Monday Night Nonfiction: Still Practicing

life is just one big balancing act
Lately, I’ve been feeling wondering what my next steps are and where they’re leading. I’m loving teaching yoga, the online classes are going well, and I’ve got a new studio class to work on, too. I’ve even been experimenting with streaming my personal yoga practice as a way of forcing myself to do it, although the truth is I’m a little self conscious about it.

I’m definitely ready to deepen my practice and my teaching, though. Some of the poses I practice I don’t yet feel confident enough to teach, and there are definitely advanced poses that I want to learn. I know doing impressive poses isn’t the most important part of yoga, but if I’m asking anyone to see me as a teacher, I think my end of the deal includes striving to better myself, build on my knowledge, and hone my craft.

On the other hand, everyone’s at a different place on their unique path, and none of us are perfect. That means in terms of our physical practice, our self-discipline, our understanding of the sutras, the depth of our meditations — in all of it, we are imperfect. We always have something to learn. If we were perfect, wouldn’t be where we are right now. Maybe without knowing it that’s what I was getting at last winter when I started setting my goals for 2013: Love more, sing more, be imperfect.

Have I loved more this year? Yeah. I think I’ve been given more opportunities to love and to stretch my understanding of it in everything from my relationship with my husband to my connection with my yoga community.

Have I sung more lately? Not always well, but yes. I mean literally singing along when a good song comes on the radio even if someone might be listening. I also mean Omming in class. But I also think there’s a kind of inner resonance akin to “smiling with your liver,” which feels like singing. I think that’s how you know when you’re on your right path, and I’ve been finding that a lot more lately, even though sometimes I struggle to hold the tune.

Being imperfect, though … I thought it’d be the easy part, but it’s not. I’ve always wanted to be perfect, and I think most of us do. And I’ve always known how very far from perfect I am. I am aware of all my compulsions and obsessions. I’ve seen all my own bad behavior. I’ve seen every seeable flaw in my body. I’ve endured my own cruelest thoughts. And it occurs to me that if I could stop grasping for perfection, I would be perfect. If I stopped wanting to be other than I am, what I am would be just right. I’m very slowly getting better at letting go of the struggle, but it takes practice, practice, practice.

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Finding Your Dharma and Forging Your Path

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In the yoga tradition, the word dharma refers to an individual’s unique path in life. In the past, it meant living the prescribed lifestyle for your caste. Since humanity has evolved beyond the caste system (go us!) we now use the term in a more individualized way that means living in accordance with your own nature and values.

On the day I taught my first online yoga class, I had the clearest sense of my dharma that I’ve had in a long time. After teaching, I felt overwhelmed with joy. I was able to share something I really love, plus people paid me even though they didn’t have to, and they registered for future classes. I felt so lucky and grateful. I have always wanted to find work that felt this joyful, and having found it feels so good it’s almost unreal.

As a kid, I saw my dad doing work that was 100% right for him. He’s a doctor, and he loves his work. He cares deeply for his patients and feels satisfied knowing he’s helping people. I didn’t know that was called living your dharma back then, but I knew I wanted to do it. My mom’s work is different, but she too seems perfectly suited to her life. She raised four kids and helped run the medical office, and of course managed all the business of our home. The type of work I saw my parents doing wasn’t exactly what I saw for myself as an adult — I didn’t want to be a doctor or a mother of four — but I had hopes that I could find work that was really fulfilling for me personally.

I entered the professional world only to find that I felt out of place and dissatisfied with every job I did. I knew I liked to write, but I couldn’t figure out how to get anyone to pay me just for liking to write. My heart wasn’t in journalism, no matter how much I loved the newsroom, and I wasn’t a very good copy editor. But this combination of teaching yoga and writing is surprisingly perfect for me. I write about what I love the most, I teach what I love the most, and I still get the indulgence of writing to my heart’s content. Furthermore, I never feel like I’m selling bullshit. I never feel like I’m doing a meaningless job. I know that when I teach yoga or or write about yoga, I’m doing my best to give other people something very valuable. Even if I don’t always accomplish what I want, the work still feels worthwhile.

I do occasionally feel like I have a thankless job. Very rarely, I have a class and no one shows up, or I don’t get paid on time or enough (it happens). Once in a blue moon, a student is acts like a jerk. But those times are extremely minor compared to the sense of fulfillment I get from doing the work that’s meaningful to me.

But that day after teaching that first online yoga class, I felt this sense of “Ah-hah! That’s what dharma’s supposed to feel like!”

If your life feels like wearing someone else’s clothing or driving someone else’s car, you need to get in touch with your dharma. If you’ve been telling yourself “I’m only in this job for another year…” then you might have lost touch with your dharma. The good news is, you can bring your life back into alignment with what matters most to you, and it starts with a simple intention or sankalpa.

Try this on for size: I live my life fully, joyfully, and in tune with my true values. 

Say that to yourself a few times each day. Set it as your intention when you get up in the morning, and think it right before you go to sleep. In between repetitions, do your best to make your decisions in tune with that statement. This is the beginning of your evolution.


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What if my only purpose here is to love?

Last year, in the middle of an intense and beautiful yoga workshop with Rod Stryker, I had this epiphany.

What if my only purpose here is to love? 

I didn’t have time to stop and ponder that thought at the moment because Rod was talking some powerful stuff and I really wanted to keep up. I was in what I call “sponge mode,” and I didn’t want to get too wrapped up in my own thoughts. I just wrote it down and went back to listening.

I came across this question while reviewing my notes recently, and it gave me a funny feeling.

We modern folks with our newfangled tweeters and bookfaces spend a lot of time thinking about how important we are. We all want to do something awesome. We want to change the world. More importantly, we want to be remembered. As a kid, one of my life goals was to be included in those giant literary anthologies that college students have to buy even though they’re only going to read a quarter of the material. That desire wasn’t even about being a good writer. It was a desire based on the knowledge that I would one day die and the fear that my life would be meaningless.

What a weird thing for a little kid to want, right?  If reached that level as a writer, I thought, it would be somehow validating.  But I kept thinking about Emily Dickinson whose writing was only truly appreciated after her death, and I realized having everyone love and celebrate your work after you die is completely worthless — BECAUSE YOU’RE DEAD.

Over the past few years, I’ve let that particular attachment go, but I still struggle with this idea that I need to do something worthwhile and leave something meaningful behind.

The scary thing is that love is so simple. It’s an extreme case of putting all your eggs in one basket. Throughout life, we’re warned to keep our options open, have a lot of irons in the fire, and any number of other cliched advice that essentially says if you avoid committing to one thing, you can never be accused of failing.

On the other hand. Love is so easy. So joyful. So good. You can do absolutely anything with love. I mean, why not?

So, the question is both freeing and terrifying:

What if my only purpose here is to love? 

What if I just did everything in my power to practice love? What if I didn’t worry about being awesome or cool? What if I didn’t try to accomplish anything in particular? What if, instead of being goal oriented, a team player, a self starter and all that jazz, I was just really, unflinchingly nice to people? What if, when someone was upset, I could just listen to them and they would feel better because someone listened? What if I just gave people everything I could give them through my writing, through teaching yoga, and through being a friend?

It’s a pretty radical departure from the way I used to think about life and my purpose in the world, but it resonates with me, and it’s not going away, and I think I know the answer.

What if my only purpose here is to love?

Oh, thank God, because I think that’s the best thing I’m capable of doing.

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