5 takeaways from this year.
It may not be the most aesthetic photo, but this collection of pixels represents the epic journey I took to find myself again this year.
As I sat, in tear-filled awe of my own life, I would never have believed how far my life would unravel this year, and would never have imagined the flowers that sprung up from the rubble. I took a sledgehammer to my old self and found gems crusted in the walls of my old life; in churches I walked away from, dreams I am learning to love again, and people I am desperate to love better than I have.
2018 was not easy. Call it quarter life crisis, Saturn making its rounds, an encounter with God, call it an encounter with myself. I sat with my deep wounds this year. And it truly was the greatest gift.
When everything says keep running, keep working, keep looking everywhere but yourself, I dare you to have the bravery to stop. For even your demons deserve compassion and rest, and in the silence you may find they are not the devils you thought they were.
So here are the products of my stillness, a few of my hard learned lesson of the year:
1. No one escapes being human
I stole this expression. Thats right, I completely stole this from someone else. A spiritual healer I met in my time in Bali said it, and in five short words she perfectly sums up so much of what I feared and now so heartily laugh at.
I do not get to puddle jump over pain, or consume enough self help material to bypass my own human messiness.
No matter how much "Super Soul" I listen to, scripture I read, or theorizing I do, I still come prewired with the same human emotions, and by default, being raised by human parents means things happened that created a few cuts and bruises on my soul.
One of my favorite expressions is: God has no grandchildren. Which means, all of us go through the same harrowing journey of construction of a self-image, deconstruction of that same image (because the floor gave way under your feet), and finally the gloriously tedious task of piecing yourself back together in the image of something greater and more true than ego. (For an insightful look into this process read Richard Rohr's book "Falling Upward")
The journey belongs to all of humanity. And the implications give me humor and forbearance when dealing with myself, and pause and compassion when dealing with others. I'll be laughing a lot more in the year to come, because what else can you do when faced with the sweet irony of being dust that dreams, infinity dressed in a meat suit, or a human that, at best, can only pretend to know what they are doing.
2. It is what it is
I hated him every single time he said this. Yes, every time my ex would use this expression something in me would leap in outrage. How could anyone take such apathetic stance about anything?! Whatever "it" was, was certainly either good or bad, it couldn't be "what it is."
It turns out I never quite understood the phrase.
And three quarters of the way through 2018 I found myself using this expression for nearly everything, not even realizing the irony until one of my friends rolled his eyes impatiently before I even took a breath to say it, and said "Lets just put that on a T-shirt for you."
For something to simply be what it is, requires a level on non-judgement and nuance. A level that I came comically short of. Sure I liked to think of myself as nonjudgmental, but my actions portrayed someone who lived for binary thinking and prided himself on "knowing" which category everything belonged to.
"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there." -Rumi
I placed this insight second purposefully because for anyone reading this and taking offense to my "there is no such thing as right and wrong" attitude, I get it. And in order to come to a place of non-dualistic thinking, we all start (and rightfully so) with binary, with right and wrong, with dualism. It remains a integral part of our human journey.
Jiddu Krishnamurti beautifully said that observation without judgement, is the highest form of intelligence. And moving into my next phase of life I intend on using this obnoxious phrase wherever I can.
3. What you practice > What you preach
My favorite philosopher and theologian, the late Dallas Willard used to joke with his students at UCLA, asking if they actually believed some of the answers they would put down on their exams. Growing up in a school system that rewards "right answers" over anything else, the joke lands hard and forces me to honestly think about what I believe.
Because what we say does not usually reflect what we actually believe; it is what we do that shows us who we are.
I remember auditioning as a dancer for a job in a music video once. The spacious room held hundreds of eager performers, and we took to the judging floor eight at a time. I stood a few inches shorter than most of the other dancers, and had the unlucky fate of being positioned in the back line; I knew that I had to do something to draw the eyes of the casting directors. Music began to pour through the speakers and so in desperation, I threw the ugliest most amateur (but well intended) back-handspring I could, nearly smashing my face into the floor and bruising both my hands. Yes, I got their attention. No, I did not book the job.
In that moment, it did not matter what I preached or believed. All that mattered, were the practices, or in this case, lack there of, that I had put in place prior to this moment. It does not matter what my goal is, singing, dancing, writing, filming, photography, underwater basket weaving, or crochet; success will all depend on the practices that have in place, and arranging my life around them.
This applies even more to personal growth and emotional and spiritual well being. Every morning, I engage in a few specific practices that keep me grounded, connected to myself and spiritually fed. They are my priority before I open my inbox, answer texts or jump on social media (although some days I let this one slip). Regardless of where I am or what my day holds, I make myself and my practices a priority. Only then can I live as someone who "walks the walk" beyond spiritual correctness, "wokeness," or proper doctrine.
4. No one is judging you, but you
For one entire, fantastic night in London, I refused to smile. One slip up, and my friends and cast mates would see the chipped tooth I earned from an especially aggressive bite of steamed rice. The only problem was, my friend Mikey is hilarious.
I did what I could, turning my head to laugh, or covering my mouth like I was giggling in church, but I knew... I absolutely knew that someone in our rambunctious party must have seen. So the next day (after I had seen a dentist who fixed me right up) I came clean and apologized for looking like I lost a fight with the tooth-fairy. But to my shock, no one noticed or cared.
The story is comical, but the implications reach to the deepest wounds in our soul. That terrible idea of a Santa-in-the-sky god who judges humanity and 98.99% of the judgement from parents and peers is all the product of old stories we retell ourselves.
My friends, dear readers, no one, and I mean no one, is judging you, but you. Everyone has their own life to worry about, full of dreams, trials and tribulations, they don't have the head space to judge. The narrative playing in our own head of critique and shaming, exists as just that, a narrative. And in 2019 I do not want to waste any time or mental energy holding onto a broken story.
5. You can be anything you want in this world, I pray you choose yourself
He asked me to grab a beer, I don't drink beer, so over some hot tea in a tiny cafe in Pasadena, I took on this final lesson.
I always grew up with the notion, that it was far better to be great at one thing than ok at many things. Which led me to disproportionally allocate my time to tasks that I wanted to succeed at; feeling all kinds of remorse if I happened to waver or change interests (as humans tend to do).
Would changing direction make me a failure?
Would spending time on this other thing that popped up ruin my flimsy identity built around my "one thing"?
Cory, one of the pastors at my new church, New Abbey, did not seem to find my identity crisis that alarming. He calmly listened to me explain how I used to be a journalist, then I decided to be a dancer, turned travel blogger, who now wanted to write poetry but couldn't because "flip-flopping makes you a failure." And after each worry had been parsed out, he rocked my world in the most nonchalant and matter of fact tone I had ever been beaten over the head with.
"You are learning to be great at one thing, that thing is yourself."
It took most of the year for it to sink in. And it was not until I sat on a log in a jungle on Oahu, getting eaten by hungry mosquitos, and yet drowning in my own bliss; the same moment pictured at the very beginning of this post, that I realized this truth:
So to you, my beautiful community of dreamers, lovers and doers... thank you for bearing witness to this most wonderful and turbulent lap around the sun. May this next year bring you the life you were always meant to live, and remind you at every twist and turn, that you were made for more.