I am wearing a long-sleeved orange shirt I bought at the Gap Outlet in Davis, California two years ago. I spent my last 100 bucks on it and a few other shirts and some pants, my yearly shopping effort.

I stayed overnight in Davis with my sister, who shops almost weekly, and who was visiting from North Carolina for a conference on Minorities in the Sciences.

I drove the 60 miles to see her even though I was strapped for cash and stressed out. She didn’t feel comfortable navigating her way to Oakland on the train, a familiar story I’d heard my sister tell many times about many places.

Growing up I learned to get along by suppressing my feelings and presenting myself as “flexible.” But I’m not flexible. I’m stubborn, unforgiving, short with people, and self-absorbed.

To be yourself is its own reward. No one comes up to you and says “Wow thanks for being yourself at all costs!” (Well actually, someone sent me an email once saying this.)

People tell me all the time they appreciate my “authenticity.” It’s the number one piece of feedback I receive, especially from people whom I have just met. I see how it is admired and also how it is feared.

Like the woman I thought I had made a nice connection with at a writing workshop, who complimented me on my honesty in front of the group and has never confirmed the Facebook friend request I made a few days later.

What is the payoff for “finding” one’s self, for embracing life as an inner journey, for taking responsibility for one’s life?

“The gift of consciousness is consciousness,” says Miki Kashtan, a trainer in Nonviolent Communication with whom I have studied.

That’s it?

Yes, that’s it.

The payoff is being able to say, “I know myself. This is my shadow. This is my light. My life is about becoming more and more accepting of all that I am, all that is.”

I think there should be a warning on the door to yoga classes, just like for cigarettes:

Warning: this is not just exercise. This is a very old consciousness-raising activity, which if followed over time will change your life and you will never be able to go back to being unconscious. Proceed with caution.

I notice now that even if I wanted to go back to sleep, I could not. I’ve spent the past 8 years intentionally cultivating awareness and raising energy.

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only redistributed. That’s the one thing I remember from science class.

If I don’t meditate, if I don’t move (yoga, dance, walking are my favorites), if I don’t write, I begin a slow descent into a gremlin kind of crazy, where paranoia and sloth become my life.

To have a spiritual practice of any kind that helps a person to become more conscious of one’s behavior, to wake up, is a really, really big deal.

There is no turning back, so proceed with caution, and choose with eyes wide open. Sure there are slumps and backsliding, but these are just unconscious attempts to suppress what has already been awakened, that which will not be lulled back to sleep by addictions or obsessions of any velocity.

I last talked to my sister on the New Year. I sent her a handmade birthday card in February. She texted me to say “Thanks.”

Last week my mother told me she is enjoying her recent move to Pittsburg for a research job in her field of Bioinformatics.

“She’s coming up here to visit in May. You’re welcome here too you know if you ever want to see your parents sometime.”

“Oh that’s nice. I’m glad she likes her job.”

“Yeah, but it’s temporary.”

“Well I’ll be up there definitely sometime this Spring.”

My family is so used to me being a certain way, and now they tell me I’ve changed. I have. I have found myself. I have found the will to live.

To live my life the way I want to live it. I am no longer willing to contort myself inside vicarious expectations and half-life dreams long drugged with sleep, ice cream, and watching television.

Finally I get to be a full-fledged human being with a shadow and a light.

What after all is the point of being so renowned for my authenticity if I won’t allow myself to receive its fruit: radical acceptance of what is, radical acceptance of me. Finally. Finally. I get to be me.

Text and images from Beandrea Terese and made available under Creative Commons Licensing. Copyright 2010.

If you feel inspired by this post, I would love to hear what moves you! If you have suggestions for future blog post topics, I welcome that too.