I read a great quote recently by a human called Glennon Doyle; “I will not stay, not ever again – in a room, or conversation, or relationship, or institution, that requires me to abandon myself.”
This caused me to reflect again on this notion of abandonment, because that’s exactly the right word for what so many of us do to ourselves. We live a life of separateness, living from the mental energy in our minds but not from our bodies, living for other people but not for ourselves. Why do we do that? My theory is that it is our misplaced survival instinct that kicks in when we are children, our overwhelming drive to stay ‘safe’ that clips and rearranges our perspective of the world and our sense of self within it.
If we get lucky as an adult, perhaps we get inspired to start the journey back to who we really are. The funny thing with this kind of journey though, is there is no beginning and there is definitely no end, but instead a delicious dance of discovery, learning and unlearning the things that we have picked up along the way; the good, the bad, the ugly.
When do we leave?
When I look back over my life, I can see that this survival instinct kicked in for me super early on, when little Penfold decided that to be ‘safe’, it was better not to be with herself and instead, look for the clues of who she should be in the eyes of others. To shrink rather than to expand.
She burst into the world in 1980, full of sass and independence. She insisted on feeding herself as soon as she could hold a spoon. She was giddy, playful and inquisitive. She was free. She loved fearlessly. Then she noticed the world around her and the adults within it. She watched how they worked and how they did things, and made a firm calculation on who she thought she needed to be to thrive.
Sometimes there can be big traumatic things we experience as children that shape us, but for a lot of us, it isn’t really about one big event; it is the insidious impact of the societal conditions we have all collectively created.
The notion of safety
A big part of the work that we all need to do to be better humans (read here: the deep aching need for anti racism work), comes down to our ability to unlearn the way we have been conditioned to react to the world around us and the people within it.
When you are a little person, your brain starts to look around you and create blueprints for the world and what you need to do to stay ‘safe’ in situations. That might mean not being so loud, so bold and so vibrant. This process is what clips us into the people we are today.
However much I may have clipped and trimmed little Penfold to keep her ‘safe’, my experience doesn’t even slightly compare to a Black person’s lived experience and the way that you may have clipped yourselves to live and stay ‘safe’ in and amongst whiteness.
How do we evolve?
The process of unlearning and the ability to call out the old patterns and methods we have used to stay ‘safe’ is therefore key for all of us to support our collective evolution. This stuff is insidious, so to really make headway with it you have to become hyper-alert to the reactions in the body that tell you that you feel under threat in some way. Anxiety provides a whole spectrum of signs for you to feel but you have to learn how to connect into feeling them.
We often live from those reactions, and think that layer of mental energy is who we really are. When in reality, that is just a thin layer. If you are able to learn how, you can develop the tools to drop more deeply into connection with who you really are, which is something far grander (thank you Sara Williams).
When reactions come up in the body, if you have become able to feel them you create the opportunity to make a choice. You can choose to stay small and safe in that moment, or you can choose to make an expansive choice of evolution. When faced with those moments, it is important to come back to you: Where am I right now? What am I bringing to the situation? What is my most expansive step forward?
If it isn’t enough for you to want to set yourself free and get back to your essence, then do it for the human beings you walk alongside, whether proximate or not. This work doesn’t just make you a better person in terms of your ability to call out your own biases and protect the experience of others, it also means that you ultimately get to walk closer to your truest self; the deeply calm fabulous being that sits at the very seat of your consciousness.
Appetite for distraction
Distraction is the thing that keeps us in the suspended animation on this stuff, this is how we can spend years and years, almost as if asleep and certainly not evolving. The brain is a master at creating new distractions and finding new things to obsess over. Don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying that the brain doesn’t add serious value overall, but we have to weaponise it in a peaceful way to truly evolve.
When I look back over my 40 years, I can track a myriad of different distraction techniques that kept me in suspended animation and living a kind of half life where I sometimes wasn’t evolving. I have lived vicariously via the television in my 20s, I have lived in a blur of alcohol in my teens, I have lived a life of screen obsession in my 30s. Those are just the headlines, there are a million tiny distractions packed into each of those decades. Even a tool for connection like meditation can be pounced upon by the brain to do the reverse and give you a platform to check out, as I have recently learnt the hard way.
The key to my continued awakening is connection. By learning how to meditate (and stay connected) and getting comfortable with just being me in my stillness, and learning what that feels like. In connection, you can live in your essence and from a place of truth, you can call out the nonsense from your brain and choose a better path, a path that supports you and the world around you to flourish.
The struggle is real, but I guess the questions you have to ask yourselves are: Do you want to stay living in separation or do you want to evolve? Do you want to stay small or do you want to grow into every inch of the magnificent being you can be? Do you want to support the evolution of yourself so that you can support the evolution of our societies?
For me, that’s a no brainer.