This year has exceeded my wildest dreams. I've experienced so much and learned so much that it's overwhelming to try to put it into words. So let me just tell you instead about the past 24 hours.
I'm not a huge Holiday person. The hype makes me nervous and spazzy, the traveling makes me irritable, and all of the company can sometimes make me feel, paradoxically, sort of lonely. Christmas is a neat time to be part of a couple--it's cozy and snuggly and has a bunch of built-in opportunities for romance. You know. Mistletoe and ice skating and stuff. Life as Hallmark Christmas special stuff. Anyone single like me during the holidays knows what I mean when I say it can be lonely to arrive at so many places full of people who are wonderful and lovely to be around, and then to leave those places by yourself. For the record, it can also be relaxing and centering, like the eye of the storm. But not always.
The bottom line is that I absolutely believe I'm living the life I was made for. I'm single (and childless, and pretty broke, and not the CEO of anything, and probably lots of other things that could be perceived as negative) because I'm living the life of my dreams. I completely, absolutely believe that.
Most of the time. But sometimes, on days that are festively lonely for instance, I worry that I might just be fooling myself. I worry that my deep desire for God--as in Source, Meaning, Enlightenment, Buddha-Mind, call it what you will--might actually just be a distraction from some fundamental, intrinsic personal lack or flaw. Or I worry that my thirst for adventure and experience might actually be an overcompensation, just a symptom of a different, deeper dehydration.
I was feeling a little that way last night. And I wasn't really into feeling it, so I curled into a ball under a blanket on my couch and ate brownies and binge-watched The West Wing until I was tired enough to go to bed. On the surface I felt grateful to finally have a break from the momentum of work and Christmas stuff and jewelry-making, to just sink into a tv-drama coma without anyone around who wanted something from me. But underneath that, I also felt really sad and scared--what if I follow my dreams unwittingly into menopause and regret not bearing children? What if I'm actually single because I'm awful and unloveable? Will my family still want me around if I don't pop out another generation for them to spoil? Who will take care of me when I'm old?? Will I one day die alone and be eaten by cats??? There was gratitude, and there was fear. Both were true; just one was a little more convenient and comfortable. I snuggled up with my gratitude, solitude, baked goods and President Michael Douglas, and I probably would've had a fine Christmas Eve on my own if a miracle hadn't dragged me awake, into the full experience of being alive at that moment.
The miracle: the sound of bagpipes. Not just the sound. The vibration of bagpipes. Around 10pm on Christmas Eve, Jesse The Bagpipe Guy walked in full garb, slowly, ceremoniously down the middle of my little hipster street, playing his gift to the neighborhood. From my porch, surrounded by garland and twinkle lights, I listened to his music with my whole body. It was kind of trippy! Some sort of Highland Kirtan led by a Scottish Santa-Yogi in a kilt. I waved to a similarly enraptured neighbor, and heard her say from her porch that he does this every Christmas. I wanted to know more, but as I watched Jesse stop at the end of our street, turn back and stand for a moment, playing a few farewell bars before moving on, I was completely overwhelmed. I went back into my cozy living room, sat on the couch that had been my cocoon, and had myself a good ol' Christmas Eve cry. It was one of those embodied, cathartic, snotty cries where thoughts don't get in the way of cleansing. My brain didn't jump in to tell me I was being bad or silly, and so I got to feel it all, the fullness of being alive at that moment, on my porch with mood lighting and the ommmm of the bagpipe--so much beauty and complexity! It was awesome. It left me feeling watered like a plant!
Which reminds me of this song I'm sharing by The Oh Hellos--an anthem, if you ask me. It is the rain that will strengthen your soul, it will make you whole. I love these healing, tear-duct rains. And I really love this song. But I'd like to add a word to its refrain because I disagree just a little--I think it's not the rain or the sun that causes us to grow, it's both forces working together. The sun alone does not cause us to grow, but it does show us where to stretch. Joy is a very wise guide. Reaching for the light is the only way out of darkness; feeling its warmth is the best indicator we have that we're heading in the right direction!
So it makes sense that after the vibration of bagpipes loosed a nourishing downpour of tears, I would sleep deeply and then find myself at a Christmas morning vinyasa in a bright dining room full of natural light. I'm referring here to the light that came in through all the tall windows, as well as the kind that radiated from each yogi on his or her mat. What a gift! Thanks to Ashley and Mali, former funky buddhas, perpetual yoga rockstars, there was time and space for a community practice on a day when even Meijer is closed. And what a beautiful space it was--a couple rooms in Ashley's home, emptied of the furniture and family that usually fill them, occupied instead by mats and sweat and breath. The perfect place for all the gifts the rain brought to find a way to stretch toward the sky.
The theme I keep coming back to, when I think about this past year and even just the past 24 hours, is simple. It's so simple, in fact, that it's challenging to find a way to say it that's not already a cliche. It's just this: be yourself. Give the world that gift.
When Mark Nepo spoke (ten feet away from me!), it resonated because his words were his essence, crafted into a gift. When Seane Corn walked barefoot between mats, cueing a simple sequence of asanas (ten inches from me!), it resonated because her instruction and her movements were her essence, offered as a gift. When Snatam Kaur spoke barely above a whisper between songs and then filled an auditorium with the pure notes of her chanting (I was in that room!), it resonated because her voice was her essence, poured out as a gift. Last night, Jesse gave his gift to all of Eastown. This morning, Ashley and Mali gave their gift to every person who showed up.
This is what it's all about. This is what every human being has to do, this is all they have to do to make a difference: Be you. Let the rain be nourishing, even when it hurts, even if it takes a while. Then, when you feel the warmth of the sun, or you can see it a little through all the clouds or dirt, say yes. Be fed and be pulled. You don't have to know right away if you're a redwood or a rose bush. Just keep using what you're given, and keep moving toward what brings you joy. Don't worry. Stay open. Be pruned and fertilized into your essence and then, like a bagpipe under twinkle lights, or the Om to close a Christmas morning flow, you will resonate: you will give the gift of your truest self, in full bloom.