My intention for the summer was to ground in myself. To come back to center, to reset, to earn some money the hard and tiring way, and to be among the trees and the grass and the flowers that have so much to teach us. And so, though it sounded to probably everyone like the thing least likely to make me happy as a 25-year-old, I decided to move home to my parents’ house for an indefinite number of months, to waitress, and to appreciate the quiet and the loneliness of upstate New York.
I had gotten swept up, in the city, in a life that wasn’t quite real. I couldn’t pay my full rent without my parents’ help, I was riding atop a mountain of credit card debt, and I didn’t want the kind of job that would have given me enough security to be there independently. I wrote, I dreamed, and I worked on projects for lovely people I found scattered in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan who paid me an hourly wage. But the idea of living in a place as exciting as New York just to spend the majority in my life in the same room looking at a computer was too much for my soul to handle.
Leaving New York was like being spat out of a tornado. I was quite happily stuck for three years in its intense spin and all of a sudden, as my lease came to an end in May, I saw an exit sign and followed it. Faster than I could blink, all of my belongings except a suitcase, air mattress, and pillow were in storage. I camped out for three nights on my empty apartment floor and then left, knowing I wouldn’t miss it. And I didn’t. Not once. Despite all of the people I still care deeply about in that wonderful city, it had lost its wonder for me and I didn’t need it anymore to feel full. I left with the plan of returning in the fall and knew I wasn’t coming back.
The idea of grounding “in myself,” as awkwardly phrased in the first sentence of this post, became solidified after I went to see a spiritual teacher on a brief visit back to the city in June. I felt ready to peer into the higher realms, to find a shaman in Peru and look for answers, and I wanted her advice and direction. And she told me I wasn’t ready. “You have to find god in the places you don’t see him,” she said, “before anyone can take you up there. Otherwise you won’t want to come back.”
Where was I finding god? Well, in men, mostly. In romance. In the humans I thought were capable of affirming my right to exist and to thrive on this planet. I was giving them all of my power and had been since I had started dating. This, I believe, is a common problem for women and men raised in a culture of romantic comedies.
While none of this was what I necessarily wanted to hear, it resonated. This is why we need teachers – to tell us when we are looking for answers in the wrong places and to bring us back to square one. Look harder. Try harder.
I have always found it easy to pass the emotional baton to lovers. Friends, too, maybe. And the universe always tests me around this. On the heels of a relationship, I always set the intention to love myself first. I decide not to date for a while. I practice yoga and meditation more frequently. I sometimes decide to go back to therapy. I garden. Whatever I think will help me to bring happiness to myself, I do. And then, inevitably, another attractive person comes along – often at the height of my self-love. And the first test is, do I let them in? The second and much harder test is, do I begin to lean on them? It is always so tempting, and often so muddled. The process of beginning to open up to someone, to tell them your insecurities and your fears and your demons, can often lead to affirmations and reassurances, which easily turn into expectations of those things. It becomes the other person’s job to tell you how great you are, to hold you up when you’re feeling down, to give you compliments and affection. All of this is natural. But where do we cross a line and stop grounding within? Where do we lose our own connection to our souls and begin to let ourselves be fed by another? Where do we forget to honor ourselves first?
I think the world would be a much healthier place if we were all taught from a young age that happiness must come from within. “Do not seek without,” the Buddha famously said. Satisfaction never comes from money, or big houses, or multiple houses, or exotic vacations, or another person. Never! Never, never, never never never. Of course, having those things can help us to feel at ease in our lives and can bring moments of joy. But feeling deeply fulfilled NEVER comes from external objects or people. We project all of our internal insecurities, fears, and past hurts onto every aspect of our lives – so how can we expect to derive joy from anything at all when we haven’t dealt with the way we relate to ourselves? If we haven’t begun to observe and bring love to our inner dialogue? It is astounding how many people make this mistake, at the expense of a happy life. I believe that I have seen this firsthand in several generations of people.
I recently met another test in this summer of grounding, a beautiful human who brought in a lot of light and innocent adventure after a big moment of heartbreak. And I knew that my task was to figure out how to speak my own boundaries into place without either running away or jumping into something I didn’t want or need in a phase of complete uncertainty in my life. Times of uncertainty, I find, make clinging to anything good more tempting and more disastrous. Luckily, he was the type of person who encouraged open honesty with his own. And while the process of speaking my truth and owning up to my desires and barriers has not ceased to either make me want to throw up everywhere or have momentary amnesia as soon as I open my mouth, I was given the amazing opportunity to begin to understand how to honor myself in each moment, to feel what I feel and do my best to communicate it even if it isn’t what the other person particularly wants to hear.
As I begin a two-week stint in California on the other side of the country, I am observing the same old pattern popping up – the desire to cling to this person while in an unfamiliar place, to text him and receive affirmation in return, to be coddled through the phone. To turn someone into a virtual partner so that reality feels a little softer and sweeter. And I know, again, that my task is not to do the easy thing. Not to go on emotional autopilot and just do what feels good. My task is to coddle myself, to ask myself deeper questions about what I need in those moments when I reach for the phone. Sometimes, it’s a moment of meditation. Sometimes it’s chocolate or a cookie. A cup of tea. A chat with my nieces, who I’m sharing a house with for the next week. A call with a close friend. A few minutes in the sun. A drive, a hike. A swim in the ocean.
And when I’m ready to bring someone into those most intimate spaces with me and hold us both there, with presence and no expectations, I’ll know.