A few weeks ago, something snapped.
Like a rubber band stretched too tight for too long, something in my head and in my heart just broke. Just like that–snap–and it all came clear. I figured something out without actually figuring it out, and there was suddenly all of this space. It’s a little hard to explain how wonderful and important that experience was.
But, hell, I’m gonna try.
I realized that for all of my life, I had been painting by numbers. I always did precisely what needed to be done next; I always did the right thing. I went to school and did well. I went straight to college and got my degree. I got married. I bought a house. I opened a business. I had a child.
A, B, C, D, E, F. Precisely in that order with little to no deviation because that was what one does.
Furthermore, I always had everything that one needed to have. I bought a good, fuel efficient car. I got a cell phone. I bought a big TV and a nice living room set. I got outfitted in the right yoga clothes (because I’m a professional). I looked the part because that is what one does.
Additionally, I made sure to watch my diet and exercise because that’s what smart people do. Do yoga so that you stay limber. Get 40 minutes of cardio four times a week so that you stay slender. Eat a well rounded diet consisting of less than 30 grams of fat within my 2200 allotted calories daily. Not too much meat because, you know, I’m a yogi, and we shouldn’t eat meat at all. And, of course, be careful of those naughty carbs! Whole grains only….
I could go on. The list of things to maintain in my life had gotten horribly out of hand. How to be a good parent. How to be a good yogi. How to be a good woman. How to have a clean house. How to be financially responsible. How to eat healthfully. How to be—everything. There are rules for simply everything. There are perfect examples of everything. Life as we know it is completely prescribed, down to the type of shoes we should wear.
And then one day, it clicked. I had done it all right. All of it, and I wasn’t necessarily upset at having done them in that way. But I wasn’t really doing what I wanted. When it snapped, when that came clear, I heard very clearly, with a voice that sounded like God in my head (forgive the French):
Enter space. Lots and lots of space. It was—is—glorious.
I finally realized how much of my own power I was giving away to what a fascinating woman named Brene Brown calls The Invisible Army. They’re the ones who say things like: “Everybody does it/ everybody thinks…” “Everybody wants to be in love.” “Everybody wants to be successful.” “Everybody wants to be beautiful—like this.”
The Invisible Army is that make-believe construct that encompasses everybody. The Invisible Army comes armed with an arsenal of things we should do. It tells you the conventional track and then smears a huge vat of guilt all over you should you fail to fall happily in line.
I mean, really. What kind of person doesn’t want to be in love? It’s the fairy tale, don’t you know? It’s the secret to lifelong happily ever after. Everybody knows it, even if nobody actually ever says it.
Or do they?
This must-get-loved avenue doesn’t seem to be producing all that much happiness. I see a lot of people questioning themselves, fixing themselves, going to seminars, reading books, staying in toxic relationships, going back to ho-hum romances, and engaging in spirit crushing casual sex all in the name of finding their one true love forever and forever. This quest can be traced all the way back to the Invisible Army ideal of finding that fairy tale that everybody wants.
We crave love, I believe. But I suddenly don’t understand why we are trying to shove it down one path only. Not every relationship must end in marriage. Not every relationship will last forever. But so many of us behave as if this is what must happen because, somewhere, we have been conditioned. This same patterning can be applied to success, beauty, health, happiness, parenting, loving—I could go on and on. There is an Invisible Army for every aspect of your life.
With all of that should be hovering around in the dark corners of your psyche, how can you possibly find and focus on what is? On what you really truly want for yourself? If nobody was looking, if there was only you and your soul to consider, what would you do? Where would you go? Who would you want to be? What kind of people would be in your life? What would your life and love look like?
I saw that day that I had spent 38 years doing not what others wanted, but what I thought was the right thing according to an imaginary and insubstantial blueprint that doesn’t actually exist.
There is nobody watching. There is no scorecard. There is no right way to do anything, no right way to be. You literally do not have to do a single thing that you don’t want to do. Or, take that another way—you can do precisely as you please with your life.
I saw so clearly that the general leading the Invisible Army wasn’t out there. It was in me all along. It was my own fears of being bold and brave and doing things in a unique and possibly odd way. It was my fear of possibly being judged by others for my choices. I was the commander of my own Invisible Army and it was my own fears keeping me in line. That’s what the Army actually is—all of us projecting our fears out into the world and creating a fear based tightrope to walk. But there is no substance, no judge, no jury, no commander other than yourself.
Once I let go of all the things I thought I wanted, once I really examined how many of the things I was chasing were actually my true desires, I found a great peace. My life is my life. It fits no blueprint and doesn’t look like anybody else’s. Furthermore, it doesn’t have to.
I’d rather have a companion than a husband. I’d rather be strong than thin. I’d happily sacrifice a big, expensive house for naked weekends in the Bahamas, or a chance to hike into Machu Pichu. The yoga I teach and believe in may not be the most popular, or the coolest, but I love it. I’m going to eat meat anyway–and wheat–maybe together. I honestly don’t care about what kind of phone I have. I love beer. I’m going to write this next book even though I’m horrified at where it might land me. I’m going to love unconditionally and trust my gut no matter what.
Hurt no one. That’s my only hard and fast rule. Other than that, go crazy. Do what you want and be whoever you want no matter how odd it may seem. Be best friends with your ex. Work out and eat donuts. Be a free thinker and tell people about it fearlessly. Pepper your speech with colorful bits of language. Wear bunny ears to the grocery store. Be a dirty hippy sometimes! Take a huge risk. Love like it is going out of style, big and bold and scary, maybe with the very last person on planet Earth who makes “conventional” sense. Don’t ever, ever be afraid of being hurt or of failing, because if you act within the bounds of your Sat–your truth—you can’t fail.
You don’t need to be validated by anybody. Ever. You’re awesome.
But maybe you knew that already–apparently I’m slow on the uptake.
Jamie Shane is a longtime yoga teacher and writer on practical spirituality. Her unique insights and perspective can be found in her book Chop Wood, Carry Water or on her blog at www.jamieshane.com. She lives in Naples, Fl
Editor: James Carpenter