The sweet sadness of loss and long, lonely nights I once viewed as damage chips and cracks to cry over evidence of unworthiness that everyone would see I've learned to understand that old wounds are what weaved me into who I am a wonderful landscape with deep valleys of despair that can be filled up with healing water These dark caverns of past pain create breathtaking contrast and allow me to ascend higher and appreciate the peaceful peaks speckling my span of time here with all consuming beauty I am so grateful for all the tears and the twinges of discomfort that form tight tethers to my past even my small sufferings have been dear friends and teachers to me I've learned how to love my broken pieces
I go back and forth every single day. The clarity it comes to me in choppy waves.Aloha Ke Akua – Nahko Bear (Medicine for the People)
Last month, for perhaps the first time, I truly felt like I was receiving messages from the universe. I was open to little nudges, unseen hands guiding me toward the correct path in life. I’m not usually one to believe in “signs” or “universal messages” but the way they began to pile up and manifest themselves in exactly the right moments really had me paying attention. I was in awe at the way the small suggestions and confirmations I was noticing in my daily life seemed to be telling me exactly what to do, encouraging me to make the decisions I was making. My doubt was at an all time low when it came to this type of thing. I followed with confidence, trust, and a heart open to new experiences despite the fear. The universe was on my side.
Then suddenly this past Monday, just as it appeared I had reached the pinnacle of where the universe was leading me, all the signs started to shift. Why were they saying the opposite of what they seemed to be saying a week or even a few days earlier? Had I misunderstood then? Or was I misinterpreting them now? Or had I been kidding myself the whole time, just seeing what I wanted to see? I still don’t know. I’ll never really know. All I know for sure is that I followed them both times. Even though they started to shift in the opposite direction, perhaps contradicting all I had just put so much effort into doing, I continued to follow with curiosity and faith.
To be more specific, the “signs” I thought I was seeing were all pointing me toward a new career path, telling me it was time to break out of my comfort zone and make big changes in my life. Absolutely bizarre coincidences began appearing all around me, unbelievable opportunities suddenly manifested themselves. I was seeing synchronicities everywhere. There was an electric static feeling in the air. It felt impossible to ignore.
Like I said, on Monday of this week, it all came to a head. I had an interview to be an English teacher at a local high school, and they offered me the job. I couldn’t believe it. It had all happened so fast, so miraculously. Somehow I had applied before they even posted the job online. They were so pressed to find someone before the impending school year that they were willing to work with my unconventional licensure situation. I even had exactly the right amount of time to give two weeks notice at my current job. This was the path I had been pursuing before I found myself where I am now. It seemed too perfect, too good to be true. I had to take it. Didn’t I?
That night, my excitement slowly began to wane and turn into a tangible fear. Was I really going to do this? Was this really still something I wanted? Would I be happier somewhere else simply because it offered a bit more money and the potential for more future security? I was so flooded with conflicting emotions and I felt smothered under an impossibly short deadline to decide. I didn’t like the way this pressure was affecting my ability to make a calm, informed, confident decision. It didn’t help that all the signs I looked to to reaffirm the messages I had been receiving now seemed to do a complete 180.
At the final hour, when I had accepted and told my beloved coworkers, but hadn’t yet signed a binding contract for the position, I experienced a physical sensation I had never before experienced. The only way I can describe it is utter dread. My skin was cold and clammy. There was a strange, disgusting, static pressure on the back of my neck. I couldn’t eat that evening. I could barely sleep and woke up at 3am in a complete panic attack.
That morning I let everyone know I was having second thoughts. Somehow I found myself online investigating for the millionth time the steps I’d have to move toward for complete licensure once I accepted this position. Somehow I had never noticed until then what a convoluted, expensive, intensive, seemingly impossible process I was about to commit myself to at the risk of losing everything. That was the tipping point. I decided to back out.
The sense of relief and certainty that washed over me when I changed my decision was immense. I could finally breathe again. I was so unimaginably grateful for where I am right now, the people I get to spend my days with, the work I do, the incredible, supportive family I have. I was also so grateful that I had listened to that palpable force of intuition inside of me that began screaming for my attention.
So what happened? I thought the universe was telling me to do it, but then just before I could, it told me not to. Why? Feel free to think this explanation is completely nuts, I’m sure I would have a few years ago myself. But I still think I heard the messages correctly the entire time. The universe was guiding me toward that interview and that job. I was just getting a bit ahead of myself as to the reasons why. I was not being guided there to accept the offer, or to completely change course. I was guided there to show me something important about the life I have now.
