you witness and align with your evolving form is the alchemy that creates something new.