“Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.” ~ Henry Miller, Sexus
I used to doubt myself. A lot.
I used to talk to myself like I was something the cat dragged in. ‘Why on earth did you do that?’ ‘What the hell were you thinking?’ or the perennial favorite, ‘Something must be wrong with you.’ My self esteem — particularly about being a girl in a world that, face it, sort of hates girls — was awful.
And the thing is, in the days I was talking to myself and treating myself like a doormat, I was actually never more typically beautiful. I was ethereal and thin. I was a waif singing in nightclubs in New York City. I wrote songs and journaled and performed. I studied and composed music. I was — in lots of ways — pretty amazing. But I felt like garbage about myself. I didn’t value my own life. I didn’t value my intuition or my finest impulses at all.
I was a lost soul in those days, simply because I couldn’t see myself through a lens of possibility. Every glass was half empty. Every moment that passed, I missed out because I wasn’t there. I didn’t bring my luminous, best self to the table. Instead, I was sitting in the corner seething about the lives and accomplishments of others, and thinking, “that should be me.” So-and-so stole ‘my life’ and is now living it. How did I get stuck with the draining waitressing job and the empty bank account?
SPIT OUT THE BITTER
When I was 25 I met a woman in the recording studio at NYU who invited me to a Buddhist meeting. Against all odds, I accepted her invitation, and a few days later I found myself at a Buddhist temple in Queens, NY, converting to Buddhism. To say that this was out of character is an understatement.
At the time, I didn’t realize the impact of my decision.
It was probably five years before I actually knew that my choice had changed the trajectory of my whole life. Initially, Buddhist practice brought forth both a flood of relief and benefit, and then a tsunami of more suffering. A very wise friend at the time compassionately told me not to give up. “Your life is like an old hose that has been left in the yard through a long winter. When you first turn the hose on in the spring, only filthy water comes out. Let it run. The water [of your life] will eventually clear.”
SWALLOW THE SWEET
So, I kept practicing and I kept renewing my vow to love my own life. Gradually — almost imperceptibly — I changed. The biggest change happened about 15 years ago. I stopped talking to myself like I was a loser who couldn’t get it together. Coincidentally, I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron about that time, and shortly thereafter, was accepted into the Master’s program in Professional Writing at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. I sent my poetry out to literary magazines and started to get published. I still abandoned myself more often than I embraced myself, but I started the long, slow process of learning to love myself, so that it would actually be possible for me to love and care for others.
FORGING AN AUTHENTIC PATH THROUGH LIFE
So, I finished my master’s degree. For a few years afterward, I stumbled around, unable to make the leap into the new life I wanted. I berated my cowardice and hated myself for a brief stint, but eventually my kinder impulses stepped forth and the wild, intuitive, creative version of me took the wheel. I walked out on my corporate job. For two terrifying years, I floundered, trying to find a way into the field I dreamed of working in. I did freelance writing and temp work to stay afloat, but I wanted more.
One of my only friends from grad school, Carol, serendipitously got in touch. We met for lunch at Paramount Studios where she worked. She told me that she was leaving her gig there to teach eighth grade language arts and some night classes at a local community college. “How on earth did you get those jobs?” I asked. I’d felt too intimidated to even apply for such jobs, since my grad program didn’t include work as a TA. She replied, “I just started applying for teaching jobs.”
I realized that we had the same amount of teaching experience (zero), and yet, mysteriously, she’d landed a job as a teacher. I started sending out applications. Within weeks I had an interview and an offer for my first adjunct teaching position in my hometown.
I packed up my stuff, left LA, and took the leap.
GOLDEN ROOTS AND BRANCHES
It’s been twelve years now since I started to teach. I am often astonished by how completely my life has changed in the past decade. I am a writer, an editor, a mentor, a poet, a coach, and a teacher.
These days, I write my ideas down.
I listen to that inner voice that desperately tried to flag me down for years and years and years. I know that if my higher self says ‘just do it,’ I should.
I rarely second guess my sense of things. I know I have a huge reservoir of knowledge and experience and wisdom to draw upon.
But most of all, I inhabit the life I am living. I am not day dreaming about anyone else’s life, wishing that I hadn’t been cheated out of what was ‘rightfully mine.’ (As if there is such a thing!) I no longer “slaughter my finest impulses” or talk down to myself. Recognizing the beauty and the pleasure and the joy and the satisfaction of the life you have, draws more of the same to you. If you stop focusing on lack and start focusing on gratitude, everything changes.
Once you listen to that still, small voice inside, and act upon the fluttering ideas/feelings/gut punches it sends your way, you’ll realize you’ve never not been a part of that conversation about living. You know the one. About creating yourself; about polishing your inner life. The one about how love infuses every aspect of our lives with more and more light. Yeah. That one.
© 2013 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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