The last few months had left me feeling very unsatisfied and frankly ungrateful for where I am in life. I felt trapped in a shitty situation, doomed to a life I had never foreseen or chosen for myself. This whole experience gave me something so much more valuable than a new job, it gave me a wake up call. I LOVE the life I have now. I’m not stuck here. I WANT to be here. The universe showed me that I have other paths open to me. I can choose a different life whenever I want to. But I don’t want to.
It’s not just complacency or fear of change. It’s because I have everything I could have ever asked for, everything I never even knew was possible for me. I have a job I adore. I get to work with people I not only get along with, but who I love as dearly as my own family. For the first time in my life, I enjoy, even look forward to going to work every day. It doesn’t even feel like work. It feels like spending time with my friends. I get to laugh everyday, feel genuine joy and connection, be my true, authentic self, have lots of downtime and flexibility, caring, understanding superiors, and even beautiful rolling fields with cows and a little pond to take walks to every day. I might not be paid a lot, but it’s enough to live, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted anyway. This job gives me the only kind of wealth that truly matters: community, love, and happiness.
After this harrowing ordeal, I’ve come out of it trusting in the universe, synchronicities, and signs more than ever. I’ve learned to trust myself and the universe a lot more. If I had just kept going, ignored the new messages I was receiving in favor of continuing to follow the old ones, I would have completely destroyed my life. Not only would I have lost everything I have now, I’m certain I would have crumbled under the pressure of everything I hadn’t realized I would be taking on.
Thankfully I listened to the new, seemingly contradictory, guidance and feel happier than I have in a long time. I’m closer than ever to my friends at work. It was beyond touching to see how sad, yet supportive they were about my initial decision, and then how overjoyed they were when I changed my mind. Now more than ever I see the true value and importance of the genuine connections I’ve made here. I got to fully realize the support and love I have from my family, particularly my mother as well. My boyfriend’s mom yelled at him when he said he wanted to turn back from the career path he had chosen. My mom embraced fully whatever path I wanted to choose, assuring me that she loved and supported me no matter what. I hadn’t understood what a rare and special blessing that I had.
Now I know I’m exactly where I need to be. No matter what happens, I am so grateful for all that I have been given and get to continue to enjoy for the time being. I feel refreshed, refocused, and invigorated to be the very best I can be and emboldened to show my undying love and appreciation for the people that give my life purpose and meaning. What a journey these last few weeks have been. Everything I’ve experienced so far in life has been necessary to bring me to where I am. I wouldn’t change a thing. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Yesterday I felt abundant because I was handed a ball of unexpected money. How blessed I felt by the universe for the arrival of a few marked bills. My heart rejoiced at my well-deserved reward. Then the same day, my refrigerator broke. I saw my small surprise fortune plummet back into the red. $300 is not enough to buy a new fridge. What a cruel joke! What had I done wrong in the time between this radiant morning and this evening so thick with humidity? I felt all the safety and abundance stripped away from me in an instant. I had not even gotten to enjoy it for a full day. I was frantic, frightened, confused.
I called my mother in a hysterical state, as I had done many times in my short life. She was calm and walked me through the options I had. She waited with me as we tried to unplug it and plug it back in. No luck. She advised me to call my grandmother who lives just minutes away and see what I could bring to her house and to try to freeze or forfeit everything else. At first I was inconsolable. I apologized to her for always putting her in the position to fix things for me when I knew she couldn’t truly do anything. I thanked her, told her I loved her, called my grandma, and started my unfortunate late-night work.
As I opened the door to see my grandma’s smiling face, we laughed as I handed her half a watermelon and a huge container of freshly made soup. She made space for me. Both she and my mother made space for my overblown emotion just as they always had. They provided me a safe place to land with level-headedness and love. I gave my grandma a hug and felt better. I stayed and talked for an hour or so before leaving to let her get to bed. I told them both I would let them know how things were in the morning.
I returned home to my lovely house, my darling fur children, and my soft pillow. I read a little bit of Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Peace is Every Step. I realized that I had been so wrong. The abundance of the morning had not been taken away. It had been redoubled. My true wealth was revealed in the night. Abundance is not a stack of bills given to us by a generous student. Abundance is a broken fridge. Abundance is the outstretched hands of those we love, offering us refuge in hard times. Abundance is family, community, and compassion. It is these things that are my true gift. I am so grateful.
