We’re wrapping up week one of Elephant Academy’s course, “Maitri: How to Fall in Love with your Sweet Self.”
Waylon gives us a writing prompt: we have one minute to write down 10 words describing our life so far.
Oh god, the pressure! I usually agonize over word choice, but there’s no time. My mind flashes lightning-fast through my life, and this is what I come up with:
Hiding, misunderstood, wonder, alone, nature, seeking, longing, dissatisfied, outsider.
Oh sh*t, I just realized that’s only nine…
Well, now that I have time to reflect, for the last word, I think I’ll choose “finding.”
Those first nine words paint a rather bleak, though probably accurate, picture. I always had trouble belonging (and a good chunk of my adult life has revolved around relationship drama).
But things started to change about two years ago, when I left the rat race and the meditation group that had been the center of my life for 10 years. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just knew that my life wasn’t working for me and I had to try something different.
Since then, I have been nomadic, rarely staying in one place for more than a few months. And somehow, without really trying, it turned into a journey of finding myself, accepting myself. My true self. Opening my heart to love, and letting it shine to the world.
The small communities of Montezuma and Uvita where I lived in Costa Rica played a large role in learning to accept myself. In these communities, it felt like the only way to fit was to be myself. Unlike my experiences in the United States, where most communities seem to have definite expectations of how we need to act in order to fit in, in Costa Rica I felt warmly accepted, and even encouraged to be myself.
One thing I love about Costa Rica: it feels like magic is real there, like anything is possible. It was there in Uvita that I took the Elephant Academy writing course and began finding my voice.
So, I learned slowly, tentatively, to let my true self show. I’d let my heart out one little bit at time. And to my great surprise, no one pointed and laughed, as they did in my childhood. Or if they laughed, it was with me, laughing together at my awkwardness, celebrating my weirdness.
One example sticks out in my mind: hanging out in the dirt road out front of Flutterby house, the social heart of Uvita. I was talking to a group of people, mostly strangers, some I knew a little bit. At one point, I did something awkward; I can’t remember what exactly it was—the kind of thing that usually makes me panic inside as my social anxiety flares. And I blurted out, “Sorry, I’m awkward,” with a shrug of my shoulders.
The guy standing next to me, a local who went by Nacho, stepped back and looked me up and down. It felt like he was seeing my whole life of hiding and shame. I kept my gaze averted, bracing for the worst, as my childhood experiences trained me. But then, he just smiled and hugged me.
(I just had to take a break to wipe away the tears streaking down my face, and empty my nose of gobs of snot. I guess this assignment is bringing up some sh*t for me.)
That was an opening moment, an accepting moment.
But then COVID-19 happened. I left Costa Rica early and returned to the U.S. to stay with my family in Wisconsin. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of wonderful people in Wisconsin, and lots of natural beauty, especially up north. But there are definite ideas of “normal” there. Very few people believe in magic in Wisconsin; it only feels possible to slave away at a job and raise a family.
Plus, there was all the stress of coronavirus. It was pretty miserable. I developed a stress-induced skin rash and started to feel utterly lost again.
I had no idea what to do with myself. I just knew I couldn’t spend the winter in Milwaukee. So, I bought an RV and headed to California.
Fortunately, I had signed up for a yoga teacher training out in California for the month of October. I almost didn’t go—it didn’t make a lot of sense to—but there was a little voice inside telling me I should go. Luckily, I listened to it.
At the training, I found another encouraging, accepting, magical environment, and I feel like this was the culmination of the two-year search for myself. My heart cracked wide open during that training, as I wrote in an article for Elephant Journal.
I found my purpose in life, a cause I can devote myself to: helping people open their hearts.
And after the training, again following that little voice deep inside me, I visited an old friend of my dad’s who is a minister at a church in Humboldt County, California. They’re creating an interfaith spiritual community and looking for someone to teach yoga and meditation—so I found the perfect spot to start working in service of my dharma.
My life is moving in the right direction. I’m doing work that feels fulfilling, that doesn’t feel like work.
Now, I think I’m ready to fully love myself, all the parts of myself, even the shameful, embarrassing parts—the part of me that still fears being mocked for my weirdness. The part of me that longs for someone to love me, make me feel I’m worthy of being loved.
I’m ready to find that love in myself, and I’m hoping this maitri course helps guide me toward that. Those first nine words that dominated the first half of my life are shrinking in importance (although, wonder and nature will always be a part of my life). But now, I feel like “finding” is becoming the central theme. Finding all of myself, accepting all of myself, even those shameful, embarrassing parts.
But after spending so much time in hiding and shame, it’s hard to keep my brain out of that space. It’s developed into a samskara life I described in the love junkie article. My brain is trained to feel that way. Even though I try to direct it in other directions, I keep slipping back into that mode of being.
Even though I’ve been fortunate enough to receive some of that external validation I’ve been craving, that feeling doesn’t last. I slip back into my feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.
So, I think that’s at the core of maitri—self-validation. Because that’s the only validation that really matters—what we believe about ourselves.
And we’re the only ones who can provide that.
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