hide and seek


I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this blog lately—like, why am I writing it and does it even matter? Today I’m honestly not sure. Some of my entries are so personal, and while that feels natural, I can’t help but wonder if they’re over the top. It’s a fine line between sharing from the heart and overstepping appropriate boundaries in the public domain. But what are those boundaries and who sets them?

One thing that I feel very committed to in my life is transparency—I think it’s so important. Not that I have to bare my soul to the entire universe and spill every deep, tortured, beautiful thought onto the page, but I do value the practice of self-disclosure; it keeps me real. However, it also leaves me feeling a bit vulnerable at times. I realized this when I posted my last long entry titled “On Sex and Stuff”. Just before publishing the piece I got crazy nervous and almost trashed the thing. Instead of being irrational, however, I emailed a very good friend and asked him to read it. He assured me that it was perfectly fine, so I took a deep breath and put it up.

Afterwards I got to thinking: Why do I need other people’s seal of approval before putting myself out there? It’s a pretty deep question. Can I just trust what comes naturally, without needing others to confirm me? Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Sometimes I’m afraid to say the wrong thing or mess up, but maybe that’s the risk we all must take in order to express our truth. By choosing to put ourselves out there we do risk judgment, but we also open ourselves to those who wish to deep-sea dive into authenticity with us.

The other day I was talking to a friend and he asked, “Why do you feel the need to share so much personal stuff in your blog?” At the time I wasn’t sure how to answer, but later I realized that revealing certain elements of my inner world makes me feel more connected to other people. Though each person’s story is unique, we all share a common humanity. We all struggle and experience pain, pleasure, longing, fear, love, grief, and rage. What’s wrong with naming those things? Why must we conceal the raw material of our human journey?

Sometimes it seems like society encourages us to be superficial, to keep a lot of things hidden. For instance, how many of us even know where our garbage goes? We just dump it in the trash and forget about it. But in some places, like India, it’s not so easy to turn a blind eye. That’s because everything is out in the open—everything: dead bodies, garbage, flowers, shit, saints, and spices; it’s all mingled together. I was pretty blown away the first time I went there 14 years ago because my mind couldn’t make sense of the paradox. I saw the same thing when I lived in Crete for four months. In the markets, carcasses hung from ropes, skinned and bloody with their limp heads hanging. Not so over here!

In our sterile world the meat fits into perfect little packages with plastic on top and everything’s stacked nicely in sealed containers. We don’t have dead people lying in the streets and most of the poverty is out of view. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, but it’s an interesting metaphor. What do we hide from other people? And what do we hide from ourselves? I recently learned that the word “shame” comes from the Indo-European skem from kem, “to cover, to veil, or to hide”. Isn’t that fascinating? Many of us are conditioned to think that who we truly are is a problem, and we expend tremendous energy trying to conceal our tender heart; society trains us to be this way. The media tells us what we should wear, buy, eat, and think, and it takes a lot of courage to let those messages go and shine our authentic light into the world.

Personally, I never gave much thought to shame until a few months ago when I did something that brought it to the surface: I spent 90 minutes in an isolation tank. Have you ever been in one? They’re not the most common contraptions in the world. Basically isolation tanks—also known as sensory deprivation tanks or flotation tanks—are lightless, soundproof “rooms” filled with skin temperature saltwater. When I say “saltwater” I don’t mean water with a little swish of sea salt. I mean water with 1000 pounds of Epsom salts. 1000 pounds! Since the water is so dense the body floats effortlessly, which is supposed to be very relaxing. This relaxation helps the brainwaves transition from beta and alpha to theta or even delta, where dreams and deep sleep occur. As the frequencies slow down, they bypass the conscious mind and go directly to the subconscious where healing, creativity, and deep meditation are possible.

I’m honestly not sure why I decided to try the whole thing out—especially because I don’t like dark, claustrophobic spaces—but something compelled me to go; it seemed like a good way to see God, or at least chill out. It wasn’t until I made it into the pitch black, dead silent, salt-drenched tank that I realized what I had signed up for: A raw, wild meeting with my mind.

The whole thing was awkward at first. I couldn’t get comfortable and the salt burned my eyes, but once I finally surrendered to the water and let myself be held, there was nothing left but breathing. It was sweet and rhythmic, and all sense of heaviness and tension dissolved. After a little while I couldn’t feel my body because it had merged with the water. Initially it was nice, but then my heart started to race. I began to think about dying and living and loving and losing… and everything in between. My heartbeat was so strong and rapid that I could hear it reverberate in the watery space of the tank—and for a moment I actually wondered if I might have a panic attack.

Fortunately that didn’t happen, but as the wave of primal fear passed an image of myself as a child rose up in my mind. The image was so clear that it seemed like the little girl was right in front of me and she looked so damn innocent that I started to cry. In that moment I realized that whatever fear I may have felt as a child still lives in me and sometimes it affects my nervous system. I can get into fight-or-flight mode very easily if I’m not careful, and those seeds were probably planted in my younger years; I can’t say exactly why and it doesn’t really matter.

In the midst of that scene, an unusual query came to mind: “Do I feel fundamentally flawed and fucked up?” I stared that excruciating question straight in the eye and, oh man, it wasn’t easy. You know why? Because I realized that sometimes I do feel like something is inherently wrong with me because I don’t fit into other people’s boxes. Have you ever felt that way? If someone tells us we’re too emotional, sensitive, rational, lazy, intense, blah, blah, blah, eventually we start to wonder if those things are true—and we may even believe we’re wrong for being what we are.

But who is “right”? Who has the one true answer? Is there one? We’re all such different creatures, fashioned in our own unique way thanks to karma, family, education, culture, and infinite other causes and conditions. It doesn’t help to crucify ourselves for being what we are. All we can hope for is to meet ourselves—with all of our neuroses and gifts—with compassion and understanding. Then, through that tenderness and the support of other kindred spirits, we can slowly transform the compost of our erroneous self-concepts into beautiful flowers.

Recently I’ve come to understand that being a mature adult means taking full responsibility for my life and not pointing fingers at the world. It’s not always easy to relax into this, but more and more I see that it’s the only way to go. Sometimes I question if it’s really possible to shift the core beliefs that have been with me since childhood, but deep inside I know it is. In fact, I’ve experienced profound internal shifts many times—simply from looking at the stories I tell myself without judgment. Remembering that helps me take a step back when my old programming comes into view or I find myself in an isolation tank bawling my eyes out for no obvious reason.

Once in a while I fantasize about all the ways I could be “better”, but then I remember Osho’s brilliant words: “When you stop trying to improve yourself, life improves you.” That is quite possibly my favorite phrase. It’s silly, but I constantly have to shed the idea that everything will be perfect when… When what? When I obliterate all of my imperfections and get it all “right”? When nothing triggers me and I never feel sad or confused? That sounds nice, but it’s not really human.

I don’t know much, but maybe all that’s needed on the wild path of awakening is trust; simple trust that life will take care of us, just like it does with the flowers and the clouds, and we don’t need to worry so much about it. I’ve heard lots of teachers say that we really can’t judge our “progress” on the path. We don’t have the subtlety of mind to be able to see how we are evolving, so it’s better to keep on moving forward with humility, openheartedness, and faith that everything is unfolding just as it should. Even though sometimes it may seem like we’re on the divine hamster wheel, spinning and spinning, exhausting ourselves and going nowhere, maybe that’s because, in actuality, there’s nowhere to go! We’re already whole and complete, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Phew.