A number of years ago I was at a self-development training where the teacher, in response to someone lamenting about their suffering, asked them how they would treat themselves if they knew that they would always feel this way. The question might seem shocking, but it moved the learner from a place of resistance to a place of presence. From “I don’t like this” to “Oh, this is how it is.” From projection into the future to acceptance in the moment. After some thought, her response to the question was, “Well, I’d be kind and take care of myself.”
I watched a movie called “Dying to Know” about the lives of Timothy Leary and Ram Dass, and their commentary on living and dying. Ram Dass said that he didn’t see the moment of death as being different to any other moment, and that our lives are simply this moment, and this moment, and this moment. And that in one of these moments we die.
- To try something new, to get off the path of least resistance that our habit-seeking brain wants to keep us on;
- To push boundaries, to create something that’s not too new or too familiar;
- To not be afraid to fail.
Where am I going with all of this?
I no longer had the choice whether to listen to my body or not – my body was clearly in charge.
My health went downhill about three months ago. I went from working 50 hours a week to working 30, with the lost 20 hours spent resting mostly on my bed. My brain stopped being able to multitask, and struggled with even single-tasking for longer than about an hour. I found my short-term memory failing me, even in crucial moments of listening to someone’s important sharing about their experience during my online courses – I struggled to remember the important things folks were saying to me. My body slowed down. I became aware of a multitude of aches and pains. I no longer had the choice whether to listen to my body or not – my body was clearly in charge. I could no longer get up in the morning and hit the computer full of energy and dopamine-driven determination. My brain and body couldn’t really do much until late afternoon.
I gave up caffeine, sugar, alcohol, refined carbohydrates, dairy and chocolate. OK, I did not give up chocolate.
I would stop withholding love pending improved health.
I resisted this experience as I waited, desperately, for medical test results to tell me what was wrong with me, and projected myself into the future where I could finally get back to full health. I felt let down by my body. I felt depressed. I felt fearful of losing my vocation and my community.
“What if you knew that you would always feel this way?” These words came to visit me in a moment of contemplation about my health situation. “How would I treat myself if I knew that I would always feel this way?”
I would love my dear body for all she has done and is doing. I would stop withholding love pending improved health. I would slow down and be with her. I would rest without resistance. I would release fear (I do not have time for that).
I would be here now more.
…try something new, push boundaries, don’t be afraid to fail.
Ram Dass’s words hit a chord. If I’m slowing down, I’m more aware of each moment. I’m in this moment and this moment and this moment. And I’m different in each moment. One of these moments I’m well, one I’m unwell, one I’m working, one I’m resting. Who knows what future moments will bring, but I do have the power to love myself in this one.
David Eagleman’s recipe for creativity came right after: try something new, push boundaries, don’t be afraid to fail. What if my work was adapted to my abilities? Ram Dass kept teaching after his stroke. What if I accepted my abilities and opened my mind to new possibilities? What if I pushed the boundaries of what “teaching” or “running a business” meant? What if I saw slowing down as an invitation to deepen? Another of my teachers, Ginny Morgan, helped me toward some of my most profound insights while she was dying from cancer. What insights might an undiagnosed malaise bring to me? And what might I be able to share?
I have a course for contemplative teachers coming up on my schedule and had planned to be spending this time of the year putting together material in preparation for that course. I can barely keep up with my current courses. What if this new course was something completely new for me? A reliance on emergence in community at each Gathering? A dana (donation) course? An invitation to participants to share their gifts in service of group learning?
Who am I being relevant for?
My sixth Somatic Self-Compassion course is undersubscribed and will likely need to be cancelled. What if this gives me time to strengthen that offering as I have a few months’ break from teaching it? What if this is my time to offer something very new? To think something very new? How might my mind open when I am not in fear of low enrollments and loss of data for research and loss of income and loss of relevance and loss of identity?
I have been afraid to fail, but I have pushed the boundaries anyway. I feel grateful that I can rely on this capacity. Right now, in a time of clarity about what is important, I’d like to explore the frontier of authenticity. What does decolonizing my mind from the fear of not meeting expectations look like? What barriers am I still not seeing? Where am I trying too hard at the wrong thing? What identity am I squashing myself into in hope of acceptance? Who am I being relevant for? What do I think the prize is? And what might the real prize be?
I feel called into a new way of being, but I am kicking and screaming. I want my coffee and my long days and my survival drive to work harder and my ladder climbing and my growing credibility in areas I think are culturally, conventionally credible. I want my life to look like what I think that other person’s life is (pick any successful contemplative or creative teacher and I probably want parts of their life). I want unassailable markers of success … forever.
And yet I am here now. And now looks pretty average. As does here.
What if I knew that I’d always feel this way? I’m curious to see if I can be here to do that. And here. And here.