A little over four years ago, I sat on the floor of my yoga studio, in the midst of teacher training, and listened to my beloved teacher tell me how the things I believed to be my gifts were actually not. From her perspective, my humor, my ability to communicate in writing, my story-telling...all of it was a big farce, it was too much, it wasn't good. I was devastated and spent our lunch break sitting behind a bush, sobbing, wishing I was anyone but me, making plans to be more like the yogis around me who seemed to be shiny beams of goodness when compared to my brash existence.
It wasn't the first time I'd felt that way. In fact, the entire conversation harkened back to the feelings I have possessed since I was a child of being a little too much. Too loud when compared to the quiet, studious girls I was friends with. Short, curvy, exuberant, when compared with my tiny friends. Always raising my hand with the answer, always needing to be seen, to be right, to be joking, to be contributing in some way. I was a good student who loved school, but my desire to have my nose in a book and write a lot, coupled with outspoken nature and love of my teachers got me labeled a nerd, a teacher's pet. I loved fiercely: my friends, my teachers, my family, and the normal up's and down's of friendships could break me easily.
Growing up, my dad referred to these qualities as my "easy spirit." Quick to laugh, quick to cry, quick to feel. My sense of humor was welcomed in my home and among my friends. Anne Lamott once wrote about this, saying, "As far as I can recall, none of the adults in my life ever once remembered to say, “Some people have a thick skin and you don’t. Your heart is really open and that is going to cause pain, but that is an appropriate response to this world. The cost is high, but the blessing of being compassionate is beyond your wildest dreams. However, you’re not going to feel that a lot in seventh grade. Just hang on.”
Like most of us, the teasing of peers and the revolt of our bodies through puberty and a few too many moments where we are burned had quieted my spirit significantly, and yet, that moment, on the floor of a studio I'd deemed my safest space brought me right back to those childhood feelings of being a little too much to handle.
Looking through my journals, it is almost comical how many lists I have about ways to improve myself. Many of the items are the same: specific numbers to reach on the scale, directives about how clean my house will be, how perfect my lesson plans, how quiet I will be, how I will keep my mouth shut in whatever situation. After a friend mercilessly mocked my blogging, I stopped writing completely, because I couldn't bear the fact that others were making fun of this thing that felt so precious to me.
I have existed for so long in these quiet beliefs that what I have to offer isn't good, that somehow I will always feel like a stereo turned up to 11 in a silent car, that these things I once perceived as gifts were actually an albatross holding me down.
As evidenced by my writing lately, I feel like I am in the middle of this deep shift and awakening. It feels sort of circuitous that as a kid, every summer was filled with a quest to show up on the first day of school as a brand new me: quiet, thinner, refined, more like the cool girls I wanted to be.
This summer has similar goals, but rather than emerging as someone different than who I am, it's a goal of settling into this skin, as me, right now. It's not easy, per se, but it feels so wholly worth it. There wasn't any one a-ha moment, but rather a multitude of them -- time and time again realizing that despite the childhood mocking or the words of a yoga teacher or the teasing of a friend, that I have gifts to share.
But perhaps the bigger realization has been that none of it has to be perfect -- that yes, these gifts can also be struggles.
The same jokes that endear me to others can keep me from being genuine about my own pain or can hurt people or can go too far. That my ability to communicate in writing can keep me hidden behind text messages and email rather than being willing to have face-to-face discussions. That my strong feelings can hinder connection at times, simply because they are so big, and that my compassion and deep feelings are okay, but that it's also okay to learn to harness them a bit so you don't walk around with your heart bleeding all over everything.
And yet all of those things are okay -- that embracing the good things also means recognizing the shadow. But there is a difference between recognizing it as a necessary part of who I am, rather than obliterating it.
The key is acceptance and not a constant goal of improvement. It's to stand firmly on who I am, rather than letting the opinions of others and a constant goal of being approved of motivate my choices. It isn't that I won't ever try to stop my more annoying, damaging habits, but rather that I get to view even those flaws as gifts, moving forward in self-love rather than in self-hatred.
It feels like the ultimate revolutionary act: to say that I know I am imperfect, but even in that imperfection, I am enough. That no to-do list of things to fix is necessary, but rather a daily softening and moving towards the good in me and in others.
I've been reading and listening to a lot of Mary Oliver in this journey, particularly the poem below. You do not have to be good. You already are.