Earlier this month I had the chance to meet for a short two hours a colleague of mine from the days when I first came to Japan on the JET program. It was the first time for us to have any personal contact in the thirteen and a half years since our term of contract ended. Though we had remained friends on Facebook we each had only a superficial idea of the trajectory the other’s life had taken, bits and pieces we’d cobbled together from each others’ infrequent status updates.
As we sat in a lovely traditional Japanese style restaurant and enjoyed the feel of the place with its tatami mats and low tables and the noren at the door we had just enough time to exchange brief updates on our lives and catch up on the news we had of some of our mutual friends and acquaintances.
Many of the people who take part in the JET program are go-getters. With their adventurous spirit, their boldness and daring and their natural curiosity and ability to relate well to others it’s as if they were born for success. A good deal of them also have a highly evolved social conscience and a strong desire to do their part to help make the world a better place. This is no less true of our group of JET alumni than any other. As we talked it came out that one former colleague is currently playing a central role in welcoming Syrian refugees into Canada; another went on to work on the Peace Boats and then with international aid organisations. On a bit of a tangent yet another, and for some reason this delights me, is apparently married to a Hong Kong pop star.
And then there is my friend herself. She was always special. Even while we were on JET she single-handedly set up a a web-based international volunteer organisation that helps to match volunteers to projects working at the grassroots level and which, as far as I know, continues to this day. She then worked as the International Relations Officer for the U.S. Department of labor for many years before quitting and going back to school to get an MBA. With her MBA still in process she’s already been accepted by a world class company to work for them after she’s done.
Talk about an exciting and inspiring life, not to mention the exceptional CV.
Despite the astonishing amount of success she has enjoyed and the impact she’s been able to have at the grassroots level in various countries around the world she is delightfully down to earth; humble; fun; caring; intelligent; passionate – an altogether lovely person to spend an afternoon with.
And then there is me, with my altogether more normal life.
Even as we exchanged stories about some of the amazing work our former colleagues are doing and I relished the paths their lives have taken, I felt myself automatically comparing the trajectory of my own path to theirs as my old nemesis my Ego popped up (just for fun) to pummel me around a bit and try to knock me down.
“Strike while she’s weak,” it seemed to say; instantly sensing the hairline fissures that were appearing in the somewhat fragile shell of my self-confidence. They might not have been deep enough to puncture it, but they did create a slight chink which my Ego was quick to spot and use to its advantage.
“Look at all the wonderful things your former colleagues have been doing,” it gibed – the unsubtle subtext being “all the things that they’ve been doing that You Are Not.”
I couldn’t help but feel as if the comparative smallness of scale of my current life made it – made me – inferior, lacking.
I must hasten to add that this is not a reflection in any way on my friend, who said and did nothing to make me feel this way.
It was all in my mind.
A story perfectly crafted by my Ego – which has lived with me all my life and thus knows exactly where the chinks in my armour are – designed to hit me where I’m most vulnerable.
Having shown its face, my Ego was determined to have some fun. Fun for my Ego does not, as a general rule, mean fun for me. I felt my energy field shrink as my ego continued to knock the bottom out of my self-esteem by regaling me with the glory of my former colleagues’ lives whilst reminding me that here I am still living in the same village doing the same thing as I was sixteen and a half years when I first came to Japan.
To be fair to myself I’m not actually doing the same things as I was sixteen and a half years ago.
I’m not even doing the same things as I was two and a half years ago.
But my ego doesn’t really care about that.
My ego is a master at finding ammunition where there’s none to be found; leveraging facts to suit its current line of attack. “Here you are living in the same village still teaching English,” it held forth. The sentiment behind the words was, “It’s as if you can’t be bothered to get out from under your kotatsu (heated table) and do something else with your life.”
Whittling away at my self-assurance with its words, it expertly declared me inadequate; tried to make me feel that the way I’ve been living my life isn’t good enough / big enough / brave enough / exciting enough / contributing enough / significant enough.
And for a while there it had me; the old familiar pattern that “I’m not enough” crept back, inserting itself insidiously into the cells of my body. As it did so it sapped my self-respect and was on its way to sundering me from myself.
But then I got what was going on. And it really didn’t take that long. The repetition of the old pattern itself, the tired familiarity of it, jolted me back into mindfulness and I realised it was just my Ego playing with me again, trying to sully me with this its latest onslaught.
While it was managing to do it covertly, infiltrating my mind with stealth like a ninja in the night, it had the upper hand.
But now I’d shone the light of my awareness on it, I was a match for it, ready to take it on.
Reminding myself that I was the only authority in my life, and that my Ego had no means of challenging my rule if I stood strong in my power and refused to be deceived by its wily machinations, I commanded (in true Shakespearian style):
“Ego, begone, and be all ways away.”
(If I’m honest what I actually said was far more contemporary, far less civilised and would probably necessitate a foul language alert, but I don’t want to offend anybody).
The point is that by calling out my Ego like this I was able to stop its games and take back my power. A single moment of awareness allowed me to restore the authority in my life and in my head to where it has always belonged: with me. By a simple act of noticing I could incapacitate my Ego in its attempts to usurp my mind, prevent it from infiltrating my consciousness with its treacherous – they were, after all, about getting me to disrespect and dishonour me – falsehoods; at the same time destroying its separation tactics as I reconnected with the truth of who I am.
