A grateful heart grows in size as it gathers in all the goodness that surrounds A cynical heart licks its wounds as it shrivels and becomes saturated with complaints Perspective is all that separates the two both can be formed or found in any circumstance or station of life Let us not be fooled by the feeling of not enough lest it linger on despite all we continue to acquire The mind may hold habits that are hard to break of looking for lack feeling justified when it always finds what it seeks Creating illusions of darkness and depravation despair solidified through misunderstanding and fear disguised as certainty Failing to see the joyous truth that the mind's fruitful efforts merely prove it's own power to shape our reality through sheer focus Nothing has been lost it's not too late to turn the tides in our favor and refocus our gaze toward the sun The source of light that has formed the shadows we fixate on yet fail to see fully Finding balance so we may behold the beauty of duality becoming like water to withstand the push and pull of reality The deep hollows made by hardship leave more space for love to fill our laughter resonates deeper through the caverns carved by sorrow may we cultivate a container that can hold it all
Pain makes me brave. Pain makes me honest. Pain makes me face the world with everything that I have. Sometimes it takes pain to show me what really matters, what I’ve been missing, what I’ve been taking for granted. When I’m comfortable I get bored. I become afraid to make any change at all. Even when it’s a change that needs to be made. I’m so afraid of shaking up the status quo that I’ve become accustomed to that sometimes “comfort” can be transformed into something worse than pain. Like a frog slowly being cooked alive in a tepid water that gradually begins to boil. I don’t realize how bad I’ve allowed things to get until it’s too late.
When something abruptly smashes into my comfortable complacency, there is fear, there is agony, but there is also opportunity. I am forced to change direction. I am forced to gather up the pieces of my life and create something entirely new. I am forced to be my own ally again. There is a haunting, fierce, indescribable beauty in pain. There is strength and resiliency and the birth of new hope after the fall. There is even a sense of surprise and pride in finding out just how much we are actually able to take without being broken. There is something awe inspiring when we lift our head from our tear-stained hands and realize, “I’m still here. I’m alive. This isn’t the end.”
There is great freedom in the feeling of having nothing to lose. There is a boldness that emerges, a confidence, even an urgency to go after what we truly want. Pain brings clarity and curiosity. Everything feels a little more real, a little more defined. Pain is the springboard for passion and creativity. It is a necessary evil. These are the reasons I find myself having a very complex relationship with pain, grief, and loss. Part of me finds a strange comfort in pain, an odd feeling of safety after losing it all. The burden of trying to hold it all together, the burden of grasping and clinging on to life is lifted for a moment. This brings a twinge of pleasure that blends into the pain. For me, pain is always bittersweet.
I’ve come to realize that the reason communication and confrontation are so hard, is not because I don’t know how to articulate my thoughts and feelings. It’s not that I don’t know what to say or how I feel. I’ve never had any issue explaining myself to a third party. But when I find myself facing the person I really want to talk to, I become so consumed with fear that I can’t focus. My mind becomes clouded with thoughts of what they will think or how they will respond to what I’m saying. Are they going to look at me differently? Are they going to be upset? Will they leave? Will our relationship change? Will they misunderstand me? Will I be able to respond adequately to whatever they say back to me? These concerns are so overwhelming that I tend to stay silent instead of having some of the most important, necessary, and intimate conversations. It is only once I feel as though I’ve already lost someone, that I find the courage to be open and honest with them.
In an instant our most painful experiences can become our greatest sources of strength. I look back on some of the darkest moments in my life with a sense of compassion and a knowing tenderness. It’s only much later that we gain the perspective to see the ways in which the harrowing experiences we go through are the very things that strengthen us, give us courage, and provide the pivot we didn’t even know we needed in life. Yes, pain is hard. Loss is hard. But it’s been said that anything worth doing is hard, and pain is always worth it in the end. Something even more complex and beautiful and real rises from the ashes every time. Be patient.
The older I get the more I find myself conceding to the inevitable fact that life is a balancing act. No matter how much I strive to categorize everything into neat, tidy, consistent boxes, I’m never able to find even a single concept or scenario that doesn’t fluctuate or look utterly different from every angle. Part of my personal practice is trying to make peace with this amorphous, ever shifting, middle ground I’m constantly finding myself in.
It’s especially frustrating trying to find a place to rest when there seems to be no truly solid ground to land on. There are no definitive truths or unshakable facts. Ultimately it is always a choice that I have to make in every moment how I want to view things or where I’d like to focus my attention or perception. We can drive ourselves crazy trying to find a perfect answer or a single solution. With time everything changes and in response we must embrace that fluid nature within ourselves and move with the ebb and flow of life and consciousness.
