The past two months sucked.
I know, I know. I’m a yoga teacher. I’m not supposed to say that. I’m supposed to float above the muck, right?
No, sorry. That’s not my job.
For the sake of context, I’m going to give you a little snapshot of the past few months:
My mom got sick. Someone I love got married. Someone I love was supposed to get married, but didn’t, and that person needed an emergency trip to Florida (see also Matching Sympathy Tattoos). Someone I love committed suicide. I caught a cold. Syrian refugees died. My wife caught a cold. Someone I love was beaten and robbed. My dad came to visit. Paris was attacked by terrorists. I bought a house. Someone stole a plant off my front porch. There was a mass shooting. I moved. My cat ran away for four days. My wife caught a cold (see also Contagious).
Not all bad. I know. I’m aware. People told me the whole month of November how much I have to feel thankful for. This is how I feel about people telling me to feel thankful when so much sh$t is happening at once:
Do I feel thankful right now? Nope. Not really. I feel raw and exposed, like I need a scab for my soul. I feel like that chick in Wild, who was like, “Okay, so I can get strung out and sleep around or I can take a year off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. No other options.”
But neither of those is really a feasible option for me, so I decided to stay in New Orleans to do my job. And I have learned a lot about doing my job.
What I learned is that floating above the muck is not my job.
Wading through the muck is my job.
My job, as a yoga teacher, is not to pretend that the world doesn’t touch me. It is to let the world touch me and learn from it. My job is to look at the big scary parts of life and not cover my eyes. My job is to feel pain and sadness and grief and anger and to figure out how to deal with them without becoming them so that I have something to teach my students besides downward facing dog.
Often, people come to this practice because they have pain and they don’t want it anymore. They want yoga to make their lives better. And it will. But it won’t make life better by taking the pain away, it will make life better by teaching you how to accept pain and experience it without allowing it to define your whole experience.
I am not talking about how yoga will teach you to breath through some hard pose until you unwind out of it. That’s “if I can just get through it” logic and where it leads is “if I can just get through this life, then I’ll be dead.”
Yoga means union. As in the opposite of separation. As in not dividing up the world into stuff you want to experience and stuff you don’t and making all your decisions from there. It means accepting the world as it is and letting go of the hubris that makes you say, “but I don’t want this.”
Chogyam Trungpa said, “To be a spiritual warrior, one must have a broken heart. Without a broken heart and the sense of tenderness and vulnerability that is in one’s self and all others, your warriorship is untrustworthy.”
Vulnerability is the key to this practice. It’s the key to empathy for others and for self-compassion. Vulnerability is what makes yoga not just exercise. Vulnerability rubs us raw and makes the holes in us that let others in. And through the holes, we see the light. We see that dividing the the world into you and me and pleasure and pain is not yoga.
We see that where we are most raw and tender, the light binds and blinds division.
You can’t be tender on a switch. You either feel everything or nothing. I am not going to seek out pain, but when it comes into my life, I’m going to deal with it. I am not going to pretend that I don’t struggle, and I wouldn’t trust a teacher who did.
So, if I’m not all smiles and rainbows all the time, it’s not because yoga is broken. It’s because I’m doing yoga.
And it’s working.