the more I learn, the less I know: reflections on my fortieth year.

You cannot travel the path until you have become the path
Gautama Buddha (563-483 B.C.E.)

Tomorrow marks the end of my fortieth year; a year I began by setting forth on a personal pilgrimage (of sorts). I didn’t leave for a foreign land, but rather traveled inward to explore the vast terrain of myself. I had no perceived notion that I would become enlightened or that I would achieve some divine status, but I had the hope/expectation that I would gain a bit of inspiration in the process and that I would learn some more about where to go from here. What I’ve learned along the way (about myself and the world):

 I am perfect and whole just the way I am (scars and all).

One of my personal goals for the year was to complete yoga teacher training. I had no idea that this very step would change my life as much as it has. I began a two-week intensive training not knowing a soul and expecting to learn a little more about yoga and to gain some physical strength. I left knowing that I had found a new tribe; people who loved me regardless of the fact that I contradict myself, act awkward in public, and curse like a sailor. I also left with a completely new and ever-changing perspective of “yoga” and what it means to be a “yogi”.

Note: being a yogi does not require perfection (thankfully), but it does involve thinking more carefully about how my actions impact the world and how I can continue to strive toward connecting to something larger than myself. One of the overarching philosophies of The Samarya Center, where I continue to study, is that everyone is perfect and whole, just the way they are. Yoga can be for everybody (and every body). Period. It is not just for skinny, physically fit people who can afford fancy mats or stylish yoga gear. In fact it isn’t about that at all. Yoga is a call toward physical, mental, spiritual, and social change. And if all of that fails, it’s working toward increasing the love in the world. Yoga means accepting self and others, scars and all.

Words heal, connect, and inspire.

This year, I decided to make my blog public and to post at least once a week (not an easy decision, but I’m glad I made it). I’ve used writing as a personal process tool since junior high/middle school when a teacher strongly encouraged me to put my thoughts onto paper (I was anxious, angry, and I talked way too much). From that time, the act of writing out my heartache, fury, joys, and everything in-between has been as important as eating a balanced meal. I may go days, sometimes weeks, without getting my writing nourishment, but I always feel more vibrant when I’ve put pen (yes- an actual pen) to paper (the stuff made of trees or plants).

Words are as important to me as fresh air, and I use them to create connection and meaning. Writing for a blog has shifted my practice and encouraged me to give up a small bit of autonomy in order to trust the process of putting my words into a public sphere. I’ve learned that just as I receive insight through reading other people’s words, having my writing read by others can feel incredibly profound and healing.

Recently, I joined a lovely blogging group in which I’ve been asked to look more intently at my own writing/blogging hopes, goals, and dreams as well as to support and encourage others on a similar path. Through this process, my sense of community has expanded and my sense of self has been humbled (again). Just when I think I know something, the Universe comes along and reminds me that I know nothing. And isn’t that grand? Which leads me to….

 The more I learn, the less I know.

Since being diagnosed with cancer four years ago, I have learned to let go of any expectations that I will ever know anything fully. I may learn many things and grow in magnificent ways, but the more I attempt to master anything or to gain insights into myself or the world, the more I realize I know nothing (or very little) at all. And this has actually been a source of comfort to me in the past year.

Being curious, humble and open far outweigh pretending that I know anything. Pilgrimage requires openness toward experience and sometimes stepping away from the path. My fortieth year has been one in which I have learned that outer stability does not matter as much as inner flexibility and a sense of humor. It has been a year of un-learning, expansion, and wonder, and I am so looking forward to seeing what adventures lay before me as I continue my wandering.