(It’s not just love)

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“What the world needs now… is love, sweet love…”

All the way back in 1965, Jackie DeShannon released that song containing lyrics literally everyone would come to know and sing in their heads even as they read them above now.

Those words will never be less true, no matter how many decades or millennia pass. What the world needs now — no matter what version of now it might be — will always be love.

But even moreso, in this now, I have this incessant nagging in my gut naming that what the world needs now is more people being completely and utterly themselves. People who so thoroughly trust and know who they are that to be anyone else is like an abandonment of all that is good. People who are so in love with themselves, and who so embody their own authentic power, that they can do nothing but say what they mean, and do what they deeply desire to do, and in so doing, change everything.

The world needs people who are free.

Can you imagine?

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

-Howard Thurman

I believe that doing love is a product of being who we were always meant to be; who we’ve always felt we were — outside of the societal conditioning, outside of our fear and self-deprecation and insecurities, outside of our self-sabotage. Doing love is remembering our inner child — the freedom of self we had when we could instantly make friends, embrace creativity without fear, and revel freely in the boisterousness of imagination — and embodying that child in the now.

Doing love is an outward expression of an inner reverence for our own humanness.

Practicing being who we are means allowing our actions to grow outward from the seed of our integrity (what we most value), and pursuing our truth with a relentless ferocity. Even if we’re afraid. Whether that looks like making music, writing a book, starting a small business, being a parent, or leading a protest — whatever it is, it must come from nothing more or less than the place that feels most real and honest within yourself.

I deeply believe that we will go no further in life than the degree to which we adhere to our own authenticity. When I ignore my truths, set aside my desires, do what I think will impress others over myself, or spend my efforts doing what I should do, rather than what I want to do, that’s when I lose myself. That’s when my Power slowly fades away… along with my joy, my fire, and a lot of other things.

You can’t be everything at once. Your only job is to breathe and find what makes you come alive and walk towards it — not to suffocate yourself under a bunch of should’s and ought to’s and convictions that are not your burdens to bear.

We have to learn how to prioritize (and believe in) the agency we have over our own narrative above the stories that other people try to write for us.

“Rebellion is as much of a cage as obedience is. They both mean living in reaction to someone else’s way instead of forging your own. Freedom is not being for or against an ideal, but creating your own existence from scratch.”

-Glennon Doyle

“Creating your own existence from scratch” means not adhering to anyone else’s standards or ideals of who you should be; not even adhering to who you’ve been in your past, or where you thought you should go; but taking each day literally down to the moment by moment, and following what your heart, gut, or instinct tell you is the Next Right Thing.

For me, reading the above quote in Untamed was one of the most liberating experiences I’ve had recently. In writing that, what Glennon’s doing is giving us permission to have the resilience, fortitude, and courage to create whatever life we want for ourselves, and to know that as long as we’re doing it for us, out of our own integrity, and not for anyone else, we’re doing the exact right thing we’re supposed to be doing. We’re doing what we need to do, what we must do — the only thing that the world truly requires of us — which is to be fully present in who we are.

Sometimes, this is effortless. Other times, it’s terrifying — especially if you’re anything like me, and have perhaps lived in fear that being who you are hasn’t been, isn’t, or perhaps could never possibly be “enough.”

But you are always enough — any other belief is a lie.

Any. Other. Belief. Is a lie.

“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”

-Howard Thurman

“The sound of the genuine” is the compass within you that points you towards “enough.”

It is the soft reminder that who you are at your core is exactly who you should be; who you were always meant to be; and who is exquisite and loved and perfect in all your human imperfection. This is perhaps one of the most important things that any of us will ever hear.

The sound of the genuine is what calls you towards the vision of what your most fulfilled life could look like, and what keeps you on the path to getting there, moment by moment, step by step, as long as we can learn how to listen.

Of course, the idea of truly embracing how awesome we are can be the most intimidating thing we’ve ever experienced if we’ve never known what it feels like to be truly free.

Most of us have been conditioned our entire lives to push down our gut instinct, ignore our truth, and make ourselves smaller or quieter or more benign so as not to disturb the status quo, because to do so is a threat to all those in power who wish to lay claim to the magic within us.

Sometimes, it’s the most powerful things within us that can terrify us the most.

Therefore, it is the most powerful things within us that we must set free.

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I’ve wasted a lot of time these past few months thinking up ways I can do what I think I “should” because I have this deep, aching desire to help the world, in whatever way I can. I took a deep nosedive into research about systemic racial injustice, and I got so fired up, all I could think of was, I should be out there, I need to do more, what can I do? There’s always more. I’m not doing enough.

The lesson I have to keep re-learning, however, is that the way that I help the world is not by looking for what the world needs, and trying to solve its problems from there. It’s by doing what already comes most naturally to me, and using that as a means of serving the world.

