Queue up the Willie Nelson tunes, ’cause you guessed it – I’m on the road again!
This time, adventure finds me in Cape Town, South Africa. This gorgeous view of Table Mountain is quite literally what I am looking at as I write this post:
No, seriously, it’s better than “not bad” – it’s out of control amazing, and without a doubt I am feeling blessed.
I don’t want to spend this moment feigning sophisticated indifference, nor do I want to spend it bragging about the wonders of my adventurous life. I’d rather talk about some of the gritty, hidden truth behind my story that I am guessing most people don’t see at first blush.
Yes I just trotted off to South Africa for a month, and plenty of people have responded to the news of my trip with “you’re so lucky” and “I’m so jealous”.
But what if you knew that the plane ticket I used to get here was purchased with a credit from last summer’s cancelled itinerary, a holdover from the wreckage of my crash-and-burn love life? Or that this freedom I now have to travel is coming right on the heels of fulfilling a painful soul contract that sucked my life away for six months, and ultimately cost me several friendships?
I could also tell you how I barely managed to pack up and prepare for my trip in time, thanks to spending
several days more than a week having an emotional come apart, or how I spent my first two days after arrival here hiding in a blanket fort in the back room, not even coming out to eat, gripped with anxiety at the realization that I was now alone on the far side of a continent I’d never visited before.
I could go on, but you get the picture: it’s not all rainbows and unicorns for me, either.
My intention in telling you this is not to downplay the miracle of my blessings. I’m telling you because I want to give myself, and all of you, permission to be the hot mess that I am, that you probably are, that nearly everyone you pass on the street secretly is.
I also want to drive home the point that this is not an “all or nothing” reality: nobody is broken or whole, a hot mess or totally on top of their game.
I’ve spent at least half of my life feeling like I was surrounded by people who’d arrived in the land of functional adulthood with a suitcase full of “figured it out” – and for some reason I’d been denied a passport.
Most of that time, I’ve been walking around with the erroneous assumption that “personal growth” and “healing” meant rooting out all my broken bits, sticking them back together with cosmic crazy glue, sanding down my edges, slapping some fresh paint on the walls and passing for normal – a belief which lived side by side with the creeping suspicion there might be something so fundamentally broken about me that no amount of cosmic glue or fresh paint could ever hide the cracks.
It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve realized the equation was all wrong: healing and growth have nothing to do with “fixing” and everything to do with alchemy – it’s about how we transform our perceptions and work with our responses.
It’s about rejecting our cultural addiction to being comfortable and in control, and standing face to face with our anxiety, our heartbreak, our struggles.
It’s about transforming our response from “what did I do wrong to end up here?” or “how can I fix this?” to “what has this experience come to teach me?” and “how can I stay awake and fully present?”
It’s about the wisdom of knowing when to slow down and just let yourself FEEL – feel the fear, the rage, the disappointment, the exhaustion, even feel the temptation to claim defeat. It’s about the wisdom of knowing when it’s time to stand back up, to harness your fierce hope and keep moving forward.
Ultimately, when we set aside our need to be comfortable and in control, it becomes possible to experience fear and pain as a powerful life force energy. Instead of avoiding it, we can harness it and jump on this wild ride called “truly living” – we can laugh and love through our tears, stare wide eyed and breathless at all the beauty tangled up in our pain.
Coming to this realization doesn’t mean it suddenly becomes easier to deal with adversity. I’ll be the first to tell you that when I fall down, I still fall way, way down – and it’s a powerful reflex for me to blame (usually myself) and to fix (or feel fundamentally broken).
Like any new trick, mastering this alchemy takes time and practice.
It also takes humor, and all of the swears that are constantly firing off in my head and occasionally tumbling out of my mouth. And what I suspect is, in order for this alchemy to really sink into the bones, it’s going to take a tribe who knows these secrets, too – a tribe who can call me out, lift me up and remind me who I am – a tribe I’d love to support with all the same.
Considering that social anxiety is far from the least of my challenges, words like “tribe” and “community” have always sounded a bit like a foreign language – romantic, mysterious, intriguing but distant. I don’t know how people do this “community” thing, or where exactly they find their tribe.
But after finally pulling myself from my blanket fort and fixing a cup of tea, I stood next to the big glass window in my AirBnB rental and looked up at Table Mountain, and decided on two things:
First, that I was going to build on the morning’s victory over anxiety by tackling my gripping terror of heights, and take the cable car up to the top of the mountain – an opportunity to practice witnessing great beauty in the same moment I’m experiencing terrible fear.
Second, that effective immediately, it’s time to finally figure out this “community” notion – so for the next chapter of life, I’m focusing the intention behind my work and my writing on gathering and serving my tribe. In the coming months, I will be filling in the blanks in my story, and I’ll also be calling down from dreamland the means and the method to build a community.
Consider this post my first siren song.