I was strolling by myself in the woods one day when I happened upon a river. Since I felt uncomfortably alone in the spot where I stood, I made my way out into the open air towards the gushing water. The constancy and surging strength of the current comforted me. It made me feel less alone.
You see my journey thus far had been harrowing. It had felt like the faster I walked through the forest, the less progress I made. It made no sense. I made no sense.
But here, right next to this bubbling cadence of soul-cleansing water, I stopped my journey completely.
It was time to change my plan of action. The new action plan required that I stop taking any action.
I only needed to be still.
The banks were rocky and appeared to be jutting and jagged in a way that was anything but inviting. Since I could no longer take action, I was forced to sit. Once I sat down I noticed that the rocks were actually quite smooth. They felt good against my crossed-legs and backside. Given I was no longer making progress, I was happy that at least I was comfortable.
I sat in stillness for a long while.
The river called to me.
How does a river call you may wonder? Not by words but by example. A river is a river. It never once in the whole dawn of its existence was anything other than a river. That’s not to say it didn’t evolve over time. Sometimes it was massive in its force, other times it was slow and meandering. Still, it was always a river.
The river’s call was my invitation. It was inviting me to join in its authenticity.
I liked that idea very much but I was afraid.
While I had been sitting in stillness, a crowd of people had gathered behind me on the banks of the river. These were the people I had been trying to find this whole time! My journey was over…or so it seemed.
Somehow, the pull of the river was more powerful than belonging.
I made a choice.
I chose the river and simply waved goodbye to all the people I had so desperately wanted to see.
Of course I still wanted to be with the people. That’s where it’s at, right? We are taught other people are the ticket to loving ourselves. It’s through their acceptance that we are able to have the courage to love ourselves.
But, I didn’t see it quite that way anymore. Maybe the wisdom of the river was on to something. Maybe if I could at least stick my toes in the water, I would no longer care about fitting in with anyone or anywhere. I would let the strength of the river sustain me.
I knew this would be enough.
I quickly slipped off my hiking boots and peeled off my socks. I admit there was still fear within my soul as I endeavored to place my toes into that rushing surface. What if it’s too cold? What if who-I-really-am is not enough?
I did it anyway.
Turns out, the river was everything I never knew I needed and more. Turns out, I was already everything I never knew I needed and more. The river and I were one.
I was emboldened by the joy that flowed through my body simply by connecting with this powerful source of authentic love.
I submerged both my feet.
I may have been alone but I felt more alive than ever before.
I was free.
I knew from that point on I was going to do whatever it took to express whatever was in my heart exactly in the moment that it would arise. The approval of others and the search for belonging were over.
I was home.
As I continued to bask in the river’s love, something caught my attention. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed another brave soul had joined me. They said, “Seeing you in the river has given me the courage to put my toes in, too. Are you sure it’s safe?”
I replied, “It’s 100% safe. You are going to be your truest self when you are in the river. It is the most sustained joy you can experience while being on earth.”
I could tell this was extremely tempting to them. They asked more questions. “But what if my friends and family don’t understand my truest self? What if they leave me?”
In their eyes was the same fear I had experienced a few short moments before. Instead of comforting them, I gave the truth. “Your friends and family may not understand your truest self. They may make fun of you, say hurtful things or when all is said and done, they may walk right out of your life forever.”
At hearing this, the near river adventurer became frozen with doubt.
Even though I knew they did not want to hear more of the truth, I continued. “I didn’t tell you that to stop you in any way. All I can offer you is my example. Here I am. I am standing with both my feet fully submerged in the river. I am free here. I would love to have my family and friends join me, but now I know without hesitation that it’s okay if they don’t. I have a feeling the ones that matter the most to me are going to honor my river journey. In fact, the bravest ones may even join me. All I can do is be me, be free and let them be.”
With that, I took my first giant step towards the other side of the river bank.
I didn’t look back.
Not even once.