I had dinner at a friend's house a while back, and when time came for dessert, she brought out a mud pie and ice cream. We dug in, complimenting the hostess.
"Thanks, but I bought it at the supermarket" our hostess replied. Stunned silence.
"Like, from their bakery?" someone asked.
"No, from the freezer cabinet" she said calmly.
"Really!?" one of the women around the table burst out, unable to hide her astonishment.
I smiled, because I felt the same astonishment, along with that quiet thrill I always get when someone breaks a rule I wasn't even aware of following.
Buying the desert for a dinner party ready-made at the supermarket? Among most of my (women) friends that's such a no-no it doesn't even exist as a thought. Not because we're such food snobs (well, not only because of that), but because we are very conscious about food. We make raw cheesecakes, strawberry mousse from strawberries we grow in our own gardens, chocolate truffles with dates and almond butter.
Because we like it, for sure, and because we care a lot about eating nutritious food that has been grown in a sustainable way. But also because we have come to expect it from ourselves -- and each other.
"Well, yes. I don't bake and my kid loves this cake." the hostess said.
"But do you cook?" the astonished -- and now curious -- friend asked.
"No, my husband does the cooking. Sometimes I have to of course, but then I just fry some hotdogs, or make pancakes."
"I just don't like it. So I don't do it."
She just doesn't like it. So she doesn't do it. It doesn't get any simpler than that. She chooses to do other stuff with her time and energy, that makes her happier than cooking and baking. Never mind other people's expectations.
It reminded me of another woman who broke another one of my unwritten rules. I was in my twenties, deep into the world of New Age, meditation, women circles and what not. I went to a retreat and on the first night, when we all gathered to introduce ourselves, a very elegant woman walks in and presents herself as our teacher for this weekend. She was draped in beautiful shawls, wearing make up and: high heels.
So what? someone might ask. And rightly so. But I had grown used to these earthy, bohemian women wearing no make up and comfortable sandals. I had grown so used to it that I had come to expect it from any woman claiming to walk a spiritual path. Elegance and high heels did not fit into that picture.
My first thought as I watched her walk into the room was "What? Can you do that?"
And then I smiled, because the thought was so childish, so innocent in a way, and so revealing. I had subscribed to some rule about how you're supposed to look and behave to be a "spiritual" person and I wasn't even aware of it, not until this woman broke that rule.
Without saying a word, without ever trying to make a point, she claimed her right to like what she liked (heels) and look whichever way she wanted to while conducting her life's work, which happened to be in the spiritual growth realm.
This happens every now and then. I bump into someone who allows herself or himself a little more freedom when it comes to honouring their own preferences. It's often in the details, how they talk about themselves, how they dress, how they eat, how they greet you or how they use their money.
It's about the choices they allow themselves to make, in order for their life to fully feel like their own.
It might not be the same choices I would make, but that's not the point. The point is giving yourself permission. And when I see someone who's granted herself that permission, it gives me permission too. It helps me remember that I'm allowed to make choices too.
I already do, I exercise my right to choose to a very large degree these days, but still I discover these unwritten rules, these areas where I've unconsciously adopted a set of values or some code of conduct that is not my own and doesn't necessarily fit me very well.
I love the feeling of spaciousness that comes with letting go of yet another outdated rule, yet another role I've been trying to play.
We do that a lot. Not just when it comes to how we dress and what kind of food we serve. Even as we mature and grow as human beings and as spiritual beings, we adopt new rules, new roles. Sneakier ones, holier ones, and we get away with it because we've now got the language to justify them, and because the people we model them from truly are holy and admirable and authentic.
But the simple truth is that whatever is beautiful and holy in the way another person lives her truth, becomes conceited when we try to mimic it.
We can't borrow someone else's earned wisdom and wear it like an adornment, we have to earn our own.
We have to make our own choices, one after another, based on what we discover is true for us as we live our lives, based on the simple question of what I like and don't like, and this will lead us to our very own brand of authenticity.
And it might not look the way you expected it to. To someone else, your version of truth might look like sloppiness, or perfectionism, or childishness, or obsession.
To you, it feels like something entirely different (that's how you know you're on the right track). To you, it feels like freedom.