I still remember the crescent crowd of cross-legged kids and their sea of faces.
Teachers bobbed between like disciplinary buoys, stoic and unyielding. The mass of peers and protectors faced the north wall of our small school library, which was strange, because for all my years at that private school we students were oriented in the opposite direction whenever a guest speaker came to give a presentation.
But on that day, we were the speakers.
I was 12 or 13 years old, and it was time for my first ever public speaking presentation.
It was a simple academic tradition: a rite of passage for as we broached young adulthood. And public speaking, the notorious phobia for even many adults, was the chosen vessel by which we students would be crowned as now-more-responsible-bearers of our voices, beliefs and ideas.
Even still, a 5-to-7 minute presentation from nearly two decades ago hardly feels like a memorable mark in one’s life!
And yet, today, as I keep with my tradition of sharing an “annual review” essay to reflect on my year-that-was (as I have in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 (twice!) and 2015), I realized that this first public speaking assignment was so formative for me for years to come — but not for the reasons you may think.
The otherwise-forgettable moment in my personal history sparked a frictious relationship — which is not plainly seen in someone who now, a writer and teacher, spends his work and life before others’ eyes and opinions.
So let’s look back:
The incomprehensible number of peers before me; the terror of their judgments!
The anticipation before the presentation was utterly hellish. Student after student marched before the room. I watched nervously as classmates bore the unthinkable reality of standing to face a crowd, and then to be seen by them, and then, by God, to be heard!
Able in youth to perspire with astonishing maturity, I was nervous and it was showing.
This, I may well have been thinking, is anarchy.
At last, my turn to speak finally arrived.
I marched before the room. I took a breath. I began to talk.
Within seconds, chalky edges of dry mouth began to creep toward my throat-corners. My tongue, suddenly Saharan, began to falter. I bit harder and harder on every word so they could not escape my mouth still unsaid.
I filled red, flushed under the agony of so many faces — and, I realized, twice as many eyes!
But that’s all I really remember.
Because I crushed that 5-to-7 minute presentation.
Confronted by the terror of being seen, I left my notecards aside within moments of beginning. I improvised narration. Waving hand across slideshow illustration like a charismatic dictator, and scoring bonus eye contact with faces of enthralled peers, I fell temporarily-obsessed with conveying the vital importance of the subject of my speech.
Regurgitating verbatim what my cousin Steve, a computer security expert, had taught me just days prior about the basics of computer security, I described how hackers operate and some of the ways that they exact their exploitative mayhem.
Surely, I may well have felt in that moment, These very words will save lives!
I came-to from the curious fog of flow to the sound of polite applause, and I shuffled off, dry-mouthed and pit-stained but relieved, and happy, and with a rare sense of self-confidence.
At that age, I couldn’t understand what I had experienced. I felt inexplicably good, but not just because my anxiety had ended. This was something else.
It was as if I had just met, or fallen into the skin of, another version of myself that I had never known before.
Even as a youthful junior high student, I had already come to know well the Me who was afraid, panicked, and just wanted to hide. That was the Me who feigned illness for the first two weeks of sixth grade because he was obligated to be there and flatly refused not having a choice about it.
I had already come to know the Me who was introverted by nature and reluctant to speak up; the Me who was only ever a good-enough student, but never reached for aces; the Me who presented himself with a shred of coolness just to escape attention, because underneath he was anxious, overwhelmed, and saddled by everyone else’s opinions of him.
That was the only Me I had ever really known as a young adult.
I figured it was the only Me.
The real Me.
But now there was this other Me who I had become, if only for a moment. He showed me that when I didn’t hide, even when I wanted to, I might discover who I really was…
This is where the story is supposed to go, “Something in me changed that day. I discovered my vocation. I unlocked my purpose. The rest is history.”
But that’s not what happened.
I didn’t fall in love with public speaking after my first middle school presentation, or discover a passion for sharing my words, or think I might become a teacher someday.
That 5-to-7 minute presentation had given me a subtle awareness of something that wanted my fuller attention. It was my first first-hand experience of a feeling of purpose from giving.
