As a “recovering perfectionist,” I have to remind myself quite often that the goal is rarely flawless execution, but rather agility, authenticity and serenity in my life. Practice makes progress, indeed.
Top Ten Rules for Being Human
Rule One: You will receive a body.
Whether you love it or hate it, it’s yours for life, so accept it. What counts is what’s inside.
Rule Two: You will be presented with lessons.
Life is a constant learning experience, which every day provides opportunities for you to learn more. These lessons are specific to you, and learning them is the key to discovering and fulfilling the meaning and relevance of your own life.
Rule Three: There are no mistakes, only lessons.
Your development towards wisdom is a process of experimentation, trial and error, so it’s inevitable things will not always go to plan or turn out how you’d want. Compassion is the remedy for harsh judgment ― of ourselves and others. Forgiveness is not only divine – it’s also ‘the act of erasing an emotional debt’. Behaving ethically, with integrity and with humor ― especially the ability to laugh at yourself and your own mishaps ― are central to the perspective that “mistakes” are simply lessons we must learn.
So where have I been? Well, sometime last year, I wrote about my decision to put down my spiritual and self-help books and start LIVING the truths I’d found in their pages. Doing that looks different than I expected—much messier.
I am not a graceful ballerina, moving gently through life lessons with a pirouette and plié. More like a spastic buffalo ramming into everything around me at full force, knocking stuff over and having to decide what’s worth cleaning up, and what should just stay broken.
I’ve spent a lot of time this last year journaling, meditating and sleeping, as well as focusing on creativity and a select few friendships that are deeply loving. Day to day, I’ve turned my attention toward experiencing emotions, people and life just as they are. Just being with them, without judgment or analysis or attempts to change.
Life has given me much material for practice. A few highlights: changing jobs and finding myself in my dream position; going through a deep, four-month depression; meeting and falling head-over-heels for someone, then having the relationship fall apart for no discernible reason; bulging discs in my neck and a botched medical procedure that left me with migraine-level headaches for a month; and a fallout with a family member that left us not speaking from Thanksgiving until last week.
So. That’s a lot.
My decision to stay present with myself through all of this, no matter what, was probably more about throwing up my hands in surrender than any sort of high spiritual commitment, to be honest. In the past, I’ve attempted almost every method of “escape” under the sun and nothing has ever brought true, lasting peace. Why not something new?
Turns out this “something new” is absolute magic. There are days, particularly over the past two or three months, when I actually shock myself. For example, my lifelong, compulsive need to make resolutions to “get good” has disappeared. I have spent immeasurable psychic energy trying to force myself to be better / different / kinder / calmer / braver / worthier…with few results from the effort. I just ended up exhausted and frustrated.
I’ve come to learn that for me, change begins with accepting things exactly as they are right now and looking my fears straight in the eye. I quit trying to change, move closer to myself and poof! I CHANGE (though often in ways I didn’t even expect). Who knew?
Another fruit of this “something new” is that there’s more “padding” between me and everything sharp in the world. I am more open to whatever happens: Happy, sad, good, bad. I can relax because I am less afraid of somehow being undone or collapsing into an experience. There is confidence in my fundamental “OK-ness.”
Finally, the “something new” has revealed to me even more the utter ENORMITY of Spirit / the Universe / God / Higher Power / Whatever You Want to Call It. There’s nothing intellectual about this—it’s completely of my heart and shows itself in these astounding moments of compassion and love toward myself and others. It’s a hugeness inside of me that is not of me, connecting me to all beings in a gorgeous way.
I don’t really know what’s next in the grand scheme; I can only take a stab at doing the next right thing for me. Tonight, that’s spending time with friends, picking up my paintbrush for some creative work and going to bed with my sweet pup. And that is just perfect.
I’m born and bred in Texas, a state where barbecue and Southern Baptists define much of the culture. In response to this, I declared myself a vegetarian and born-again heretic sometime in junior high. Being contrary became a favorite hobby.
I delighted in the “Meat is Murder” bumper sticker on my first car and studied theology so I could argue intelligently with anyone carrying a zip-up bible and proclaiming a corner on the Truth. In fact, I ended up in a pre-ministry program in college, imagining a career for myself in the Unitarian Universalist community.
Around 1996, I met the extraordinary Mary Daly, a radical feminist theologian whose call to action for spiritual seekers was, “Sin Big!”
At the time, I interpreted that to mean “stick it to the man,” or some variation thereof. I still admire voices of cultural and religious dissention, those brave souls like Mary Daly who challenge the status quo and challenge us to think bolder.
But Sin Big has a very different more personal meaning for me lately. The call to Sin Big double dares me to know my truth and own my power, something that at times feels like a deadly transgression against my inner Good Girl. She just wants to make everybody happy, experience no unpleasant feelings, and look perfect from the outside. And I do believe that listening to her was killing my spirit.
Being a Good Girl was a family role I took on with relish and one which got me a lot of pats on the head in school and society. Who doesn’t like the girl or woman who’s agreeable, eager to please, and always has matching accessories? But I was cut off from any sense of self and it manifested in some quite disturbing ways: anxiety, depression, food issues, dysfunctional relationships, and way too much drinking. I was unhappy and unfulfilled and spent my teens and 20s looking for something or somebody to “fix” me.
At 31, I experienced a complete crisis of faith in life as I had been living it and made some radical changes in my lifestyle. I was either going to lose my mind, or something was going to shift.
And shift happened. I started seriously questioning that Good Girl’s operating system, declaring large chunks of it complete rubbish, then acting as if until a new behavior became grooved. Basically, I started to Sin Big.
The sinning is ongoing, my friends, and it’s beautiful. I believe that my purpose on this planet is to grow into my own skin, to be the most authentic Leah possible and share myself with others in genuine relationships. That Good Girl is the antithesis of all that. When I Sin Big today, it’s about going against her rules, her codes, and her standards of behavior. Because I was not born to “get good,” I was born to blaze trails.