For the first time in almost 20 years I went on holiday on my own this summer. Part of the trip was a gathering of around 200 people in English woodland exploring spiritual and creative activities together in community.
Unusually I wasn’t doing any of the three things I tend to do when I’m in a group. I wasn’t hosting a workshop, I wasn’t the one who had organised the gathering to bring friends together, and I wasn’t being a mum. I was just me without a role to define me.
Have you noticed how our roles make us feel safe by telling us what our jobs are in social situations, yet these roles can become places to hide?
There I was at the gathering. Just me. No role. No definitions. Nowhere to hide.
Without a role, I didn’t find it comfortable being with a large group of people I didn’t know. All my insecurities about not fitting in rose to the surface, and I felt quiet and withdrawn.
I noticed every time I wanted to run back to the sanctuary of my tent to ‘meditate’ (aka hide) rather than feel my social awkwardness. I noticed my temptation to grasp for conversation starters in mid-air to fill the silences. I noticed but didn’t act on either of those impulses. I chose instead to stay with the feelings of awkwardness and vulnerability without doing something to make myself feel more comfortable. I only meditated when I genuinely wanted to meditate and spoke when I had something to say.
The social currency in my family is to tell outrageous or funny stories that get the whole room laughing. I grew up noticing that if you’re entertaining you’ll be accepted, so I tried to fit in. I still remember the time when I was really quite young and my mum went to brush something off my dad’s shoulder saying ‘Hang on John, you’ve got something on your shoulder.’ ‘It’s a chip,’ I shouted quick as a flash, and everyone in the room erupted into laughter. I had tasted the delight of being the one who makes everybody laugh.
I grew up with the impression that being loud, entertaining and outgoing is more valid and sought after than being quiet, thoughtful and reflective.
I grew up with the impression that being quiet, thoughtful and reflective were inherently wrong and something I needed to change about myself.
Despite the deep levels of self-acceptance I’ve reached from using essences I still hadn’t quite found a way to accept myself fully when I’m quiet in certain social situations. The old story that I have to be loud and funny to be accepted by the tribe runs deep, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to change to fit in.
This summer, something fundamental changed. By accepting and honouring my quietness with new people I found deeper self-acceptance. By sticking with the vulnerability of feeling uncomfortable, I found greater authenticity. And somewhat paradoxically, by giving myself permission to be quiet I’m naturally finding a stronger voice!
When I chose not to abandon myself to meet perceived social expectations I discovered that the expectations weren’t even real. The expectation to be gregarious truly only existed in my mind based on how I’d perceived the social dynamics when I was growing up.
‘We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.’ Anais Nin
I left the gathering, my heart full of meaningful connections with truly wonderful people. I felt free to do many things that I vowed I would never do because they were so far outside my comfort zone. I did them this summer. They felt good. I feel good.
Sometimes the most radical changes are the most subtle. I believe that the most radical act of love we can offer other people (and ourselves) is to accept and honour exactly who they are and how they’re feeling without trying to fix or change a thing. Loud, quiet, joyful, hurting, loving, defended, playful, scared and everything else in between is all equally welcomed by the accepting heart.
I have a feeling that these radical acts of absolute acceptance are the gateway to transformation, freedom and joy.
With much love and wild magic