There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it. you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls. ~ Howard Thurman, author, philosopher and civil rights leader
From an early age you are guided to conform. You are taught the cultural and social norms of your environment, your family, your country or community. You are taught right from wrong. You are introduced to school, church, laws and everything that makes up our society.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. In order to survive, you need to know the rules of the game of life. To function within any society is to conform to its values and norms.
But what happens to those creative souls that don’t “fit in”? What happens to the outliers, the rebels, the crazy ones that march to a completely different tune?
If they’re children, they are often medicated with the premise that they are unruly, distracting and ADHD.
If they’re adolescents, they are often bullied, ostracized and left out of the social systems that create a sense of belonging.
If they’re adults, they may be diagnosed with mental illness; they may become lonely and removed or they may become so adept at adapting that they become invisible.
Within every disruptive behavior is a nugget of brilliance.
The challenge is to find that nugget early and to guide it to a positive outcome, not to squash it in the interest of conformity. The most creative individuals had someone who mentored, advocated or recognized in them this nugget of brilliance and helped shape it into an original masterpiece.
The Joy of Being Real
Can you recall a time in your childhood when you were absolutely happy? When you were doing something that brought so much joy that you wanted to burst? Maybe it was a bit later when you could access a deep peace within yourself even in the middle of the chaos of life? What were you doing?
For me it was reading and writing. I was very shy and had difficulty relating to a culture where I looked and felt different than others. I found my escape in books. Through them I would travel the world, have daring adventures. I would then return to my writing notebook to translate these into the imaginings of a girl who landed on earth and wrote to make sense of the world she lived in.
I never did feel like I fit in although I certainly learned to adapt, like a chameleon, to blend in well enough not to be discovered as the frightened alien creature I felt myself to be.
I was the one hiding in plain sight.
Finding Your Way Back to Your Self
How can you recover your true nature while being present to the reality of your life?
That’s the BIG question, right?
Maybe you can’t take six months off to live in an ashram in India or quit your job to travel the world?
Maybe you have a family to take care of or a job that you love but you still long for something else, something you can’t yet define, but its urgency is growing as time passes?
"The greatest fear in the world is of the opinion of others. The moment you are no longer afraid of the crowd, you are no longer a sheep, you become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart. That roar is freedom."~ Osho
What would you do if you did not fear the opinion of others?
What does inner freedom look like, feel like, for you?
Everyone is different.
What feels like freedom to one person is fear to another.
There are practices you can incorporate right now, today, in the life you are living at this moment, that will open up your heart to the longing you are experiencing and help create the fullest expression of your true nature.
These are really simple things you can do now. They are not big leaps into the void. (Way too scary for most people.)
Let’s start here…
1. Stop comparing yourself to others. It’s frustrating, demotivating and resentment-building. You and everyone around you is unique with their own set of circumstances and challenges you know nothing about. Their Instagram may be rocking world adventures and high fashion but that’s not the truth of who they are. Focus on yourself and what brings you the most joy.
2. Spend time getting to know yourself. When you meet someone that you are attracted to what’s something you’re likely to do? You’d ask them out, invite them for coffee or dinner or share time with them so you can get to know one another.
Well, it’s time you became reacquainted with YOU. Build in quiet time into your day. Have yourself over for tea. Become the observer of your life. Notice what makes you smile, what makes you sad. Notice what pulls on your heart or what brings out the fierce in you.
3. Stop judging yourself. We suffer from the “not enough” syndrome. Not good enough, thin enough, smart enough, rich enough, successful enough, on and on. For Pete’s sake, get over it. You are enough! When you don’t embrace your “enoughness” you forfeit your power to others. Stop that.
4. Spend time with (not by) yourself. Great philosophers, artists and creators of all kinds have valued solitude as part of their creative process. One example is Henry David Thoreau, the 19th century writer, transcendentalist and early environmentalist who espoused simple living in natural surroundings. He wrote in Walden:
“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in the company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone, I never found the companion that was so companiable as solitude.”~ Henry David Thoreau
5. Spend time in nature. Most of our days are lived in artificial surroundings. We work in concrete buildings with little natural air or light. We eat food that has been modified and preserved. We take pills to relieve our anxiety.
Get back to what is natural. Walk in the woods intentionally; listen to breeze in the trees and the songs of the birds, feel the dirt under your feet, touch the bark of the trees, do these things as communion with the natural world to which you too belong, but may have forgotten.
6. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness means many things to many people. Common practices include meditation, mindful walking, walking a labyrinth, chanting, yoga and more.
I define mindfulness as any activity where I am fully present to myself without judgement.
I could be in my kayak paddling in the bay or dancing by myself to music or cooking a meal, even vacuuming allows me to experience mindfulness.
“Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” ~ Wu Li, Zen teaching
7. Shut down your computer (and social media). As our technology grows to connect us worldwide we grow even more disconnected from ourselves. We rely on our Facebook profile to define us instead of seeking the deeper connections that conversation and simplicity allow for. With every beep and ding we allow the world to intrude at will, interrupting a conversation, dinner with our families, even our sleep. Yet you have control over this.
For some time each day, and most certainly at night, shut off your computer, your television, your phone and any technology in your home that removes you from being present to yourself and to those you love. As you reconnect to those you love you’ll start rediscovering your significant relationships anew.
8. Read poetry, listen to music, tell stories, dance wildly. We are living from the head up. Our work is mostly intellectual and rational. Schools are eliminating the arts, something so essential to our human expression. They are eliminating recess, a time when children socialize, move their bodies and get out into the fresh air.
Engage your life fully. These activities are not a waste of time. The arts open your heart to a different expression, one that opens the heart and emotions. From there reconnect to your true nature.
“When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in silence?” – The Shaman’s Questions
9. Challenge your fear. During a difficult time in my life, when I was experiencing a great deal of fear, I decided to learn how to kayak. I had almost drowned twice and although I love the water, I was afraid of drowning. Learning to paddle was a metaphor that allowed me to conquer fear in other areas of my life.
The first time I rolled my kayak and came out calmly, my instructor asked me one of the most exquisite questions I’ve ever encountered. He asked, “How did it feel to come out on your own terms?” Perfect.
10. Be at service. Nothing connects you to your true nature like serving someone else. You stop wallowing in your own pity party and start contributing to someone else’s wellbeing and joy. That creates a boomerang effect in that you begin to feel satisfaction, you get out of your own way and experience greater meaning in your life. You being to notice that we are all connected and important to each other.
A Few Final Thoughts
The only real happiness you can experience occurs when you are living in alignment to what you care about and who you are essentially. How that essence manifests will change over time as you grow and your life evolves. As a child or adolescent you’ll find ways to express yourself that are different than as a mature adult or elder.
The world needs you to be the best version of yourself, allowing that nugget of brilliance that was in your DNA to shine brightly. You are no less or more than anyone else – and you are and always will be enough.