I am spiritual. That’s no surprise to you if you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time.
But it might be a surprise to you that I haven’t always been comfortable being “out” about my spirituality.
For starters, I was raised in a fairly conservative evangelical Mennonite family where faith was fairly black and white and you didn’t walk labyrinths, make prayer flags, take Buddhist meditation classes, pray to the Divine Feminine, embrace other faith perspectives, or talk about the way God speaks through a deer or a tree.
When I started exploring those things, I was afraid of rejection, and so I kept most of my exploration secret. There was a little too much fear of going to hell if you “worshipped false gods” in those circles, and that fear lingered deep in my own psyche long after I thought I’d dealt with it. I still don’t talk about it very much in some circles, and to be honest, I’m still excavating some of my rejection and fear stories around that. (I still consider myself a Christ-follower, by the way, but my understanding of what that means has shifted dramatically.)
For another thing, I spent a lot of years in the corporate world where any talk of spirituality was strictly taboo. Though I sometimes thought that my staff or the management teams I was on might be better off if we brought mindfulness and more spiritual openness into what we did, I wasn’t confident enough in my own exploration yet to introduce it. Again, it was mostly fear of rejection that kept me silent.
When I quit my job and started my own business, I started out as a split personality, still trying to keep my spirituality mostly in the closet. I had two websites – one was the polished, corporate-looking one I showed potential clients and students in my university classes, and the other was the blog where I explored the things that mattered most to me, including spirituality. Every time someone from the corporate/university world found the blog, I cringed a little, worried that they would no longer take me seriously as a consultant or teacher. There is, after all, an assumption in our culture that being spiritual means that you’re less intellectual and probably a little weaker than others.
About a year and a half ago, I started to realize that maintaining these two public faces was creating angst for me and making me feel disingenuous. After a couple of failed consulting gigs, I realized that I really didn’t want to work with clients who wouldn’t be comfortable with my spirituality. After trying to be something in the classroom I really wasn’t, I realized that my best teaching happened when I was authentically me.
And so I came out. I combined my blog with my website, integrated my spirituality into my consulting/facilitation/teaching work, and got used to stepping into a classroom where students and administration might think me a little “flakey or too woo-woo”.
I can’t tell you that it magically brought me all of the “right” kinds of clients (it’s still a gradual process), but I can tell you that things started to shift. In the very first class I taught after deciding to be more open and sharing my blog with students, I had four students approach me individually, interested in coming to me for coaching because they were looking for something deeper than they could receive in a classroom. And I started to get invitations to do amazing work that fits me perfectly, like the week long artists’ retreat I facilitated last week in Saskatchewan.
Yes, my work has shifted, and I’m sure a few corporate clients have been turned away by language that feels uncomfortable for them, but that’s okay.
More and more, my work is a true expression of who I am, not just the skills I can offer. More and more, I am bringing the full basket of my gifts and wisdom into what I offer.
And the right people are showing up. Almost all of my coaching clients, for example, share stories of how they too are trying to live more authentically and more boldly in a world that expects them to be more “corporate, straight, conventional, unemotional, etc.” They show up with their own fear of rejection stories and I can truly say “I see you.” And in the last six months, I’ve had the opportunity to host half a dozen retreat/workshops that are all about connecting on a deeper, more spiritual way. Again, I am more prepared to host them because I have been on my own journey to this deeper, more authentic place.
Another interesting thing has happened. Some of the people whose rejection I feared are coming forward and saying “Your work resonates with me. I’m curious about labyrinths/mandalas/etc. Can you tell me more?” My own “coming out” is encouraging others to be more honest about their own questions and exploration.
What about you? Do you sometimes feel like a fraud because you’re hiding the titles of the books you read from your colleagues at work? Do you take meditation classes in secret because you don’t want your family to know? Do you furtively read blog posts that make your heart sing, but you’re quite sure nobody in your world would understand? Do you feel like one of my clients, who said she is “kind of a weirdo, but in a good way”? Have you despaired of finding a circle of people like you who have questions that most people think are too “out there”?
You will need to find your own path through this, but you don’t have to do it alone. There are more of us spiritual seekers out here in this big world than you might imagine. Trust me – when I started being more open about my quest, I started connecting with a lot of amazing people who, like me, want to dive into meaningful conversations that go far beyond small talk, straight to the heart.
Here are a few thoughts on how you can begin to move into a more integrated, authentic life:
- Start small. Find at least one person who feels like a safe space to talk about your quest. This might be someone you already know and trust, someone at a yoga class, or a coach like me. Before you start the conversation, though, be sure that the person you’re talking to can respond in a non-judgemental way. If you face judgement in your very first conversation, your authentic you will run further into hiding.
- Find a place where you can be true to yourself. This might be your journal, a secret place in the woods, your favourite coffee shop or bookstore, or your art studio. In that space, commit to being totally honest with yourself about who you are and what you seek in the world. Read the books you want to read, write the truth that longs to be said, and dare to stand in awe of an eagle that seems to have a message just for you.
- Find a practice that connects you with your spiritual Self. There are many options – yoga, dance, meditation, walking, running, painting, mandala-making, etc. Do something that brings you peace and leaves you feeling connected to that authentic part of you that’s been buried under other people’s expectations.
- Practice truthfulness one tiny step at a time. If you are feeling inauthentic at work, find a least one co-worker whom you trust who won’t laugh at you when you admit to going on a meditation retreat. If that feels safe, take another step. You may be surprised to find other secret questers longing for the same conversation.
- Consider your priorities. If your steps to being more authentic at work feel unsafe or leave you feeling judged, consider how important it is to stay there. Is it time to walk away? Are you living a lie if you stay there?
- Recognize that some people will never “get it” and that’s okay. Some people might suggest that you should walk away from anyone who rejects your version of a spiritual quest, but life is far more complex than that. If a family member, for example, doesn’t understand it, then find other topics to talk about in their presence. You don’t need to lie to them, but you also don’t need to reveal your deepest heart to everyone in your life.
- Find community where you feel safe. With the internet making long distance relationships more and more accessible, it has become easier and easier to find circles where you can talk about your questions and spiritual quest. I wouldn’t say that virtual circles replace in-person relationships, but it’s at least a place to start. For example, many of the people who sign up for Lead with Your Wild Heart say that one of the best things about the program is the fact that they no longer feel alone in their quest for authenticity.
- Read a book or two that helps you understand your own quest. A few recommendations: Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, The Seeker’s Guide: Making your Life a Spiritual Adventure, and What We Talk About When We Talk About God.
In all that you do, remember this – this journey is a long one. You don’t get to authentic overnight. It took me many years to realize some of the places I was living a divided life, and I know that there are still more realizations to come.
Take the journey one step at a time, and find companions along the way.