In a recent episode on his podcast, Rob Bell talked about the line from Psalm 137: “we hung our harps upon the willows …” He shared that this was, metaphorically, about being in exile. You can listen to the entire episode here – but something he said will stay with me for a long time:
“Exile” is when we go looking for validation, legitimacy and approval from someone else. It’s being far from home; separated from the Love that was ours all along.
Like all true things, Rob’s words had a resonance. I could feel his observation vibrate in my bones. I could hear my soul say quietly, “yes, that’s true.”
I was exiled for a long time. Although my journey home started in late 2010, I didn’t arrive until early 2016. It was then that I felt at home in myself. It was a wonderful feeling of wholeness and completeness. For me, coming home had so many rewards and benefits. One of them was that I was much less obsessive about my image or how I was perceived by others. Coming home opened up many portals – especially the wisdom and creativity portal that manifested as daily musings to share with the world.
But Rob’s words also pricked me in an uncomfortable way. Despite all of the growth since coming home, I still have a lot of co-dependency tendencies. I strive to be independent, sovereign, a practitioner of healthy non-attachment and interdependence. Yet … if you and I have a friendship or relationship, I do want validation, legitimacy and approval from you. I like to know where I stand with you. I like to know my role. I like to know that you value me. Like all things of the ego, these feelings don’t mean something is necessarily wrong or needs to be fixed. It is just an awareness that these old patterns still exist. Just like having a home, there is always something to work on. This is one of those things.
But there was more to the pricking from Rob’s words than co-dependency. They touched a deeper sense; an undercurrent that had, until now, been unnamed. It was the word “exile”. What I’ve been feeling is a sense of being in exile again.
This feeling began to emerge shortly after the first shelter-in-place order was put in place. Suddenly, all of the movement and busy-ness that felt like life was suspended. Not gone. Just put on hold – like a movie being paused on the screen of life. Based on conversations and paying attention to what people are writing, saying, sharing, I think many of us feel this way.
It is such an evasive feeling; flitting in and out of the shadows of my being. Like a small bird that doesn’t want to be caught. Others have applied their own words to it. Some call it liminality – the suspension between two phases. Others call it impermanence – an “eternal groundlessness”.
But the word that best fits for me is “exile”. In this sense of having our norms and patterns disrupted so profoundly, I ended up in exile from myself. There is a direct correlation between the returning of co-dependency and the feelings of exile brought on by the pandemic.
There is a sense of restlessness … with no destination.
There is a sense of weariness … with no source of respite.
There is boredom … tinged with guilt because I am suffering far less than many people.
There are moments of joy and clarity … but a slipping back into high-functioning despair.
There is a pervasive loneliness … yet a clinging to others.
There is a sameness of the days … yet deeper gratitude for simple things.
Most of all, there is a craving for form, for resolution. Thus the return of the co-dependency traits – seeking those things, those solutions outside of my self.
I want the pandemic to be over so I can return to myself.
But it doesn’t work that way. Home is right here. I don’t need to go someplace or to someone.
So what is the solution?
I can think of only one word: PRESENCE.
This is not a new idea. In fact, it may be the oldest of spiritual teachings. That “home” and “presence” are the same thing. Because of its roots in spirituality and soul, I’ve tended to view presence as an intangible thing; a purely metaphysical state. It was something people more spiritually mature and advanced than I had. It was for monks and hermits.
But something shifted my perspective; made me realize that presence is very practical and truly a warrior trait. In the last episode of the documentary “The Last Dance”, one of Michael Jordan’s biographers said this (I’m somewhat paraphrasing):
“Most people live in fear because we project the past onto the future. Michael was not like that. He was the most intensely present person I’ve ever met. He was a mystic.”
That’s it! Presence is simply choosing to be here. Not because it is some Zen state that detaches us from uncomfortable realities. But because it is really the only option. All we can really do is choose to be here. Presence is reality. Presence is home. The past and the future are illusions. They are exile.
From this came a mantra/commitment that is simple to say but difficult to live: I will be present in the reality of this moment.
It’s quite possible that the greatest gift of all of this upheaval is the spaciousness to work on presence; the time to craft a union between presence, reality and being home in myself. I’m starting to see that working on presence contains within it the challenge I need, the adventure I need, the risk I need.
I will let you know how it goes.