What makes you happy? What do you want out of life? What are your passions? We are asked many versions of these questions from a very young age, but are often urged to answer in a certain way. “I want to be a doctor when I grow up” or “I love math” over “I love coloring” and “I want to feel joy when I’m older.” Our responses become rote, a rhythm that dictates much of our daily lives, ever pointing us toward specific achievements we’re told we should desire. But, what happens when we step off that train of though? What happens when we decide to be still for a period, to connect with ourselves and listen for the whispered answer from within?
Most months, I enjoy attending New Moon Circles run by my dear friend and spiritual leader, Kelly. New Moon and Full Moon Circles have popped up in greater number over the past decade as people connect more and deeper with the divine feminine and its connection to the lunar cycle—both in terms of menstrual cycles and in our socially assigned connection. They are a time to come together as a community and reflect through moments of self-awareness, connection, and spiritual philosophizing. For me, these circles were a place where I’m openly allowed to be authentic and vulnerable long before I learned how to do that in my everyday life.
For our circle in the new moon under Taurus this past weekend, I met with Kelly, another dear friend Jenn, and three other lovely humans on Sunday afternoon. The sun filtered in through a high window, sultry incense burned on the small alter space Kelly had lovingly set up on one edge of our circle, and I settled into a plush dark green couch. Having spent the morning hiking, I’d rushed through a shower and braided my hair quickly, fastening it into a crown atop my head—a look that was simple but that often made me feel regal and deeply feminine. Kelly began the circle with a visualization into our heartspace.
“Imagine that you are descending,” she began.” Maybe you’re walking down a path or a set a stairs.”
I closed my eyes and immediately imagined my inner space as a vast white desert, a visualization I often used to center and ground myself before making my way into a more vivid visualization. In years past, I’ve imagined my mindspace as a thunderstorm in the distance, lightning striking with each stray thought, rain pouring down the onslaught of constant chatter in my brain. It helps me to replace the words of my thoughts with visual cues that can be wrapped up together and then dismissed as background. Often, I’ve turned in my mind’s desert way from the thunderstorm to walk toward my heartspace, which typically appeared as a series of green, shimmering cylindrical buildings in a field of poppies: my very own Emerald City. Yet, on that day, in that medication, my heartspace changed. Instead of a city bustling with people and activity, I found myself surrounded by trees and vines. I stepped into a flowing stream and sat down, allowing it to flush me down a water slide and into a wading pool at the center of a jungle.
In this version of my heartspace, I could hear the calls of birds and howler monkeys, feel a humid mist kissing my skin with each shift of the breeze. I lay on a bed of moss, my hair curly and wild. There were lizards and tree frogs, and a three-toed sloth stretched one long arm out to me like a toddler asking to be picked up and carried about as it munch on a fistful of leaves. Where the city had felt alive with activity and things to do, this jungle vibrated with energy and surrounded me with a sense of peace and love. I was home.
This shift in my heartspace reflected a very major shift I’d finally realized that had occurred at some point over the past year. In the week prior to our meeting, I’d been texting with an old friend I hadn’t spoken to in years, and he’d shared with me some of the exciting turns his life had taken. I was amazed at all he’d done.
“It can be a truly radical act in this world to live your life just for you,” I’d told him, “but it’s ultimately the best life possible.
“I know I’ve spent most of my life chasing achievements for external validation and approval, and so many of us do that. When I learned how to give that validation to myself, everything shifted, and now my dreams are about creating a life that actually makes me happy every day. I think it’s amazing that you figured out how to do that early on and challenged yourself to follow through.”
I’d hit send before fully processing what I’d written, but almost immediately something clicked into place inside me. The statement I’d made was true. At some point in the last year, after so much hard work and processing emotions and learning about myself for nearly a decade, I’d stopped wanting the things I was chasing. Yes, I loved research, but I didn’t want to be a political scientist. Yes, I loved writing, but I didn’t care any longer if I ever became famous or applauded for what I wrote. I didn’t care what others thought about what I was wearing or how I’d chosen to live my life. I was still acting like I cared, still telling people I wanted all these things, but each and every time I’d said it, something inside of me replied, “No. You don’t.”
I believe that lasting change happens slowly over time, but we often perceive it as happening in an instant because we aren’t meticulously clocking each and every input that shifts us closer and closer to the next idea or the next version of ourselves. We notice the big moment when all those tiny shifts add up to the final tipping point, and it can feel and be truly life-changing.
By the time I got home Sunday evening, my friend had messaged me back, asking what I did for myself outside of work. “Any passions?” he asked.
Wow. What a loaded question after such a massive realization. I honestly didn’t know what to say. My answer to this question was actively in a state of change. For years, decades even, I’d spouted of a list of things that added up to wanting to be a famous writer who worked in TV and film, but that big sparkly vision no longer held its sparkle for me. It sounded cold and lifeless now. I still loved writing, but was it my passion?
I gave the best answer I could in that moment, sharing how over the years I’d continued to come back to travel and yoga, realizing the truth in my words as I explained that I’d be getting certified later this year as a breathwork coach and yoga instructor. I told him that I was passionate about sharing the knowledge and tools I’d learned about managing stress and the body’s trauma response with others. Yes, this was true, too.
In that moment, my vision of my future re-materialized in my mind. Where once I’d seen award shows and a cold, minimalist apartment in New York City, I now saw a warm cup of tea in the mornings, a loving and supportive partner sharing a comfortable home filled with treasures and memories from our travels and our life together, and I felt the joy of knowing that each and every day I could luxuriate in the movements and meditations that brought me peace.
The achievements had been a clear way to prove that I was worthy, that I deserved love and respect. Yet, I already am worthy—not just in my logical understanding of the world but deep in my bones I can feel my worthiness. I already have love and belonging and a firm grasp on my core self. Those achievements—the PhD, the award for my play, the new shiny job title—no longer really matter to me. They’re interesting pieces of my life, but for the first time I recognize that they’re not my life—they’re not what makes me, me. What matters is the joy I feel in knowing my play positively affected the lives of people I deeply care about, even though many were total strangers. What matters is the warm, tingly love I feel when I hold someone I care about. What matters is that I can now move forward with the knowledge that if every single thing on this earth is finite, then I have the immense honor and pleasure to live only for me.