I was a likeable kid growing up.
I always found it easy to empathize with others and understand their perspective. I connected with people effortlessly, and as a result, never really had any problem with interpersonal relationships.
But, this gift was a double-edged sword. Through it, I learned that by understanding and then pleasing others, I would be more loved and accepted. And so that is what I did. I found ways to bend myself to meet the needs of others, and in being a social chameleon, gained popularity and the type of positive reinforcement that I believed would be the key to a successful life. I thought that as long I was agreeable enough and flexible enough, I would finally be as happy as I yearned to be. I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, but reflecting on my younger years, I know there was an aching, deep in my heart. And that ache was the result of my behaviour that was out of line with my truth.
But I kept on, each day drifting through life like a ship lost at sea without a sail. I kept hoping to fasten myself to someone else’s sail, especially the ones that were big and bright. I waited a long time for external salvation that never came. Eventually, the pain got too big for me to endure. And so I let go of all the sails that didn’t belong to me. And I raised my own. It wasn’t easy. It took years of unravelling the conditioning that kept me behaving to please others. But there was nowhere left to turn and nowhere left to hide. It was time.
My plight back to myself reminds me so much of where we are as a collective as well. It’s as if the cloak has finally been cast off, and we are all exposed with nowhere left to hide. But that status quo isn’t enough anymore. The pain has gotten too big. We can no longer pretend that every action we take doesn’t affect our inner wholeness and the world in which we live. Some of us are resisting this change. Some are burying their heads deep in the sand. Some are protesting in the streets. Some are self-medicating. Some are yelling and crying. Some are rejoicing. We see this myriad of emotions and reactions playing out everywhere we look. On the streets. On social media. In our hearts. But one thing is for sure, regardless of the expression. Change is inevitable. We need it—both within us and around us.
Unrest and discomfort, both internally and externally, are signals that something is awry and needs attention. The meaning of these signals is accurate because our natural state, the essence of who we are, is pure loving awareness. Anything other than deep-seated peace within ourselves and between ourselves is a sign that things need to change to restore the balance.
Clearly, upon reflection of the state of the world, there is much work to be done. And so as we embark on this path to growth, it must start from within us. We’ve got to find a way to address the pain we feel and transform it into healing. We’ve got to find a way to love ourselves first and foremost, even if we don’t feel like we’re worthy. And even when we look around us and see all that we need to do.
Why bother to pause and reflect on your inner state when there is so much work to do, you might ask? Doesn’t it seem like a waste of time or something to think about later? The answer is no. The truth is that it’s only in loving yourself and bringing your inner state back to peace and joy that you are truly capable of the compassion needed to effect and sustain change. In the words of Byron Katie, “World peace can only be found within you.”
And it is only from this state of love for self and others that we will muster the courage to take action and remain open and steadfast through the turbulence. Do we need to take external action to help unravel archaic paradigms and build new systems that work for the benefit of all beings? Yes. Does this need for action require us to take a myriad of smaller steps in our daily lives? Yes. As we walk this path into the future, it will become increasingly tempting to recoil, out of fear, into the perceived safety of what once was. But we need to continue forth and step into the unknown with vigilant awareness and courage. There is no turning back.