Aliveness is ready and waiting for us! But what are the conditions that invite us to show up for it? What supports us to dive in?
The summer before I turned 14, I had a soul-expanding experience that holds some clues for me in answering these questions. It also reminds me of what gets in the way of opening to this aliveness that’s perpetually beckoning to me.
I was one of ten girls with their two camp counselors, weary from a full day of paddling heavily laden canoes. We’d found our next overnight spot- a place the locals called “Gold Mine,” a pebbly beach with a wild, wooded hill behind it.
We set up camp. We prepared and ate dinner, then scrubbed our dishes with sand and salt water. When darkness descended, Claire told her counterpart counselor, Tom, to start a campfire in the spot they’d found in the woods. She told him with a wink that he should stay there, as the rest of us would need privacy for “phosphorous follies.”
None of us knew what she meant by this, but the pleasurable gravity in her voice was enticing. We walked awhile down the beach in the darkness, then formed a circle. Claire spoke with allurement about the magic light of phosphorescence in the night waters. I hadn’t known anything about bioluminescence before, and wondered whether she was just making up a camp-type story.
“The best way to experience it,” she said, “is by getting into it.” She began to undress and welcomed us to do the same.
I was shocked at this proposition so casually made. My body said “No!” to getting into the chilling water. I was frightened at the idea of being naked with people I’d only known for a few days.
My 13-year-old self-consciousness and body image issues, and my constitutional restraint, were quickly eroded by the other girls’ following this unusual invitation.
A line of young women stood poised, naked in the dark night. On the count of three, we all ran together, hands linked, into the black water.
I gasped and shouted as the arresting cold collided with my skin. And all of a sudden I wasn’t naked and vulnerable anymore. The water wasn’t black anymore. I was enveloped in magic.
Shimmering, my skin glowed, sparkling with thousands of tiny white-blue stars. Each movement ignited a scintillating sheet of light. I was enraptured in the moment- awake, alive, enthralled. So was each of the formerly self-conscious mermaids around me.
Joy and mystery erupted in the group. How could this miracle have been just hiding under the surface of things? So lucky were we that this treasure was revealed to us!
I would guess we were in the water for less than three minutes. And those less-than-three-minutes have kept twinkling inside me ever since. Recalling it now I still feel the surge of amazement and life-force that I knew, even at 13, must be hidden in plain sight in “ordinary life.”
Direct experience in the beauty of nature has since delivered me many priceless moments of wonder. But “phosphorous follies” touched my soul with particular charge and penetration.
The thrill of setting down the trappings that I unconsciously wrap around myself (my identities, my roles, my masks, my skills, my comforts) and facing myself in the naked truth of my experience is still edgy and still beckoning.
When I choose to let the usual drop away, I am reliably delivered more aliveness, more self-possession, more preciousness. This is a primary reason I find the Enneagram still so generative after close to two decades of studying it.
The Enneagram helps me to readily identify the “usual,” and therefore can open me toward what else might be possible. It reminds me that I have choice, and that my essential self is not satisfied to live within the confines of my old compulsory ways.
The deeper path that the Enneagram has pointed me toward has showed me that nature’s numinousness is in me and around me. It is actually not as rare as having the fortune to glide around in “sea sparkle” (the bloom of the dinoflagellate noctiluca scintillans). It is ever-present and inviting me to pay attention to it. The awareness of this simply gets veiled or obscured by the filter of my type and its world view.
So why is it so easy for us to forget to stay open to life’s preciousness and the potency of direct experience? Why does really showing up in my life seem, in ordinary moments, like risky business or an inconvenience?
Simply put, it is because of our conditioning– the collection of what we’ve all learned about how we are “supposed to be” in the world (to survive, to be OK, loved, safe, etc.). But “putting it simply” like this doesn’t usually propel us to run into the invigorating water.
Your Favorite Outfit
So, let’s use a metaphor to weave it in a bit more. Consider that your conditioning is your clothing- clothing that you assume is part of you, or even who you tell yourself you are.
And let’s say you grew up in a situation where the only acceptable clothing was a green polyester jumpsuit. This was what was expected of you externally, and you developed a structure internally to ensure that it continued.
Older now, you are more experienced and mature. You have jumpsuits in several shades of green, and some of them are of alternative fabrics! In very special circumstances, you might let a trusted someone see you in your green pajamas or, maybe, the orange satin jumpsuit that you usually keep at the bottom of your drawer.
So you’re accomplished enough in the green jumpsuit lifestyle, and yet, in certain moments, you find the jumpsuit difficult (in the bathroom), or constraining (not so comfortable hiking), or even boring (green is fine- but really? every day?). Your dissatisfaction gets overlooked or rejected, however, because how could you be who you are without the jumpsuit? You’re a jumpsuit kind of person! You’re not an evening gown type of person or a sports jersey type of person, after all.
Clothing isn’t a perfect metaphor for enneatype, but I use it to bring attention to how incomplete our definition of “who we take ourselves to be” usually is. Sr. Mary Helen Kelley describes enneatypes as animal skins- a distinctive part of each animal suited to its environment, but not its nature or entirety.
We Are So Much More
When I insist that I am a particular layer or structure within myself, my soul will necessarily feel cramped. And often somewhat deadened.
When we come in contact with this discomfort or the desire for more aliveness, it can feel threatening. After all, we rely on our type structure to give us a consistent sense of self and the world. To loosen this up can shake the ground we think we stand on.
Maybe you’re not sure whether you want to get naked with yourself- after all, what might you find? Maybe you worry you’d be rejected, disoriented, adrift, or alone? Or maybe you worry that you are indeed far more powerful, mysterious and beautiful that you can imagine?
As a 13 year old, I was given the gift of briefly experiencing myself and the world in an illuminated way, where the usual restraints and deadness washed away. Since that time, I have sought out experiences and learning environments that continue bring me back to that vital, but edgy place of vulnerability.
Don’t Go It Alone
It is difficult to do transformative inner work alone. My own layers of ongoing liberation have been leveraged by the support of beloved friends, savvy colleagues, wise teachers, and intentional groups and experiences. I seek out these resources regularly to continue this risky-feeling, but delightful engagement with my vast and dynamic nature. I feel enriched and blessed by the vitality and peace I access through their support.
And what about you? Where are you in your interest in seeing the old layers you operate under? Are you dissatisfied with the places your enneatype reliably takes you? Does your autopilot cause you or others suffering? Are you ready to experience yourself as something more substantial than the conglomeration of predictable patterns and beliefs?
What if there were an accessible way to make contact with your true and radiant nature? What if you could choose to put on (or take off) whichever style of soul-clothing that fit your truth or your fancy?
Your way of walking in the world might change. The quality of your relationships might change. The impact you have on others might change.
In certain moments we’re ready for a radical shift. In other moments we are satisfied to just look freshly at how we are doing things. In still other times, it’s plenty to just work with what’s gripping us in the moment. Any of these can be doorways to our knowing ourselves and our potential in a game-changing way.
I love supporting people in shedding attitudes and beliefs that don’t suit them anymore. It is an honor to help people find more freedom, power and joy in this life.
What is the voice of your soul whispering to you today? What are the clothes it would like to wear? Which is the cold water it’s being invited to run naked into?
Consider paying attention today to what your soul is asking of you. In which ways might aliveness be beckoning to you? Be on the lookout…
Here’s to your dazzling nature wanting to be experienced!