reality bites. confessions of an imperfect yogi

holy crap. I suck.

Last night my sweet, patient, loving partner said these words to me: “If only people knew you weren’t the person you portray on your blog”. Ouch. I’m not?

Apparently, the person I am at home can be really impatient and snappy with a cynical edge…

And yet here I am thinking I’m on this pilgrimage toward enlightenment with hopes of being patient, kind, compassionate, witty and good. And, for the most part, that’s what the world sees…unless we’re related or I’m really hungry or I was just cut off in traffic, of course. And it never fails that when I’m mean-spirited, impatient, or brazen in a bad way, I experience a major guilt complex afterward and I get all judgy and in my own face.

some of the horrible things I say to myself:

 A real yogi wouldn’t act that way.

Someone who is really good or compassionate or kind wouldn’t do that really terrible thing you just did.

You’re a yogi hypocrite.

You don’t practice Ahimsa or Satya or Asteya, (enter any number of yogic terms, here), blah, blah, blah.

You need to get the hell out of contact with people. You’re totally irrational and super freaky, sister.

Wow, you have some serious karma to work off.

What the hell are you thinking? Are you insane? Yes. You’re insane.

Now you’ve blown it. That person sees the real you.

No wonder you got cancer.


Ok. I’m lying. I’m actually way meaner in my head. And I curse more. Way more.  But I don’t know that it means I’m not the person I portray here on my little blog. Maybe it means that I’m constantly changing and that I’m totally imperfect, but in a human on a journey to be a better person kind of a way. Because every pilgrim and every seeker has different experiences and struggles that they need to go through in order to be a better person. My path might just be a windier one….

But here’s the grab. I’m open about my imperfections, and in a large part, I accept myself as a work in progress. This life is ever changing, and I am always working on cultivating forgiveness and patience. When I catch myself saying a variation of any of the cruel statements above in my head (about myself or anyone), I try to slow down to notice it. Where’s that coming from? Is that the real truth (answer: NO). And when that fails (as is often the case), I try to reflect later to think about what the real truth is; the truth isn’t that I’m a terrible person. The truth is that I may have had a moment (or longer) when I was irrational or mean (or any number of things), and that I’m a human being on this human journey. I make mistakes (sometimes really big ones) and I try my best to make up for it, grow from it, and learn about myself and others.  And that, my friends, makes me a freaking righteous yogi. Just one with an attitude.

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.


a yogi’s pilgrimage


 As I make my slow pilgrimage through the world, a certain sense of beautiful mystery seems to gather and grow.
–A.C. Benson

I watched a documentary last night that was filmed by people all around the world capturing moments of their life on a single day: July 24, 2010. Everything from kissing to eating to working to dancing to preparing food to celebrating to grieving to being. Moments that aren’t particularly spiritual or profound, but that together formed what I experienced as a spiritually tantalizing film and another reminder of the thin line between the sacred and the mundane.

Watching this movie got me thinking again about the idea of pilgrimage- not as a colossal sacred journey that requires travelling across the world in search of God, but as a daily experience of living intentionally. As a dear yogi friend reminded me at the yoga studio the other day, the sacred can be found in silence. No need to go anywhere but within. And then she sent Kabir’s poem A Great Pilgrimage to me:

 I felt in need of a great pilgrimage

so I sat still for three


 and God came

to me.

I read those words, and I had a moment of great relief. There is nothing I need to do to find the Divine, and perhaps “doing” gets in the way sometimes. Or, maybe, working too hard gets in the way (especially when I’m on the yoga mat). Either way, it seems to me that the most important lesson is to live life and to take time to notice everything from the people I love to the experiences of self (body, mind, and spirit) to those small and seemingly insignificant times.

I’ve been trying to look at my life lately as a metaphorical pathway, and the people that I’ve met and continue to meet along the way as potential life guides. Even the people in my life who have been incredibly challenging or frustrating have at times been my greatest teachers- sometimes because of the way they acted (or didn’t), and sometimes because of what I learned from my own response. And, obviously, I have been shaped by my experiences (good, bad, and everything in between) and the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done or have had done to me. This doesn’t make me special, but it makes me uniquely me.

I think of my most recent pilgrimage beginning nearly three years ago when I first received the call telling me that I was diagnosed with cancer. An ordinary day that was instantly and drastically changed by a few words. Suddenly, I was snapped into seeing my own body and my future in a radically different light. Those words made me pack my figurative bags and set out on a pilgrimage of sorts without looking back at the burning building that was my life.

Several years later, I’m still searching. And maybe even more intensely now that I’ve distanced myself from labels and expectations. Every pilgrim needs time to rest, and my own rest involved trashy magazines, long weekends of watching predictable movies on the couch with my sweetheart, and comfort food. All of these acts (as well as the others I refuse to name) helped to prepare me for the space that I’m in now; living my yoga and seeking a connection with something bigger than myself. It’s the idea of throwing a pebble in a pond and watching the ripples reach shore, throwing the ecosphere into just a little bit of a different space than it was before that rock was lifted from the beach. Every instant holds the possibility of transformation.

What I’m struck by lately is that everyone in this world has complexity- not one person is absent a unique story. Occasionally this idea overwhelms me, but then there are the times when I have an appreciation for the connections that can be created when people open up to share just a little of their story. This week alone, I experienced and was witness to deep personal connections both in a training at my yoga studio and again in a volunteer training at my work; occasions for people to share a bit about what brought them forth to engage in work that requires compassionately offering support to people who need it. And both reminders that though my story is unique, I am not even close to unique in my need for connection or my complex history of personal loss.

The scars on my body serve to remind me of a blend of my humanness, my mortality, strength, courage, faults, mystery, beauty, and normalness; my everything and my nothing all at the same time. I am not these scars. Just like nobody is. But my scars represent a part of my journey- my path- and they are a map, of sorts, to a place that my journey began. My experience of having cancer helped me to enter into what I consider a pilgrimage; a journey into the unknown and, hopefully, into the sacred. I am a yogi wayfarer. And I never want to quit shedding my skin to make the journey  lighter.