Life is a roller-coaster, you know? With chest-ripping climbs and stomach-dropping plunges, corkscrews and loop-de-loops and… nausea. At least, this is my life. Isn’t everybody’s like this? Or am I being overly-dramatic again?
I recently had a kind of Kingda Ka, Six Flags Great Adventure-type roller-coaster ride. Well, maybe not quite that perilous, but it sounds cool to compare it like that. Kind o’ rocked my world a bit and sent me spinning. But I’m back on solid ground again and will be just fine as soon as all the retching subsides.
Erstwhile, during the death-defying plummet, I had a kind of epiphany. I’ve had this epiphany before several times. I just keep having it and will continue to have it until it sets. And I’ve decided to write about it in case anyone else might have thoughts along similar lines. That this might strike a chord that rings true in some way with someone would be…purposeful. Maybe. If not, then just ignore me.
Wa-a-ay back when I was a sweet young lass of twenty-one, I had to work with another young woman—also of my age—in close context. We were assigned to work with each other as a team and spent every working hour together for two months. While we both tried to get along, our personalities clashed mightily and it was pretty much a miserable existence the entire time we were in this forced working partnership. She let me know, often and in no uncertain terms, that I was most self-centered, egotistical human being she had ever had the misfortune to know. And I responded with,… nothing.
I mean, how does one respond to that? “Maybe you haven’t met enough people,” I wanted to say? Somehow, I think that would have only infuriated her more; and I was striving for peace.
This whole experience really threw me for a loop, as no one had ever accused me of this trait before. I really didn’t quite know what to do about it. So I wrote a lot, and studied a lot, and prayed a lot… because it hurt a lot. I tried to stand outside of myself to see what I was doing that was so very “self-centered and egotistical”. I even looked up these words to make sure I understood their meaning in full, wondering if, like Inigo Montoya, “Chu keep using dat word. I do not tink it means what you tink it means.” But it did. And she meant it. And she repeated it, often.
So I began to “play small”. I stopped participating as much in group activities and kept my mouth shut. I shied away from other friendships and only helped people who sought me out when she wasn’t looking. I did the minimum necessary to get by, but stopped shining as I had when I started out. All this stifling had an interesting effect: it made me very ill. I lost 27 pounds in two months: Something that only infuriated her even more, as she was gaining weight even as I was losing it. Weird.
Thankfully, this forced venture came to a most welcomed end, and I moved on to better things. It left its scar though. From that experience to this day, I am leery of appearing too self-assured—too self-centered. And yet, there are those who still may accuse me of it from time to time.
As I mentioned in “Why the Whimsy,” my personal-self is constantly being equated-with and mistaken-for the company which I represent. Why people do this, I do not know. But it is taxing in the extreme. While I’m on-the-clock representing my company, I can understand the need to speak for the company “in the voice of the company”. I get it. That’s my responsibility. But when I can’t be myself even in my own home, on my own time, with my own friends and family: That’s when it gets heavy and most burdensome.
A couple of decades later, after much soul-searching and many tears, here is the epiphany that jumped out of the darkness as I was plummeting to my imaginary death during my mental Kingda Ka. Playing small serves no purpose but to make both of us smaller.
As I have pulled back, and pulled away, and tried to lessen myself whenever I felt that I might be overshadowing someone else, inevitably that “someone” whom I am trying to help moves to stay in the dark of my shadow, crying all the while how it’s my fault that I’m the reason they’re miserable. Rather than stepping out to find their own sunlight, they prefer to remain stunted in the shade and complain how the sun can’t reach them because I am in their way.
I believe that such a person would feel stifled by anyone’s shadow. They’re really just looking for a scapegoat. I’ve just had the misfortune to cross their path at the precise moment they were reaching out for one. Baaaah.
Fortunately, there have been fewer and fewer of these shade-seeking personalities in my life as I’ve changed my attitude about it. It’s not like flipping a switch, of course. Wouldn’t that be nice! To be able to say, “I no longer want to attract this kind of energy or to think this way; but will now, from hereon out, henceforth and forevermore think more positively in this new and better way!” Yeah, right. If only it were that easy. But, bit by precious bit, I have been realizing that shrinking to appease anyone—ANYONE—is not the way to live. I literally nearly killed myself from doing this very thing for too many years.
Thankfully, by the grace of a loving God, I was guided to some very clear and present answers. A few angels-in-disguise walked into my life and showed me the way without even knowing they were doing so. I realized that light is always present, but you can’t see it if you’re always looking back to see who is suffering in your shadow.
For anyone who may even think of cowering in someone else’s shadow, may I just offer a word of advice? “Get out now! Go find the sun!” People—our equals—may come into our lives to be examples and guides. Which is great! I hope I can be this: kind of like the stars to a ship at sea. But no mortal person is the SUN. There’s plenty of big amazing light out there for EVERYONE to be marvelous and wonderful and creative and beautiful and worthy and divine! Find your own light and look that way. Walk in that direction. RUN in that direction and don’t look back! There will be plenty of us running beside you in our own light.
Does this make any sense? It does to me, but I’m spewing metaphors and splashing paint around the details in an effort to be clearly vague and directly evasive.
To conclude these thoughts, I’ll defer to the wisdom of Marianne Williamson as she writes in her book, “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of ‘A Course in Miracles’.” (This quote is often misattributed, for some reason, to Nelson Mandela. Random?)
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of ‘A Course in Miracles’, Ch. 7, Section 3, 1992.)
I believe this is exactly what the Savior meant when he spoke of letting our “light so shine before men, that they may see [our] good works, and glorify [our] Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).