Some spiritual teachers will tell you that when you’re going through a dark night of the soul, you shouldn’t try to distract yourself from it. They will tell you to sit in it, feel the intensity of it and let its lessons wash over you. Allow it to show you the ugly truths within that you’ve been turning your face away from.
But I don’t always agree with that.
I think stillness is incredibly important. And yes, it’s important to face your sh&t.
But sometimes, the way to move through a dark night of the soul is to actually MOVE. Sometimes the stagnation of the darkness can blind us further. Sometimes we need to get our butts off the couch of our abysmal existential crisis and shake things up.
And so it was that I found myself on a 24 hour plane ride to Bali last year, during one of the darkest times of struggle for my soul. A time when many would have told me the last thing I should be doing is getting on a plane to a country I had never been to before. But there was something there for me, my soul knew it.
You see, something had begun to happen to me in the years prior, it had slowly creeped in like a fog, one minute barely noticeable and suddenly so thick it blanketed all of the cities of my reason. I was questioning who I was, what my work actually was in the world and whether or not it was worth anything.
On my first official morning in Bali, I awoke to the smell of incense wafting in through the wooden door of my tiny, one-room hut overlooking the rice fields. It was a thick smoke and with every inhale I felt as though a temple of refuge was being built inside of the caverns of my very lost heart.
Curious to explore the origin of this heavenly scent, I walked out of my little hut and found a stocky man, with a round, jolly face, dressed in white from head to toe, laying an offering at the altar in front of my hut.
His hands were filled with what seemed to be tiny grass plates, filled with flowers and palm leaves. It was then that I realized, he was doing his daily ritual as resident priest for this village, laying the daily offerings at the feet of all the sacred corners of the property I was on.
He would spend every morning doing this at every home, every place of business, until the entire village was offered up in devotion to the gods.
There was something about that level of devotion that touched me so profoundly, that I must have let out a short little gasp, because he suddenly stopped in his tracks and turned to look at me. His eyes were filled with such a contented peace, such a light of joy that I felt his gaze slice through all of the storms that had been assaulting my heart. I was embarrassed to be seen in such a state of disarray. I must have looked like a crazy woman. Wrinkled pajamas, the humidity of Bali combined with my crazy, curly, disheveled hair from just having woken from a profound, jet lagged sleep. But instead of judging me, he smiled back at me with such acceptance.
With his gaze on me, he walked over to my hut and placed a beautiful offering of flowers, incense and palm leaves at the base of its altar, nodded and left. It was then that I noticed that he had lit one stick of the incense that was normally reserved only for the main altar, also at the tiny altar at my hut. I looked around at the other huts, and mine was the only one that had been gifted this honor. It was as if he knew that the lost resident of that hut needed extra prayers. Needed to love and accept herself more deeply, even in the chaos that was raging inside her mind.
As I realized that I was the sole recipient of this incense, I saw the swish of his white skirt disappear behind the villa’s exit gate and my eyes flooded with tears. I walked to every corner to inspect all of the individual offerings, handmade that morning by women conversing with each other joyfully in Balinese, while children and chickens roamed all around them. They must have made thousands of them, considering how many villas there were in just this one little slice of Balinese heaven.
And each one of them so unique, so imperfect and so beautiful. Each one such an expression of the woman whose hands wove it into being.
In that moment a wave of grace washed over me. As I inspected all of these unique little offerings, so beautiful in their own way, I realized how often we feel that what we have to offer the world is not enough or we hold back from offering anything because, again, we feel it’s not enough, so why bother?
How much we criticize ourselves for not being perfect. How much we hold back the unique magic of our expression because we’re afraid it won’t look like all the others. And how that unique expression is what makes it so stunningly beautiful.
What I learned from the priest’s offerings that day is that every offering is a gift to the world, no matter how small, how imperfect or whether someone sees it or not.
We don’t make our offerings to the world because we want others to see it, we make our offerings because that is what we cannot help but gift to the world.
We are compelled to gift it, out of pure service, out of pure desire to express what is in our soul.
My love, whatever your offering is, gift it to the world.
It makes a difference whether others see it or not.
Some day, a lost, crazy-haired woman will see this beautiful thing over which your hands labored and she will drink in every last drop of devotion that went into every imperfect corner of it. And she will be healed.