i used to think that the purpose of life was to do all that you can to help others.
the reason we were here was to love + be of service to others, to make the world a better place. even if that meant losing your self a bit. i believed that we were here to sacrifice and give and serve until everyone was able to live in freedom. free from poverty, homelessness, violence, fear, hate. it was part of our calling, our reason for being. our co-creation with the divine energy of the universe is what would help to create a better world, a world that was meant to be as beautiful and peaceful and just as possible.
i distinctly remember thinking specifically about mother teresa every single day. wondering how i could be more like her. or like martin luther king junior. or any revolutionary, peacemaker, or spiritual guru who lived life so passionately that they would even sacrifice their life for the good of humanity. risking their safety in order to stick to their message.
i wanted to be like them all. i wanted that passion. that fearlessness. that committment. i felt that if i could not live up to them, then my life would be a waste.
i am certain that some of my belief in an extreme life of service has been inherited and passed down from my puritan/wesleyan/methodist ancestors. in great britain, their hope was to reform the corrupted church of england, to create a faith that was focused not only belief (personal holiness), but on social holiness too (social activism). they stressed that there is no faith if there is no care for the poor, the outcast, the sick. who jesus called “the least of these.” true faith was faith that was lived out. it wasn’t memorized or celebrated on sundays only. yes, learning and growing and personal faith was one part of the spiritual equation. but, from all of that personal holiness, grew works of mercy and love. social justice. in other words: we should really, truly, honestly practice what we preach. like. for. real.
these beliefs and practices were, of course, spread and put into action in the colonies when my ancestors made their way from great britain to the new world, in search for a place where they could create a home and a community that reflected the balance of personal and social holiness.
so, this balance runs through my blood. it explains to me my deep desire for personal growth, transformation and my dreams of making a difference in the world.
i still believe in this balance, in this way of living. in fact, i still believe that balancing a personal spirituality and a life of social activism is the kind of life we are meant to live. but, over the years as i have grown and explored and discovered, i realize that i had one huge part of it all wrong.
what i had all wrong was the order of everything.
when i was so obsessed with mother teresa and MLK, i felt such pressure to do the same things that they did. and i never thought i’d be able to be like them and do what they did. but, oh how i wanted to. i had no idea how to balance a personal, self-centered spirituality and rid the world of poverty or end racism at the same time. how was it possible to focus on my self if there was so much that needed to be fixed? tackling the big issues of inequality and injustice would take all of my (and others) time. there was no time to sit still and be with myself. there was so much to do!
do. do. do. do. do. and i had no idea where to begin. and, i set myself up for failure with all of this pressure to do as much as i could for everyone else. funny thing was, i don’t think i actually did anything. i just fretted about doing stuff and tried to figure out what stuff to do.
i soon realized that i wasn’t an activist like mother teresa or MLK. i was a contemplative. but, anytime i would retreat to my safe place, to where my soul felt alive, i felt guilty. those things that made my soul sing, that gave me those mountaintop moments, always involved words, images, books, studies, classrooms, nature, travels, cultures. i felt wild + free + inspired when i went camping. or when i sat in a workshop. or when i read the words of an ancient mystic. i felt connected and grounded when i lit a candle or said a prayer or sat in silence.
but, none of this was doing anything. and all of these things were all about me.
me. me. me. me. me. me. me. how selfish was this? and what was wrong with me that i felt more “spiritual” by being with myself than by volunteering in a soup kitchen?
so, for years, i struggled and battled with myself and with god. feeling ashamed one minute and completely inspired the next.
and then, over the course of a year or so, it all made sense. no it did not happen overnight. it took a year to begin to understand. and about 8 years to discover how to live it.
but, one night, as i sat in a room with 11 other women discussing a chapter about radical discipleship (you know the type of person i wanted to be. MLK, mother teresa, julian of norwich, etc.), i uncovered something that struck me like a bolt of lightening.
according to the book we were reading, being was way more important that doing. or at least it was the starting point. the foundation.
to do things without first getting connected + grounded + inspired simply means that we are doing empty deeds. perhaps they are to make ourselves look good, or to get into heaven, or whatever. but, that’s not the point. that doesn’t make us good people or radical disciples or saviors of the world.
the point is, that in order to do anything, we first have to be. to simply get attached. grounded. we have to have a sense of self. we have to know who we are. we have to listen to our soul. we have to make it all about “me”.
that’s not how many of us think, though. and it doesn’t even make sense. especially because it seems selfish. everything in society teaches us to not think about ourselves, but to only care what other people think and the things that we do. that’s what defines us and makes us important. how much we do for others is what makes us “good people”. so, how could it actually be the other way around?
how could being focused on inner self be the way to help others?!
well, i let this belief begin to sink in a little bit over a long period of time, and i realized that this is exactly what my ancestors passed on to me. this was the personal holiness part of the equation. although it’s no equation. and it’s definitely not linear or hierarchical. instead, it’s just an eternally flowing circle.
when we begin with being, with slowing down to simply be with ourselves and listen to our soul, then we are filled with inspiration, we feel power that we already have, we discover who we really are, we get in touch with that mystical spirit that connects us all. and all of those radical, good deeds that end up causing people to change the world? well, they simply flow + grow out of us. like the leaves on a vine branch. only we are not the leaves, we are the branch. our job is to just be. to stay attached.
positivity, healing, love, peace, calm – it all just begins to flow because we are attached to the source of all things, to the universe, to god. we allow ourselves to be open, and we find that special thing that makes us who we are. and we can’t help but use it. it just happens. naturally. organically.
in other words, being helps us discover our personal legend. our personal destiny. our calling. and from that, we become superhero on a mission to save the world.
when i first grabbed onto this idea of being before doing, i decided to get a tattoo. a vine that wraps around my wrist to symbolize staying grounded + attached. thanks to Facebook, i saw a post this morning that said that i got that tattoo 8 years ago today. and i just couldn’t believe how my life just keeps aligning with the flow.
you see, on monday, i began a year long course to get a certification in sat nam rasayan – a meditation technique out of kundnalini yoga that focuses on healing by being fully present. my guru lady teachers told us that, in order to be fully present and open in sat nam rasayan, it all begins by focusing on ourselves, on using our senses to help us allow and feel everything that is happening around us.
it’s the opposite of emptying your mind and focusing on someone else. it’s about creating a space so big and free and peaceful that it spreads out to everyone, everywhere. it’s about learning to hold that space open and become a stable, safe presence. in no way do we focus on any other person but ourselves. we don’t sense what another person feels or imagine what someone else thinks, we simply practice being. but, by being fully present in ourselves, we change the world.
so, there you go. it’s all about me. it’s all about you.
that was the behind-the-scenes spirituality that my young adult heroes had. i only saw or read about the great things that they did. what i didn’t see was the personal spirituality that was the foundation of the amazing affects they had on the world.
that was exactly what my ancestors were trying to explain: the necessity of living a balanced life, focused on a strong, grounded personal spirituality, coupled with active, outward-focused social activism.
with that knowledge, friends, you and i are just as empowered and amazing as ghandi and malala. we are just as much of a humanitarian rockstar as bono, or an ambassador as angelina jolie. we are just as important and inspiring as rosa parks and stephen hawking. and we are simply carrying on the same messages that our ancestors have shared throughout history.
so, get down on that mat and breathe deep. or find a corner to pray in. light a candle and just be with yourself. create a daily ritual of just being. and soon, your soul will guide you. and simply being exactly who you are will make a difference in this world. i promise.