I sit in a prison meditation circle with women, most of whom are incarcerated for drug use. One of these women, typically quiet, chose to share at the end of group: "This is our chance, in this crappy place, to really know ourselves. When I first got here, I had no idea what I liked and enjoyed. All I cared about was using drugs. Now I care about knowing and understanding myself. Prison is our chance to make new choices." This was a powerful statement. It applies not just to inmates or drug users, it applies to us all. How well do we know ourselves?
In my early 30s, my "drug" of choice was overwork. I worked long hours, achieved, and defined myself through my job. At that time, I thought I was an extrovert who enjoyed big parties. I also thought I had a worrying mind and no creative talents. I thought sitting still and gardening were a waste of time. I didn't know myself very well. Like the inmate looked for her next fix, I looked outside myself for approval and identity.
When I hit a wall of anxiety, fear, and unhappiness, I made different choices. I decided to work less, listen inward, and nourish my spirit. This process took years and was wholly worthwhile. I noticed firsthand how big parties exhaust me. I felt relief in silent meditation retreats (not speaking for days). I began taking photographs, writing blog posts, and planting in my yard. I cultivated fewer relationships but in deeper ways.
In our culture, it's easy to be swept into overwork, numbing out, pleasing others, and doing what's expected of us. All of this without introspection or conscious choice. Getting to know ourselves is a brave path: we see our flaws, wounds, and vulnerability. It's also an empowering path: we reconnect with our inner-compass and live life more true. It's helpful to examine the roles we play, activities we choose, and limiting beliefs we hold.
Try to listen to your own voice. (It's the wise, kind, patient voice, not the fearful inner-critic.) Let go of "if only..." and meet yourself right where you are. What fills your heart with joy, satisfaction, and meaning? When do you feel most genuine and alive? What are your big, "impossible" dreams? Take one small step in that direction. This life is short and precious. May we all live more moments by what matters most.