Reverend Ronald Kobata wrapped the maroon yarn around his hand. After each revolution, his hand became less and less visible. “Think of this string as the materials, both concrete and abstract, that you use in your everyday life to weave together who you think yourself to be.” He pauses. “Your clothes.” One revolution. “Your shoes.” Another revolution. “Your friends.” And another. “Your hobbies.” He continued to wrap, until soon the Reverend’s hand was no longer visible. “Eventually, your truest self is completely embalmed by your embellishments. No sunlight can get through.” He pauses. “Buddhism teaches us to shed these embellishments to find our truest selves.”
Children wearing boy and girl scout uniforms bearing the mark of the Buddhist Church shifted uncomfortably in the front row, unable to fully connect to the Reverend’s teachings. The adults, however, some visibly parents, some visibly childless, stared intently at the Reverend. His metaphor calmed the raging rivers in my head to a steady flow. Only a night prior had I wondered what my life might feel like if I was in touch with my truest self, at peace with my identity and all my decisions and actions.
The Reverend’s sermon both challenged and reaffirmed a possible path to my personal enlightenment. I’d grown closer to new friends I’d made in the city after spending Friday and Saturday, front to back, with them. It was an emotionally complex two days, peppered with laughs, salted with intimate musings, and spiced with meaningful music.
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free all weekend music festival in Golden Gate Park, set the stage. I roamed alongside three friends, through crowd covered fields from stage to stage, from noon til dusk Friday and Saturday. Upon nightfall on Friday, three of us moved to a different part of town to see a coworker’s music show, and Saturday led us out dancing. Saturday was unusual. I was exhausted after two days straight of the festival, and under most circumstances I would decide to pack it in. However, the weekend was in rhythm. And I was in rhythm with myself and my new friends. I knew continuing could lead to something magically ephemeral.
I have this hypothesis that I’ve closed myself to others because I am overly sensitive to others’ feelings. “You’re an empath. You recognize it, but you don’t own it”. Anne pointed to a streak of light on the left side of my aura polaroid five months ago. It made sense. I knew I took on other people’s feelings. It certainly explained all the guilt I carry when I let someone down, and, inversely, the pride I feel when I meet or exceed implied responsibilities. I directly feel both the pain I inflict and the joy I induce. I’m so fearful of the negative, that often times I recoil from connecting at all. It’s safer inside my protective covering. Saturday night I was proud to consciously come out of that shell and be willing to be more vulnerable.
We stepped out of the bar/club for a breather. A friend lit up a cigarette, then a moment lit up my walls. A shirtless African American man in his late 20s stepped up to the three of us. He wore tattered jeans, curly black locks, large, black pupils and a perplexed smile. First he leaned toward the non-smoking friend. “Beautiful earings. Are they crystal?” he asked. She appreciated the sentiment and told him they were nothing fancy. “Your sign must be water. I can tell. You have a very interesting aura.” My attention was piqued. “I have this ability,” he continued. “I don’t understand it very well, but I’m starting to learn how to use it.” He turned to me, looking me square in the eyes. He leaned forward, as if his head weighed more than his body could handle. “And you’re earth. Your friends are strong, but you weaken them. You drain their energy. You take on their energy. You are an empath.” I stared at him with a wistful smirk. “I know,” I told him. “I just haven’t learned how to accept it, how to own it.” The gap in the man’s two front teeth appeared as he drew a wide smile. “When you know how, you will be able to turn it off and use it only when you need it. Until then, you are assuming the energy of those around you, which can be good, but not always.”
The connections I was making that weekend felt stronger and more satisfying than those I’d made in the past. I attributed that feeling to my new openness to others. I’d improved enough at lowering my walls to allow companions to penetrate. Upon recognizing this peaceful place, I wondered what it would feel like if my truest self could stand its ground at any moment, not solely with friends I trusted enough to let penetrate my defenses, but with mere acquaintances or even strangers. Would that happen once I learned to own and turn off my empathic side? Would my anxieties I had in everyday life subside? Would my mind be set to a consistent calm? What was the key to owning that I am an empath and knowing how to wield the abilities it entails when I need them? Or was I putting to much weight in my thoughts on my identity? Was I wrapping myself in the proverbial maroon yarn by over-thinking my path to enlightenment? No clear answers came, only murk. Resonating the sermon to my life had concurrently delivered reassurance and uncertainty.