I wrote a fun poem the other day about identity and self-expression: inspired by the colourful hat collection that I have in London. I was going through old boxes, trying on old outfits (hats, clothes, shoes), reflecting on my personal evolution since I had last worn these items.
At the same time as noticing how different my life is now (including my complete dis-attachment from those personal possessions I’d once treasured), I noticed how easy (in some ways) it was to slip back and embrace that “old” version of myself. I felt playful, and had fun dressing up in those old clothes, reminiscing of all the memories they brought back and different aspects of my personality they revealed.
The thought that came to me strongly was the importance of integration as we journey through life. In the end, no matter how we change, grow, evolve, all these different expressions of ourselves are still us. The more we can embrace all parts of ourselves, and those different facets, the more we will ultimately be able to embrace others. To have compassion and empathy for others – in all stages of their own growth and evolution. To honour the unique path of every person, and have understanding and appreciation for all steps along the way.
This led me to think about how in many new-age spiritual circles, I have observed polarised-type thinking, and “us” and “them” mentalities. Many have stepped outside city-living, and quit corporate jobs in favour of new lifestyles that are simpler (relatively-speaking) and supposedly more connected to nature. Does this make them better humans? I think not.
I equally observe many flaws in “alternative” communities. I observe many who may give the appearance of living like “hippies”, and who condemn the “system” – but whose living is predominantly funded by investments and resources acquired only by virtue of feeding into the very system they condemn. And what about regular flying all over the world to the next festival? What about the emissions from air travel, not to mention the environmental impact on certain habitats where these festivals are held? (A whole other topic I could dive into…)
There are many so-called “new” systems proposed too – which are just old hierarchical models in disguise. Pyramid schemes are prevalent – disguised under the name of “circular/gift economies” advertised to promote community sharing (but which do the opposite, and feed off new recruits, those “lower” down the chain, who sustain those at the top).
In my view, one of the reasons why many “new” systems suffer from the problems of the “old” is because of a lack of integration of the inner self. By this, I mean problems of internal conflict people have that stem from not fully embracing or accepting all parts of oneself, and one’s journey through life. Indeed, there could even be things we have done in our past which we dislike, or are ashamed of. However, the key to truly moving forward in our lives and beyond any behavioural patterns we dislike is to actually look at them and delve into the roots. What underlying causes led to certain behaviours – are there any deeper hurts or traumas within ourselves we need to heal, forgive, integrate? If we simply shun or condemn those aspects we dislike, we’re actually missing out on a golden opportunity for deeper healing. The kind that can lead to us truly learning from our experiences, and making real, sustained life change that goes beyond superficial changes in appearance.
When we are not integrated, there is a risk of “old” behavioural patterns spilling out and manifesting in other ways, as well as polarised (black/white) thinking, and mentalities of judgment that perpetuate separation over unity. We judge what we perceive as “bad” in others, often because there is a part within ourselves that we don’t like, that we haven’t healed or forgiven. And we cannot help anyone else (or create “new” systems free from the issues we want to escape) when we are suffering from internal conflict. We need to free ourselves of that – in order to find solutions that are balanced and compassionate, formulated with deeper awareness and drawing on a full spectrum of knowledge and understanding of the world around us.
There are a minority of people I have come across who truly do practice what they preach, and who live very simply (and essentially self-sufficient) off the land they steward. This kind of living inspires me, and is what I aspire to. Equally, I must ask the question – does the earth have capacity for everyone to live like this? Probably not.
The other night, I enjoyed a meal out with a friend of mine – a close friendship that has survived such change and evolution, as each of us have grown and progressed down very different life paths. What warmed my heart dearly was the love and joy I felt we could share, from the heart. Peeling back the superficial differences of how our lives appeared, we shared a common thread of connection. And, in the silence between our laughter, and stories shared over a margarita and fries, I experienced moments of feeling closer to spirit than I have at so-called spiritual gatherings in the jungle.
So my key message is this: let’s be compassionate to one another about our different lifestyle choices. Let’s all do our best, in the situations we’re in, taking steps to share what we have with others and give back to the environment. If we do this, I think we can go farther than if we perpetuate mentalities of separation – of “my lifestyle is better than yours”.
* * *
A few years ago, I dated a rocket scientist I was crazy about her, and her work preparing for a mission to Mars she dyed her hair, all shades from emerald to lilac violet and rose cycling through memories of a blooming rainbow revealing different aspects of the Soul. The rebel within me loved her rebellion: her wild side a refreshing breeze upon my serious demeanour from a day pent up in a courtroom with a silver horsehair wig and Harry Potter robes, bereft of magic a cloak over the wild woman within. It didn’t last long — but what prevailed was my dreams of outer-space, reignited and a passion for life and love without limits my spirit reborn from a grave, too long stifled by the straight-jacket of pencil skirts, black suits and stiff white shirts disguising my true identity. Her elephant tattoo and gypsy smile left it’s imprint upon my heart and I began collecting hats for I couldn’t dye my hair — I was still caught in the litigation race, though desperate to escape, it would take some years ‘till that rocket did launch.
* * *
I now invite you to take a moment to complete this journalling exercise – which will invite you to reflect on an “old” version of yourself, and encourage integration of that aspect. The aim is to support you to feel greater compassion and connection to others who are at different stages of their own life journey. Notice how I refer to “different” stages. Although as humans we perceive time in a linear fashion, let’s not confuse this with thinking that our evolution is linear, or that just because we have had certain experiences in the past that gives us the qualification to judge and comment on others living those experiences in the present.
So, visualise yourself at a different stage in your life – and recall what it was like in that moment. What did you enjoy about your life? What were the benefits you reaped? What about the negatives? What did you dislike? What did you struggle with? Try to give equal consideration to the positives and to the negatives. Write your thoughts down. Perhaps even express creatively – through a poem or a song, or draw a picture.
Now, with these new awarenesses and lenses, try to practice compassion and empathy whenever you encounter someone doing something or living a lifestyle you disagree with. Try to soften the judgments, and instead of rejecting them, find the common ground. And above all, embrace that aspect of yourself which you see in them, or which is triggered by their actions and way of life. Learn to co-exist with the difference, and find peace in that co-existence.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post, and I wish you a beautiful weekend.