I started practicing yoga a long time ago. I was living in Portland, Oregon, in the early nineties. Even then Portland was a pretty laid-back, hippie-dippy city. Yet if you told someone you practiced yoga, they immediately assumed your freak flag was flying pretty high. I didn’t mind that, though. Being a Southern California girl, I was happy to be a little freaky. Besides, I was digging how yoga made me feel.
My first yoga class was held in a community college cafeteria. We had to show up early to push aside the plastic, picnic-style tables to clear some space on the dirty linoleum floor to roll out our mats, or towels, or blankets to start our practice. No Lululemon, no Manduka mats, nothing cute about the whole experience.
But I loved it. I was a big athlete before coming to yoga. I loved playing most sports. Basketball, biking, volleyball, tennis. Anything that got me moving. Yet when I moved to the beautiful North Wet, the joy of these outdoor sports lost a lot of their appeal in the rain. So I looked in the local community college extracurricular class guide and found a yoga class. How hard could a little stretching be?
After my first yoga class, I was blown away. I woke up the next day completely sore. From a little stretching? How was that possible? And I felt lighter, something I desperately needed at the time. So I found myself looking forward to Tuesday night yoga sessions with me and the other freaks.
I developed a crush on our teacher, and he eventually asked me out. On our first date, we headed out to the Oregon coast. Although I didn’t know all that much about yoga, I decided that a yoga teacher was a fountain of purity. That bubble burst rather quickly. When we stopped for gas on our journey, Ed returned to the car with a Reese Peanut Butter Cup and a pack of cigarettes. Welcome to the world of yoga, where so much more goes on than meets the eye.
Since those early days, I've seen a lot of stuff in the world of yoga. I became a yoga teacher, got connected into a spiritual community, experienced freedom, bliss and meditation. All in all, I thought the world was pretty cool. Yet there was a lot of stuff that didn’t sit well with me. Stuff that made my stomach turn, that I knew didn’t go hand in hand with the practice. But for many years, I pretty much ignored the ugliness and focused on the light. After all, I was living a yogic life.
Fast forward to today. I'm such a different person than the young woman who first walked into the cafeteria. In some ways, I miss that girl, that innocence, that naiveté. Do I want to return to that place? Perhaps in some ways, yes. I yearn to return to the innocence. I want to forget the disappointment this path has provided. I sometimes wish for the unjaded mind.
But that innocence wasn’t real. It was naiveté. I was young, hurt, searching for something that made the world have meaning, make sense. Yoga opened the door for me. It pointed me inward and gave me clues to where happiness resides. That still remains true, but my eyes have seen more of the ego that exists in all realms, especially in the world of yoga. I don’t know why I thought that egotism wouldn’t exist in yoga. Perhaps I believed the books I read.
Now I see that when someone obtains a position of power, it's so easy to abuse unless they are truly clear. Unfortunately, not many of us in these positions have that clarity, especially the ones who tend to be joiners. I'm not saying this as an outsider. I devoted myself completely for 10 years to a self-proclaimed guru. My life revolved around this “master,” and I would have done anything he asked me to do. But he broke my heart when I finally learned and accepted that he was a charismatic narcissist who was interested in being adored.
So when I say that I understand the abuse of power, it comes from personal experience. It's taken me a long time to feel at ease around a spiritual community again. I see the ego, and I see the deception. But finally I am seeing the beauty again. I am grateful that even during my heartache, I kept with my yoga and meditation practice. It was challenging, and often I found it less than satisfying, but something in me knew it wasn’t the practice that was faulty. Even though I sometimes long for the eyes of innocence, I realize that my path is to find it again.
This time, though, I want to find it for real. Not through someone else words, or charisma, or asana. There is no magic way or shortcut or pill. It's a solo path, an intimate path that can only be done alone. That younger me was searching for someone else to take me there. Today I realize that I have the strength to do it alone.
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