Have you ever had the occasion to look at people’s online dating profiles? Does everyone like long walks on the beach and cozy nights at home? Does everyone enjoy cooking and watching football and traveling and trying new things, like salsa dancing? Is everyone kind and affectionate and romantic and full of fun? Does everyone like to stay up late, lingering over a delicious meal, gazing into the eyes of that special someone, whiling the night away asking those deep, penetrating questions?
Actions always tell the tale, whether we’re talking about the microcosm or the macrocosm. Words are easy. A person can say they’re loving and loyal and caring, but if their deeds don’t back that up, it’s just smoke and mirrors. The same thing holds true for organizations, communities, governments, countries. We can say this is the land of the free, we can pledge justice and liberty for all, but if our actions don’t support that, it’s just words.
If we really want to be at peace, individually, or in the context of a relationship, there cannot be a huge gap between how we’re presenting ourselves, and how we’re actually living. This comes up in all areas of life. When we meet people, we’re often meeting their ambassadors. Ask anyone who’s tried online dating, or any kind of dating. Most people are not going to show up at a first meeting and say, “Here are all my weaknesses. Here’s a list of all the poor choices I’ve made, all my fearful tendencies, all the ways I’ve hurt people in the past.” I’m not suggesting any of us should do that, but if you sit down with someone and present yourself as a person who’s available for love, when the truth is that you’re available for casual sex, that kind of sucks. It’s misleading, and if we spout lies to get what we want, that’s called manipulation.
The way to bridge the gap, if there is one, is to get honest with ourselves. To ask ourselves what it is we really want, not what we think we should want, not what other people want us to want, but just, at the core, what we actually want. It’s a relief to know that about yourself, and it’s a gift you can give to everyone in your life. Clear communication, the ability to set boundaries when you need to, your willingness to act on your own behalf—all these are essential tools if you want to be happy, and known. Usually we really want that—we want to feel at least someone is seeing us and getting us and cherishing us. It’s natural to want connection and love in your life. There’s no way to get there if you’re hiding parts of yourself you find unacceptable, because you’ll know they’re there. Sometimes, it’s hard to open, to allow ourselves to be seen, because we aren’t ready to face how we are now. We aren’t ready to take a compassionate but piercing look at those raw places within us that could use some healing. It’s not easy work. Sometimes we’re rejecting something about ourselves that’s painful to face. We’re pushing it down, we’re pretending it doesn’t exist, we’re looking away. Nothing gets better like that. Ignoring our problems, or distracting ourselves, or numbing out, or running away is a road-map to the continuation of the pain. The pain is owning us at that point. We are a slave to our pain when it runs the show.
Really, reaching out is the way to create a path toward healing. If you cannot do it on your own (and most of us can’t), you have to ask for help, support, ideas, a different map. Sometimes we have to get loud, sometimes we need a safe space to cry, to let it out, to be afraid and vulnerable, to lay out those places that aren’t so pretty without fearing that we’ll be shamed or ridiculed, attacked or shunned. When we’re talking about solving our individual problems, therapy is often a great way to go. Yoga can be enormously helpful if you’re longing to come home to yourself. Seated meditation is powerful if you want to recognize that you are not your thoughts, that you do not have to believe everything you think, as the saying goes, that feelings are not facts, and they are not forever, either. That perhaps, some of your thoughts do not even belong to you. Some of them were handed down from past generations. Some of the things you’ve learned along the way may be totally untrue.
Here are some lies you may have learned: “you are not lovable, you are not worthy of love, you are broken in some unfixable and essential way, you have no business rocking the boat, you have nothing special to offer, you are better or more important than some people, you cannot trust anyone, everyone leaves, everyone cheats, if people have different beliefs than you, they’re wrong, bad, or to be feared.” Those are just some examples of lies you may have learned that you’ll have to unlearn at some point if you want to be happy. A big part of being at peace in this life is based on how well you’re able to play nicely with others. If you think kindness is not the way, you’re lost. In my mind, the truth is that we are one huge family living on a spinning planet. We may speak different languages, we may look different, we may have different beliefs, but we are all connected. If one of us is suffering, we’re all suffering. If one of us is being violated, we’re all being violated. If one of us needs help, the rest of us are naturally supposed to help. If we want to be at peace individually, or as a family, as a community, as a country, we need each other. We need to help each other understand. We need to drop our defenses and our opinions and our clutching to our ideas and ideals, and deal with what is.
This week, I was talking to an acquaintance about my feelings around the death of Eric Garner, and the bigger problems underneath his death, and I was feeling pretty down. This person looked at me and said, “You’re a yoga teacher. Where’s the positive energy?” That is not yoga, okay? I just want to be very clear about that. Yoga is a practice that’s based on facing reality as it is, and working with the truth of a thing. We do not turn away from the hard parts, we move into the center of them and we ask how we can shift, how we can move toward love, and we don’t stop asking until we figure it out, and some of that process hurts like hell, but it’s the way toward peace. It’s the same for the whole as it is for the individual. Silence won’t get us there. Fear of getting this wrong is a poor excuse to do and say nothing. We have to get it right together, and for that to happen we cannot look away, we cannot be silent, we cannot leave a huge part of our family to try to fix injustice on their own. That isn’t yoga, folks. I would love to hear from all of you. Sending you love and wishing you a peaceful heart. May we lift each other up, and not tear each other down,