Today it’s my birthday
It’s interesting to think back on how I’ve celebrated, or not, throughout the years. Birthdays are an excellent litmus for beliefs about worthiness and maybe even celebrations in general.
My earliest memory of a birthday is at about nine years old.
A cloud of gloom had seized me. I was anxious and very uncomfortable. I was unaware at the time, but I had the ironclad hope, no, expectation that my birthday be different from all the other days. It needed to be special. I needed to feel special.
So when I woke to commute to school, same as any other day, with the same 40-lb backpack, same violin case, same cold air raging in my face down mid-town Manhattan avenues under the same gray sky. I was already pretty miserable by the time I got to school.
Everything spilled on me. Somehow I was the last to be noticed. Even with my doubts, I’ve always been decent at creating stories and the one I lived for many of my pre and adolescent birthdays was: I am not special unless I’m special on my birthday.
That year had the potential to shatter my heavy birthday story. My mother surprised me with an ice-skating party, something I didn’t even know existed. There was glee, relief (I am special after all!) and underneath, there was shame about how I was so thoroughly caught off guard and had such a miserable day over it. I figured I should have known that I’d be special… that someone would remember… or I should have told someone at school it was my birthday…
Who knows what else ran through my gloomy little psyche.
The need to be special led to some extravagant parties.
Sleepovers, then secret parties, then college-sized blowouts, then post college carnival-like affairs. Each spectacle, bigger than the last. In between, there were sprinklings of gloom during the years I couldn’t live up to the magnitude of plans I would make or when I didn’t feel up to socializing. A secret I had yet to admit to myself was that I didn’t always like or want big blowouts. I just felt I needed to have them, you know, to keep being special and all.
And then I found spiritual practice
A while after my gloom had had time to blossom into full-scale depression, I found a spiritual practice where I noticed lots of things that were previously unexamined. Eventually, I noticed this whole deal about birthdays and being special. Even so, I regretted not one of my crazy parties.
Looking back I could remember celebrating with people that were important to me and experiences that were truly unique. Things I valued. Things I treasured. At the same time, considering my fearful motivations and the way in which I would stray from own desire to preserve the notion of specialness, at least 30% of all my birthday celebrating thus far had been a sham.
What would birthdays be like with no overwhelming need for specialness?
I had no idea. I didn’t know what I wanted. That year, I did nothing for my birthday. I waited for the quiet voice within me to rise and meet me with my authentic desire. I trusted that I could hear it without the roar of needing to be special.
It took a few years.
It’s still soft.
At that time there was a part of me that asked, how I would know that I was special without the fuss!? It asked, how I could be so selfish by not celebrating? And so on. This part seemed to partner with the people around me who had come to expect a fuss around my birthday and didn’t altogether trust me when I told them that I was going to do nothing.
They wondered if I wanted them to surprise me or plan something for me. They wondered if they needed to be psychic. I reassured them and the part of myself that was very much afraid of inner silence, nothingness, and not celebrating. And I waited.
A Mini Awareness Practice
Waiting for my authentic desire has turned into its own thing. I still struggle with alternating between being still and looking for the special. Every year I practice. I pause before jumping into assumptions and plans, and I consciously ask myself:
What did you believe about birthdays in the past?
What do you believe about birthdays now?
This year, what birthday plans, if any, align with your intentions?
Each year, the part of me that asks gets more distant from the part of me that answers and my awareness grows. Lately, I let the part of me that witnesses do the birthday planning. Try this for yourself!
What do you believe about birthdays?
Answer in the comments
This Mini-practice has grown
read the updated version
1 Teddy Candle photo via www.pdpics.com
2 Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (1893) celebrating the new year (edited by the author for Hyperallergic) via http://hyperallergic.com