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“Life is the dancer and you are the dance.” ~Eckhardt Tolle

The day I decided to leave acting felt like being exorcised from my own body.

I was twenty-nine and had been dreaming of being an actor from the time I first saw a regional production of Cats around the age of eight.

I spent the next twenty-one years with laser focus on making that dream a reality—voice lessons, dance classes, summer theater intensives, constant late night college rehearsals, and finally, top conservatory training.

Even my mother, who was initially highly uncomfortable with the idea, tossed up her hands when she saw me perform and when she witnessed my resolve.

“You have just always known,” she would say with a sideways smile. “You were meant to do this.”

Acting brought me closer to the divine. I get that now. And though it took me a while, I now say that unapologetically.

What I felt when I was onstage was nothing short of connection to the divine self, to a self I could trust to fly, to do her thing without apology, my deepest self-expression, a high-vibrating force. Perhaps that was why I was so addicted to it, why I felt I needed it to feel alive.

My actor self was a mask, a costume I wore for many years. I believed I needed it to feel seen, to be admired, to become powerful. My talent and successes were proof of my worthiness to live and to be loved. The idea of taking them off instilled mortal fear.

The day I left acting, I had just finished one of my most achingly fulfilling runs. I played a meth addict named Janelle who was struggling for sobriety and love. At the end of the show, I knew the time had come to let go. I knew it was time to move on, that I was meant for work beyond it. Though I knew, it didn’t stop me from sobbing on my bed in the fetal position.

The day I left New York City, I felt like I was being exorcised from my own body.

Silent tears streamed down my face as we drove through Brooklyn en route to Virginia. My heart railed against my rib cage and my intestines temper tantrumed in rebellion.

New York City was where I found myself as an adult, as a professional.

It was where I found my people, my tribe who believed in me, my message, who called me the “white witch.” It is where I became a business woman, developed my own programs, retreats, where I started writing, where I honed my self-expression and channeled it into impact. It is where I started to feel like an independent bad-ass, who could do anything, who could dream things into reality.

I realize now that much like acting, coaching brought me closer to divine. It took me a while to say that, but I say it unapologetically now.

There was an energy that would flow through my veins, crackling with electricity. My focus would narrow and I would feel suspended in time with another human. I didn’t “think.” Information was just there for me. I was relying on a deeper intelligence, and the kicker was that it was the same energy I felt onstage.

Perhaps that is why I became addicted to my professional roles in NYC. Part of me still believed I needed them to feel close to that divine source, to feel powerful, to be worthy of love and of being alive.

When I was left in a new city without my tribe, without that admiration, without the same roles as before, without the ability to easily look into someone’s soul, for a while, I felt lost. I questioned my worth.

The day I became a mother, I felt like I was being exorcised from my own body… quite literally.

Emotionally, I was letting go of all the child selves I had been and bidding farewell to unbridled freedom. Physically, the contraction and pain left me unable to fight, and in a strange way, left me completely open to presence.

On that day, pulling my son from between my legs and onto my chest, I felt intensely connected to the divine. In the months and years following, despite the challenges, the exhaustion, and the constant couts in my ability, I feel the connection to something larger than myself growing and growing, and when I think it can’t get bigger, it just keeps on going.

And though I’m still in my early years, I can already feel myself becoming addicted to the role of mother. 

Part of me still believes I need it to feel those feelings of transcendent connection, of deep intimacy, connection with my children, of deep feminine power. I can feel how much I am already attaching, and how one day, letting go of being needed, letting my children make their own decisions, simply letting them go, will feel like being exorcised from my own body.

One day, I also know I will have to let go of the identity of a daughter, of a wife, of me.

And perhaps that is the dance of letting go of our identities, our roles, our masks and our costumes. They become second skins, and even when they become painful and frayed, we feel we need them to be safe. We feel we need them to experience love, and breaking free may always feel like we are being exorcised from our bodies.

But life never stops moving and never stops demanding our internal growth. We outgrow each phase, and each role with time. Each one eventually falls away as we become larger and more expansive. 

Life never promised to keep us safe. It wasn’t designed that way.

Life, however, will continue to hand us opportunities to become who we really are, to understand ourselves on a deep level, to experience the full breadth of human emotion.

Some of these opportunities will strip us of our false selves and our superficial attachments. Others will invite us and inspire us to play bigger in our own lives. They all serve the same purpose, however, to understand love, and ourselves, with more nuance, with more wisdom.

Life hands us the masks and the costumes until we grow into them fully, then asks us to take them off.

It will hand us the closing of the show, the chapter, and the opportunities to take them off. In doing so, life gives us the option to expand who we are underneath the costumes, to get closer to the divine, the feelings of big love, transcendence and connection in a new way that we have before.

When we attach to the identity costume we are wearing in the moment, it’s like pouring cement over our deepest selves. We are missing the point of the purpose of it, and in doing so, we are refusing our own evolution. The result is that we wind up feeling limited, stuck, and chained.

The identity may be the temporary vehicle of the deeper self, but the guidance of our soul doesn’t care much about them, which is why it may whisper to us to change paths or urge us toward something surprising to us, and scary to our identities.

We always have the self underneath who is trying on the costumes, who is constantly growing bigger and more powerful (if we are listening and feeding it). We never lose it. It is our point of consciousness. It is the life energy that is neither created nor destroyed.

Perhaps the next time life confronts me with an opportunity to take off the costume, to dance naked for a while, or to put on a new coat, I can try to hand it over with a little more grace and trust.

And the truth is, I love trying on the costumes, the masks. I love dancing around in them. Some songs are dark and melancholy. Others are full of joy. Sometimes there is silence and all I can do is lie on the floor.

I recognize, however, that each coat will eventually come off, and it is the self underneath that I am left with, and she is the source of all everything; of deep feminine power, of love, of connection, of presence, of flow, of trust, of belonging. She is who I have always been.

She just needed to see herself mirrored back in all of those costumes to see truly see that.

About Beth Clayton

Beth Clayton is a TedX speaker, lifestyle coach and owner of Soul Body Life. She helps people cut the mind chatter to release from outdated belief systems and past pain so they can connect with their intuition and accelerate momentum in their lives. You can check her out at www.soulbodylife.com and get her free e-book, “The Secrets in Your Sabotage” at http://bit.ly/2rnJkWf.

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