I have a natural tendency to gravitate towards extremes. I’d even say a defining characteristic of mine is black and white thinking or an all or nothing mentality. I think to a certain extent we all fall into this trap from time to time. It feels unsafe, unstable, and unsatisfying to acknowledge that there are no hard and fast rules or concrete perceptions. Part of the balancing act is sitting with the discomfort of that truth, understanding that most states in life are not mutually exclusive. We have the space inside us to hold it all simultaneously. We can be both happy and sad. We can believe we’re right and understand why others may view us as wrong.
Another difficult aspect of balance for me particularly is when it comes to knowledge. There are some questions that we must accept never finding the answers for. We must cope with the possibility that we are not even asking the right questions. Living side by side with the unknown, the unknowable, is uncomfortable, to be sure. Any missing pieces sow seeds of such doubt in me that I can at times lose faith in my ability to perceive or know anything at all. If I don’t know everything, I quite likely know nothing. This is a duality I battle with constantly.
Balance itself implies that it cannot be held permanently. The idea of balancing evokes a sense of movement. It may create an image of someone slightly wavering or suddenly jerking in an effort to reclaim equilibrium. The quest and the pursuit of balance is a life long battle. This too we must learn to accept. A day will never come when the fear of falling will be absent. The pendulum of life will continue to swing both ways indefinitely, perhaps growing smaller in its repetitive arc, but never finding perfect stillness. While the impermanent and shifting nature of reality and consciousness can be overwhelming, discouraging, and frustrating at times, it is also something to be grateful for. The give and take of the universe is what makes it so alive, so fascinating, so engaging, so worth being a part of. You’ll continue to wobble and fall, but you’ll also find moments of exquisite peace and clarity made all the more poignant by the contrast. Don’t lose heart. You’re doing just fine, even when you find yourself falling.
The colorless, odorless, sunless expanse of this long winter slouches over me, obscuring my heart, shrouding me in icy darkness. Happiness is supposed to come from inside, but if we are all one, doesn’t that mean this bitter cold is also inside of me? Freezing over a joy that only spring can defrost? There is a duality in my very nature that pulls me apart. It is never more apparent than when these alter egos emerge in the face of the changing seasons. I’ve learned my rising/ascendant sign is Gemini, and I feel it.
I can’t reconcile these two sides of myself into one cohesive whole. One version of me is optimistic, playful, lighthearted, full of light, laughter, hope, and joy. This is the me that fell in love with yoga, that weeps at the cruelties I’ve inflicted on myself, that finds blissful stillness in a meditative state, that breaths deep and easy, that finds comfort and safety in gratitude and compassion. This is the me that I was as a child, friendly, curious, open, loving.
When I became a teenager, I thought this part of me was lost forever. I saw it transmuted into a deep inky darkness that bled out and stained every part of my snow white soul. I anguished in the face of the life I saw before me. I learned to hate myself and nearly everyone else too. Reality seemed too unjust, too wretched, too heavy to bear. Many days I cursed myself for being a coward and not bringing it to an end all together. Living and dying both seemed unacceptable and I felt painfully caught in between the two. This self found comfort only in nihilism, in darkness, in the thought of burning it all down some day. I wrapped myself in this darkness and lived in it for years, believing it would be my home forever, or at least as long as I could last.
When I found yoga, mindfulness, meditation, and other self-love practices it was like the sky cracked open and the bright light that shined on me in my early days had returned to me. I couldn’t believe it was possible. I had never thought I would set down the heavy weight of my inner burdens again for even a moment. Each breath was taken into brand new lungs, supplying oxygen to a transformed mind. I was so grateful to be freed from myself, to come back to who I had always hoped I might have been. And just like before, I thought this too would be a permanent and lasting shift.
It is so hard to slip back into the darkness again from that place of peace and light. I feel myself grasping for it even now. In this black, starless night, it is impossible to believe that the sun will rise again, to convince myself to keep moving forward. Harder still is understanding the strange pleasure I derive from the very darkness that plagues me. Part of me enjoys this thick, inky hopelessness. Somehow there is comfort in the weight pressing me into the dust. I find sick joy in the nostalgia of it all, in feeling like this helpless, worthless thing.