It told me, “Yes, kid. This. You’re onto something. Now, keep going.”
But I missed it. I fumbled with the clue. The lessons didn’t “take.” And they wouldn’t “stick,” for years.
A long, frustrating relationship ensued for years to come. The two seemingly opposite sides to myself battled one another. Every ounce of me wanted to remain in the comfort and known safety of being the Me who said he loathed being seen, hated attention, and would rather hide than confront his fear.
But the Me who gravitated to the stage knew it was where he needed to be. He remembered that curious feeling of being in-flow, and forgetting every fear, and becoming something greater within himself that he had ever before known.
The battle raged from junior high school to high school and college, into my first young career and well after leaving it. My heart ping-ponged between seeking the places and positions that promised a feeling of purpose and contribution, and resenting them altogether.
Luckily for us, every karmic lesson that our souls are here to learn in this lifetime — toward our Self-Actualization — don’t come in once-off chances.
They repeat, endlessly.
They’re provided, seasonally.
Because nearly two decades later, I can look back and see how many clues I missed, and missed, and missed.
More than half my life has been spent searching for the hints that were given to me as a child!
In the last handful of years, I’ve sharpened the knowledge of this spiritual awareness and want to gift it to you:
Nothing is lost, you have not missed your chance, life forgives what you have not yet learned, and you are still being provided for.
I missed more chances than I could count to seize my “one path,” but have stumbled into one that suits me anyway. I believe we surrender far too much personal power to this myth of an idea that implies we only have a certain singular trajectory to “figure out” what our purpose is; it’s a fabrication, a convenient and simple story, that riddles our lives with regret and burdens every decision as being either “the right one” or “the wrong one.”
The ultimate end-goal of our lives isn’t to cross an imaginary finish line somewhere on the horizon.
The journey is to crack the shell of what we hide behind; to unlock the wealth of love and the limitless ability we each possess to become our Whole Selves, to love with abandon, and enliven the world.
And the curriculum we are each meant to learn come back, again and again. The purpose of these recurring lessons is to help us usher our deeper, Higher Selves into reality. Life lessons recur until we can move beyond fractured struggle, self-resentment, competition, anger, insecurity, shame, guilt and confusion.
Arm yourself with this spiritual awareness:
When you see your soul’s curriculum arise, when you sense an “old life lesson” coming back to roost, it is a Universal clue toward your truth, your wholeness, your Self-Actualization.
Today, I have finally tied those first thread-clues from my childhood public speaking presentation into my life and my work.
I still have far yet to go. The bigger tapestry that I intend to make is just but started.
Even still, every personal victory is worthy of celebration!
In 2016, I pressed myself to journey over 44,100 miles and to five new countries. I taught workshops in London, co-hosted a yoga retreat in Costa Rica, and taught nearly 200 yoga classes for upwards of 2,000 students. I welcomed 107,000 unique visitors to my website (hello to you, and thank you!), and grew my business by a full 100%.
Each day, every week, I press myself to the edge of every map I know and call home, call comfortable, call safe. It’s a gift to do it; a privilege to even be able.
I am still striving with all my might towards my Whole Self. Every day I wake up fighting to reside within the Truth of my soul; I demand to give my best Self to the world in ways big and small before I expire.
It’s not easy.
It’s not supposed to be easy.
But if I am able to do anything of the sort, you can, too.
Because the most vital lessons that our souls are here to learn in this lifetime repeat endlessly.
Which means that you are never lost.
You have never missed your chance to awaken fully to your purpose.
You have not left behind the path towards your soul’s mission.
You have not neglected your call to Self-Actualize.
You are not far behind any other’s progress; you are still, and endlessly, being provided for.
You have not lost your childhood chance to take a certain, surefooted trajectory into the life you always dreamed; you stand here and now, today, better and more knowledgeable than ever before, able to open the unlocked door into your Truth.
You have been learning, receiving, and deepening into your Whole Self throughout your journey.
