As a human being, you will experience pain. Whether it's physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, it'll come. And yet, we're all running so far away from this understanding, because it's scary and it hurts. Sometimes, it challenges us to the core.
For a very long time, I ran away from everything that was dark in my life until I literally found myself at the other end of the country. Then, faced with myself, I ran even farther away to the other side of the world.
In the middle of China, I realized that there was nowhere else I could go. Pain had found me.
Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit and Defy Gravity, gives it to you straight. Her audiobooks are phenomenal. She's caring no-nonsense when it comes to expanding your mental-emotional-spiritual horizons. In Anatomy of the Spirit she asks, "Where is it written that if you pursue the spiritual path, that you will no longer feel pain?"
What do you mean that if I pursue this spiritual path that I will still experience pain?
I thought that by deepening my consciousness, I'd escape suffering? Apparently, that's not what this existence is about. Learning to be with ourselves is learning to be with all of ourselves, which includes the shadow as much as the light.
One of my mind-body mentors told me matter-of-factly recently that in our society today, so many holistic teachers take things out of context. They haven't done the decades of diligent study, but take what they think the message is meant to be and tout it in yoga classes, holistic centers, and wellness workshops.
The general public starts to think we need to act/think/behave in certain ways in order to attain enlightenment, in order to be pure, to be perfect. My mentor has studied with the gurus, spent time in silence and in ashrams around the world, gone over many sacred texts in great detail.
"Nowhere,” he tells me, “in any of the great spiritual traditions, does it say that you need to be perfect to attain enlightenment. In fact, some of those people in the stories we read about were sons-of-bitches. They killed other people, beheaded them, cheated. They were not perfect by any means. The darkness is part of the process — you've got to go through it to get to the light. That's why the three lower chakras are made of negative energy. You've got to go through the shit first. If Source created everything, then Source created the negative feelings too, so there's nothing wrong with having them."
One of my biggest challenges has been to stop pretending that everything's okay all the time. That's not realistic. It's not human. When I'm annoyed, I'm learning to feel annoyed rather than shove it somewhere else.
When I'm angry, I'm learning to understand that I'm worthy enough to get angry if I'm not being respected or honored properly. When I'm envious, I let it in as much as I let it out. It’ll pass. Nothing lasts forever. The one constant we can count on is change.
As a yoga teacher, I feel like we're constantly told that we need to shift our negative ways of thinking into the positive immediately, to transmute our experiences into bliss, so that we don’t dwell in the crap.
Everything always needs to be elevated!
Yet, what this constantly reinforces is an idea of perfectionism, that there is some place way over there that can indeed be attained, but we're too flawed to reach it.
I've spent my life thinking that I'm not good enough. My Chinese parents were angry when we came home with an A rather than an A on our report cards.
We were always compared to other children, told that we were less than and underperforming. I falsely believed that if I could just do better, then I'd receive my parents’ love and affection. Everything would be okay.
Turns out, not so much. While my story may differ from others, I have countless friends, students, and clients who all struggle with this idea that they are imperfect.
Rather than seeing what makes each of us unique, we only see what makes us unworthy. Our society promotes these ideas of inadequacy by telling us to lose more weight, buy more things, choose this brand, so that then what? Everything will be okay?
When I first heard Caroline Myss say that spirituality doesn't mean we don't experience pain anymore, I was surprised and upset.
What am I doing then? Isn't the point to avoid suffering?
But then I returned to a lesson I learned in my yoga teacher training, where we start to understand that everything we experience or endure is ultimately about our perspective. How we view ourselves and how we view the world colors everything.
The same event can happen to two different people and it's their viewpoint that interprets their truth.
In the midst of pain or shadows or darkness, what I now see are the lessons I’m learning, the ways in which I'm growing. Even if they don’t come with a pretty little bows tied around them, they’re still part of the gift of being alive.
And, in the end, that's pretty awesome, the fact that we’re alive.
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