I first came to know the value of focusing on my development early on. I believe fervently in the gifts we have to bring to the world. Like each of us are cells in one body, traveling about, contributing to our collective wholeness. The concept of Self-as-Instrument has always resonated for me as both a lifelong path and practice and also as the truest way to do good work in the world. Develop self-awareness, cultivate presence and embody the capacities that support the work I want to do. Sign me up!
Doing my first Vipassana meditation retreat at 18 seemed like an obvious incubator to meet my dharmic curiosity and to counter and my tendencies toward extroversion, activity, and mental and verbal chatter. Starting my first business at 19 was a more direct route than business school and I treated it as an education. At that same time, I dove headfirst into Landmark courses. I developed a strong sense of integrity and responsibility, analyzed the shit out of all my experiences and associated interpretations and constructs of reality, while earnestly alienating my friends and family by insisting they come and join (if you’ve ever done the Forum, or been invited, you know of what I speak!)
All of this was about a hunger to live a full life and make a difference. I’ve always identified as a leader, even as a scrappy kid with a loud voice, lots to say and a willingness to go first. I don’t actually remember the first time I reflected on how my own way of being influenced the results and impact I was having, but I did notice that adjusting and developing myself made a meaningful difference. I also started to notice that people around me regarded me as a kind of prodigy in my work. I was really making a difference and helping to change people’s lives. This was both affirming to my sense of calling and also turned out to be a bit problematic.
Over the past couple of decades, in my earnest quest for wisdom, I have engaged in cycle after cycle of development in different ways and different seasons. Some intentional and rigorous or sweet and nourishing, and others that felt like life kicking me in the shin, pushing me into the mud and running off with my identity. What I hadn’t realized is that along the way, I kind of internalized an idealistic hope that focusing on development and service in this way would somehow protect me from pain, disruption and my own self-delusion. I was wrong.
I rode the edges of workaholism, where before I could admit what was happening, there was a shift in what was driving me. It was like one moment I was driven by a deep and ferocious knowing of how to express my deepest calling through my work and service and then in the next breath, I was driven by some kind of compulsive terror to uphold an identity that had calcified in this space in my being. It was like I was dis-located and those deeper and truer notes, the ones that trusted emergence and could hear the soul’s call were buried under promises and expectations.
I had abandoned my body in a kind of death by a thousand cuts. Push through here, override that, ignore those messages or pretend they matter less than what I’m throwing down my efforts for. But as I felt that occurring, I simultaneously believed myself to be someone who would never let that occur. When I realized that I was full throttle toward burn out, I felt so fucking ashamed for allowing that happen. I had become so identified with my capacity and resilience that I used myself, extracted from myself, just like we do from the Earth. When I started to feel the rhythms and patterns of my being as internalized forms of our dominant culture’s values and ways of working, when I recognized that I was both a product of our culture and unconsciously expressing and perpetuating the very qualities I believed myself to be working against, I was devastated. Humility tastes awful and stays in the throat for a long time. It also nourishes the heart and extends tendrils of belonging outward.
My path and practice around self-location has been steady, slow and led by devotion. I am reminded, over and over again that the second I start to identify with what I have grown into, who I have become, what I am capable of, an equal shadow is growing. My current practice feels like a broken song that is both singing the truth of my mastery and what I have to offer while humbly sitting in the mud, knowing that I am and always will be full of shit and that those who want to lay their own humanity to bear in the mud next to me are my people.