Reading in the evening has become a very meditative and often insightful time of day for me. It has been a great joy and comfort to snuggle into a nest of pillows and blankets after a hearty meal with a warm cup of matcha tea and forget myself for a few hours before bed. Novels are a medium for self-surrender, an opportunity to lose yourself in the plot of another’s life. They are also a chance to gain fresh perspective once we reemerge to take up our own life once again.
Particularly for people like me who suffer from social anxiety, it is a good way to get a feel for the way others think, feel, and act. Observing the real people in my life or analyzing my own relationships has always felt a bit too close for me to understand objectively. It’s rather hard to learn from or concentrate on what someone is saying to you when your entire body is in a state of utter panic. Novels provide a safe cushion of distance and detachment that creates the perfect environment for personal growth and self-discovery.
Even when I think I’ve already learned a lesson many times before, there are always instances that present the essence of this knowledge in a new and penetrating way. For instance, one of the common themes that stands out to me in the works of Charles Dickens is the resilience and near stoicism of his characters. They encounter unbelievable hardships day after day, yet seem to be unmoved by them. They bravely face whatever fate lies before them with dignity and acceptance. Whether they be robbed of all their earthly possessions on a filthy street or arrested and sentenced to death for a crime they didn’t commit, never have they added to their suffering by lamenting the injustice of it all. It’s almost as if they move through the world with no expectations whatsoever. Whatever comes upon them in the course of their lives, they take it without complaint.
As a yogi, I am constantly confronted with the idea that we prolong and worsen our own suffering when we pile our own rejection and stubborn indignation on top of it. This truth that I’ve carried with me for years now felt all the more poignant when I experienced the living example of it in the form of Dicken’s colorful characters. Even thinking of it now, in David Copperfield, there is one character that is constantly in a state of depression or distress. They moan, “I am a lone, lorn, creature, and everything goes contrary to me.” They agonize over their belief that they just “feel things more” than everyone else. Despite a relatively decent existence compared to many of the characters, she suffers immensely. It is primarily her own perception of herself and said suffering that is the cause of it though.
Sadly enough, in spite of myself, I find that I tend to identify with this character. I get upset, then am upset and ashamed of being upset. I want to be comforted, then am embarrassed for needing constant comforting and being a burden on my loved ones, and the cycle continues from there. In contrast little David Copperfield himself is a shining example of how I would rather face the world and the difficulties that come with it. In addition to not resisting the unfortunate events of his life, David also does not blame himself for them. I’ve found that if I am not blaming the world for being against me or being unfair, I am blaming myself for being naive or foolish whenever something bad happens.
Because of these simple lessons and many others, I truly feel that reading these books has been healing for me. Although they are fictional, the truth behind them remains. We can gain a new perspective of ourselves and our situation through reading. We can also find powerful examples of how we might choose to be instead. When I see these characters accepting their lot in life, suffering, injustice, and all, I feel more capable of accepting my own life and all it entails. When I see these characters making “mistakes” that I would have torn myself apart for, I am able to view them with compassion and understanding. It fosters a willingness to forgive myself for not knowing what I didn’t know. Often the hardest hurdle to face with our problems is not knowing an alternative way to respond to them when they arise. Reading is the opportunity to find that alternative.
Meditating in my office a week or so ago, suddenly my heart leapt out of my chest at the sound of an airhorn. My friend was in one of his more incorrigible moods and decided to play around with our new coworker. I, of course, was not amused. However, afterwards, I did find a lot of things to be grateful for about that irritating experience. Firstly, there were many lessons to be learned through my reaction and subsequent internal dialogue. Because I was in the process of meditating, I was in an especially good position to be able to observe these thoughts and reactions.
The first thing I noticed was my unwillingness to let my anger and annoyance subside. I kept replaying all the reasons why that was so rude and aggravating, instead of just being in the current, once again peaceful, moment. The other thing I noticed was the tension I continued to hold within my body. It was as if I was trying to brace myself for yet another piercing sound to impinge upon my quietude. This I found particularly interesting to witness. What good was this state of tension and anticipation doing me? How was it serving me?
