The Friction of Being Visible

12/01/2011 11:10 am ET | Updated Jan 31, 2012
  • Mark Nepo Author, New York Times bestseller 'The Book of Awakening'

It is only by risking ourselves
from one hour to another
that we live at all.
-- William James

Living through enough, we all come to this understanding, though it is difficult to accept: No matter what path we choose to honor, there will always be conflict to negotiate. If we choose to avoid all conflict with others, we will eventually breed a poisonous conflict within ourselves. Likewise, if we manage to attend our inner lives, who we are will -- sooner or later -- create some discord with those who would rather have us be something else.

In effect, the cost of being who you are is that you can't possibly fit everyone's expectations, and so, there will, inevitably, be external conflict to deal with -- the friction of being visible. Still, the cost of not being who you are is that while you are busy pleasing everyone around you, a precious part of you is dying inside, and so, there will, in this case, be internal conflict to deal with -- the friction of being invisible.

As for me, it's taken me 30 of my 49 years to realize that not being who I am is more deadly, and it has taken the last 19 years to try to make a practice of this. What this means, in a daily way, is that I have to be conscientious about being truthful and resist the urge to accommodate my truth away. It means that being who I really am is not forbidden or muted just because others are uncomfortable or don't want to hear it.

The great examples are legendary: Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Sir Thomas More, Rosa Parks. But we don't have to be great to begin. We simply have to start by saying what we really want for dinner or which movie we really want to see.

* Center yourself and meditate on a decision before you that will generate some conflicts; either within you, if you withhold who you are, or between you and others, if you exert who you are.

* Breathe steadily and feel both the friction of being invisible and the friction of being visible.

* Breathe slowly and know that you are larger than any moment of conflict.

* Breathe deeply and know that who you are can withstand the experience of conflict that living requires.