All my life I've wanted to be in the bright light of people's attention. I've wanted fame and stardom, to be the best at everything. This has had a powerful impact on my life - I'm quite proficient at many things. I know how to work hard and my habit of striving has supported me in a lot of ways.
At the same time, it's been a huge distraction from some basic truths about myself and the world, namely concerning my inherent value and that of others. I have spent the majority of my adulthood alternating between trying to prove my worth and plumbing the unconditional aspects of existence - breath, life, love - to help me better understand myself and my place in the world. This navigation is my spiritual practice. Contact improvisation got me started and meditation and bhakti have seen me through to writing this blog on the practice of living a joyful life.
Last week I joined my mother, Ram Dass, and 300 other lovely people in Maui for five days of spiritual retreat. It was paradise: fresh chai, beautiful vegetarian food, qi gong and yoga twice daily, meditation every morning, kirtan every night and the shining light and wisdom of Ram Dass speaking and beaming throughout.
On my last morning in Hawaii, I wrote this:
I can hear the sound of the waves as they crash on the rocks outside my room. I can see the light of the sun bouncing off the moisture in the air as it steams off the mountain. The palm trees are still with just the smallest moving of leaves - slow and easy. The water is almost my favorite color - somewhere between cerulean and phthalo blue. There is a reason they call this paradise. I want to get out into it every time I wake up - to feel the sand and the water, to see the light and the sky, to stretch my sensation into the universe as far as I can reach with my mind.
Our final morning together culminated in an ocean swim - 300 people and Ram Dass floating in the salty sea, chanting "Oh Joy!" in unison and grinning til our faces lost all the final traces of tightness and holding - our hearts beaming, bouncing love from one to another and beyond into the universe.
Spiritual retreat is so important.
As always happens on retreats like this, the time away from my usual routine and the explicit attention on love does something alchemical to my body. I'm back in New York now feeling eager, enthusiastic, present, available and in love in ways I wasn't before. I'm happier. I believe - I experience - that everything is possible, and so I'm a lot more spacious and loving. This experience is making it much easier to allow people to be where they are, to allow myself to be where I am.
When I look around me, at my friends, family, colleagues and roommates, I see that everyone is doing fine. Everyone is on their own trajectory, many of which complement and resonate with mine. I can give space when our paths don't exactly line up. I can breath and watch. I can let them be where they are, appreciate and enjoy them in the freedom of that acceptance.
Because here's the thing: getting steeped in love and beauty for a few days gave me a deep sense of worthiness. I know that I can have everything I want and everyone else can have what they want too. On the level of love, nothing I can do can get in anyone's way - it's just not possible. There's nothing they can do to get in mine. It's not one or the other, we don't have to fight, we don't have to win.
Last night I had the massive pleasure of attending my friend Jeremy's dance performance at Juilliard. There were four pieces, one for each class, and each piece was better than the last. I loved it - what a powerful inspiration to see the human body made into such a magnificent offering. I recognized a part of their dharma - their purpose or service in the world. I appreciated them all, was impressed and awed. It was wonderful to see and hear and feel.
This experience of joy and appreciation was only possible for me because there was space inside me to know my own service, my own unique and human qualities - because I wasn't busy comparing myself to them or trying to figure out how I might one day be in their position. It is said that it is better to ones own dharma badly than another's dharma well. Tonight I felt the freedom to occupy my own life and service without coveting anyone else's. There is infinite space and love here for me, just as I am.
This is non-trivial.
It feels good to let everyone in: looking for the heart in everyone makes it easy to remember that love is all around.
Blessings, dear family, wonderful friends. May this find your hearts soft and open, your body relaxed and your spirit bright. I'm so glad we're here together.