It wasn’t serving me at all, actually. I’ve often heard and believed in the idea that anxiously anticipating suffering in the future does not lessen that future suffering, it merely brings it into the present as well. But for some reason, this incident made a particularly strong impression on me as a metaphor to emphasize that truth. I think despite ourselves, a lot of us still fret about possible displeasure in our futures in an effort to somehow prevent it from happening. Yet a lot of the most painful things that happen in life are not things that we can plan for or prevent. It may behoove you to feel stress about losing your job, if you’re not performing your responsibilities. That may be something you can take actionable steps to prevent. However, I think more often we worry about things like death, aging, accidents, or other such sudden and inevitable things.
One of the most striking parts of my air horn meditation was the realization that no matter how tense or focused I was on being ready for another sudden sound, I would undoubtedly still jump and be surprised if and when it occurred. It would still be jarring and angering, despite having expected it. Although some part of me felt like I needed to be prepared, I knew logically that I simply couldn’t be. In these situations it is best for us to just accept that we may or may not encounter this experience, then let it go and return to the present moment. What good does it do us to discard the peace of the present in order to make futile efforts to deflect the effects of something in the future?
“Hope for the best, plan for the worst” is a turn of phrase that at first seems like sage advice. And as I said, in specific situations, it is. The tricky part is determining when there is a benefit in this strategy and when there’s not. I think the only way to determine this is to ask yourself: what practical steps can I take right now to mitigate this future event? In my scenario, there was obviously nothing I could do. I suppose I could have paused my meditation and kindly asked that he be silent for the next few minutes. But I don’t think that would have necessarily brought me any peace of mind, because knowing what a goof this man is, I wouldn’t have been confident he would respect my request.
So say you’ve determined that there is nothing you can do to prevent this future suffering. What now? Logic doesn’t seem to have the ability to diffuse emotion or the response of our physical bodies. What we can do is make an attempt to refocus our minds, despite our anxiety, on what is happening in the current moment. We can work to remind our bodies and minds that despite what may happen, right now we are safe and content. This is the perfect time to practice grounding exercises that can bring us back to the here and now. Pay attention to the sensations of your physical body. Notice any tension that you are holding in preparation for your fears. See if you can release that tension and instead center your mind on your breath, or perhaps the weight of your body on the earth and the points of connection to the ground below you.
This is definitely a practice and something that I still need a lot of work on myself. However, with this in mind, I think it’s a great place to start to view these minor incidents as excellent opportunities to do so. That’s one of the beautiful things that my yoga and meditation practice have given me. Now I am able to view even distasteful or outright painful experiences as gifts and opportunities for growth. Rather than focusing on my own pain and suffering and feeling like a victim in life, I can ask myself, what can I learn from this? What is this experience teaching me about myself? How can I use this misfortune to improve myself and my life in the future? It’s never easy, but it’s always worth it.
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.
There are so many valuable things I’ve learned in my twenty-seven years of life. Working with kids always leaves me wanting to teach these lessons to the amazing little people I meet every day. This is especially true when it comes to the teenage girls. It’s painful to see so many of them who remind me of myself at that age. I want to tell them that high school drama isn’t going to matter in a few years. I want to tell them to let it all roll off their backs and just enjoy their youth. I want to tell them they don’t need someone else’s love to make them happy, that happiness is something we get to choose, that comes from inside us. But I don’t say any of this.
I don’t say it, because all of these things were said to me a million times as a teenager. It’s frustrating to grow up and realize it was all true. So why couldn’t I believe it back then? Why did I have to suffer long enough to learn these lessons for myself? And what is it that finally allowed me to accept these messages? It certainly isn’t just getting older. I know many people that are adults and haven’t yet embraced these truths I now hold so dear.
While I may not have an explanation for all of these questions, I did listen to a podcast recently that shed some light on the situation. Our brains simply learn better through personal experience than they do by being taught by someone else. So no matter how much we want to spare our own children and the young people in our lives from unnecessary suffering by just telling them what we’ve learned from ours, it isn’t going to work. Perhaps that suffering isn’t totally unnecessary after all. This is why Socrates didn’t go around preaching the things he knew. Rather, he asked his neighbors questions, nudging them towards their own truths. This is why therapists don’t just tell you what you need to do. They help you discover these answers for yourself. When we realize an answer or solution on our own, it hits us differently.