In an abrupt about-face we went from Ego – 8: Julia – 2, to Julia – 8: Ego – 2.
Oh, the power in a single moment of self-awareness.
I’ve got into the habit of literally talking to myself like this when I notice my Ego is back to its old tricks: comparing and contrasting, finding me lacking, making me feel unworthy or insignificant, miring me in self-doubt or self-condemnation.
Telling your Ego to shut up and stop filling your head with such a load of old baloney (or words to a similar effect) puts a stop to your identification with your Ego and its elaborate stories, enabling you to release the hold the Ego has over the way you think and feel and so confound its attempts to work against your highest vision of who you want to be. It’s a really useful tool for claiming back your authority and putting yourself (the self that you are beyond the Ego) back in the driving seat in your head.
But in reality our Ego, far from being our enemy, is one of our greatest friends. In bringing up my old familiar stories and patterns my Ego was doing me a huge service. Every twinge of inferiority it made me feel, every dose of insignificance with which it inundated me, was like a huge wake up call showing me with pinpointed precision exactly where I haven’t got it yet, where I still don’t love myself enough, where there’s a need to heal in order to restore myself to wholeness.
You see, there’s no doubt that my friend is brilliant. She’s a stellar woman and human being who has passion and commitment, kindness and compassion, a great sense of loyalty, a wonderful sense of fun, outstanding ethics and a genuine desire to get out there in the world and make a difference by helping others.
I’m sure that many of our former colleagues are equally amazing.
But the point is, so am I.
Most of those things that I just said about her… If I started to ask myself what I am instead of focusing on what I’m not, they’re things that I could also say about me.
And although it might be hard for me to see it sometimes, and although I might be doing them on a much smaller scale, I’m doing equally amazing things in my life.
Different things, sure. But that doesn’t make them any less great.
We are all designed for greatness; but what we (read “I”) need to remember is that there are endless variations on the theme.
Some of us are here to work on an international scale and some of us are not, and both of these are fine. Whether we work on a local scale, a national scale or an international scale or zig-zag back and forward between them what matters is that we embody our highest vision of ourself; treating ourself and those around us with love, compassion and kindness; doing our bit to enhance the world; lighting it up with our love, our joy, our laughter; sharing our wisdom and skills; bringing more understanding, more beauty, more simple acts of human kindness into the world; expanding ourselves into an ever higher level of consciousness.
Things that we can do wherever we find ourself, whatever we find ourself doing because they’re about our way of being in the world, not related to or constrained by the specifics of what we’re doing in the world.
And what matters more than anything is that we love and accept ourself for who we are.
Accept what we are and what we aren’t. Spend time getting to know ourselves well enough to know the difference; fine-tune our understanding of our personal traits, our strengths and weaknesses, our dreams and desires, the path our journey has taken…
And then make peace with that.
Not expend our precious time and energy on trying to be somebody else or measuring ourselves against something – a job, a person, a standard, a vocation, a scale – that was never meant for us.
We are all unique individuals and within each of us is the seed of what we came to this Earth to do, who we came here to be. It’s inherent in our gifts, our abilities, our passions, our personal qualities and our natural inclination towards one thing over another. It’s heard in the whispers of our soul calling us towards that which makes our heart rejoice, showing us the path back to our truest and most authentic expression of ourself.
When it comes down to it all that really matters, the only way we’re ever going to be able to know personal fulfilment and joy, is by aligning with this essence of who we are – recognising our own particular brand of brilliance; spending our time and energy on exploring, expanding, honouring that.
And how can we honour our own brand of brilliance if we’re running around trying to be somebody else?
If we’re caught up in regretting the things we’re not?
Embrace who you are.
Let go of the notions of who you think you should be, how you think you should be living your life…
Stop comparing yourself to others and listing all the ways you think you’re not enough…
Explore, instead, the truth of who you really are: what you – the unique being that you are – came here to be.
Celebrate everything that makes you uniquely, beautifully, brilliantly, singularly yourself.
Make incarnate in human form the brilliance that only you can be.
The brilliance that springs forth from your soul.
The brilliance that is written into your every cell; that is so much a part of you that you may not even be aware of the radiance of its light.
Offer this brilliance to the world through your authentic and fullest expression of yourself.
The Source consciousness that is the origin of all life has chosen to embody an aspect of itself through and in you.
Trust in this, and know with a certainty that you are brilliant in your very own and very special way.
The Universe does not make mistakes. It has made itself manifest through the particular combination of form (body) and spirit (soul) that I am, that you are.
I was born to be brilliantly, beautifully me.
You were born to be brilliantly, beautifully you.
Let’s honour the innate brilliance that we are by honouring ourselves; our gifts, our quirks, our qualities, our creative impulses – everything that makes me uniquely me; makes you uniquely you.
In honouring ourself and the unique conjoining of form and spirit that is only brought into being in and through us we step up into who we are, embody the highest expression of our truth. This is who we came here to be. The energy of our soul becomes the energy that infuses and permeates everything we do, and it’s in this that the unfurling of our own brilliance transpires as our soul’s transcendence is made manifest in our physical lives.
Let this be the brilliance we offer to the world.
Ourself as a vessel for the luminosity of spirit to be made incarnate.