Every time I've been less than proud of myself or my work, it was because I believed the story that I needed to be somebody other than who I am — usually someone else who was doing “it” better. What I thought I needed to be has varied widely, from more hip and chic to more radically feminist and butch, to more mystical, more Buddhist, more, more, more.
This morphing and twisting of myself caused me such deep pain and slowly made me wake up and ask: how do we choose and live our truer lives? How do I live my truer life? If it's not about finding an identity and locking it down, and it certainly isn't being who you think you should be, then what exactly is it?
Each of us must grapple with this question; otherwise, we won’t live the life we're meant to live. Here’s a couple of “grappling” ideas I’ve found indispensable if you find yourself wondering and wandering.
1. Realize that choosing your life isn't automatic.
It’s learned. That’s one of the reasons we try on different identities as teenagers and into our early 30s. This is normal and important! Don’t believe something is wrong with you when you aren’t sure what you want or who you are. It’s vital to wonder, "What is true for me?"
It’s only through conscious experiences — not reading books or giving up choice to someone else — that you discern, “Yes, this feels true to me,” or, “Yes, this is the gift I was born to develop,” or, “Yuck, run away.”
2. Develop skills to manage fear.
Fear is the sidekick to living a truer life. Fear isn’t going to go away some magical day when you know for certain you're doing the right things, living the exact right life. It may get quieter for a time, you may feel more devotion than fear, but then it will swell up and threaten to send you into hiding. Get good at managing fear, especially on a body level. Yogic breathing is helpful, as is cognitive therapy, kind self-talk, and keeping the caffeine and sugar to a minimum. Whatever you use, stock your fear management toolbox well.
3. Inquire often.
Whether you do so after meditation once a week, in your journal every morning, or on a quarterly retreat, it’s vital to step back from your life and ask, “Is this really my life I’m living? Am I following what has heart and meaning for me (to quote the great late Angeles Arrien) or what I think should have heart and meaning?”
4. Use your body as a barometer.
It never fails to astonish me, but my body can’t lie. If I'm choosing something that's leading me away from my truer self, my body loses vitality. I often get sleepy, fuzzy, distracted. When I’m choosing to move toward truth and wholeness, I sit up straighter, my eyes widen, I feel more alive. Notice the signals your body sends you. Learn their language.
5. Know that following, not arriving, shapes you.
Notice I use the word “truer” rather that true. Living your truer life is an endless adventure. Life unfolds and you respond. Responding, journeying, and taking action is what shapes you into the person you are meant to be — not arriving at the destination you imagine will complete you and make you enough.
Being in relationship with your life is where the shaping happens. For example, getting this post done and published won’t get me anything, whereas writing it with care and truth will enliven and teach me.
6. Keep a council of peers.
I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a group of peers for eight years. We started as a business support group for coach/writer/self-employment types, and over the years we've grown into a clear mirror for each other, reflecting back when we forget who we are, helping us heart correct much faster. We're just not reliable witnesses of ourselves. Start with a good coach, regular check-ins with one or two friends you trust, a sister, a parent, a pastor. But start somewhere.
7. Trust what brings you alive.
Not the surface feeling of aliveness we can all settle for, maybe in the form of praise or checking a bunch of things off our to-do list. Instead, search out daily what brings you a sense of connection to life, to something larger than yourself. Let that enliven and inspire you.
For me this morning it was watching a mixed flock of migrating birds in our backyard with my husband. The cool, almost fall morning on my face, the flicker of the birds moving fast through the alders, Bob naming the various birds. Allowing myself to receive this encounter fully brought me alive. Trusting that, without needing to know what it meant or what I would do with it, makes up more and more of my life. It is so simple if we allow ourselves to experience it.
I believe constantly choosing to live your truer life is a giant act of service. I believe when we devote ourselves to learning the skills and creating the communities where this is possible, hatred, social injustice, and inequality will diminish. When we accept and expand who we truly are, we are more comfortable with other people being who they are and more motivated to take actions that make that freedom available to more people.
May it be so.