Earlier this year Erick Joseph filmed me in a short interview “for a younger audience.” We talked about stuff I wished I’d known when I was 20. We also talked about yoga. Anyway, here is the short film he made from the interview. I also wrote a short essay to accompany it, which I’ll paste in below.
Letter to my Younger Self
Dear self. Your secret, lonely knowledge is true. Despite all you have been told, the world that has been offered to you as normal is anything but normal. It is a pale semblance of the intimacy, connection, authenticity, community, joy and grief that lie just beneath the surface of society’s habits and routines.
Dear self: You have a magnificent contribution to make to the more beautiful world your heart knows is possible. It may not make you famous, but you have an important gift, an indispensable gift, and it demands you to apply it to something you care about. Unless you do, you will feel like you aren’t really living your life. You will live the life someone pays you to live, caring about things you are paid to care about. You can make a different choice.
Dear self: Do not believe the cynical voice, masquerading as the realistic voice, that says that nothing much can change. That voice will call your dreams by many names: naïve, unrealistic, immature, and irresponsible. Trust your knowledge that the world can be different, can be better. You needn’t sell out and live a life complicit in maintaining the status quo.
Dear self: You carry a deep yearning to contribute to the healing of the world and fulfillment of its possibilities. This is your deepest desire, and if you abandon it you will feel like a ghost inhabiting the mere shell of a life. Instead, trust that desire and follow it toward whatever service it calls you to, however small and insignificant it might seem.
Dear self: The most reliable guide to choice is to follow whatever makes you feel happy and excited to get out of bed in the morning. Life is not supposed to be a grim slog of discipline and sacrifice. You practiced for such a life in school, tearing yourself out of bed for days of tedium, bribed with trivial rewards called grades, intimidated by artificial consequences, proceeding through a curriculum designed by faraway authorities, asking permission to use the toilet. It is time to undo those habits. Let your compass instead be joy, love, and whatever makes you feel alive.
Dear self: When you follow your passion and come fully alive, your choices will feel threatening to anyone who abides in the dominant story of normal. You will be reminding them of the path they didn’t follow, and awaken in them the suppressed yearning to devote their gifts to something beautiful. Rather than face that grief, they may suppress it – and suppress you as well.
Dear self: At a certain moment it will become necessary for you to go on a journey. It isn’t to escape forever. It is to find yourself outside of whomever your conditioning trained you to be. You must put yourself in a situation where you don’t know who you are anymore. This is called an initiation. Who you were becomes inoperative; then, who you will be can emerge.
Dear self: Powerful forces will attempt to make you conform to society’s normality. These will take the form of social pressure, parental pressure, and very likely, economic pressure. When you encounter them, please understand that they are giving you the opportunity to define yourself. When push comes to shove, who are you?
Dear self: The old maps do not apply in these times of transition. Even if you try to follow them, even if you accept their bribes and heed their threats, there is no guarantee you’ll reap the promised rewards. The university graduates washing dishes and the Ph.D.’s driving taxis attest to this. We are entering new territory. Trust your guidance. It is OK to make mistakes, because in uncharted territory, even the wrong path is part of finding the right path.
Dear self: On this path, you are sure to get lost. But you are held, watched, and guided by a vast organic intelligence. It will become visible when things fall apart – as surely they must, in the transition between worlds. You will stumble, only to find overlooked treasure beneath your feet. You’ll despair of finding the answer – and then the answer will find you. Breakdown clears the space for synchronicity, for help unimagined and unearned.
Dear self: None of this advice can be sustainably implemented by a heroic effort on your part. You need help. Seek out other people who reinforce your perception that a more beautiful world is possible, and that life’s first priority is not security, but rather to give of your gifts, to play, to love and be loved, to learn, to explore. When those people (your tribe) are in crisis, you can hold them in the knowing of what you know. And they can do the same for you. No one can do this alone.