Because the Universe has been providing to you every example that you have ever required.
We exist in this life, beyond raw survival, to thrive. And to be the Whole and True Self is the highest calling. To strive toward that place is to embrace the deepest codes we bear, the truths we carry, the missions our Souls already yearn to embody.
These kinds of vital, cosmic, karmic, soul-lessons that we’re here to learn in this lifetime aren’t provided in once-off chances. They come in waves. Opportunities to learn the crucial curriculum of our lifetimes arrive cyclically, seasonally, repeatedly.
The cosmic mathematics of our Universe are set: you have been given, are being given, and will continue to be given countless gifts in chances for awareness, for learning, for growth, and for transformation. They will lead you towards the ultimate Self-Realization.
Opportunities arrive as frequently as we could ever need. Hints are never lacking. Clues are abundant. The practice is to see them, to receive them, to not doubt their invisible nature.
Sometimes, I think about my childhood event of public speaking for the first time, and wishfully say with hindsight being perfect,
“Had I only realized then what I know now! How much suffering I could have spared myself had I gathered those first clues, embraced those young hints, and realized! I could have found purpose and meaning. I could have begun to share my words years ago. I could have taught so much more by now. I could be so further ahead…”
But it’s the wrong mentality. Our soul’s most vital life lessons arrive as often as each breath. Nothing is lost! The journey to wholeness within is a deepening endeavor into the truths already etched into every fiber of your being.
You don’t exist in this life to strive towards achievements that can be counted, quantified, compared against others.
You exist in this lifetime to embody your infinite nature! You are, at your core, perfectly imperfect. Flawless in every flaw!
Exquisite, beautiful, divine.
On the path to wholeness within, opportunities abound. Take them.
There is no truth greater than that of the human being, self-actualized. No beauty greater than the soul known, evoked, and empowered.
This year, let us resolve to re-learn the lessons that keep manifesting before us: begging our attention, demanding our commitment. In 2017, let’s recommit to the lessons that we say we know we “should have” learned already; the ones we sensed, but missed; the ones we were given hints toward, but instead felt threatened by; the privileged chances we chose to fight, resist, resent.
Forgive yourself for missing them.
And remember that the Divine is still providing you with every chance to awaken.
The big life lessons our souls are here to learn are not once-off moments of discovery. I wish it was so easy! When life lessons repeat themselves, it can feel daunting. Troubling, even.
You may feel a twinge of doubt that begs, “Haven’t I already done this? Haven’t I already learned this before? Why does it find me again? Is there no justice? Am I imprisoned to this fate?”
Discovering what our souls are made up of is not a linear, progressive journey towards a final destination — there’s no finish line to cross that proves “you’ve made it.” Self-actualizing the soul is a lifelong journey. It only makes sense that this journey is a privilege to imbibe for a lifetime.
We’re given plentiful chances to learn our lessons, spot trends, and release karmic patterns.
Because if we weren’t, I would never have taught 200 yoga classes in 2016.
The most important lessons that we have to learn are never learned once. They come back, again and again.
We’re allowed to take our lifetimes to embrace them.
For those of us who care to know our souls and live alongside the mysteries of life, our duty is dive deeper in “ever widening rings of being,” as Rumi says. To continue to learn our truth of the moment.
The inward journey gifts us with the chance to continually refine our approaches to living, so we can keep on living better and better.
There is no time but the ever-present Now to commit to learning what lessons are, again, manifesting before you.
Do your everything to see and feel the clues before you.
Ask for them.
Now is the time for us to endeavor more deeply into our Soul’s work. Let’s learn the truths of who we are, over and over again.
P.S. – If you enjoyed my pictures in this annual review, follow me on Instagram. It’s really the only social media I use these days, and you’ll get a day-to-day look into my life and work.
Miles Traveled: 44,100 (+9.16% from 2015)
Blog Unique Visitors: 107,755 (+18.39% from 2015) from 220 countries
Yoga Students: 1,956 (+91.95% from 2015)
New Countries Visited: 5 (+1 from 2015)