I suppose this is also why telling people about veganism never seems to change their minds at all. There is truly nothing I can say to someone that will make them go vegan. Deep down I think I’ve always known this. I think all vegans do to some extent. After all, most of us were once the meat-eaters shrugging our shoulders at all the information we now desperately try to show others. In the same way, I’ll never be able to get a teenager to realize that high school doesn’t matter, that their emotions won’t be this intense forever. I certainly didn’t believe it when it was told to me. It feels like I hardly even heard what these adults were saying at all. If anything, I resented them for acting like my problems weren’t real. As if I was choosing to feel the way I felt. Hell, I don’t think I realized the importance of loving myself and not waiting for someone else to come and make me happy until I was like 25!
While the idea of needing to learn something for yourself for it to stick makes perfect sense to me, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. I feel helpless to make any kind of difference at all. I’m left biting my tongue, just hoping that somehow these people will find their way on their own. The hardest part is I don’t even know how to turn them in the right direction. I don’t know the right questions to ask them. I’m not Socrates. I’m not a therapist. And worst of all, I don’t even know how I eventually made these connections in my own head!
With Veganism, I’m ashamed to say, I think it was a total accident. I didn’t have this noble, benevolent change of heart one day. I went vegan for purely selfish reasons. Then once I was already living that way, my cognitive dissonance about eating animals lifted and I was able to see things as they truly are. However, when it comes to my personal life lessons about self-love and letting go, I have no clue how I came around to them. Especially knowing the kind of teenager I was. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d become the person I am today. The only thing I can think of is that maybe it was because I started a yoga practice. Even when you approach it for purely exercise or weight loss reasons, something about the physical practice clears away the clouds inside of you and teaches you the most important things in life without you even realizing it.
Honestly, now that I think about it, I’m starting to see how my biggest insecurities and struggles have actually been the things that led me exactly where I needed to be. Both yoga and veganism were only of interest to me at first to the extent that they could help me lose weight. Yet despite neither really doing that, I was given things far more important. Now these things are core parts of my identity, things I practice every single day, things that bring me closer to that all encompassing loving kindness and peace that I’ve always urned for. If I had been born into a itty bitty, “perfect” body I doubt I would have found the things that really give my life meaning. And I certainly wouldn’t start eating animal products again and give up yoga for something as silly as physical appearance.
I guess ultimately all we can do for the kids and other people in our lives that are struggling is be there for them. We may not be able to spare them the suffering we all experience in this life, but maybe we can at least show them by example that, though we may suffer, it’ll be worth it one day. We can’t take away their problems or expose those problems as mere shadows on a cave wall, but we can sit next to them and hold their hands while they work to figure it out for themselves. We can only offer our compassion and our unconditional love and acceptance. And maybe that’s better than any lesson we try to teach anyway.
The other day, while listening to a talk given by the American spiritual teacher and guru, Ram Dass, he said something along the lines of: Learn how to be happy even when you don’t get what you want. For some reason, the way he said these words really struck me. There is something about listening to the gentle, slow, thoughtful voice of a spiritual leader that allows simple ideas to penetrate directly to your soul. Since then I have kept that idea close to my heart.
It’s so easy to forget that external circumstances don’t dictate our internal state. Finding contentment where we are now, doesn’t mean that we won’t want things anymore. However, we won’t allow the outcome of these wants to decide how we feel. Certain desires are easier to let go of than others, but it’s important to remind ourselves that we always have the power to let go and reside in happiness.
All of us already know how to do this to a certain extent. We have varying levels of wanting. We may want to have a certain fruit for breakfast only to realize that it has spoiled and we must find something else to eat. Depending on who you are, this usually isn’t enough to ruin your day or mood. We simply think, “oh, rats” and prepare another food. On the other hand, we may be planning to get married only to have our
fiancée leave us at the alter. That’s not going to be as easy to let go of as a rotten mango.
I wonder, though. How much the variation in reaction has to do with our preconceived ideas about the “appropriate” reaction in each scenario. When I used to get upset, it genuinely felt like I had no choice. Then in addition to not getting what I wanted, I felt an added level of suffering due to a feeling of powerlessness. There is a certain freedom in simply knowing we have the ability to choose.
When my ex left me the last time, I remember feeling frustrated that now I’d have to go back to being sad and miserable. The idea of doing that seemed so repulsive to me that I decided I didn’t care if that’s what I was supposed to feel. I decided to discard my ideas of what I thought society expected of me in that scenario. I didn’t want to be sad anymore, and for the first time in such a situation, I realized I had the choice not to be.
