Over the last few years I have been spending more and more of my time and energy identifying and exploring what my true passions and values are. I have had to tease out other people’s values and expectations of me. In the process I have examined my own expectations and standards of myself as well. As I get clarity on my values, I move my life, in all aspects, into alignment with them. I have come to view my life as a process, one that takes constant observation, reflection and refinement. This has been a layered process of distilling the essential elements in myself and my life and choosing to re-orient my focus and energies.
The first step of this journey was the most treacherous. I made the conscious decision to make it a priority to listen to, acknowledge and attempt to accept my desires and emotions on a deeper level than I had in the past. This began with the simple act of asking myself how I feel in a given situation, not what I think about it. Adjusting my focus from my intellect to accepting and trusting my emotions and instincts has been a massive shift for me. Since childhood I had protected myself from painful emotions by operating from an intellect based standpoint: studying, analyzing doing and achieving. As I dismantle these barriers I had built and shift my orientation to the emotional facets of my being, at times I feel engulfed by the floodgates of emotions I had been protecting myself against for so long. At moments it is excruciatingly painful. But it's also deeply liberating. It's been and continues to be a journey or excavation of sorts. One of rediscovering my true self beneath the barriers and survival mechanisms that I had been operating under for so much of my life. By building walls to protect myself from feelings of sadness and grief, I was also keeping out love.
My process of establishing what I truly value and desire started by first finding out what I did not want or more specifically how I did not want to feel. Before I was able to clearly see and call in what I do want I had to assess what wasn’t working for me in my current situation and remove those elements to the best of my ability. And then take a leap of faith. I was living in a city I had fallen out of love with. I was working jobs that held no meaning for me. I was surrounding myself with friends who were either viciously competitive and unempathic or so stuck in their own lives that they were limiting my growth and forward motion. I was worrying about everyone's feelings but my own. I had stopped doing anything creative. I was on the fast track to a life I once thought I wanted but that was not serving me on a deep level.
Somewhere deep beneath the fear and external noise, there was a voice longing to be heard. It told me that it wasn't too late to change course. So I began looking at the different areas of my life and observing how they were interconnected and affecting one another. I considered how I wanted to feel, who I wanted to be and what was standing in my way.
I began to observe and evaluate each of my friendships and asking myself what I was gaining by having each of these people in my life. In certain cases I realized that the person was a source of comfort because they were living an unfulfilling life themselves and in turn weren’t challenging me to expand or make changes that would make me happier. I was keeping them in my life as a distraction. They were draining my energy, giving me excuses not to make changes in my life and re-enforcing my limiting beliefs. In other cases they were constant sources of drama, again providing me with a distraction from my true desires and making changes.
I have always been highly motivated and ambitious, making many sacrifices to achieve my career goals. I began studying photography and art history my sophomore year of high school, committing myself to them completely. I worked tirelessly through art school and then in the commercial photography industry in New York. I then worked for several years in the food industry. My feelings of boredom and lack of deep fulfillment made it very clear to me that the sacrifices I was making to achieve goals I had set which were making me “successful” on the outside were not yielding true or deep success. I was working my ass off to support a lifestyle that I no longer wanted. I realized that I was perpetually exhausted and the sacrifice only seemed to get greater while the ultimate pay off felt less and less. I didn't feel I was contributing the world in any meaningful way. I was chasing goals that once I achieved left me feeling empty. I realized that in order to find true success in a meaningful sense I was going to let go of my outdated expectations and goals for myself and carve out my own path.
I was drinking green juices and eating a mostly vegetarian diet. I was exercising religiously and physically was in the best shape of my life. I was reading tons of books on wellness but I didn't feel well. Not at all. My anxiety was manifesting in headaches and constant stomach aches. I knew I needed to listen to what my body was trying to tell me before these mild symptoms turned into something more serious.
On reflection I saw that by keeping myself in a constant state of overwhelm I was distracting myself from my true emotions, desires, passions and dreams. I was doing so by pouring myself into demanding jobs, spending time with friends who weren't challenging me and with the frenetic energy of city life. By subscribing to a paradigm that was not serving my higher good. I was in a constant state of doing and achieving. This had enabled me to neglect my inner voice which had been screaming for me to stop and just be. Fueled by stress, fear, anxiety and too much coffee I managed to suppress my feelings for years. Until I made the conscious choice to stop. I left New York City. I stopped spending time with people who were limiting my forward motion. I stopped denying myself. I experienced a full on paradigm shift.
By first identifying the factors in my life that were keeping me overwhelmed, distracted and dissatisfied I have been able to see more clearly what I do want in my life. I want to feel free, passionate and engaged. I want to spend my time and energy on relationships with people who are honoring themselves and are showing themselves and the world around them compassion. I want to work hard and make a meaningful contribution to the world around me.
In this pursuit I began setting boundaries to conserve my energy. I gave myself the time and space to explore what I am passionate about. I started meditating and journaling. I began working on being more comfortable with quiet and stillness. I began devouring books about spirituality, consciousness, psychology and holistic healing. I found friends who shared my values and passions. I returned to making art again for the first time in ten years. I began experiencing and honoring my emotions and letting them factor into my decisions.
This process of establishing the essential has been about making choices and creating a life by design rather by default. It means choosing not to spend my energies on activities and relationships that don't serve me so that I can keep the time and space open for those which do. It has been a process of minimizing and expansion at the same time. Minimizing the extraneous stuff: stress, things, limiting beliefs, relationships that were not serving me. The expansion of self-discovery, curiosity, vulnerability, love and compassion. Often when we think of minimalism or the act of minimizing, we think of deprivation, lack or constraint- living without. The flip side of that coin is that by removing what is not valued or necessary in our lives we are able to see and experience what is valuable to us and in turn we get more of what we want.
For me this process is an intricate and delicate one of peeling back layers of emotions, learned behaviors and beliefs. Of striping away the superfluous elements in my life in order to focus on the elements that deeply matter to me. Of speaking my truth even when it is uncomfortable to do so. At times the process reaps immediate rewards and I experience radical shifts. At other moments it's awkward and uncomfortable, sometimes almost unbearable. I am learning to honor my process. For the next leg of my journey I am setting the intention to learn to ride the waves of my emotions and desires, rather than shut them out or be swept away with them.