There have been three things that I have known about myself since I was old enough to have a self-concept:
1. I am different than most people.
I can’t identify exactly what makes me so different, except I know: I feel very connected, I think differently, I have different priorities. I have always felt a distinct line between myself and even those closest to me. And, I am meant to lead others with this. When I was a child, this meant I wanted to be a teacher; when I was in college, this meant I transitioned seamlessly into my role as a fitness instructor; as an adult, this means I seek out leadership roles in my job and spend my spare time reading and immersing myself in other education opportunities (such as my yoga teacher training).
2. Spirituality, God, the Universe, the Life Force, is the most important thing in my life.
Because, without it, there is no creation. How did the world come into existence? What is this miracle of life that we have? Why are we here and what is it that we are supposed to be doing with this gift? I have always been wrestling with these existential questions – further separating myself from those around me. I grew up Catholic and wanted to be a nun, but as I grew older and more educated about the church, I left Catholicism behind. As with all educated adults, I spent a few years contemplating the existence of God and searching for a religion, but now I have come back around to love God and develop a close personal relationship with him. I know, and have experiences to prove to me, that God is real and he is in all of us. (Or she, or it, or whatever is the mystery that is God.) To some it’s God, to some it’s a Life Force, or maybe it’s just Energy. Whatever it is, call it a different name, praise it a different way – it’s all the same and it’s absolutely real. And, it’s the most important thing in my life.
3. I am terrified of death.
What happens when you die? Where do you go, what happens to your soul, how does it work? These are questions that no one can answer, but it will happen to all of us. I used to (and still sometimes do) have panic attacks when I think about death. My whole body goes numb and my head starts spinning; I get dizzy and feel nauseous, everything gets dark and I feel paralyzed. In the past, my goal has always been to stop thinking about it, get it out of my brain, push those thoughts to the side. However, recently, I’ve been facing it head on, and though there is fear still underneath, my recent re-connection with God and my daily prayers have helped me replace this fear with love. My job at a retirement home makes me face death daily; if it’s not a resident passing away, it’s the others talking about how they would prefer to die. Their acceptance of the inevitable and their ability to face the unknown free of fear is helping me come to terms with my own blinding fear.
These are the three truths about me, that have always been true, that have never wavered. Everything else in my life has been malleable. My career choice, my desired place to live, my favorite foods and my other priorities have been constantly shifting.
A couple of months ago, as I was again debating my life’s future, I woke up knowing, “I need to get a PhD and I need to study spirituality.” It didn’t make sense. I don’t want to be a professor – I enjoy the idea of teaching in a college; I would love to be surrounded by new environments and I like the stability it would offer and the ample time off (so that I could explore my real interests). So why was I having this belief? What does it mean? And how can you even study spirituality intellectually? But, I didn’t need a logical answer; it was my intuition speaking, so I have felt obligated to follow. And follow it I have. I’ve looked up universities and spoke to professors on the phone. I’ve signed up for classes to re-take the GRE and I’ve been planning my life around the idea of going back to school in Fall 2015.
Then today, it is beautiful outside. As a recent house owner, we had some lawn care to take care of, and so I was putting the waste into bags with my sunglasses on and my heart full of gratitude for the shining sun, for the blessing of a house, and the comfort of my own home. It was wonderful, just digging my hands into the leaves that had begun to decompose, and it felt peaceful. This is what it’s all about was all I could think. The peace, the serenity, the beauty and the simplicity of just doing yard work – no nagging other activities in the back of my mind, just living in the moment.
And I had a thought: the past two years I have been out of my graduate program, I have learned more and grown more as a person than at any other time in my life. As an A+ student, I have spent years studying the books and the literature and becoming academically talented, without becoming a student first of the world and of myself. I had lost that part of me in my drive to become the perfect student – and really, isn’t this what life is truly about? Living in the moment, paring down to simplicity, not letting the little moments pass you by.
Of course, i needed to apply that to my life and my intuition that struck me a couple of months ago. Why is it that I want to get my PhD – what was my intuition really telling me when I woke up with that in my head? Could the PhD be symbolic of some other type of education – one that focuses on the whole being, rather than just the intellect? Perhaps this was what my brain has been telling me all along, and I have just been too silly to explore the other options – stuck in the rut of thinking as the academic, because that’s all I have ever known?
And, isn’t that scary? What kind of stability are we talking about here? If I let myself dare to dream a bit further out – what does it really look like, and why am I afraid to face it head on? Is it possible that I have been using education and knowledge as a way to push back from myself and my real dreams? Am I afraid that my real dreams are unattainable? Am I afraid of the instability of doing things my own way? Do I not believe in myself and my abilities to become this spiritual leader that I have been dreaming of my whole life? And, how would this reflect on others’ perceptions of me? I have already felt separated and distinct from others my entire life – wouldn’t having a different lifestyle, a different career path, only further create that line? Wouldn’t I be less understood? How would people see me when I told them that my career was one of a spiritual leader – but not tied to any religion, not having a traditional job – that I was a writer and a speaker and a traveler? A yogi? A student of the world? Who would get that but me? And, why do I feel so strongly that I need others to understand it anyway?
I know that underneath the questioning is the truth, and that I have been running from it most of my life. I might not be ready to face the truth, because if I face it, that means hard work and instability and the possibility of failure and the possibility that I further alienate myself from others… What if I can’t achieve my dream, what if it’s too far out there to be attainable? What if I throw myself into something, only to lose everything?
I am scared, but I think I need to start unveiling what is behind that fear, little by little. The truth is underneath it all, and I know that with it, I can truly live from love. And in a life lived from love, there is no fear, and failure is just a learning opportunity, and growth is all around. This is the life I want to lead; these are my truths.