“Your playing small does not serve the world”
Have you heard this sentence before? Do you know where it comes from?
It is from a passage written by Marianne Williamson that was introduced to me for the first time when I was absolutely not ready to read it. It was suggested to me that I show this passage to my clients for their own personal growth, so I read it and, honestly, thought that it was a little bit to ‘airy fairy’, a little bit too flouncy, a little bit too fluffy, a little bit too…
…true? I personally was not ready to heed its meaning and therefore was not ready to present it to anybody else.
So I now present it to you: are you ready to heed the meaning?
Is it the fear of failing or the fear that we might really succeed that most frightens us? The thought of facing our fears can be hugely terrifying – we like to live within our self imposed ‘safety net’. Taking that a stage further, the thought of demolishing our fear and being an enormous success also brings with it a mammoth helping of terror. But then the idea of being “brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous”, my goodness, are you ready to go there yet?
(I faced my fears yet again this weekend by somersaulting off a trampoline for the first time in my life. Pretty liberating when you’re the ‘wrong’ side of 35! I then continued to do it again and again and had so much fun. Isn’t it amazing what our fears are ‘protecting’ us from?)
“As we let our own light shine we unconsciously give others permission to do the same”
We have all felt this: it is the gift in the simple act of smiling at a stranger as you walk along the street. They smile back and you both feel a little bit happier. Happiness engenders happiness, just as strength engenders strength, success engenders success. So in being too modest, in playing the humble wallflower, in being ‘too British’ with that stiff upper lip preventing us from speaking up to announce our triumphs, we shine less and others around us follow suit, dimming their lamps for fear of dazzling those around them.
I was asked a question at the end of last year by someone very important in my life: “Where is the richest place on earth?”
After thinking for a while I decided my answer was, “the richest place on earth is inside your heart” as I had concluded that love is the most precious thing I could think of and that the residence of love was the heart. Apparently not. I learned that this was actually a question posed many times before by a controversial preacher named Myles Munroe (who was sadly recently deceased). He said, “the graveyard is the richest place on the surface of the earth because there you will see the books that were not published, ideas that were not harnessed, songs that were not sung and drama pieces that were never acted”.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? But it gave me cause for further thought and I have to say I don’t wholeheartedly agree with Myles Munroe. Is it really the potential books, ideas, songs and drama pieces that are the riches we leave behind? I can’t help returning to my thoughts of love and the richest place being inside your heart – where do we find the lost loves, or loves we left behind when we departed this life leaving our earthly remains in the aforementioned graveyard?
And so I turned to my inspirational and knowledgeable Mother who has spent her entire adult life caring for others in the medical profession, most recently working tirelessly for nearly 20 years as a specialist in palliative care (for the uninitiated, the care of those who are on the road towards death). My mum is one of the few who knows much about the thoughts of many and varied people who are now dearly departed, not long before they dearly depart, from many and varied conversations at bedsides as their soul prepares to leave this place for the next.
What are the things that people regret, the wishes and dreams that have passed folk by during their lives, what touches people the most as they take their last few breaths on the surface of this earth that we call home?
I called mum at work to ask her; her answers were succinct, clear, concise and comprised of three main categories which, she said, are experienced to some degree by almost all people as they live their last few moments and take their last few breaths:
1. Family: The feeling of missing our family, of missing out on what happens next, of not being there to support loved ones, of leaving loved ones behind and not being part of their lives.
2. Relationship/Love: Loves lost or failed relationships. Problematic relations with children due to familial problems or difficulties, or our children being estranged. Loved ones being geographically distant and our life ending having not been able to say goodbye. Or dying before we have chance to heal the wounds we left in the wake of life.
3. Knowledge: Where does our knowledge go, is it all lost? All that time spent studying, learning, gathering a lifetime of information around our own particular specialist subjects, linked to our own particular memories of events. Where does all that accumulated ‘knowing’ go?
Thank you Mum for your wise words that have given me cause to disagree, at least in part, with the late preacher Myles Munroe’s assertion. If the regrets upon our death bed are focused primarily around family, relationships, love and knowledge, then surely the graveyard will be littered with regrets of a different nature. What about the opportunities to spend time with our families that were not harnessed because we were too busy making money in our office cubicle, with colleagues whom we saw more than our loved ones. Then of course there would be the remains of words we never said to repair a broken heart, deeds that were never done to reach out and express our love to our estranged children, wounds left open and untreated after harsh words were spoken or trips that were never taken to visit our families and loved ones around the world.
But finally, the graveyard would be drenched in the knowledge that we never shared, thoughts that were not developed into prose, ideas that will die with us – here I think the final thoughts of so many echo the theory presented by Preacher Munroe. In not sharing our knowledge, in not leaving a written or spoken legacy to allow future generations to benefit from our years of experience, we may well have missed our cultural calling. Herein lie Munroe’s “books that were not published, ideas that were not harnessed, songs that were not sung and drama pieces that were never acted”.
So the message here is balance, as in so many areas of life when we really break things down. Make the time in your life to really, truly be with your family. Not just to be in the same room or the same house while each of you stares with technologically-induced inebriation at your smart-device of choice, but actually being together and making sure that you savour every moment, knowing that not making the most of this now will be your single biggest regret in the future.
(Just to clarify, there was no death-bed mention of the time we didn’t get to spend with our colleagues in the office, hanging out drinking coffee by the photocopier, or of the dollars/pounds that we never earned to bulk out our savings plan, or of that one last hour spent surfing the internet page de jour)
And next, make time to fix what is broken. If you have dealt harsh words, make your peace and apologise. If you have received harsh words, make your peace through forgiveness. If your loved ones are estranged, be the one to make the first step towards a resolution. Bitterness met with love, resentment met with forgiveness, frustration met with understanding, these are the things that can heal a broken bond and rekindle relationships. Or at the very least, forgive, bring peace and move on.
Finally: share your knowledge! I broke my own mould, my samskara, and overcame many a fear by first publishing my thoughts in this blog that you’re reading today. I had no idea whether anyone even wanted to share in my knowledge, to delve into my thought processes, but a wise friend once posed the question, “who are you to not share what people may benefit from?”
The only certainty in life is death. Morbid? Or realistic? Make sure you face your maker with the satisfaction that your particular, specialised experience and knowledge has been passed on rather than being taken with you to the grave. Write that book! What will it take? Pick up a pen and write. Sing that song, tell that story. Or even start a blog!
So in Marianne Williamson’s quote, “your playing small does not serve the world”, it could be considered that we should all let go of our fears, banish insecurities, ignore the self-doubt and get out there to grab hold of our dreams and passions with both hands, allowing ourselves to shine brighter than we ever thought possible!
I for one do not wish to be buried with my dreams, or with the particular knowledge that I accumulate, rather for them to be shining bright on the earth long after I have departed this place.
And right now I am giving my gift to you,
smiling at you from across the street…
…whilst wholeheartedly giving you the “permission to do the same”.