Who am I?
May 19, 2015
This account was written while on a 6 day silent retreat on Mount Shasta with the Awareness Institute in August of 2014.
For years I’d known I had everything in the world to be grateful for: two healthy, amazing daughters, a devoted, loving husband, a lovely home, a purposeful teaching career, long-term sobriety… however, I had always lived with a persistent sense of unease, of impending doom. I’d had moments, even periods of time in my life when I experienced what some may call God – experiences of knowing all was well and that I was completely cared for, but the unease was by far the norm in my life and had seemed to be growing worse. I remember one night in particular, maybe about a year ago, I woke up filled with anxiety, so I got up and started listing my fears on paper. I began calling everything into question: my parenting, my marriage, my home, my ability to maintain friendships, my work-life journey, death, afterlife, why I’m here, my spiritual practice…I felt a sense of being very trapped…like I could not do what I wanted to do or be who I wanted to be—like I could not experience freedom in my life.
I found myself greatly disturbed by patterns of reactive behavior with my kids that felt completely out of my control—behavior that I’d seen my parents act out and that I was now watching shape my children in negative ways, shaping them to be like me…fearful and reactive. I also felt in bondage in my career path; it seemed impossible to see clearly what my dreams might even be, let alone overcome the fear so as to pursue any kind of inspiration. I seemed destined to never be able to maintain close relationships with women. I felt like I was drowning under the weight of the financial insecurity that came from being underwater with our mortgage. Intimacy in my marriage of 8 years was dwindling. I was afraid of death, petrified that there just might be no God, and so deeply terrified of endlessly wasting my life on all this bullshit fear, unable to be grateful for anything.
In October 2013, my close friend attended a Conscious Living retreat through the Awareness Institute (then called the Center of Consciousness) and she returned home transformed. I had been aware of the group’s existence for a couple of years, but had previously told myself that I had my own spiritual path, primarily through a 12 step program. I made up that the group was probably just some self-help, mumbo jumbo, therapy crap that wouldn’t be able to touch me at all. However, my friend’s awakening was irrefutable. A previously shut down, unhappy and scared woman returned that morning looking me straight in the eyes, smiling warmly, and connecting completely with me in that moment. Her experience was so compelling that it shattered my previous contempt. I wanted what she had, and I was truly sick of the way I had been living, so I decided to attend the next retreat.
My only concept of the retreat when I signed up was that the weekend would consist of experiential processes aimed at freeing me from childhood conditioning. To my surprise, when I shared my decision with my husband, he told me he wanted to go too… which presented what seemed to be an insurmountable problem. What would we do with our 6 year old who had thus far only spent one night away from us? With a lot of support, I ended up seeing that this was my typical pattern of self-limiting fear, and made arrangements for her. What a leap of faith! I can’t even tell you…my ego pulled every punch to get me not to go in the days leading up to the workshop. I cried and cried and was overcome by a profound knowing that everything was about to change. Departing with a sobbing child in my wake and sobbing myself, I got into a car with Tim and some strangers and headed off to my first workshop, “Living Your Inspiration.”
My detailed narrative of what happened next stops here, because I want you to be able to come to a workshop and experience it for yourself, without any preconceived ideas of what to expect. Suffice to say, I arrived feeling cynical and shut down and left 48 hours later completely transformed, feeling more awake than I’d ever been, my fear entirely eradicated, wide open and basking in connection, inspired and empowered to do anything and everything, limitless, and filled with love. I had done work that seemed to energetically unblock me, and left me feeling more like myself than I had ever known. I left there knowing that there are infinite possibilities, clear that connecting with my loved ones and all people was of the utmost importance to me, and with the barest beginning of an understanding that maybe, just maybe, I am truly responsible for my own life.
It was at this workshop that I first heard the Responsibility Prayer:
I am responsible for what I see.
I choose the feelings I experience.
I decide upon the goal I would achieve, and everything that seems to happen to me,
I ask for and receive as I have asked.
I mention this, because of it encapsulates the essence of what I’m coming to learn: the realization of my victimhood and the possibility of freedom from it, which seems to be the most significant lesson I’m encountering. My whole life had been centered around feeling like a victim, even a victim of my own presumed powerlessness. I had tried so hard to change, but just kept falling prey to deeply ingrained beliefs about my own inadequacy. My main addiction in life turned out to be fearful limiting thoughts. I couldn’t see that before – and with that awareness has come the possibility of freedom!
My husband and I went on to do several more workshops throughout early 2014, including Conscious Relating, a retreat that shed new understanding on what it means to be vulnerable and intimate. We left that experience feeling as though we each had a new partner; completely reborn. At this point, it was obvious for me that I had nothing left to do but continue this work of waking up from fear, so I committed to the Summer Series, a set of three workshops that culminate in a six day silent retreat on Mount Shasta and include a 5 week physical cleanse. The theme of the Series is delving deeply into the question, “Who am I without all these beliefs about myself?” Initially, the idea of doing an intense cleanse and spending 10 days away from my children seemed beyond impossible. Watching the process of trusting and manifesting this for myself has been amazing. I have experienced so many firsts this year – it’s actually quite amusing to see so many beliefs get systematically debunked!
At this moment of writing this I sit on Mount Shasta. I’ve been alone for two days now with this primary question: Who am I? What am I really without all the stories I’ve made up about myself? It’s easy to say: Love, Truth, Power, Freedom, Life, Energy, Awareness…and I’m sure there is some truth in those concepts, but to really know it, that’s something else. In the past, I’ve lived my life like just the opposite is true, thinking and believing that I’m limited, that something is always wrong, that I’m never enough, that something bad will happen, always doubting myself, never trusting anyone, never trusting life, so , so , so afraid. I’m attempting to free myself from that box, to tear down the house that fear built, to know the truth about who I really am and then live it, to give that to my kids, to give that to myself. I won’t lie; this undertaking, undoing these habitual and addictive thinking patterns, is the most challenging endeavor I’ve ever faced…but hey, that’s just a story too! I think the greatest gift these workshop experiences have given me is just the simple understanding that I am responsible. With this foundation, anything is possible!