Now, I also acknowledge that no matter how natural something might come to you, there might have been (or might be now) someone or something in your life that just makes it… difficult. It might come in the form of a parent, a boss, or a relationship of any kind offering criticism where they should have leant support, or hostile words due to their own insecurities that you just can’t shake.

For me, it came in the form of a marriage.

I’ve been a writer my whole life — literally since I was eight years old and sending my stories to the Reading Rainbow Young Writers and Illustrators contest. Since I could write, I did. I’ve never known how not to.

And yet I married a man who would tell me, again and again, that I wasn’t a writer. He would tell me I wasn’t writing the right way, or wasn’t writing enough, or that I shouldn’t call myself a writer because I hadn’t published anything. There were many other lies he tried to tell me, and though it’s been years in which I’ve reclaimed so much of my narrative from him, there are still days when I will question my priorities, or think I’m not writing enough, simply because of that bullshit story that one single person in my life tried to write for me.

He was the person holding the strings on the ends of which I lived for four years.

For most of that time, I fought the strings holding me up. I’d been raised by an incredibly strong, compassionate woman, who had taught me how to be strong and compassionate with myself, and how to stand firm in my own authenticity. I can’t imagine how much more I could have lost, had I not been raised to be a warrior for my own sake.

Other times I accepted the strings, sinking into exhaustion, for it was easier to do that than any alternative.

Still other times, I got so used to the stings, I forgot they were even there at all.

But eventually, there came a time when the sound of the genuine was blaring so loudly in my heart, I couldn’t ignore it any longer, and I finally snipped the rope and cut myself free.

Sometimes, your liberation will come just like that: a snap decision based on your gut that says you just can’t take living any other way than the truth anymore.

I don’t know what the barriers you face are, or whose voice you might have in your head singing more criticism than praise. I also don’t know exactly what you need, or how you can best embrace your most authentic life. Only you can know that.

What I do know is how amazing it felt once I finally quieted the lies long enough to follow that which was (and still is) pure and good within me. Sometimes, I have to realign myself with my own authenticity literally multiple times a day, but it’s never less powerful or less effective the more times I do it. In fact, I’d argue it gets even more powerful with repetition.

So here’s what worked for me:

First, I had to quiet the lies.

Which meant I had to identify the lies. Which… has been (and continues to be at times) incredibly difficult.

When you’ve been in an abusive or toxic relationship, even after you get out of it, you might notice how hard it is to be able to tell the difference between lies and the truth. Your partner can tend to spin the argument any way they want that fits their narrative of power and control (even if it’s unintentional), and when they do it enough, you come away so disoriented, it can take a lot of effort to disassociate your true identity from who they told you you were.

One of the biggest things that helped me was consistently asking myself, What would Love say? Or, another way of phrasing it is: What would self-compassion tell me?

“Unlike criticism, which asks if you’re good enough, self-compassion asks, What’s good for you?”

-Kristin Neff

Love will always tell you the truth. Love will always build you up. Love always knows who you are. When you feel your head spinning or your heart sinking, listen for the voice of Love, which is also the voice of the genuine, the voice of the Beloved that is within you and which is you, as well as the voice of self-compassion. And if it’s hard to hear or to find, know that Love can always be created. You have that power.

Second, I had to get honest with myself.

Living an authentic life means not only relinquishing the lies other people tell you, but relinquishing the ones you tell yourself about what you want, what you think you deserve, or who you are.

I had to stop making excuses for why I was staying in something that was slowly suffocating me. If something in your life isn’t resonating with you, no matter how hard you try, then drop it. It’s not worth suffering the consequences of losing yourself in the process.

“Our thoughts either limit us or liberate us. What thoughts are you choosing right now?”

-SmartLiving365

Third, I had to be willing to sit in Stillness.

Unless you can sit in stillness with yourself, and listen — deeply listen — to what’s tugging you deep within, the call of the genuine will seem too unfamiliar to grasp. We tend to be in such a state of constant movement, noise, and distraction, the genuine could be trying to signal us day and night, and we could still miss it.

It took a lot of intentionality and practice, but when I’d sit in that stillness and then dig — really dig — it became easier and easier to hear the call of my own authenticity, to be able to distinguish it from all the noise. Then, when I thought I heard a call, I would simply start to head in that direction.

You don’t have to take a giant leap, quit your job, leave your marriage, or drop everything in order to live an authentic life. All you have to do is begin the journey, one step at a time — in micro-movements, really — and see where it takes you.

That’s it. You sit still. You listen. You get honest. You find the genuine. You take a step.

Then you do that over and over again, until the world begins to open.

“There is no such thing as one-way liberation.”

-Elizabeth Gilbert

As your world opens, so, too, will everyone else’s.

And as their world opens, so, too, will yours.

My name’s Julia. I’m a writer, and these are my COVID-19 weekly letters of encouragement.

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