Years ago I had lunch with a guy who was fairly well known in the yoga community. He’d just come back from a month at an ashram, and I met up with him because he was passing through Los Angeles on his way back to Chicago where he lived with one of my closest girlfriends. She asked me to meet with him because she had a bad feeling and she wanted me to be the one to break the news to her if there was news to be broken. She said while he’d been gone their communication had been odd, and she sensed he may have met another woman. She hadn’t asked him directly, and I think part of her didn’t want to know, and was hoping it wasn’t true. So off I went to have a meal with this guy I’d never really vibed with, to have a conversation that could have been extremely awkward.
As it turned out, it wasn’t so much awkward as it was enlightening. He started telling me about his trip, and how transformational it had been and he alluded to a deep spiritual connection he’d developed with this woman while he was there. So I asked him if he meant he’d had sex with her, and he choked on his tea and laughed, and said he supposed so, if that was how I needed to put it. He said it was an elevated experience, and that the feelings were so strong and so deep, he’d had to “honor his truth.” He expected my friend would understand. I told him I thought he was mistaken, and that I believed my friend was going to be heartbroken because she was in love with him, and because they were in a committed, monogamous relationship. In fact, he’d been possessive of her, and threatened by any contact between her and her most recent ex, who happened to be the father of her little girl. They’d been living together for six months at this point, and had started looking at houses. My girlfriend had put a deposit down on a place he said he loved before he left for the ashram, and they were about to close on it.
I asked him how he could reconcile the concept of non-harming with his actions at the ashram, but he said because he was aligned with his truth, no harm could result. Then he said, “I guess I’m just an enigmatic and mysterious creature.” I told him as far as I knew, there was nothing elevated or spiritual about cheating on a person you claimed to love, and that you could dress it up in mala beads all day long, but it was still crappy behavior. I said I thought, “honoring his truth” would have involved observing his feelings without acting on them, or discussing it with my friend before he acted so that maybe they could regroup, or come to some kind of understanding together. Then maybe the experience could have brought them closer, but not this way. I also asked him who describes themselves as enigmatic and mysterious? Because really, there are few things in life that leave me speechless, but I think my brain froze for a good minute after he said that.
Here’s the thing. If you want to be at peace, you’re going to have to figure out how to get right with yourself. How to heal those places that are raw and in need of your kind attention. You’re going to have to learn to observe your thoughts without getting carried away by them. Feelings are not facts, and you don’t have to act on every feeling you have. Not all of them are worthy of your energy, time, attention, or action. The feelings aren’t bad, they don’t make you a bad person. We’re all human and we’re going to have all kinds of feelings and thoughts and ideas and fantasies. It’s how much energy you decide to feed that stuff. How much importance you grant to the thoughts you’re having.
Restraint is a tough one for most people. We all want to do what we want to do, but if you want to talk about being “on the path,” if you’re trying to “do the work,” then you’re going to have to find some discipline. Especially when other people are involved. If your path is causing you to become egregiously self-absorbed, it’s probably not a great path. If you’ve gotten to a place where you think you’re justified in doing whatever you want because you’re honoring your truth or following your calling, you’ve really gotten lost along the way. A huge part of this thing is kindness and compassion. Honesty and integrity. Keeping your word. Thinking about the impact of your choices on other people. I don’t expect everyone to want to work this way, but I cringe when people twist a beautiful and demanding practice to suit their own desires. Call it what it is, and I have no issue with it. Say, “I went to an ashram, and I was really attracted to this woman, and I cheated on your friend even though I knew it would hurt her and I have no regrets, but I do have a huge mess to clean up.” That’s truthful, but don’t call it elevated or spiritual because it isn’t either of those things. As it turned out, the other woman was also devastated, because she thought it was going to be a long-term thing. My friend broke it off, and then had to work to make sure her daughter was okay because she’d become attached to this guy as well. When you leave a wake of pain behind you and describe yourself as an enigma, you’ve taken a wrong turn on your path.
I think people get confused sometimes, because the initial movement when you’re healing is inward. If you want to know yourself well and deeply, you have to examine your pain, your resulting tendencies, your coping mechanisms, the way your nervous system responds to stress, stories you might tell yourself about your life or why you are the way you are, areas where you’re stuck in rage or blame or bitterness. You have to figure out what’s true for you. You do all this internal work so you can understand yourself, so you can be accountable for the energy you’re spreading as you move through the world, and for the way you’re treating yourself and everyone in your life. When you become well-acquainted with yourself, and you figure out what brings you peace and what lights you up, what particular gifts are yours to share, then you can take that information on the road. That’s where the joy happens, in the connection, in the sharing. You can bring it out into the world and shine. The ultimate purpose of all that internal work is to help you uncover your connection to everyone and everything. To recognize that while our stories may be different, in so many ways we’re the same. We’re connected. We’ve all suffered. We’ve all been selfish, and hurt people carelessly or unintentionally. We all have choices we’d love to make again, and differently. That’s all part of the process of growing up. So there’s no need to kick yourself if you were the guy or gal at the ashram. We’ve all hung out there. The thing is not to let yourself off the hook. Not to cloak it in sage and walk out the door and pretend to yourself or anyone else that you’re good to go. You’ll never feel great about yourself if you’re living a life that’s all about you and every desire you have. You’ll never satisfy that beast. You can feed it for awhile if you need to, but you’ll find the hunger never goes away. It will never be enough, you’ll always be ready for more. Mass-consumption has gotten us into all kinds of trouble, both personally and globally. It doesn’t work and it doesn’t feed your soul.
In my view, being, “on the path” means you’re trying to see yourself and others clearly. You’re aware of what’s true for you, and you’re able to express it calmly and with compassion. When “what’s true for you” may end up hurting someone else, you handle it with integrity, sensitivity and honesty. You’re thinking about what you’re saying and doing, and how it will affect those people around you. You’re thinking about the path, too. The literal path, the one you’re walking on. The planet, in other words. Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it with as much consciousness as possible. And when you blow it and don’t show up the way you want to, which will happen, you examine it and figure out what went wrong so you can own it, and make a different choice the next time. It’s not perfection we’re after, it’s a practice. But it does require a discerning mind and a willingness to be honest with yourself.
Sending you love,