Walking out the Door.
Has someone ever come up to you, thinking they know you, and started chatting away about people and events you have no knowledge of?
You wonder who they’re speaking to. Suddenly, they wake up and realize that they don’t know you, that you only looked like someone they know or knew.
This is happening to me now. People are writing and speaking to me as if they know me. They don’t. I wonder who they think I am. I wonder who they’re speaking to. I wonder why they aren’t more present with themselves, and me.
It is quite common, isn’t it, to assume that we know people, because their name and face and voice are familiar? But we have to be careful, because something may have happened in their hypocenter, the underground focus point of an earthquake. They may have lived through an earthquake, a demolition of their previous self.
Without our noticing, their entire identity, history, and being may have shifted so suddenly and totally as to make them a new person. Not the old person with new ideas, experiences, and beliefs, but a new person, one we’ve never met. This can happen to anyone, to all of us. It’s often why we undertake personal and spiritual growth work: to become something utterly new.
If we are to serve and support each other in our growth, change and transformation, then we must approach each other with care, especially those closest to us, those we think we know. If we are not careful, our knowing will create a prison for them and us.
Can we approach each other with this level of care, being willing to both know and not know, suspending easy and habitual projections, in order that we may all truly have the opportunity to grow, change, and transform?
Whatever the answer to this question may be, we each ought to be true to who we are, who we’ve become. You know as well as I do what it feels like to pretend to be someone you’re not, to accept and cooperate with the projections of others. It makes you feel sick, doesn’t it? Self-betrayal leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth.
I love Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, “Sometimes a Man”:
Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.
And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.
And another man, who remains inside his own house,
dies there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot.
I can’t remember when it was, the exact day or time, not even the month or year, that I stood up during supper and walked out the door. The children of my past do not know me. But this walking out the door is a common experience for me now. I live right on an earthquake fault line. Earthquakes happen all the time. I don’t know how this happens. It just does. I don’t know myself, from one day to the next.
If I were to try to articulate who I am, given this condition, I would say that I am a shape-shifting someone whose eternal parents are freedom and spontaneity. I am always being born. I live for a time. Then I die. And so it goes. The through line might be termed creative self-expression.
This probably means that I express freedom and spontaneity through creative self-expression, without conscious knowledge of whoever I might have been prior to the most recent earthquake. I don’t know who I am; I find out moment to moment through living, through speaking, through acting. But demolition and death by earthquake is always a moment away.
On August 7, 1974, Philippe Petit, the French high-wire artist, walked across a wire he had strung between the two World Trade Center towers. He was on that wire, a quarter mile above ground, for 45 minutes. It was such a catastrophic enterprise, so beyond imagining, a feat of such daring that he walked from one life to another. When he was finished, he left his past. No one could follow him.
He had become someone else on that wire.
I wonder what might happen if we were to truly let go of the self we were, and let go of the images we hold of others. I wonder what might happen if we stood up at supper, or breakfast, and walked out the door. I wonder what might happen in 45 minutes, a quarter mile above ground, with nothing but self-surrender to steady us and keep us safe, if never the same.
Safe, but never the same. Safe in not knowing, but in constant discovering. Safe in freedom — from the mind, from self-image and past and future and becoming and wounds and sorrows and joys and hope and wishes and certainties. Safe in freedom. Walk out the door. Good luck.
Robert Rabbin began his professional journey in 1985, after spending 10 years living and working with meditation master Swami Muktananda. Since then, he has developed an international reputation as a radically brilliant speaker and public speaking guru, as well as a distinguished self-awareness facilitator, leadership adviser, and personal mentor. Robert is the creative source and director of Speaking Truthfully, through which he offers masterclasses and private mentoring in authentic self-expression and public speaking. He has published eight books and more than 200 articles on authentic living and public speaking, leadership, self-inquiry, spiritual activism, and meditation. In January 2012, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, and was told he had a few months to live. However, in keeping with his contrarian nature, he continues to thrive past the predicted use-by date. He lives in Los Angeles, and can be contacted via his website.