Getting married in an intimate ceremony with my closest family from across the country all gathered in witness felt special and joyous to me.
Walking across the stage to graduate college with highest honors felt exhilarating. Closing on a home in the country with windows overlooking a lawn where deer often visited was a dream come true. Accomplishment after accomplishment, my life was moving forward and my American Dream was being realized.
So why did I have this nagging sense that something was missing so soon after each milestone?
It wasn’t until I found myself divorced and laid off from work some years later that I finally took some time to explore that question for myself. Working with holistic practitioners, I discovered that the dream I had been living was not really my dream, but rather the dream of my family and my society.
I was living everyone else’s dream but not my own.
As my shamanic healing journey showed me, I had accepted many stories as facts, some of which included how everyone must work, that college is required to have anything we want in life, money is essential, owning a home is security, and so on. Peeling away these stories, layer by layer, I could see so many exciting new possibilities. I also felt a growing sense of peace in being exactly who, and where, I am right now. I had not felt that since early childhood.
Along my journey into peace, I can see signposts that have helped me awaken to the realization that I have not been creating or living my own deeper dream for myself. Here are my signs of misalignment and how I began to awaken to myself, to create and live my own dream:
I realized I was always doing what I ought to have been doing.
I had an almost mindless, robotic drive to figure out something I loved enough to specialize in it, go to school and study it, and then get as far as I could in it—to be “successful.” Then there were the social norms for a college-educated woman in America: find the right partner, marry, get a home, have children, and be a tax-paying, law-abiding eight to five member of society.
Ironically, it wasn’t until all of that crumbled that I asked the most important question: What do I really want? Socially pressured to have all the answers by the time I graduated high school (which college, what major, etc.) I got swept up in responding to the questions life threw at me and never slowed down again to look at what I really, really wanted. I was too busy to slow down and meet myself!
True happiness had eluded me.
With every milestone on my journey, I felt a great sense of accomplishment and pride. I also felt relieved to have hiked to the top of yet another mountain. It was the sense of a challenging task completed. However, it wasn’t long after the celebration stage ended that pressures resumed: What’s next?
Amidst all of those highs and lows, I never managed to find the lasting peace and contentment my soul longed to experience, and what I now understand to be true happiness. My soul was trying to get my attention to point out that I had stopped following my internal navigation system and I had gone off-course from my soul journey. I had gotten lost in the distractions of the dream world and forgotten my mission. Only when I was laid off, divorced, and halfway through my expected life-span would I stop to question that further.
I always felt restless.
There was this feeling that something was missing, that there must be more to life. Temporary joy and pleasures were delightful, and I have always known that I had a good life, so it never occurred to me that I didn’t have the life I came here to live. Not until it all crumbled and I had time to be still and the inner healing to find the courage to ask myself what I could really do. It does take courage to be in the unknown, and it is often easier to reach for something familiar than be in the void, the place of all creation, yet there is the possibility of everything!
Other people seemed to be more excited about my life than me.
I enjoy commendations, praise, and recognition as much as the next person, but what I have now discovered is that it is no substitute for the self-satisfaction of achieving my own deepest dreams. I was accomplishing what everyone else saw possible and wanted for me, and what I believed I needed to do, rather than living by my own compass. That brings no lasting joy.
I began “checking out” more often.
A dear friend once told me that it isn’t what we do, but why we do it, that matters. She was showing me that anything can be an unhealthy behavior if we are doing it to escape feeling or dealing with life. Alchohol. Drugs. Shopping. Working. I’ve even (ab)used holistic ceremonies to escape life and stay in spirit. It’s easy to do and a nice break occasionally, yet I’ve learned over the years to ask myself, “What I am running from?” and now I ask, “What do I really, really want?” I journal using free writing to discover some insightful, life-changing responses to those questions.
I discovered the key: love myself first.
My deep-South Christian upbringing taught me to put others first. Applying that to my own life-path and trauma I experienced along the way kept me pushing ahead without ever really knowing myself or what I wanted for my own life. Even deeper than that, I had never learned how to love myself unconditionally. I didn’t have anyone in my life who did, so I did not even know what that looked like. Now I know it looks different on everyone, yet its presence is obvious by the unmistakeable peace they radiate.
I had been so busy being the best daughter, student, teacher, employee, boss, mother, wife, I could be, I had not learned to know or love myself. I even farmed out my nurturing to a pedicurist, a massage therapist, or an esthetician. I did not do those things to love myself as much as I did them to look good for the role I was playing in the world, as if life were a play for all the world but me. I felt better about myself doing humanitarian volunteer work or nature clean-up projects, but there was still a superficial quality to my life, and I was one crisis away from being the scared little girl in a woman’s body who had not learned to love myself or give myself permission to dream and really live. The more I learn to love and nurture myself, the more true and lasting peace, happiness, and security I discover within.
It is my core belief that we are here to authentically discover, express, and expand our divine possibilities as souls in skin. All experiences are valuable and contribute to our evolution, yet the most important journey is of the self to the self. Then we can explore the possibilities of our journey and discover all that has been waiting to unfold from within.
Author: Sheryl Sitts
Image: Katia Romanova/Flickr
Editors: Travis May; Renée Picard