Sometimes just remembering that we have that choice is enough. This doesn’t mean that you’ll never experience sadness, anger, frustration, or suffering again. There are some times in life that we actually want to feel sad, and that’s okay. There is a difference between holding space for a genuine emotion and feeling trapped by one.
The next time I find myself not getting what I want, rather than getting upset and ruminating, I’m going to use it as an opportunity. Each time something doesn’t go the way you planned, it’s an opportunity to practice being happy anyway. One of my favorite questions to ask myself is: Can I love myself even though…? Fill in the blank. Now I’d like to add another question: Can I be happy even though….? Sometimes phrasing the issue in this way allows us to see the choice we have. When I’m getting down on myself because of some small flaw, asking the question, “can I still love myself,” brings things back into perspective and reminds me what really matters. If I can still love myself anyway, why bother being upset about whatever it may be? The same goes for “can I be happy anyway.”
Asking these types of questions also helps me be more lighthearted about the problem. Sometimes the answer isn’t clear in that moment. Then I become curious. Can I? Let’s find out. It can be fun to explore our own hearts and minds and find a path back to happiness. And just like paths in the forest, these paths become more worn and easier to follow the more we use them. So don’t worry if your mind seems like particularly dense woodlands right now. You can still make those paths. Even if it’s hard at first, know that it only gets easier.
A lot of the spiritual and mindful videos and podcasts that I listen to talk about doing what feels right in the moment or doing what will make you happy. I always catch myself waiting for them to explain to me how I will know what that is. Of course, they never do. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be self evident or if it’s just something that no one else can teach you. People always discuss intuition like it’s so clear. As if there is one particular thing you know you want, but you’ve been denying yourself. It’s never seemed that simple for me.
I’ve always been a very analytical and indecisive person. It’s hard enough for me to pick something to eat at a restaurant, let alone what path to take with my life, or what to do each day to best serve that path. I’ve never quite understood what people mean when they talk about intuition or just knowing they have to do something. I even remember learning in one of my psychology classes that most people feel more confident about a decision once they’ve made it. However, people predisposed to depression and anxiety don’t feel this same self assurance after making a decision. Instead they continue to doubt and question themselves. I would definitely count myself among the latter group.
I’ve been trying to listen for that voice of intuition in my head, but there are just too many contradictory voices. I’ve never known who to listen to. One voice may say: It’s a beautiful morning, let’s go for a walk. Then that voice is immediately shouted down by other voices saying: There isn’t time. The dog is going to make it too stressful anyway. You need to eat breakfast. You forgot to buy bug spray. Which voice is the one looking out for me? Which voice is guiding me towards what will make me happy? Some people may choose to just take the walk anyway and then feel confident it was exactly what they needed. However, for me, I’d just continue to wonder if I made the right choice and waste the walk ruminating anyway, over analyzing and second guessing myself. I guess that’s why I gravitate toward finding a routine and sticking to it no matter what my inner voices are saying.
Still I long to find fluidity and flow in my days. I don’t want every day to be exactly the same. I don’t want to remain stagnant and never experience anything new or novel. I want to be able to give my body and mind what it needs to flourish in each moment, not try to cram myself into the same box every day. My soul often cries out for more, but I feel I need an interpreter to decipher exactly what that “more” is.
Yesterday, I was weeding my garden and listening to an audiobook called, Siddhartha. At one point in the book, Siddhartha realizes that he has been seeking knowledge of himself from others. However, he is the only teacher he needs if he wants to learn about himself. Although this seems rather obvious, it struck me as profound in that moment. Perhaps my problem is that I keep waiting for someone else to teach me how to listen to my own intuition, for someone to teach me how to make the “right” decisions. I suppose I’m really the only one who can teach myself how to do these things.
The first hurdle I must overcome in this classroom of life is agonizing over making the “right” decision. There is no right decision. No matter what decision I make, it will teach me a valuable lesson about myself. The only way I’m going to find out which of these voices inside my head truly reflects my heart’s wishes is by listening to them. It’s time for me to start studying myself as an impartial observer. I’ll make decisions and let go of worrying about whether or not they are the “right” ones. I will never be able to know that. What I can observe, though, is how different decisions make me feel. Hopefully by being mindful of this trial and error process, someday I will be able to truly connect with that evasive intuition.
