There’s no other way to start this post than to say that shit got real in yoga teacher training this weekend. We are in the throes of practice teaching a class and on Sunday, I stood up in front of a group of fellow teachers in training, with a well-prepared Sun Salutation B and flow, complete with a few well-timed phrases of encouragement.
I taught it well. And then my teacher called me on the carpet about the way I present myself to the world — about authenticity, and living from a place that’s real and not just “nice” or the way I think I should behave. She had everyone drop to child’s pose, and asked me to teach from within, without the things I’d planned to say. To really go there with what was happening in the room and to “cut the shit.”
I stood in front of my peers like feeling unprepared and shy as a small child. I hadn’t planned this. I was without words or the “perfect” thing to say. I couldn’t make a joke. I bawled like a baby in silence.
It broke me open.
There were several conversations during the weekend where I was challenged in this area, as well as one of the most emotional practices of my entire life, not because it was hard, per se, but because I was challenged to come into my body and be present in a way I haven’t in a long time.
But the more painful realization this weekend was how far away I’ve gotten from my soul, or my true self. Typing that makes my skin crawl, because it’s how I feel, and yet I’ve been so harsh and judgmental of others who write flowery posts about their soul. I used to think it was because I thought it was a silly waste of time; now, I think it’s because when I’m honest with myself, I realize how far away from my own self I’ve gotten.
Growing up, I was a really, really good kid. I got good grades. I never got in trouble at school — I made it through my entire academic career without as much as a tardy or a detention. I was a good Christian girl, and while I wasn’t perfect, I really didn’t stray from rules or what was expected of me until I was 22 years old, stuck in a miserable marriage and more depressed than I’ve ever been in my life. I blew up my whole life: divorce, lost my job, lost tons of friends, and did every “wrong” thing I could think of.
I’ve said for a long time that I missed that time in my life. I was so raw, and yet, I did so many things to find myself. I made art. I read and wrote. I cried a lot. I tried new things. I lived alone, and I ate what I wanted and did what I wanted. For maybe the first time in my whole life, I was myself. I wasn’t sure who that was, but I was bound and determined to find it.
I was also a hot mess financially, an emotional liability to the people around me and totally irresponsible with my heart. But as I’ve put my life back together over the past seven years and stopped being a total wreck, I’ve lost some of that spunk and spirit I had at 23. I’m proud of my ability to be financially responsible and to not be the drunk and sobbing girl at social gatherings, but I miss the joy I felt in taking time for things I’ve deemed silly, like art journaling and walking by the river.
My teacher observed that I’m prolific with words — I’m funny and witty and well-spoken, but it’s a deflection. She’s not wrong. This blog is a perfect example. I used to write just for me, about what was really going on and what I was feeling and over the past few years, I’ve worked to sterilize it as not to offend or upset or overshare. It’s embarrassing to admit just how much I depend on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram to bolster my sense of self, because it seems that people really like “Online Amy” and I worry about what people might think if they really knew me. I know I’m not alone in this. One glance at Pinterest reveals how many people are tying their lives and thoughts in pretty bows and posting them for all to see.
I think that the thing that makes me saddest is that when I was 23, coming through a divorce and leaving the church I grew up in and disappointing people I loved in a significant way for the first time, I swore up and down that I would never lose contact with what I felt inside ever again.
And while some of the things I fell in love with then have remained in tact, I’ve allowed the criticism and opinions of others to determine how I spend my time and what I share. A friend’s criticism about some art I’d made, an outburst about how what I write is ridiculous, some judgy looks about my choices have all been allowed space in my brain and caused me to change the way I spend my time. Someone I barely know disliking something I’ve said on Twitter can derail me for hours. A harsh word from someone I love can literally make me question everything I put into the world. While I’m no longer the little girl or broken young adult I once was, there is a huge part of me who is so terrified of letting my actual self out. I fear criticism, being disliked, saying anything controversial or upsetting others, whether they’re strangers or friends.
I’ve spent a long time pondering where to go from here. At first, I wanted a list of rules and things to do to prove that I was “getting back to my real self.” I wrestled with the idea of deleting my social media presence and changing a lot of things about the way I live. Obviously, those old habits die hard — I literally thought about how I could “win” the game of being present and real and living from my soul.
Andrew, who is the most real person I’ve ever known (and also a way better yogi than I am when it comes to yoga off the mat) suggested small changes and just feeling things out day by day as opposed to grand sweeping changes — after all, writing this blog makes me happy, as do a number of other things I was eager to cut right away. I was reminded of a phrase one of my teachers used repeatedly in a practice on Friday night: breathe and feel.
Breathe and feel. It’s that simple.
For me, that looks like putting away my phone every time there is a human being in front of me, and just enjoying the moment. It means worrying less about making sure all my posts look pretty and perfect. It means giving up things I hate but do because I think it makes me look “good” (namely: RUNNING. I hate that shit. Never again.) and filling it with things I love (like swimming and walking by the river). It means being a little bit quieter when I’m around other people. It means feeling my feelings instead of cracking a joke to detract from them, or trying to be the funniest person in the room. It means getting out my art stuff again and making things with my hands, even when that feels pointless or silly. It means really embracing the things I genuinely love, like green juice and healthy food, but refusing to beat myself up when I eat a burger. It means yoga and meditation, every single day. It means challenging myself to enjoy things I want to be better at, like photography, and to be less afraid of doing hard things. It means dressing my self in the way I feel like dressing, as opposed to a contrived sense of style. It means doing some things I’ve always wanted to do, but felt silly doing, like Zumba. It means crying when I feel like it, as opposed to trying to be so strong and stoic. It means embracing my hippie self, fully.
It means apologizing less and taking things less seriously. It means making time for the things that fill me up and leaving the rest alone.
It means listening to me. Again. And then acting from that place.
I realize that this post is stupid long already (thanks for reading, if you’re hanging in there) but I wanted to close with this quote I found yesterday. I love it. It’s exactly the place I want to live my life from.
“It’s extremely painful and incredibly humbling when we finally turn and face our soul. Because we immediately become face to face with the subtle and not so subtle ways we have consciously and unconsciously abandoned her. Like that time we kept quiet when we knew we should speak. Like that time we said yes, when we knew we should have said no. Like that time we took on that project despite the devastating toll it took on our body. Like that time we stayed in that relationship despite how unhealthy it was. Like that time we followed the crowd, instead of our inner guidance.
Entry into the life of the soul demands a steep price. What’s that price? Falsity. Everything that is not authentic. You see our souls don’t pay attention to the opinions, ideas, beliefs, trends, rules given to us by external authorities, such as the media, politicians, fashion magazines, doctors, spiritual gurus. They don’t seek approval, validation or acceptance from external sources. They know that true power does not come from anything outside of us. True power comes from surrendering to the divine authority within us. Embodying your soul is about living from the inside out. And requires that we ask ourselves on a daily, even an hourly, even a minute to minute basis…‘Does this person, place project, group, teacher, class, book, TV show…does this feel authentic to my soul?’ And then we have to bravely act on that answer.
Here’s to acting bravely, on my own behalf. This post is step one. It’s been so long since I’ve been afraid to hit publish.