I once heard a woman describe her meditation practice in three words: Exile. Return. Belonging. Strangely, when she said this, I instantly thought of Judaism.
Now, I'm not Jewish, I've never worshipped in a Synagogue or even attended a bar/bat mitzvah, but I have read what Christians call the "Old Testament." (I was raised very Presbyterian.) And doesn't Genesis begin with the greatest exile of all? The exile of mankind from the Garden of Eden. (There are more exiles, too, of course—the Babylonian exile under King Nebuchadnezzar, for example—but I'm sticking with Eden in this letter. I feel anyone raised in a Judeo-Christian society has heard of Adam and Eve. In fact, I’d find it wildly interesting if you somehow haven't.)
The last thing I expected fostering a meditation practice would do is strengthen my connection with religion—especially since I find components of Christianity quite damaging. (Most of what the Bible says about sexuality I still vehemently disagree with.) But, I am a fan of the "take what resonates and leave the rest" philosophy—and parts of the Bible are shockingly (to me) really resonating metaphorically right now.
I don’t speak of this much, though, because it can feel like the Bible is viewed in one of two extreme ways. Either people take the Bible literally (Virgin Mother and all) or they think the Bible (and all religions) should be completely ignored, and that science, rationality, and facts should be "worshipped." I respect each of those viewpoints.
I just find myself in a different place now, where I am consistently struck by the power of the Bible when read metaphorically. [Obviously, this is just my view, so if you hate un-literal Biblical interpretations or hate talk of religion at all, please feel free to stop reading. :)]
So, back to Eden. Eden is this beautiful garden of God where humans (namely: Adam and Eve) lived peacefully with nature. They had everything they needed; they lived in perfect ease. They were even naked and no one cared, because no one knew to care. It was a place free of shame. They didn't feel ashamed until "after they sinned" when they scrambled to cover themselves with fig leaves in a somewhat pathetic attempt to be clothed. (I picture the classic teenagers-scrambling-to-get-dressed when they hear the garage door opening.) But even with fig leaves, Adam and Eve still felt like shit—and were forever exiled from the beautiful, perfect place of paradise. ("Eden" is Hebrew for paradise.)
Of course a place like Eden sounds completely fictitious for infinite reasons—among them, we live in a world where life feels so hard and where shame is everywhere. We're constantly covering ourselves up—not only physically—but, perhaps more importantly, mentally and emotionally, in order to survive. We believe we cannot show our emotions and live. We believe we cannot be who we truly are.
We hide who we are and then we feel bad internally for hiding our true selves but not brave enough to show ourselves because we are ashamed of that person so we keep hiding and then we, again, feel bad internally for hiding. This is an endless shame cycle. This is the metaphoric equivalent of scrambling to cover our emotional selves with fig leaves. It's not like the fig leaves work. Fig-leaf attire doesn't actually gets the job done, homies. You still feel exposed; you still feel ashamed.
This is the ultimate exile: not external exile from a land, rather, internal exile from yourself.
This feeling—in hindsight—led me to make drastic life changes this year, including cultivating a meditation practice. I felt so far removed from who I knew I was. And beneath the excruciating pain of inner exile, I felt the subtle, yet persistent, longing to return.
Here's the thing: as bad as exile is, I truly believe return is possible.
So, removing the literal lens: What if Eden wasn't a place, but, instead, was a time? Was there a time in your life when you had no shame? When everything was beautiful, peaceful, easy, and full of wonder?
For me (and, of course, I can only answer for me), there was. It was ages zero through about six years old. I remember glimpses: drawing flowers in preschool and knowing they were beautiful, touching Morning Glories and sucking on rhubarb in our backyard in Iowa, eating an infinite number of popsicles. I remember when my two younger sisters, Grace and Janice, were born. I don't quite remember this—but I know there was a time when being naked didn't matter. And I know for certain that, back then, I didn't feel like my body was wrong. I wouldn’t even have been able to grasp that concept. I wore ridiculous mismatched clothing (many photos prove this). I didn't feel too tall or like I had too many moles. I didn't feel like being female was a shortcoming. I didn't feel like I needed to wear a bra or shave my legs or pluck my eyebrows or wear mascara. I just...was.
That state, I think, is paradise. Living like you have nothing to prove. Embodying the feeling state that you are enough.
I'm willing to bet that, at some point, you had everything you needed. Is it possible to open up to the idea that maybe you still do?
Thich Nhat Hanh says:
"If you are fully present in the here and the now, you need only to make a step or to take a breath in order to enter the Kingdom of God."
I love thinking the metaphorical Kingdom of God could be here, in this lifetime—not in some far off, far away "Heaven." I love considering that, maybe, Eden isn't an illusion; maybe the illusion is that we ever left. And yes, maybe we internally exiled ourselves...but the lovely part is this: if you are the problem, you are also the solution.
The Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita (I'm currently reading this beautiful translation) says:
"Only the self is the self's friend.
The self alone the self's enemy."
Isn't there something empowering embedded in those 13 words? Because even though inner exile is terribly painful, you also have everything you need to end it. If you are in your own way, you can also get out of your own way.
You always have the power to return to who you truly are.
Exile. Return. Belonging.
And the returning can feel like paradise.
with Love and with Light,
p.s. Rumi: "The garden of the world has no limits, except in your mind."
p.p.s. In Gypsy by Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks sings:
"And if I was a child and the child was enough,
Enough for me to love, enough to love."
I admit that quote is much better in the context of the song, but I simply had to include it. Also, the last line is: "It all comes down to you." [My personal favorite deity: Queen Stevie. Kidding :)]