A few months ago I went to a charity yoga event on the East Coast. Many teachers rotated onstage, leading sun salutations and other sequences for a massive room full of people there to support each other and a great cause. One teacher especially captivated me. Her asanas were graceful and effortless, her intentions clear and eloquent, and her words mesmerizing and inspiring. It was one of the more profound experiences in my still-new-to-me yoga world.
After the event ended, I remarked to my friend that I felt a kinship with this particular teacher. She grew up in the same town as my mom and went to the church I was baptized in. When I discovered that she also lived on the West Coast, I felt compelled to make a connection. My friend dragged me over to meet her, and I earnestly mentioned that I would love to take a class with her on the West Coast some time.
She looked at me, a little bit like I had two heads, and ended the conversation as abruptly as it started: “Um, I don’t teach public classes.”
I slunk away, humiliated that I could have thought this yoga teacher, who I had never heard of before that day, actually taught yoga classes. How could I not know that? Kicking myself for having asked such a stupid question. I must need Yoga for Dummies. I can’t believe I made such a fool of myself.
It felt like I'd asked Madonna to play at my cousin’s Sweet Sixteen party. Mortifying.
Except as I thought about it more, I wondered why I felt so embarrassed. So I didn’t know who she was. She’s a yoga teacher, not a rockstar or a world leader or even a Real Housewife. What had I really done to deserve this dismissal?
Nothing. Because it wasn’t about me at all.
When I was in eighth grade, I was convinced that one of my teachers, who I thought was pretty cool for a teacher, didn’t like me. I did everything I could think of to earn her favor. I raised my hand to participate, I did extra credit assignments, I tried my best to appear funny/smart/mature/charming. Nothing worked. Her behavior towards me remained indifferent and aloof. I could NOT win her over.
I had almost resigned myself to spending the rest of the year living in this reality, when I found myself alone after school one day, at my locker near her classroom, where she was grading papers. She had to look up over the bifocal glasses perched on her nose to see me in her doorway.
I took a breath and blurted out that I didn’t know why she didn’t like me, and had I done something I wasn’t aware of to cause this? I was shaking. She looked at me blankly. She had no idea what I was talking about. Of course she liked me. It never crossed her mind that I might think otherwise. She wasn’t having the best year and she was dealing with some personal issues, but it had nothing to do with me.
It had nothing to do with me.
I created an entire story around her dislike for me, which didn’t actually exist. It wasn’t about me.
How often do we tell ourselves these stories about why we perceive someone is acting a certain way towards us? How often can we not see past ourselves and our own judgments and neuroses to what is real?
It’s tiring really, taking everything so personally.
Maybe that’s what I did with this yoga teacher. Maybe what I heard as disbelief was instead just an answer to my question. Maybe because I felt stupid for not knowing who she was, I imagined she viewed me as such. Maybe, once again, there was nothing really there.
She was back on the West Coast this week, teaching a class (public!) near my hood. When friends invited me to join them, I hesitated, unsure that I could move past this perceived slight I had received so many months earlier and actually enjoy practicing with her. But I thought about how grossly I had misinterpreted my teacher in eighth grade. I thought about how many times I had felt dumb or embarrassed or shamed because I thought that was how someone else was reacting to me. I decided it was time to let go of at least one of these times, and joined my friends.
And it was fine. She led the same beautiful practice that I remembered, her voice lovely and moving as before, inspiring me all over again. I didn’t think about my last experience with her. I let go of my judgment of her, and my perceived judgment from her. I stopped taking it personally.
I simply flowed through the class, said “namaste” and moved on.