Written before spring break yoga retreat to Costa Rica, on the plane
At this exact moment, I feel an insatiable urgency to strip away everything that I have created, so that I might connect to the rawest parts of myself and the people around me. My chest weighs heavy with this overwhelming desire to peel back the layers of the identity I have built for myself. Truthfully I admit, I cannot even fathom what that would even look like. As I have told my parents, I feel weird, kinda off. I can't focus in school, I'm doing presentations in my public speaking class asking, "What is the meaning of life?" I am taking random strangers up on their offers to drive me home and then asking them what their life's purpose is. I just signed up for a 10-day meditation retreat in Thailand. Been burning a lot of candles. Essentially, the script of your basic feature film about a forty-year-old business executive entering his midlife crisis is playing out before us. Except I'm 21 years old.
My body is restless, my mind volatile. There are stress hormones coursing through my body for some ultimate battle that isn't even coming. Why am I so agitated? My fight or flight response is activated, anticipating some big black bear or warrior in the bushes, but there is no danger lurking, just graduation. There really no reason for this discomfort. I have a good life, a comfortable one. I am about to graduate college and move to New York. I've met my goals, crossed my t's and dotted my i's. But something is off.
Some might call it a coming to god, or an existential crisis- or a sign that I need to stop reading philosophy books before bed. You know the Eminem album "Don't call it a comeback"? Well I almost want to scream, "Don't call this a breakdown!" The wheels are still turning, I am still moving, picking up one foot at a time and heading forward, onward, almost out of college. This isn't a complete halting, but rather a slow down. Not a breakdown, but a break-up- breaking up the incessant stream of thought and action that occurs because I haven't given myself even five minutes to sit with myself and face who I really am. I've gone through four years of college with my wonderfully written goals and ascribed ambitions, but little clarity as to what I am even a layer below the calculated and artfully composed image of competency I project to the world. This is a coming to terms with the assumptions and stories I have told myself and those around me about the person that I am and why I am here.
Before I left for Costa Rica, my mom and I were talking about courage. Vulnerability requires immense amounts of courage. It requires bravery to face things as they really are and let other people see these things in the light of day, unfiltered, raw. Every time I post a particularly personal blog post, my mom asks me if I am really sure I want to do that. She fears that someone will use my demons against me, that someone will hurt me. She is an amazing mother and this is what mothers do- they protect their children. But I truly believe that letting the light in and letting people see me as I actually am, is the only way that these wounds will heal.
Too often we see people only for their highlight reel, the images and stories they choose to filter through and project to the world. We experience our reality and compare it to the peak moments of others - leaving us with the despair that we will never be good enough, skinny enough, rich enough, smart enough, etc. While we are unconsciously aware of this fact, we often forget that in these two-dimensional mediums, all that we get are snapshots of others' lives, tiny blips. As a result, we fill in the rest of the story with our interpretations. The meaning we make of the world is uniquely our own, written by our past experiences. Since we were children, I have found, that we have been taught that we need to be better and do more. Our society's obsession with self-improvement and innovation has created a breed of beings who truly believe they are insufficient and unworthy- that they don't measure up. I am not saying that social media is bad or destructive, but I do believe that it gives an inadequate picture. It barely brushes the surface of the truth and does not give justice to the beautiful, complicated, inexplicable human experience that we each endure.
I am not ashamed of who I am or the things that have happened to me. My struggles have brought me to my knees and in the lowest points of my life, I came face-to-face with myself, for she was so deeply buried that I couldn't find her. But you could look at the images that I project of myself and have no idea of those moments. You could look at all the glossy and bright pictures I post, with my head tilted just right, and never realize that we --- we are more alike than we are different. That we are both made of the same matter, and sometimes at night, we both lay awake and question if we even matter.
We go through our lives wearing masks. Chameleons, we want to fit in, to belong to something greater than ourselves. This would be easy, if not for the ever-present competing desire, as simultaneously, we are begging to be seen and heard, exactly as we are. Altering our appearance and speech and values and aspirations to the status quo, we are normal because being deviant is terrifying. Yet we go through our lives half awake, with this repressed, but acute awareness, that if we had just a little more courage, we might awaken to our lives as we dream they might be.
What would your life look like if you were 2% more courageous? 5%? What does that even look like, this metric of bravery? I couldn't tell you- I don't know what my 100% brave looks like- I've never been there. But I am trying. Each day I can feel myself shaking and stripping down the old structures that currently exist, questioning my habits and my relationships. I am no longer searching for why I am here, but rather asking, while I am here, how am I going to spend my time in this tiny blip of space and existence.
I crave authentic connection. This is the beginning of my understanding that if this is what I seek, I have to pull my mask down first. Let my tiny spark of courage inspire someone else's and hold the space for them to bring light to those dark parts of themselves, the ones that they have too. For shame needs secrecy to continue. What we resist, persists. If we want to strip down to the most authentic versions of ourselves, we must let go of our ego and need to impress, our urgency to seem competent and sufficient. I am lacking. I know this. Thank god I am! For it means I still have space to grow, room to fill with learning and knowledge, that I may seek connection to ideas and places and people who fill and fuel my soul.
Like Icarus himself, I recognize that I have flown very, very close to the sun. My ability to perform on the meaningless metrics of success with which our society measures accomplishment (GPA, social media followers, etc.) used to bring me a feeling of worthiness and achievement- I felt invincible. But there came a point when I realized that this obsession with putting up a good face was actually standing in my way of authentic connection. Flying close to the heat, I begged the sun to melt away my wings. Please strip away my ego and identity. Help me pull away these layers, so that I may empathize and connect more deeply without the masks I used to wear.
So this is a breaking down, a burning up. But in the heat and fiery flame, I pray that some space is created. An unbecoming, the antithesis to a coming of age. At age twenty-one about to face the onslaught of the world and enter the rat race, I ask for the courage to be still, to stop running. Far too long ascribed to the cult of busyness and frantic frenetic, I am setting aside my mask of mastery and perceived perfection. I am okay to admit that I know very very little about the world. I am leaving twelve years of formal education with more questions than when I began. What a wonderful gift this is. The shield discarded, the mask melted, I see the sun with new curious eyes.