by Mariana Velez (2013 Byron Fellow)

I stared at my laptop on the floor. I had tripped on the power cord and sent my computer into the air and onto a neat slam against the floor. In the milliseconds that my most cherished device was still in midair, I was already experiencing flashes of desperation. But as gravity manifested its dire destiny, the array of feelings changed like the colors of a dying fish. The shivers of anxiety that I thought would launch me immediately into the tragic assessment of the damage, the weight of fear that would come with realizing that the various consulting projects and class presentations that I was working on could be irrevocably lost… simply, did not kick in. Instead, I stared at the computer on the floor in a contemplative state of shock, and felt my chest swell in a deep breath of liberation. All my work and so many hours of my life neatly confined into that extravagant assembly of intellect and material, suddenly unavailable, there was nothing that needed to be done.

Before I allowed myself too much freedom, reason kicked in and I rushed to pick up the computer from the floor. With a trembling hand I turned it on and was impressed to see that everything was working perfectly fine. However, the power jack and cord had absorbed the entire hit; they were completely broken and would need to be replaced. I now had a perfect excuse to disconnect from work and enjoy an entire week in Oaxaca.

I reflected upon the event and the feelings it had prompted. I thought of the Jungian concept of synchronicity, that mysterious, non-causal law that suggests that a significant external event corresponds in meaning to an internal state of being. Clearly, I needed a break. But this was far deeper than just being overwhelmed by work. Some intention inside me had unconsciously blocked me from my main source of distraction and had shown me that I was disconnected from the energy that wanted to flow through me; that my ability to receive was, somehow, broken.

This event occurred thirty minutes after a conversation with Gabriel Grant, Byron Fellowship co-founder and mentor. I had been offered various job opportunities, all of which required me to step out of my comfort zone even further than my current independent consulting. I would work with controversial people and untraditional sectors (from the “fervent environmental perspective” that is to say). The challenges and atmosphere of uncertainty loomed, so I decided to reach out to my most recent support network. And so, while I was trying to paint the basic pros and cons picture for Gabe, he wasted no time in asking me one question: What are you afraid of?

In the hour that we spoke I was not able to articulate an answer. I told Gabe that, although I was involved in interesting sustainability projects, I couldn’t really feel like they were amounting to significant change. Meanwhile, I was strenuously fighting against the currents. In between the light-spirited laughter that inevitably flows out of Gabe and that ends up defining the Byron Fellowship experience, he reminded me that: had the great change leaders of the world stopped their mission because of external resistance or because of a necessity to immediately (or ever!) see the fruits of their labor, there would have been no change. “Mariana, what are you afraid of?” he asked me again, but allowed me to dwell on my own for the answer.

Thirty minutes after that, I shocked my laptop into my own same state of inertia.

What was I afraid of? My body was heavy with the tragic, desperate, overwhelming burden that comes with the realization that fixing our environmental mess seems close to impossible. My heart was hidden, comfortably residing in the feeling that it was easier to craft my identity around “knowledge” and “sustainability credentials” than to really be what I wanted to be.  And what do I want to be? I want to be inspiration. I want to be the source from which we can all learn to trust who we are and what we are here to create. I want to be the container of spaces from which apparently conflicting agendas and personalities can design a process that benefits themselves, people and environment. I want to be the sweet voice that announces that a flourishing future is possible, and the drumming steps that take you to the places where that future is being created: now.

And so it hit me. I was not afraid of going against the currents or of not being able to see tangible results. All the possibilities that were at my feet were offering me the opportunity to be what I wanted to be. That was what I was afraid of. I was afraid of the catharsis that my words and my ways caused every time I gave a class, of what seemed to be an innate tendency to “cross over to enemy lines” in my professional arena, of my thirst for disruptive and creative conversations with people that thought nothing like me.  In short, I am afraid of my own power.

Now (with myself and my laptop restored), I am able to name my fears and my vision.  By switching my focus from external events toward expressing my inner vulnerability, I can articulate and be responsible for what I truly want to be. My crisis of confidence, paradoxically, is me trembling in the presence of the possibility of boldly navigating my life and what that would make available for the world. This is the beauty in the storm.

I would like to offer this reflection to all of the Byron Fellows, mentors, and greater community. The Byron Fellowship consisted of a graceful space where we are lovingly and fiercely asked to free ourselves of the fears and the judgments that inhibit us from giving ourselves, others and Earth what we really want to give, and where we are given the tools, exercises, inspiration and support system to do it.

Thank you Byron… and a gift to all who influence my path.