It feels nice to indulge myself, to let myself be crushed. I am repelled by my uplifting, spiritual practices, by the very light that I desire. I cradle my wounded heart in sad, despairing songs. I savor the salty taste from licking my long jagged wounds. Despite the pain, it feels more right in the darkness than it ever has in the light. It feels more true. There is no more imposter syndrome. I belong here it seems. It’s easier to identify with my suffering than with my joy in many ways, an energy flowing downstream instead of against the current.
Despite this odd sense of coming home to myself, I’m afraid of resting here. Even though it feels nice to nestle into my inner darkness, I fear if I stop here, I’ll never again find the light that I know I still need. Even so, for now I think I’ll lie my head down for just a moment and give myself permission to rest.
Humility is generally viewed as a good quality. Without it, the most incredible people can become narcissistic and unpleasant to be around. Shame is a bit different. It’s not thought of in a positive light. The mere word brings up feelings of discomfort and maybe even a vague memory of a time when you felt shame in your own life. However, at least in my experience, suddenly encountering a shameful moment is what deflates my ego enough to allow me to find humility again.
Shame is a very interesting emotion. It is definitely one of my least favorite. It cuts deep and leaves lasting scars. But I think that this is because shame may have developed as a means for us to make sure we don’t become separated or exiled from our herd. Shame is generally something that we feel when we are behaving in a way, or doing an act we wouldn’t want others to see or even know about. It’s an important inner valve to help us determine what will cause friction or change the way others in our group view us. Which, in the past, it could have meant a death sentence if we were cast out.
There have been many times in my life where I can recall a jolt of shame immediately redirecting me towards humility and self-reflection when moments before I had been boisterous with an overly-inflated ego. There is nothing wrong with being proud or confident, but sometimes it can get a bit out of hand and start to tip over into conceit. That’s when shame can really come in handy to help us check ourselves before we get out of control.
I had a particularly shame-filled encounter yesterday evening. I won’t go into detail, but I’ve been internally cringing ever since. Part of me still wants to jump out of my skin and pretend it never happened. In the past this would have sent me on a downward spiral of destruction. (Sometimes I go a bit past “humility” and into the realm of self-hatred.) This time, I refused to close my heart to myself and to the world just because I’ve made some big mistakes. Instead of turning away, I’ve been examining what happened more closely. I’ve been asking myself: What has this incident taught me? Is there something to be grateful for in even the most painful, embarrassing moments?
Though it still makes my insides contract whenever my mind glides over the memory, I’m actually glad that it happened the way it did. For one thing, it certainly could have been much worse. Simple embarrassment was a small price to pay considering all the possible alternatives. I’m also glad it happened because it shook me out of my stupor. It quelled my growing rage and judgement of others and deflated my foolish ego. If given the choice I’d pick humility over hubris every time.
Instead of my normal, borderline road rage on my drive home that evening, I drove slowly, mindfully, with grace and compassion for all my fellow humans on the highway. A humble heart is quick to kindness. It’s much easier to hold space for the errors of others when you’ve just been reminded of your own shortcomings in such a direct way. Being embarrassed is a reminder that we all make mistakes. It offers insight into our hopes of how others would respond to those mistakes we make and, in turn, makes us more willing to offer that same understanding to those around us.
Shame is also often the catalyst for a much needed change of direction. There is a small thrill in getting away with a shameful act, and the more often this happens the bolder and more obnoxious we become. Being found out is often necessary before we can really recognize the need for change. And yesterday was definitely a blessing in disguise for me. It was a huge wake up call. It was the kick in the pants I’ve been needing for awhile now. So even though it stung and continues to sting, I’m grateful. In fact I hope that memory brands my soul for years to come as a reminder of who I truly want to be. Shame shows us when we’re not being that version of ourselves.
Now, none of this is to say that shame necessitates some kind of personal change. There are plenty of examples of society teaching us to be ashamed of things that we shouldn’t be ashamed of. For instance, LGBTQ people may feel shame for simply being themselves. Promiscuity in women is often shamed. Victims of violent crimes are even shamed. And there are many more examples of unwarranted shame that is not a call for inner change or redemption. Deep down I believe we are able to decipher the difference. If you’re unsure, as long as you’re not hurting anyone or betraying your own sense or morality, then any shame felt is a challenge to overcome within ourselves, not a call to change.
