A couple years ago I met an old actor friend from Juilliard for lunch. I hadn’t seen him in decades. He greeted me outside the restaurant and said, “I could tell it was you from thirty yards away.”
“How?” I asked.
“Your chin,” he said. “It juts forward.”
I’d forgotten this about myself, and recalled the time I’d been in a car accident and worked with a physical therapist. She had me put stickers around my house and in my car to remind me to place my finger on my chin and gently push it back into place. This had nothing to do with the accident, it was a subtle postural misalignment that I’d never noticed before the therapist pointed it out.
My protruding chin is an apt metaphor for all my striving and straining. I grew up believing that a strong will and determination, in service to solid creative and professional achievement, were cherished commodities. Freedom came from discipline and hard work.
As a young dancer, this meant unending sacrifice and constant striving. I worshipped at the altar of perfection. I’d like to say that artistic integrity, or better still, my love for my art, powered both my appetite and devotion, but looking back, I cannot deny the role that fear played.
I wanted to distinguish myself, to feel “special,” or at least to feel that I had something of value to contribute. I didn’t realize that my value was inherent and I lacked the perspective to understand that we are all special, insofar as we are made of the same universal energy, and we all have access to the same infinite creative potential. My need to feel “special” did not come from this truth, but from the limitations of my personal thought system. It came from my ego, which is all about survival, and propelled by fear.
I unwittingly assumed that achievement would be my ticket to happiness, and on a deeper level, my salvation. I unconsciously imagined that if I achieved things I’d be okay and all would be right in my world. So I raced around, motivated by an anxious (although earnest and eager) mind. I was literally using my chin to save face, to earn respect, to avoid humiliation, and to establish a good reputation.
But no one was out there judging me more harshly than I was judging myself. And at the end of the day, this is the only judge who matters. This is the judge that makes or breaks us. This is the judge whom we resist, embellish, and battle. We become like Cervantes’s Don Quixote, jousting windmills that appear in his mind as giant enemies with massive, swirling arms.
Our self-judgments need not exaggerate our flaws, nor remain adversarial. When we infuse them with love, they dissolve, and we’re left with this truth: life itself is a creative process of which we are all a part. When we show up open and available in the moment and allow life to be lived through us, we are richly rewarded.
We begin to understand that the real work is to see and appreciate ourselves exactly as we are, to honor our creative impulses, to let go of ideas about who we think we’re supposed to be, and let ourselves be who we are, as we are.
When we release our measuring sticks, soften our high standards, and let ourselves be okay in the moment, we drop down into what is and land exactly where we are meant to be.
A peaceful state exists beneath your plotting, planning, judging, striving mind. It is quiet, calm, generative, creative, patient, and perfect. Creating from this place is a game-changer, and the more you get to know this space, the more you realize that external validation is both deceptive and illusory.
In the past, whenever I went after something I associated with deliverance and achieved it, while there may have been fun, fanfare, even moments of glory, it never took long for that to fade, and then I’d ask myself, What’s next? And on a deeper level, What’s the next thing I need to do to make myself okay? This took place under the radar of conscious awareness, but it jabbed and prodded me into action. And once again, I bought into the illusion. This happens much less often now (although I still occasionally get hoodwinked by this old, conditioned thinking), but noticing it breaks the cycle. I’m discovering that creating (and living) from love beats the heck out of doing either from fear.
If you’re looking outside yourself for fame, fortune, recognition, or comfort, consider what it is that you really want. Could your need to feel better be an invitation to practice acceptance or compassion? Does your wish for more money stem from a yearning for security? Is your dream of reaching millions with your work coming from a need for approval or external validation because deep down you haven’t (yet) been able to fully validate yourself?
Slow down. Look within. Be where you are. And give yourself a break.
Then see if you can find the place within that is beyond doubt and fear. Settle in for a while. Listen. Feel the love and warmth. Sense the light. This may be the entryway to what you’re seeking. What if you already have—and are—the treasure you crave?
I know I’m on the right path when I can physically feel the calm, spacious, undulating energy that animates all living things. It’s the opposite of urgency or overwhelm. When I’m connected to this part of myself, I experience effortless creation. Next steps make themselves known to me, one inspired idea at a time, and on an as-I-need-to-know basis. I am released from struggles, and the range of what’s possible expands.
The key is not to ride or surf life’s wave, but to be it.
I’m not saying hard work and devotion don’t have their place, but we are co-creators. Our part is to show up, do our best—knowing we are enough—and then let go and trust what unfolds.
Knowing what drives our behavior enables us to lovingly course-correct as needed, which leads to alignment in every area of our lives. We do this from the inside out, and not the other way around. Contrary to what our culture might have you believe, this inner realm is our true power, creativity, and well-spring of life.
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