I met the healer/witch/intuitive therapist in Encino, California. My friend David had gifted me a session to meet with her while I was out on the west coast. She and I talked about feelings and problems and the past and future for about an hour. Then I got on the table for her to work her magic.
In the middle of our table session, there was a moment I can never forget. She was working with a large crystal bowl, tuned to the “sound of the heart chakra.” She struck the bowl over and over, and it reverberated in overtones as she manipulated it all over my body. She sang an open “ah” vowel sound, in harmony with the bowl. And then her dog, who was sleeping in the corner of room during our session, woke up and began howling along — in tune and on-pitch! The witch and the dog and the and the ringing crystal bowl formed a three-part harmony, cascading up and down my spine. I shuddered, overwhelmed with the feeling of sound, and I experienced an out-of-body moment and an epiphany about myself that I will try to describe below.
When I was a kid, my mom praised everything I did. This led to me, as an adult, not always taking praise to heart. My father used to say, “If someone gives you a compliment, thank them.” So I do. I say thank you, but it feels like I’m brushing away a butterfly. On some level, I don’t trust that the compliment is real, even as I outwardly indicate gratitude.
I pine for accolades instead, for trophies and promotions and recognition from gatekeepers and tastemakers. I measure myself by new opportunities and offers. When new doors do open for me, I experience a moment of pride and self-love as I walk through them. When the spotlight’s fixed on me, I can see my shadow trailing behind me, and I recognize my worth in its outline.
But when I’m just living day to day, when I’m just doing the work, when I’m in-process, I feel little sense of myself. I busy my mind with manic distractions of things to do. I distance myself from my emotions, from vulnerability, and I obsess over “next steps” to further my career. I distract myself; I archive emails; I make plans; I strategize a path to the next mountain-top and stew over how far away it seems.
My friend Aaron asked me recently, “Why do you need to reach another echelon? Why isn’t it enough for you when one person shows up and loves a show you made, or reads an article or story you’ve written, or has his or her life changed by a class you taught? Why do you need more than that?”
I answer that I want a bigger platform for the stories and teachings I want to share. I answer that I want to collaborate and be a part of a bigger community. I say I want to be part of something larger than myself, because I’m not reaching my potential on my own.
My mom lavished me with unending praise as her “special boy,” and I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night in a panic that if I don’t make it “big,” then I will have failed my destiny. That I will have not lived up to my potential — which seems in that moment to be the greatest failure I could committ— and that I will be letting down my mom and the dreams she harbored for me.
Intellectually, I can see how destructive and disabling this line of thinking is. Emotionally, I experience these fears raw. I worry I won’t be strong enough to move beyond these self-destructive patterns and create whatever I’m supposed to create — fashion that “magnum opus” that is buried inside me, if only I can get out of my own way to see it.
There is this idea that you attract into your life what you are putting out — that you manifest what you seek. This idea says that only by letting go of success will it come to me, because I’m not desperately craving it. That worrying over whether or not I will “make it” will only perpetuate the worrying and not create the environment for the growth I want to happen.
I don’t know whether or not laws of attraction like that are real or not — but I do know that I don’t want to go on feeling like I’m not living up to my potential.
It was on the table in the witch’s room in Encino, with so much sound from crystal and human and canine enveloping my senses, that I lost track of the measure of myself. I can intellectually explain what I learned in the above paragraphs, but the feeling of that epiphany is ephemeral and harder to pin down. This is what I felt like:
It felt like being a teenager again, driving with the top-down toward Ocean Beach in the Sunset district of California, with the song “River” by Leon Bridges playing quietly on the speakers of the car. It felt like unfettered youth, with all the time in the world on the horizon. It felt like I wasn’t behind or needing to get ahead of my destiny — that my only purpose was to feel the sun on my face and smell the salty breeze. I felt so exciting to be alive, to be telling stories and sharing what I learn. To have friends and family and a healthy body. I felt giddy, without regrets, and the only means of measuring myself in that moment was in the love and gratitude I felt for friends, family, and for my heart.