Two nights ago, I found myself doing something I hadn’t done in 12 years: watching a Presidential debate.
Within minutes of engaging the show, my stomach churned at the spectacle of derision. I began to perspire. I writhed uncomfortably in my seat, finding an outlet for dismay in standing and pacing about, then texting a friend, then another, then my sister, desperate to express the boiling of my displeasure. Those threads unfolded with wafts of cynicism and abject defeat:
“This is a train wreck.” “I’m embarrassed.” “It’s gobbledygook.” “I’m just speechless.”
I watched the adult scolding counterpart in grasping turns of “Gotcha” moments. I heard the dark silhouette of the crowd Ooh, Ahh and Hoot against the barking reprimands of journalist moderators.
I voiced aloud in the nighttime quiet of my one-bedroom apartment, “This is what we call leadership?”
But most of all, the dissonant clatter radiating in my every cell was of self-inflicted trauma resurrected from my youngest years when I was politically partisan, and angry, and self-righteous. Waves of it washed over me in with visceral effect.
When I left the world of politics and public service behind in 2009 — quitting my job with a rising state officeholder who was to run for governor in the months ahead — I had abandoned the last remnants of a version of myself I had grown to become: one who had been trending as a child towards hope for helping people but was baptized by fire on September 11, 2001, and thrust with his generation into an era of wars, global conflict, and rabid clashes of culture and religion and ideology that deeply misunderstood, and feared, and learned fast to resent one another.
That was the mold of my adulthood, and I learned to fit it well.
I became a young man afraid of the foreign world and its murderers who may have been few but who were clearly evil and capable of toppling buildings.
Before I could step back to assess an objective big picture, subjective emotion herded me into the nearest group of Us’s with whom I could find identity, solace, a sense of protection — and best of all, a sense of purpose: direct rivals, competition, enemies, in the nearest rival group called Them.
A new age of partisan gridlock was upon us that pinned countryman against countrywoman, and uncorked a drunken froth of fermented rhetoric on a torrential scale against anyone opposite the aisle who said or believed differently.
These are the memories, the Closet Monsters, the shadowy and long-buried shames I face when I turn on the T.V. to see talking heads battle in words and ideas.
But Sunday was different, because I sat down decisive to “look in” towards the spectacle of modern politicking that I had said I had sworn off — if only to swear off a version of myself who once fell drunk and certain on his opinions.
The roaring truth of who I once was, and the version of myself I chose to leave behind, returned to confront me in a flash — like two different souls, competing identities, fighting for control of my one body.
And it shook and shone in my skin.
Karmic memories and shame-fueled lessons bubbled in my every cell; I could taste guilt on my tongue for what I once was and grief for what my small or sizable role in the culture of political hate I once had.
Beyond me, beyond politics, each of us is destined to face the flurry of a Closet Monster when it comes out to play.
In a flash of a moment or a trigger of an old friend, “Who I Once Was,” is suddenly remembered, all over again.
With an experience long avoided, or confrontation that could never be predicted, the ancient incarnation of yourself arrives and appears in stark contrast — or direct challenge — to “Who I Am Now.”
These are moments that shape the fate of “Who I Wish To Be,” come tomorrow.
On the journey to wholeness that we each tread — and desire to fulfill with some combination of love, kindness, purpose, authenticity, abundance and joy — the full spectrum of past, present and future is simultaneously accessible to each of us in every moment.
In my studies and travels across 8 years, 200,000 miles, 19 countries, 8 homes, countless cities and relationships and more “rabbit holes” than I could count, I’ve come to know the Human Soul as something indelible and eternal yet subject to our choice.
The Soul is an energetic being who has itself traveled countless millennia, across galaxies and perhaps dimensions, finding life and meaning and purpose in a winding but constant thread. Where the thread goes, or why, I’m sure that I will never know.
But with the Soul itself here on earth, hovering within or around the skin of the body and the ego of identity we call Me or I or Mine, I do know that our Souls are simultaneously remembered, realized presently, and reshaped in moments like these — “looking in” at the Shadow Monster, or into the heart of what you once were in a shaky sweat of contrast to who you are living to become.
In other words, we remake ourselves anew, every day, in every choice.
Memories and reflections embedded in the psyche are not just impressions of the past, but actions and decisions relived in every moment of their recollection.
