“If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for.” – Alice Walker
I unfollowed my favorite self-help author on my social media accounts yesterday.
I was serene about the whole thing – I poked my tongue at a scalding cup of green tea, clicked a few buttons, and continued with my lunchtime journaling. I unfollowed her because her posts have devolved from fiery inspiration into borderline narcissism and endless pictures of herself. And when she posted yet another snide and catty status, more reminiscent of my seventh grade lunch table than of any spiritual teacher I’d like to follow, I knew it was time to cut the cord.
I’m perpetually terrified of people thinking I’m narcissistic too. Whenever I share a story about my experiences, I get stuck in a panicky fear that I’m babbling about myself too much.
Yet a holy boldness emerges when we share the nitty-gritty details of our lives. I will be flying the “Express Your Authentic Truth” flag until my last day on this planet. I tell stories about my life all the time, as do all of my favorite friends and writers, as does everyone. So where is the divide between self-absorbed and self-expressive?
Before I put anything on this blog, my universal question is: “Is this helpful?”
If the answer begins and ends at “People will get to see a snapshot of my life and my feelings and my spirituality,” I don’t publish the piece. I let its words stew in the gigantic realm of my unfinished writing until one day, months later, I find it again when I’m fumbling for something to write about. I dust off its narcissism, cut the self-important parts, and tie it back to a bigger truth that transcends my life. I douse my writing in the energy of service in hopes that someone will read it and nod with stark recognition at the universal anxieties we share.
Is your writing helpful? Or do you write to coddle your ego, to fish for compliments, to paint a certain picture of yourself?
Is your business idea helpful? Or is it just propping up your secret hope that the title of “Entrepreneur” will finally impress your parents?
Are the words that gurgle out of your mouth helpful? Or are you repeatedly sharing that story because you like the attention of being The Martyr, The Hero, The Friend Who Is Always Broken?
Is your project going to transform the world? How? Why? Why not? What is your driving force?
Feel these ideas out. Let them crawl into your bones and seek their own answers.
These questions aren’t meant to breed self-criticism, although the critical voice in your head may roar that nothing you do is useful to begin with. That voice might tell you to give up now and retreat to your small damp hole in the corner, but tell that voice to hush for a second, because this exercise isn’t about belittling yourself.
You are becoming conscious of what you’re bringing forth into the world. You are considering your motivations and sometimes choosing new ones that your soul craves. You are becoming more of who you want to be, and you are witnessing the uncomfortable tendencies that pull your efforts off-kilter.
We create for ourselves, to piece together the kaleidoscope of our crystallized individual experience on Planet Earth, but creation is an act of service too. Our world is flawed enough in the cruel conversations we hear on the train, in the hate crimes, in the poverty, in the economic systems that leave swaths of humanity in ruins. We don’t need to add our voices to the pettiness and mediocrity and dysfunction. We need to be brave enough to create the things that matter.
Own your truth. Seep in the intrinsic power of your life. Talk about your joys and your devastations and your blunders and your miracles. Make art out of them. Channel them into your spectacular vision. Share them in your conversations. Talk about the ideas and books and places and people that lift your fog.
Learn how to navigate this wild, sometimes-ruthless, often-astonishing world of ours – then share what you know. Show us your life. Show us the lessons you haven’t learned yet, the ones you’re still reaching for in every fumbling conversation, every wince of self-criticism, every outburst of anger, every fiery need to be Right.
We’re trying to learn those lessons too, so be our courageous teacher. Peel back the layers until we shake with recognition of our common molten human core, our blazing divinity that we can’t always see.
Doubt yourself sometimes. Wonder if you’re being too narcissistic.
But always, always, stay anchored in that energy of service. Let it gush through your conversations and carry you to the people and circumstances that crave your big-hearted expression.
Peace and Transformation,