For now, I am just going to keep reminding myself that it’s okay to not know. I don’t need to always have the answer. It’s okay to trip and fall along the way. It’s okay to make the “wrong” decision. It’s okay to feel disconnected from myself, from my body and my spirit. I forgive myself for all of it. I’m learning how to rebuild that connection. With so much external stimulation bombarding us at every moment, it’s no surprise that I have a hard time sifting through the noise and hearing my true self clearly. There is no shame in that. I often get so frustrated by not knowing that I forget how much I love learning. How sad it would be to know everything. I am so grateful for the complexity of this world and of myself. Whatever you choose to focus on there is always more to learn. It’s time I got excited to learn about me, to tap into my inner wisdom and honor how unique and intriguing I really am.
When I first learned about yoga philosophy, I became convinced that by following the Yamas and the Niyamas, it would be possible to truly find peace and happiness in this life. The only trouble is, these principles, while simple and straightforward, are very difficult for me to adhere to. The Yamas and Niyamas are similar to the ten commandments, the eightfold path, or other religious guidelines. Like most others, they include principles like not stealing, not lying, not killing, etc. Every now and then I’ll be reminded how important it is for me to practice these ways of living.
One of the Yamas I always consider my favorite is ahimsa, which means “non-harming.” In the beginning I liked to imagine that I had been living in this way for years given that I am a vegan and don’t cause any harm or suffering in order to feed myself like most humans do. However, this was foolish of me. Instead of casting judgment on others, I should have been looking more deeply at my own life. While I may not contribute to the unimaginable suffering of farming and eating animals, I still cause plenty of harm to myself and those around me in other ways. In the end ahimsa could cover all of the other Yamas. After all why avoid lying and stealing? Well partially because they cause harm to others or even yourself.
For a few months I tried to practice Satya, non-lying. It really opened my eyes to how often I lie. I didn’t really think I lied very much at all before trying this. After all, I’m not one to make up tall tails or be untruthful about important issues. However, what I came to realize is that I lie almost without thinking every day in very small, seemingly insignificant ways. Maybe I’ll make up an excuse for why I was ten minutes late for work. Or tell a friend I’m busy rather than being honest about why I’d rather not hangout that evening. Just little “white lies” that I’m sure all of us tell from time to time, more out of convenience than malice.
Despite the importance of these two Yamas I won’t be focusing on them today or the other two I’ve yet to mention (asteya – non stealing & aparigraha – non attachment.) Today I wanted to focus on the fourth Yama, brahmacharya. A lot of people throughout history have interpreted this Yama to mean sexual abstinence. However, now it is often translated more broadly as moderation. The purpose of this Yama is to remind us that more isn’t always better.
I’ve been confronted with that simple truth a lot recently. I love coffee, yet when I get carried away and drink too much it makes me incredibly anxious rather than energized. I also love exercise. It it a wonderful stress reliever for me. However, I tend to overdo that as well which ends up causing stress instead of eliminating it. I’ve even begun to get carried away with how much kratom I use, adding more and more powder to every glass when it actually works just as well or even better when I use less.
Moderation has always been a very difficult concept for me. It always seems to be all or nothing, never a healthy balance. Perhaps I am just too careless to be bothered to pay attention to my body and listen for it’s cues telling me when enough is enough. My tendency to be rigid in my routines doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for the natural fluctuations within me to be honored and addressed. That is one of the most difficult parts of this Yama for me. There is no one else that can tell me what moderation means to me. I have to discover the right balance for my own life. And in order to do that, I have to be open, curious, willing to experiment, and practice listening to my intuition. Brahmacharya requires looking inward. It requires me to be honest with myself, to trust myself, to respect my own needs and limits. Sometimes I’d even prefer to interpret it as abstinence. Not having sex is much more straight-forward and easy for me. (I’ve been doing it for years without trying!)
Moderation becomes a more and more complex concept the longer I think about it. I’ve spent so much of my life living in excess that I don’t even know where to start. I want to start regardless though. Someday I hope to be able to live my life in accordance with all of the Yamas and Niyamas. I have been blessed with this wisdom from ancient yogis passed down to me through countless generations. I am so grateful for their guidance. But now it’s up to me to apply this sacred knowledge to my own life in order to finally live in a way I can be proud of.