Lately, I’ve been enjoying listening to Brian Johnson’s Philosopher’s Notes. In them, he condenses wisdom literature both old and new into their essential messages. He sent me to authentichappiness.com to take a test to discover my current top strengths. This is no vanity fair quiz; it’s 240 questions designed by professionals to unearth your greatest strengths. To my surprise, none of my top 5 were things I felt like came naturally to me. Many of them were virtues I had cultivated purposefully under the influence of yoga!
As a child, I was angry, defensive, and unhappy. I felt like it was me against the rest of the world. I had the sense that in order to be loved and accepted, I needed to be perfect. So I built a wall against the world. A shell to hide how imperfect I really was. I responded in anger when I was hurt. In sarcasm, when I felt dumb. Never, never show weakness.
In college, I majored in theatre. Originally, I had the intention of focusing on acting, but I soon learned that unlike in community theatre, here they expected us to be vulnerable on stage. No way. I remember a specific assignment my Freshman year… to write monologue that shows a part of ourselves that we normally keep hidden. Mine was about how there was no way in hell that I was going to reveal myself on stage like that. I didn’t get a very good grade on that assignment. And I began to gravitate towards directing and stage management. There, I could pretend to be perfect. I could be safe.
When I began to practice yoga, something in me softened. When I became a mother, another piece of my armor melted away. I remember one evening, looking into my newborn baby’s eyes and thinking “Omigod, she can see right into me. She knows everything about me.”. I actually felt embarrassed to be seen that deeply. By a baby! But I soon discovered that however deeply she could see into me, she did not judge. She did not expect me to be perfect. All she wanted was milk, warmth, and cuddles.
When I started teaching yoga however, all my old insecurities came rushing back. Nobody would like my classes, unless they were perfect, right? Slowly, slowly, the practice of getting up in front of a group and talking about yogic philosophy began to work its magic on me. In a way, the very malady that caused my misery helped me to heal it. In an effort to keep my classes interesting and rich, I studied yoga philosophy. And in order to be able to speak with truth, I began to practice what I taught. So began the most profound shift of my life.
“Look for the good”, I said. So I began to look for the good. “Don’t expect perfection”, I said. So I began to allow myself to be imperfect. “The darkness leads to the light”, I said. And I began practicing gratitude in the darkest times. “You are divine inside” I said. And, yes, I started to be able to feel it!
If I’m honest, I’ll admit that there are some days that these practices are easier than others. In fact, being without armor sometimes makes life hurt even more. But now I have an awareness around the pain. Awareness that it will not last. Awareness that it enriches my life and increases my capacity for compassion. And awareness that the darkness itself always leads me back to the light.
So thank you to all of you who have ever taken a class with me and a special shout out to those of you who show up regularly week after week, even when it’s hard. Each of you, by trusting me, has given me the courage to trust myself.