Memory is so much more than mental pictures, storyboards, recalled and then pushed away. Memories evoke emotion on a cellular level — and physical, tangible expressions manifest in our bodies. Memories set and stage a play that our Souls live out presently, as if it was happening all over again. All the characters, the actors, and our imagined responses, cast emotional ballads that ring with physical realness across our atoms.
This is what I believe we experience in depression, post traumatic stress, even in familiar and very normal “bad days” when one is stuck in a groove of thought that one cannot seem to shake.
As a teacher of yoga and writing and story, I believe that one of the most heroic duties we can fulfill is to escape these tormenting cycles of thought that drown us from presence, and love, and force us to fearfully hide from the world.
In breath work, meditation, yoga, journaling and more, I teach students how to break this wheel and emerge from its battering, downward cyclone of doubt and pity and self-loathing.
But in other moments — like my night two nights ago — breaking the wheel doesn’t feel like escape from a bad memory.
It feels more like avoiding what your Soul is clamoring for you to remember, confront, and remedy.
Sometimes — and you have to trust yourself to know when that time comes — ignoring the Closet Monster feels like cowardice.
And all the grit, determination, perseverance, defiance and edge you’ve accrued through years of struggle and overcoming feel a sudden surge of self-expression. They want to come out.
Your inner warrior wants to throw open the closet door, and face the monster down.
Listen to that.
I believe your Soul knows it would be counter-productive to the very destiny It is here to fulfill if you were to choose to simply erase, eradicate, escape or shun those ancient fragments of Who You Once Were — because the memories, riddled as they may be with the smoke of shame or self-doubt, ultimately will illuminate your path forward to wholeness, to purpose, to dharma.
In my storytelling work with professionals, change-makers and thought-leaders, every client with whom I’ve worked is striving to orient themselves into a fated future of service, contribution and meaning.
With means that range from rewriting legal structures of businesses to helping post-menopausal women find naturopathic remedies to body pains, the direct path into the Soul’s desired, imagined, or perceived future orientation always appears to be rooted in the Soul’s remembered past: experiences and learned skills, yes, but moreover, especially in the traumas, shames, guilts, fears and grief.
The Closet Monsters.
They are consistently, non-coincidentally, the beginning points to trajectories of Soulful purpose.
There is power and potency for you to “look in” to the things that you, the overlord and captain of your Souls, have abandoned, left behind, sworn away and escaped.
It’s scary to “look in” at the back of the closet of our own pasts, but by revisiting the Closet Monsters and sourcing them for learning, growth, and self-actualization, we begin to transform. The storyboard memories embedded in our psyches are not permanent, we discover, but capable of being reorganized: the hands that shuffle the scenes are those of Forgiveness, and Compassion, and Humility.
The play and its actors take then to the private stage of the mind; only this time, the ballads and monologues are motivating manifestos of a desired future: a new story chosen like wished-upon stars that guide the Soul Ship forward and into tomorrow.
I left what I call “the world of politics,” but what I sought to escape was an incarnation of my Self in this lifetime that my Soul had outgrown, and clamored to transcend.
When I “looked in” to something like a Presidential debate for the first time in 12 years, which may seem innocuous to someone of a different career past (or, a different past Self), all of the Old Me shone and chaffed against the edges of who I have sought to become ever since.
The politics of today is certainly ugly, so it’s not just me who feels unease at the sight of the spectacle of a system that feels like it’s going awry.
And yet, for my Soul, I understand better than ever that the past I left behind was precisely what my Soul required to begin to express itself as something other than partisan, bickering, fearful.
Bound up in that career path was a worldview I bought into, and a way of living, that became chained by labels, fueled by finger-pointing, emboldened by bickering, and revelrous in its own rhetoric. I grew sick from the toxicity.
But if I hadn’t started there, I’d never have learned to outgrow it.
Whatever is the very thing that you fear, revile, detest, or prefer quite comfortably to avoid (like me and politics), I hope you’ll consider looking into the heart of it.
Swing the doors open, and stare directly at the Closet Monsters of your past.
Revisit the realms that repulse you.
Rewrite the stories under the shadow memories that evoke The Old You, whom you swore you’d never be again.
Look in long enough, bravely enough, and firmly enough to transcend the barraging noise of what once drove you mad.
And in the sweating shakes, that clatter of competition as Two Versions of You fight to become the most real, speak peace into them.
Your traveler Soul is carrying a purpose for you to realize, and choose, and choose again. Look to what’s brought you here, and you may find every clue that you require.