I remember as kids when we played outside in the sun, we would end up catching our shadows that the sun would cast behind us on the cement ground. Who remembers doing that as a child? I remember feeling the warmth of the sun, how the sun rays felt against my skin. When I looked back, I would see a shadow on the floor. Every time I moved, the shadow would move. It would either get smaller or it would hide, depending on how I moved. I remember how it made me feel stronger, powerful, and in control. Yet at the same time, I felt all alone, because I had to walk alone. Eventually I would stop playing with my shadow and walk away because it got boring. It never did anything exciting; it always stayed in the background.

Fast forward to adulthood, when I came to the realization that I am the shadow now. I am not the person who is standing tall, feeling the warmth of the sun against my skin, and letting every cell of my body light up brightly, showing the world who I am. I find myself walking in the shadows of other people. I allowed them to take control, to be stronger and more powerful. Most importantly, I allowed them to dim my light and let them shine brighter than me. The more I tried to be my core self and let the true me come out, the more something would come along and crush her. Over time it would hurt less and less, because I started to become more selective about what parts of myself to show people. I would sit and judge myself. I would think about what I can allow people to see, or even what parts of me I can allow them to meet. Over the years of doing that, it became so easy to hide and walk in my own shadow, that I started to lose my essence of who Mari is. When one loses the true essence of themself, it creates an emptiness, a sadness, a loneliness, a feeling of being unloved. I got to a point in my life where that wasn’t working for me anymore. At first, I started to look for things from the outside to fill me up. What I mean by this, is that I allowed people and things around me to validate me feeling loved and trustworthy enough as I am. And yet that emptiness, sadness, and lonely feeling never went away. If anything, what I was feeling grew louder inside me until it caught my attention. Nothing was filling that void.

That is when, with the help of a mentor, I started to reflect internally and realize that all the answers I was looking for my entire life were all within me. Growing up, we are not taught how to look for love and trust. We are not taught to fully step into our core self. We are not taught that it is all within us. We are taught to look for it externally, not internally. Loving yourself unconditionally is the most incredible feeling anyone can have in their life. Knowing that you are perfect for all the good and bad that you are is truly freeing. Loving every cell of your body for what it is and who it is, is when we stop judging what we say, what we think, and what people think of us. Knowing that I am loved by the one important person in my life — me– allows me to see the beauty in myself and all the beauty I create around me. When I started to allow myself to love unconditionally, I started to step out of my shadow and into my own light. I knew all I needed was to trust myself, to love myself unconditionally, and to not hide any part of me out of fear of what people would think or say. I am me. I am here. I am light. I am perfect! I stopped holding back, and for the first time in my life, I met me and I fell in love! Yes, I said it. I am in love with myself. No one should push people away because they think they aren’t good enough. You are perfect exactly the way you are. Allow your heart to open up, allow your heart to love yourself. Walk out of the shadow and into the light. Allow yourself to feel the warmth of the sun hitting your beautiful skin, and let every cell of your body light up and shine. Open your heart and meet who you are, because I guarantee that you will not only fall in love, but you will also have unconditional love for who you are. I have stopped choosing what part of me to share with the world. Now I share every cell of me. Not an ounce of me holds back, whether I am fully showing 100% of my core self, or trusting my actions, or unconditionally loving myself. At the end of the day, only one of me exists in this lifetime. I have chosen to make it count, and I hope you do too!