This month I had the privilege of traveling to rural Washington for the third time since August. There, I'm taking part in a mentorship to further my education and expertise as a Forrest yoga instructor. I selected this venue carefully because of the mentors: They're strong and independent, what I call “take no shit females.” Yang. But they're also nurturing and kind. Yin. They have families and seem to maintain the ever swaying balance of the personal and professional with effortless ease (even though I know such grace is never effortless).
In spite of the many moons I’ve spent there over the past year, navigating the foothills of the Cascade Mountains at night continues to confuse me. “Are we going the right way?” I ask my beloved colleague seated next to me in the rental car. Hailing from Brooklyn and having no drivers license, she's reluctant to answer.
Though I like to think I have an intuitive sense of direction, I find myself turning down these roads blindly. Rarely in my life have I relied on landmarks to direct me in when to turn left and right. But here I find myself saying, “Turn left at the trailer,” and, “Take a right on the roundabout.”
"Why do these roads always look so different?" I say one night. I'm reminded of Nelson Mandela's quote: “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”
I've evolved since August. My practice, my teaching, my spirit — they’re all markedly altered. My peers continue to express how moving it has been for them to watch the inward revolution that continues to ripple outwardly.
As I was teaching, I mentioned something about the need for winter — the need for stillness especially in the midst of the darkness followed by dogged strength. "Is that true for you?" my mentor challenged.
I took a step back. I've been encouraged by others not to go "too dark" in my teaching, that I should "champion joy" more. I've accepted this feedback and incorporated it wholeheartedly. Perhaps, until that moment when I realized that so many of us only learn to lean into joy and the promise of spring because we have snuggled up close to sorrow as the only source of warmth to survive the dead of winter.
I started backtracking and explaining, rambling with uncertainty.
"I don't know" seemed like a true response to her question, but I know that "I don't know" is a cop out. It's a way of saying, "You choose my path for me." It's disempowering. We never "don't know." We hide that voice, muffling it under the thicker shadows of our more familiar fearful banter. But, somewhere deep inside the reservoir of our souls, we always know.
Finally, I said, "What do you want me to do?" I wanted her to give me a cue, to tell me which way to turn. But the mentors wouldn’t say. Because they didn’t want me to do anything at all.
They want me to be myself fearlessly and authentically. It's ironic that I felt a need to travel thousands of miles to find myself — my voice. But I did. That's why I went west.
"I'm not sure why you're asking us," one said. She raised her hands toward the heavens. “A better question is, ‘What do YOU want me to do?’”
Why do our paths always look so different? Are we going the right way? Why do we feel lost?
We are different each step of the way. Our forward progression is inevitable. As the seasons change, so does the scenery — within and around us. When we feel lost, we need only do three things:
1. Take a moment to pause. Get quiet and still.
2. Do what you need to connect to your source, whatever you choose to call it: God, Spirit, Love, Higher Power, nature, the divine force that governs the universe. Take a moment to ask: "What do you want me to do?"
3. Listen for the response. Go there. Do that. Be yourself — fearlessly, in light of uncertainty.
Wander if you need, but know that you’re never really lost.