Each of us have moments throughout our lives that come to define us. It might not even seem like a memorable event at the time, but looking back years later we come to realize that it was an important turning point for us. One of the things I find most beautiful about the human experience is how often some of our darkest hours turn into something to be grateful for down the road. We are able to find resiliency and meaning in the most difficult and harrowing of circumstances.
For some reason, I have really been contemplating my past recently. When I was younger it seemed like my memory was an organized folder of events laid out in order. As I’ve collected more and more experiences though, that folder has become a complete mess with huge sections that seem to be missing entirely. As a child, I was sure I’d want to remember everything about my life and have detailed records to look back on fondly once I was older. However, at some point, maybe around the end of high school, I changed my mind. It felt like I was collecting a lot of notebooks full of worthless musings rather than important accounts of my daily life. Besides, I had yet to feel any need to look back through those early diaries.
Now it seems like I’ve changed my mind yet again. I’m quite distressed by how cluttered and unclear my memory has become. At some point I’d like to start working on a timeline of my life, adding details of whatever form as they come to me. That is a daunting endeavor, but I thought I could at least start by recounting some of the significant, what I would consider “defining moments” of my adult life.
1. Discovering Neuroplasticity
This may seem like a silly, impersonal moment to consider as one that defined who I am now, but looking back I know I would not be where I am today without it. Although my education in psychology has not necessarily been a great financial decision in the long run, it provided me with a wealth of information that is priceless to me. I wanted to study in this field because the brain has always fascinated me. I wanted to understand what is was about me that made me feel so different and separate from everyone else. I wanted to learn what was “wrong” with me and how to fix it.
One of the most impactful, useful pieces of knowledge I collected in this pursuit was the concept of neuroplasticity. From the brief bits of psychology I had learned before that, I had assumed that after a certain age (an age I had already unfortunately passed) the brain stopped developing. I felt hopelessly trapped in the thinking patterns and habits that I had already unconsciously been developing my whole life. I wasn’t happy at the time, so I would never be happy.
Finding out that no matter how old we are we have the ability to actively and intentionally change the pathways in our brains, strengthening and forming new connections, was groundbreaking. For the first time in my life, I really felt like I had control over my own happiness. It gave me the hope and confidence I needed to finally trust in all the woo-woo self help nonsense I had always cast aside as wishful thinking. That was the day my journey to create myself truly began.
2. Hopelessness, Helplessness, and Heartbreak
The second defining moment I had as an adult was losing the love of my life for the second time. Although it happened once before, I felt the second instance was more devastating, more final. When this person came back into my life after years of no contact, I actually cried from sheer joy and gratitude. I still remember wishing I believed in God at the time so I would have someone to properly thank for my unimaginable good fortune. Little did I know that hardly over a month later, I would have been cursing that same God as it all came tumbling down around me.
I won’t get into the details, but when he left that day, the pain was so great that I numbed myself from it. I sat is silence for a long time. I was speechless, directionless. I felt utterly hopeless. I felt no other option other than to surrender to that immense ocean of sorrow before me. But that surrender allowed something beautiful to bloom inside me. It made me realize that clinging to the image of happiness I had always had in my head, wouldn’t make it any more possible. I accepted that perhaps I may never achieve that particular dream.
As heartbreaking as it was to let that dream go, when I did it allowed me the space I needed to realize that what I had been envisioning certainly wasn’t the only possible form of happiness. I knew that I had the ability to craft another, different, yet equally happy life for myself. Even if that life would be one I’d spend alone. At that moment I felt a shift. I felt a swell of energy inside me, urging me not to give up just yet.
This is the night I remember when I hear people talking about their “dark night of the soul.” Painful as it was, it taught me that I am much stronger than I thought I could be. It has given me a new image of my inner strength and resilience. It forced me to finally take the reigns of my own life.
3. Yoga Teacher Training
The previous life events were what I believe ultimately prepared me to delve deeper into my yoga journey. When the stars aligned and I somehow found myself in teacher training, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Before then I thought yoga was just about exercise and flexibility. I was shocked and delighted to find that there was so much more to it than that. I am so grateful for all of the amazing things I learned in teacher training that have helped me to continue to deepen my own practice.
It has even helped repair my relationship with spirituality in general. After years of ardent atheism following a Christian upbringing, I never thought that I would be open to anything anywhere near religion or “faith” ever again. I still consider myself an atheist, but that hostility and hatred I once harbored for anything religious or spiritual has finally faded. Yoga has helped me make peace with a lot of the grey areas of life and make peace with myself in general. It is a privilege and an honor to be able to share what I’ve learned and continue to learn with my students each week.
Overall, the combination of these three events in my life completely changed the trajectory I felt my life was on when I was younger. Contemplating these moments reminds me just how amazing this life really is. Just when I start to feel like I know it all and can predict exactly what will happen for me next, life surprises me yet again. What a beautiful thing it is to be a part of this world. I can’t wait to find out what else the universe has in store for me. Stay curious, keep learning, and be open to everything that comes your way. You never know how important it might be.