Earlier this summer my husband David and I went to Boulder, Colorado, to visit his son Chris, who is entering his senior year at UC Boulder. We arrived in town early Saturday evening and met Chris and his roommate for dinner at The Kitchen, a local favorite.
Once we were seated and had ordered our meals, the men launched into animated discussion over the NBA finals, the upcoming Game 5, and their beloved Warriors’ undeniable worthiness of the championship title.
In other words, I was free to be with my own thoughts and enjoy taking in the Boulder dinner scene.
I love Boulder. Boulder was my haven back in 2009-2010 when I bailed on life-by-others-expectations-and-approval. I had quit my J-O-B, sold my house and all its contents (including my fancy suits, heels and matching briefcases), moved back to the U.S. and found a sweet little condo nestled in the heart of Boulder for my dog and me. I was there to hit the reset button on my life in a radical way. (I would end up hitting reset again. But that’s a whole other story.) It turns out that hitting reset and unwinding patterns of life-by-others-expectations-and-approval were a multi-leg journey that would continue on for several years. But Boulder is where I took my first awkward steps towards freedom. So, I am a big fan of the place.
As I sat there at our little four-top in the corner, the men still engaged in their primary love language, my attention was drawn to the community table occupying the center of the room. It’s a long picnic-like table, maybe fifteen feet long, and is the centerpiece for the restaurant’s monthly community dinners. The idea is, you come with a friend or two and are seated at this long table with many strangers. By the end of your meal, after all the passing of plates and the reaching for more and the sharing of good humor, strangers are now friends. It’s a festive gathering.
The last time I sat at that table was for one of these community dinners in July 2010. But what I remember of that night, instead of the festivities and the newly minted friendships, was the dress I was wearing. A lavender linen sundress with flowers embroidered across the bodice.
When I bought the dress, it fit a little too tight across the bodice. I told myself at the time, “It’s only five pounds away from fitting really well. When I lose those five pounds, I’ll feel so much better about myself, especially in this dress.” Freshly liberated from corporate costuming, I had bought it with a dreamy vision of how life would be. How I would be.
From our corner table, I couldn’t tell if I was visiting a ghost from the past or if she was visiting me. But what I knew for certain, in that moment, was that that dress had held the promise of a certain freedom it could never, would never, deliver. I saw how I had been holding myself at a distance from my own sense of value, basing it on conditions that would change from day to day and that therefore needed closely monitoring.
I encountered more ghosts during the rest of our weekend. It was like having a slideshow running on autoplay in my peripheral vision—showing me earlier versions of myself, when I lived mostly from a consciousness of invalidation.
There’s a flash, and then there’s the scene. I am sitting in my office, in the midst of downsizing four employees. I’m closing my heart to avoid acknowledging or feeling their fear and pain. I’m telling myself that this is the way business is, it’s not personal, and that to play with the big boys — to prove my chops, so to speak — I need to be able to run this “operation” smoothly.
Another flash. I’m packing up my condo. After knowing a man for all of two months, when he dangles marriage out in front of me, I pick up and move half way across country to live with him and his teenage daughter.
Flash. I’m at Abercrombie & Fitch. It’s Christmas. I am showering said teenage daughter with gifts — spending more money than feels comfortable — so that she (and her dad) will like me more.
More moments flicker by. I am stepping into a community, looking for someone else’s truth to be my north star. I’m learning the rules and playing the good student in exchange for attention and approval.
Moment by moment, I see more past versions of myself with crystal clarity. Shame floods my cells. A steel rod of pain pierces the deepest, very most core of my heart.
It took me several days following our Boulder trip to work through the healing. The Warriors won Game 5 — they are the champions — and so there was much rejoicing in our house. Meanwhile, I traveled back down my timeline. I teased out memories that carried wisps of shame and self judgment. I brought these parts of myself close to me to heal my resistance to where I have gone, what I have done, who I have been. I am at last able to claim the wisdom being offered:
There is no one moment more valid than the next. There is no one state or stage better than the others. The pain I create for myself is equally as sacred as the joy, because it is the pain that inspires me to leave no stone unturned in my quest for wholeness. I am an infinite being on the journey of becoming. There are no detours, missteps or mistakes on this journey. There is only the movement of becoming.
We were visited by a baby owl early this spring. Just before sunrise, I heard him outside our bedroom. I sat up in bed and peered out the screen door to discover this fluffy baby Great Horned Owl perched on the deck railing, just 15 feet away. He turned towards me. Our eyes met. We sat there for several minutes. Still. And then he turned and took flight. I rushed to the window and watched as he made his way through the trees below. His flight was wobbly, yet became stronger with each beat of his wings. He found his steady rhythm. He disappeared into the green. He was learning to fly.
Several weeks later the owl visited me in my dreams. He was back on the railing, I was upright in bed, and we were staring at each other just as before. But this time I understood his silent communication. He conveyed to me a certainty. Just as his mastering flight was certain — because fly is what owls do — we too are destined to become, to unfold our innate abilities, to awaken the dormant areas of our beings. It is natural law. Whatever path we take, it will lead us to the ever unfolding truth of our infinite nature.