“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” –Marianne Williamson
The first time I heard these words was in January 1995, at my first Northern Lights Alternatives AIDS Mastery Workshop (NLA), in Oklahoma City. When I decided to attend the workshop at the urging of my ConnectCare coworker Philip, I had no idea how profoundly it would influence my life. The workshop was so powerful that I drove down to OKC every three months for several years to attend in a supportive role on the “Back Row.” I also attended NLA Workshops in Tulsa and Dallas and helped to bring the Mastery to Wichita. I met people who would become some of my dearest friends and was changed in ways that I could not have imagined. The workshop and the people I met through it were instrumental in helping me make a necessary, if painful, decision and act on it. The core message of the Mastery is that quality of life is not dictated by circumstances or duration, and its motto is “Live with Passion!” It is hard to convey to people who haven’t experienced it just how special the workshop is. This quote by Marianne Williamson was only a small part of the workshop, but it stuck with me and meant a lot to me because of the encouragement it provides to allow ourselves to shine brightly and live our best lives.
Even though the OKC Mastery ceased producing workshops in 2016 because of the changing nature of HIV (a good problem, really), and we stopped in Wichita several years prior, to this day, I carry so much of the Mastery and its people with me, and I am incredibly grateful that it is part of my life. I was deeply changed because of my experience with NLA.
Each of our lives is comprised of so many different experiences melding together to make us who we are. Some of the experiences play minor roles, but still have an additive effect in shaping our identities. There are others that play decisive roles, leading us down the road in one direction or another so that we emerge from our involvement different people than we would have been without those experiences. The Mastery is one of those seminal experiences for me. Biking Across Kansas (BAK) is another.
As I prepared to set out on my bike ride last Sunday, this Williamson quote was the one I randomly selected for contemplation on my ride. Cycling into Mount Hope, Kansas, I thought about these words and the way they connected two pivotal paths in my life—NLA and BAK.
While eating in a small café in Garnett, Kansas on Biking Across Kansas 2003, Kenny and I met three young men who were cycling across the country on a self-supported adventure. We talked for quite a while, listening to their story. Since this journey pre-dated smart phones, they stopped in libraries across the U. S. to update a blog about their travels. In their early 20s, these boys had decided to take on this challenge in order to raise funds for a children’s charity. They wanted to test themselves before life’s commitments got in the way and made a trip like that impossible. They were fascinating, and, after a very pleasant conversation, we ended up exchanging email addresses.
As they continued pedaling across the country, we communicated via email, and I read their blog. Their mission and the spirit behind it reminded me of this Williamson quote, so I sent it to them. The quote is more widely known now, but back then, the only place I had heard it was at the Mastery. After I emailed them the quote, telling them that it made me think of them and what they were doing, they emailed back in awe to say that those exact words from Marianne Williamson were what had inspired their journey. The coincidence felt truly magical. What were the odds?
Thinking about the amazing coincidence, I recognized the intersection of these two very important parts of my life—NLA and BAK. I had been encouraged by both to use the gifts I had been given in ways that allowed me to shine more brightly than before my involvement with either. I had grown as a human through both.
That’s what these boys were doing—using their gifts and allowing their lights to shine brightly so that they could help kids in need, while they celebrated and honored the gifts that they had been given. Their adventure was an inspiration to others, and they grew in the process.
All of us have gifts of various types and degrees. The apparent disparity in the distribution of gifts doesn’t always make sense, but we have an opportunity to use what we have been given to make a positive difference in the world. I have long believed that we have the responsibility to give back in proportion to what we have been given. It is both a privilege and an obligation to shine our lights.
Our stories are powerful ways to do that—both while we are living them and later in the telling of them.
When we live our very best lives, honoring our gifts, we make the difference we are meant to make in the world.
What are some of the pivotal experiences that have shaped your life and inspired you to shine your light brightly, giving others permission to do the same? Every time we do this, allowing our light to spark someone else’s light, the world grows a little brighter. And I think we can all agree that our world needs all the light it can get right now.
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