Humility and shame are a beautiful example of the duality of our experiences in this life. It shows us that even in our darkest moments, there is something to be grateful for. As someone who is a deep lover of learning, I can’t deny that pain is often our greatest teacher. And I’m so thankful that the lesson wasn’t harder. I’m going to make sure that I take it to heart so I don’t have to be taught this lesson a second time. I know that I have been acting against my own interests for many years now. I thank the universe for offering me this opportunity for insight and redirection. I will not waste it.
If you haven’t watched Bo Burnham’s new Netflix special, Inside, you need to go watch it. It is truly a work of art. I haven’t been able to stop singing/listening to his songs for days now. It is surprisingly profound and meaningful while also highlighting the hilarious absurdity of it all. It’s beautifully put together visually and musically. It is the perfect representation of the collective experience of humanity throughout the pandemic. It touches on so many important aspects from mental health to the unsettling advancements of technology to climate change to awareness of social issues.
The best part of the special in my opinion is that just when you start to feel weighed down by some of the heavier topics, he bursts into these little Jeff Bezos songs that absolutely kill me. It’s like, yes, the world is falling apart, your mental health is crumbling, life is full of stress and uncertainty and injustice and death, but hey, Jeffrey Bezos! He’s killing it. He’s doing great. Good for him. It’s too perfect. It’s a reminder that no matter how bad things get, we can still find so much to laugh about. We can still find amusement in the strangest places. We can step back and enjoy the delicious ridiculousness of it all.
Never lose sight of that sense of humor. I’m the first to admit that I have the tendency to take life far too seriously. I struggle to make even the most benign decisions because I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect. I’ve spent years stewing in anger and anxiety about things that I, ultimately, have no control over. While political and social issues are, of course, important, it’s not worth agonizing over every second. Planning and doing the work to improve your life and take good care of yourself matters, but not if you never actually take a moment to find joy in the simple things.
Above all, most of us want to be happy. We have a lot of ideas about what we need to do to ensure that we are and that we don’t “waste” this gift of life. But unfortunately at some point, we all lose sight of the reason we are doing all the things we do. We forget that while we may start with the best intentions, in the end, we don’t have to do anything to be happy, besides allow ourselves to be. We end up making ourselves miserable with the very things we began with the intention of making ourselves happy.
Despite all the pain and suffering in the world and all of my own personal issues, I still truly believe that joy and happiness are the true essence of life. We are all here to explore, learn, and enjoy. Laughter is one of the greatest gifts that we’ve been given. It would be a shame if we didn’t let ourselves have some every day. So make sure that you find time to laugh today! There are so many reasons to be depressed and anxious and angry, but despite it all, there are just as many reasons to be happy and grateful. It’s up to us where to place our focus. I, for one, want to make an effort to enjoy as many moments here as I can.
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. (I am large. I contain multitudes.)Walt Whitman
I am a yoga teacher, a devoted student as well. I am an ancient, quiet, thoughtful, loving soul. I am full of fire and passion and purpose. I am compassionate. I am capable. I am powerful. I am brilliant. This is me at my best. This is me embracing my full potential. My soul, untarnished and gleaming out from within. This is me present and pulsating with the joy of existence. However…
There is another side of me. A self steeped in shame and secrecy. The parts of me that are fearful, hateful, apathetic, envious, greedy, grotesque. This self-hating side of me that holds me prisoner. That ties up my spirit in doubt, in bitterness, in hopelessness. That whispers hateful ideas directly into my head. The part of me that says: This is the real you. The rest is just pathetic pretending. And I believe it.
This is a war wagged within me each and every day. As I lie down on my mat to meditate, I am boundless. I am free. I am happy. But when I stand up that feeling falls away. I leave that version of myself on the mat. I can never take it with me fully. As I go about my self-destructive, mindless daily rituals, it is painful to even remember that other part of myself. It feels like a dream. Or a fanciful character I sometimes play. I feel like an imposter, a fraud. I feel ashamed.
I don’t know why I identify so much more with the negative side of myself. Technically both expressions are me. I just don’t feel worthy enough to claim my higher aspects. Yet I desperately want to believe in the truth of those moments. The time I spend on my yoga mat, in the studio teaching every Saturday, that is not an act. The lovely qualities I am capable of are just as much a part of me as the disturbing ones. No one is perfectly splendid or perfectly awful. I should not feel ashamed of my dual nature. It is only natural.
I want to learn to embrace the side of myself that I admire and allow it to bleed out into my life off the mat more and more. Yet learn to accept that the darker aspects of myself will always be a part of me as well. I want to create harmony between the two and love myself for everything that I am, the good and the bad. I am hopeful that in this coming year I can start to find that healthy blend.