Un-guard!

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I stumbled yet again. In the murky half-light just before dawn, I had only been able to see a few feet in any direction. Now that day was fully upon me, I could make out dry, furrowed and rocky terrain stretching to every horizon. I saw no distinguishing features, just the promise of further punishment on my bare feet and the continued threat that they would see me. I clutched the vessel to my body, attempting to shield it from both the sun (lest its radiance betray my location) and from splintering on the unforgiving landscape. When I glanced behind me, I did not see them, but I could feel their pursuit.
 
My one protection was the long cloak I clutched about me, woven of thread which so closely matched the featureless plain that is served as a form of camouflage. Because my hands were not free to assist me in remaining upright, I often stumbled. And the length of the cloak caused me to step on it with regularity, tripping myself when the stony ground did not…I know not how long I toiled to carry the vessel. Time became meaningless on that journey.
 
Eventually, however, I saw a small something on the horizon, which turned out to be a simple square building, open on two sides. I approached it warily, fearful of what or whom I might encounter, but desperate for rest and water. I entered what could only be described as a temple. The room, open to the land on two sides, contained a simple pedestal in the center, on which nothing resided.
 
“Welcome. We have been waiting for you.” I turned toward the voice, to see a man and a woman, each garbed in simple white robes.
 
“Please,” said the woman. “We have prepared a place for your burden. Don’t you wish to rest? It will be safe here.” She indicated the empty pedestal, and gestured toward the vessel I carried.
 
It seemed like forever since I had been wishing to set the heavy vessel down. But now that it came to it, I was loathe to do so. It was my burden, entrusted to me. Yet, these two looked at me with compassion. They made no move to take the vessel from me, simply waited patiently for me to choose.
 
Carefully, I unwrapped the vase from the folds of my torn and weathered cloak and placed it on the pedestal. At first, it appeared a small and unlovely thing. And then a shaft of sunlight found it, and everything changed. It lit up the room with its brilliance, a myriad of colors in its ingeniously worked glass. I was overcome by its beauty.
 
“But it shines so!” I cried. “They will find it and destroy it!”
 
“I promise you,” replied the man, “its light is meant to be seen. For this it was created.”

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When I woke from the dream recounted above, I couldn’t shake it. The haunting quality of it, the visceral emotional impact of it. Most especially, I couldn’t shake the truth of the dream.

I say truth because I knew immediately upon waking what the dream intended me to learn: that the vessel I had so carefully protected and shielded from the eyes of others was my self. The vulnerable, beautiful, shy, powerful, loving, shining self that I was born to be. That I had worked so hard to protect from hurt. That with my misguided efforts and protective coping mechanisms I had hidden not only from the world, but also from me.

There is a quote, often attributed to George Eliot, which says, “It is never too late to become what you might have been.” I love that quote, but it is about what we do with our lives. What my dream showed me was a slightly different truth:

It is never too late to be who you ARE.

You have journeyed in silence, fear, and discomfort long enough.

Come out of hiding. Let your true self be in the light, instead of shrouded in secrecy and webs of self-preservation.

Will everyone love the true self you reveal? No. Will their rejection, if and when it comes, hurt? Probably. But not as much as the self-rejection implied by staying hidden. By keeping yourself small and unobtrusive. By pretending that you are not who and what you are.

This last bit I didn’t learn from the dream. I learned from practicing the lessons of the dream: by opening myself to vulnerability; by painstakingly making the conscious choice to stand in my own center when outside forces (often people I love) buffet me; by allowing a moment to pass so I can respond from my truth instead of knee-jerk react. I learned by trusting others. And I learned by trusting myself.

Have I learned these lessons perfectly? No way! Each day has its own set of conundrums, of tests and trials. That said, letting my true self live in the light of day has been significantly more fulfilling than keeping myself hidden. Shame and Guilt, who were my frequent companions, have mostly disappeared. They don’t thrive in the light.  They have been replaced by Acceptance and Grace – companions who encourage me to grow into my best self. And my self, who I am, is a gift to the world.

If you recognize yourself in my dream, or know in your heart that you have been guarding your true self from the light, I encourage you to take the steps necessary to let the you that is unique and beautiful and essential come out. Take tiny steps forward, if you must. But don’t deprive the world any longer of the gift that is you. It is never too late to be who you are – who you are shines, and is worthy of love.

From my journal, after waking from the dream.
From my journal, after waking from the dream.

I Will Never Homestead in Alaska

You may not know this about me, but at one point in my life I had a plan. It was a simple plan: with my friends, Pam and Steve, I would move to Alaska after college. We would claim a tract of free land and establish our homestead. We’d live in a tent while we built our cabin by hand. Steve was strong; we were certain he could wield an axe and fell the giant trees needed for our roofbeams. Our friend Todd, a.k.a. “Mole”, horned in on our plan by offering to design our dream log cabin (he did, in fact, go on to become an architect).

Once the cabin was built, Todd would put his drafting table in a sunny spot in the great room and Steve would hunt and wrestle bears while Pam and I would garden, can, cook and bake bread. We would live a simple life, self-sufficient, in constant communion with nature. Never mind the fact that Pam and I both envisioned ourselves in long-term monogamous relationships with Steve (poor Mole). The vision was an idyllic one. We spent months daydreaming about it on the huge hammock in Pam’s yard.

Life intervened, and like many other ideas and plans, this one fell to the wayside. A year or so later, I was convinced I would become a speech pathologist. Even later, I applied to graduate school in English and wasn’t accepted, my fledgling hope of becoming a professor of literature denied before it fully took root in my psyche.

I have thought about this quite a bit since I read the blog post written by my friend Cindy Petersen (here), in which she shared her story of believing that restaurant ownership would be her best path to an autonomous career. She did a lot of work toward that dream, and it still didn’t come true. She could have stopped there, but the resonant part of Cindy’s story is that the work was all preparation for a better dream to unfold in her life.

In my homesteading dream, I lived in a snug little home and ate locally grown organic food. To some extent, that is a picture of my current life, minus the Alaskan wilderness. In my early career thoughts, I wanted to help people who needed my skills, perhaps college students. And that has turned out to be my vocation for twenty years – I’m an educator without being either a speech pathologist or a professor. And I believe my students do need what I have to offer.

It is part of our nature as human beings to dream big dreams. When we’re young, it never occurs to us to dream of being ordinary. And these days, we are all constantly harangued to dream big, live with passion, don’t settle for anything less than the whole enchilada. However, most of us live what, on the surface, appear to be very ordinary lives. As I have gotten older, I have begun to realize that the best lesson to take from this is: Trust. Trust that my inner self will guide me in the directions I need to go. For example, I have always wanted to be a writer. In my dreams, I have imagined “writer” to be synonymous with “author of great literature”. I have written about this dream ad nauseum in a lifetime of journals. It is only now that I see an inner wisdom has guided me – I am a writer: of reflections, personal essays and memoir. And I am finding deep satisfaction and fulfilment in that.

In the midst of these thoughts, I was reminded of the lyrics from a Don McLean song, “Crossroads” (apparently my Alaska homesteading plans aren’t the only high school reminiscences coming to mind this week!):

You know I’ve heard about people like me,
But I never made the connection.
They walk one road to set them free
And find they’ve gone the wrong direction.
But there’s no need for turning back
‘Cause all roads lead to where I stand.
And I believe I’ll walk them all
No matter what I may have planned.
 

By all means, dream big dreams. I will continue to myself. But while I am dreaming, I plan to remind myself: “Don’t stop and simply gawk at the shiny dream. Instead, keep walking down your road, trusting that you’ll end up in the right place. No need for turning back.”