"Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without." ~ Buddha
Posted on November 19, 2013
I had already paid my money, tucked my package under my arm, and was walking out the door when I heard her calling my name. There she was, perched on a small bookcase, in the outer room of a local store….a small ladybug planter that, I swear, was calling my name. Molded out of light brown clay, her thin legs were drawn up under her thick body, and her head was tilted coquettishly. She wore an impish grin and looked as if she were about to bat her eyelashes to get her way. The urge to take her home was so irresistible that I turned around and bought her immediately.
This has been a time of reinvention in my life. After emerging from the fog of some difficult situations, pain and grief, I found myself intent on revealing the authentic woman inside and honoring her by making decisions on that authenticity. Those decisions were not only the big ones, like what do I want for my life and who do I want in it, but also the more mundane ones, like how do I decorate my apartment. I found that in order to remain true to my authentic self, I had to really be quiet and dig down and listen to what was speaking to me.
If I have learned nothing else during the course of my life, I’ve learned to listen to my inner voice which holds a distinguished courage in being present with any situation.. Everyone has one. We call it different things: our moral compass, a gut feeling, following our heart. Whatever we name it, we should always pay attention to it. It makes us who we are and it takes great courage to listen.
I believe that courage is forged as one endures the fires of life and chooses to face the flames….even when no one is looking. As a child, I thought courage was an innate quality, passed down from parents or found within the solitude of church. I was taught to make responsible decisions and to treat others fairly, but no one told me that the most difficult choices are those that take place quietly in my own heart. It is easy to do the right thing when you have an audience, others from whom to derive judgment and receive praise. But when I found myself alone and confused at 15 years old, and solely bore the responsibility to choose my path, I began to discover what “courage” really meant.
It was a quiet moment spent in meditation that I knew what my decision would be. The message was clear: the path I felt within me needed to be fully born and was more important than any discomfort, fear, or loneliness I might face. The decision to follow my heart took courage, but not nearly as much as the long road ahead would demand. Living life outside the “norm” shapes you by offering opportunities to make courageous, unselfish decisions, but it also comes with a great deal of pain and loneliness. There is a social stigma connected to following a certain path which doesn’t involve the single desire to make boatloads of money, that many would like to believe no longer exists. They are wrong, and that has been made painfully clear to me more often than I would like to remember. It took courage to go to work, even though I was exhausted from hours of study and felt hopeless inside….as if my strides were eventually to amount to very little….perhaps I would have missed so many opportunities to get a high paying job, meet “important” people, meet a husband, live comfortably, live the “right” life, have tons of friends…..and it took courage when I strove to go back to school even though I barely believed in myself….and when I took a risk and I followed my heart to try to work things out with people in my life even though the odds were stacked against us. Those choices, those moments that I faced the flames, have led me to my greatest experiences of love, happiness, and fulfillment.
Now, almost 28 years later, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I chose the more difficult road. My life is beautiful and full of the stuff from which courage is made. Just the other day my Mother told me how much she respected me for the many painful and difficult decisions I’ve made along the way…and the very difficult one I made so many years ago, when I first began to discover what “courage” meant. I am happily graduated from University and adore my Teachers who at times I am humbled by their intense commitment to philanthropic and humanitarian efforts.
I believe that courage is still being shaped inside me as I write this, quietly preparing me for my next adventure, for my next trial by fire. Courage is not an innate quality, but emerges as we allow it room and as we listen to that little inner voice. It is not hard as rock, but soft and malleable, stained with tears, filled with reflections of the hidden parts of ourselves, and always waiting to reveal itself. When I quiet my mind, the message is clear: opportunities for courage present themselves to each of us daily, and if we let them, they will lead us to our greatest experiences of love, happiness, and fulfillment. Courage is waiting for you to look into the flames…….but you have to make the choice to be transformed.
I believe deep down, way back, behind the noise and chaos of everyday life we do know who we are and what we need to be happy and whole. We simply have to have the courage to listen. We know the voice that tells us we no longer want to live in dysfunction. We know the voice telling us we deserve to be genuinely happy, and we know that voice that says, “yes, that ceramic ladybug would look good in my kitchen.”
That voice often gets lost in a cacophony of other peoples’ suggestions, and recommendations and ideas and “you shoulds” and “so-and-so woulds.” And then after years of being muted and muffled, that voice within gets quiet and only whispers, and we find ourselves turning away from our most real selves and the values that make us who we are. It takes practice to let the inner voice shout once more. It takes being willing to feel for that small flame of joy deep in your belly when you recognize your authentic voice and know it’s speaking your truth. It takes courage to stand up to the other voices that want to bend and mold you to their imagined image for you.
As I look back I know that most of the mistakes I have made have come when I didn’t listen to myself, when I didn’t trust my instincts.
There is so much coming at us every day that life can get very confusing, but, as my Mother has always told me, there is only one person with whom you go to bed every night and get up with every morning, and that is you. Sometimes you stop paying attention to yourself. I believe you need to listen, carefully, to hear your inner voice. And then you have to do what it says.
It takes being willing to listen to the ladybug.