We begin life as luminous, stellar beings. We see deep spiritual beauty in the faces of babies: they have pure pearls for smiles, asterisks of light in their sparkly eyes. Babies engage warmly with strangers; they emanate joy. All this is natural for them; they seem to just know.
Early in life, we are clear channels of Divine Light. As we grow, we are quickly distracted from our soul’s truth. We tend to set aside a rich inner life in exchange for worldly acquisition. Somehow along the way, we surrender some of our self to satisfy the expectations of others. Ultimately, the journey turns out to be a circular one: we start out knowing exactly who we are, wander through life dismissively, and then return to the point of origin with an enhanced knowing.
I am writing this, in part, to discover what happened to the beautiful, compassionate, sensitive, intelligent little girl from Philadelphia. My adoring, wonderful parents lavished praise and support. I grew up thinking I could do anything. I was unstoppable — until adolescence arrived. I wish I had known then what I know now; it would have helped me understand that the approval of the popular crowd was completely meaningless. At the time, though, their imprimatur was all I cared about. I never won their stamp of acceptance; instead, I was handed years of bullying and exclusion.
For me, the remembrance of who I truly am speaks to Lao Tzu’s journey of a thousand steps, beginning beneath my feet. I meditate regularly to release resentments and judgments, moving toward forgiveness of myself and others. This is a practice I do more often than I’d like to admit. I’m learning Buddhist principles from the writings of Pema Chodron. She teaches how to use everything — even painful, negative occurrences — as fodder for enlightenment.
Enlightenment arises out of the messy stuff, she says. That has been such a relief to consider. In the quest to recover my suppressed soul, I embrace all “unpleasant” experiences. I invite them in, dwell in their fullness, and then try to offer a new and different response. This liberates me from the bondage of negative habits, of dwelling on hurts and magnifying them. I am finding more open access to my compassionate heart and soul.
Another step involves revisioning the past through wisdom eyes. In doing so, I begin to love the self that others had put down.
I came across a photo of myself at age 8. I am posed like a model, one hand on my hip. I am beaming a full smile and radiating light toward the photographer, my loving father who thought me beautiful. Looking at this photo today, I realize what a truly kind and beautiful girl I was. That perception has helped replace the negative snapshots of neighbor kids who found me “too” so many things. To them, I was too tall, too gummy, too skinny. This sense of excessively failing to measure up haunted me for most of my adult life. Seeing the photo now through new eyes, I feel only love for that 8-year-old girl. Evincing tenderness toward myself is healing, further ensuring the recovery of my true essence.
Ultimately, my steps brought me to Indian Country. The quest really intensified with my involvement in Lakota and Mandan spiritual culture. Through fasting, going in the sweatlodge, participating in the Okipa and fulfilling my role as ceremonial singer, I telescoped into the present all the good parts of my sweet, earlier self. These pursuits fostered a crucial refocusing, one whose reward was reclamation of the soul’s immanence.
All that truly matters is how we regard ourselves — what we think of ourselves. A person in possession of herself knows the depth of her inner being. No opinion, however strongly asserted, can shake that immediate apprehension of the infinite wealth of one’s individual soul. Each of us has his own unique road to travel. Over time, the path I have blazed for myself has been one of revelation and remembrance of who I truly am; and the world is, once again, my oyster.