*I’d like to begin by saying that my encounter of this trip is through my perspective only. I’m sure that there are many aspects of it that I am blind to and many things that I have projected*
Last week I co-led my first retreat. It was in Belize. The pictures are amazing. The locations were amazing. The guides, students and everyone that I came into contact with were amazing. I was in the sun, on the beach, in the jungle…what more could I ask for? As we discuss a lot in yoga, happiness is not attained through external sources, rather it’s cultivated from within. We could have the “perfect” set of circumstances, but if we are not at peace in our minds and our hearts, no amount of things, stuff or people will satiate us. This is what my post is about. I am writing this because since the moment I returned, I’ve been bombarded with the question, “How was it? Was it amazing?!” With much chagrin, I force a smile and say something along the lines of, “Oh my gosh, it was incredible!”
Before I left, I felt like I was at the top of my game. I had started my 300-hour teacher training, I had a lot of momentum with my meditation practice, and was feeling really good about settling into my running and yoga routine. I was feeling great about teaching and connecting to my students, which is really what I live and breathe for. My mind and my body were clean and strong. My heart was open.
The high of the first couple days of the trip was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. This was my first time travelling anywhere far and I excitedly soaked everything up like a dog at the park. I had assumed that all the training I’d done (with my mind) was going to allow me to show up as a thoughtful, inquisitive and confident person. Over the last year, I’ve cleaned up my act a lot. I quit drinking, I cleaned up my diet, I began a serious meditation practice, I’ve calmed down. A LOT. I’ve calmed down as a teacher, a student and a communicator. I had high hopes of being able to connect with people on a tender and vulnerable level with this new sense of calm. I expected myself to show up in a way that would allow me to showcase who I am and what I do.
I realized quickly that calm was not the name of the game nor the vibe of the trip. It began to feel like it was going to be hard to for me to hold space as a quieter person amongst a large group of extroverts. As someone who doesn’t compete for attention, I felt defeated early on, I began to doubt myself. This doubt was soon followed by the realization that I was 3,200 miles away from home and it would be a while before I was back in my comfort zone.
The doubt that seeped into my mind gained momentum throughout the trip. This doubt led me to compromise myself, I felt like I took 20 steps backwards. Through doubt, I began to feel separate from the group, like background noise. I felt like I must be the only person in the world who was experiencing what I was, that feeling of separateness stung my heart. I started to second guess myself as a teacher, I drank, I gossiped, I complained, I let my meditation practice go, I checked out, I became glued to my phone. I became the person I used to be. I felt like my training had gone out the window. To top things off, I got a cheese pizza with extra cheese and a caesar salad on the way home, which was very UN-vegan of me. Ultimately, I got lost in a head game. I was ashamed about this, I thought I had head games all figured out. My head games lasted all. week. long. 3,200 miles away from home.
I came home feeling depressed and depleted. My body and mind felt icky and I had no motivation to do anything. I gorged on food for the first couple days that I was back to…ground myself? To prove my existence? This is it, folks. This is how dangerous the mind can be. Even when we’ve reached an unstoppable feeling, even when we think we’ve got things figured out, the mind can twist reality in a way that you never thought it could. While they don’t necessarily represent what is true, my experiences and internal struggles were REAL. My suffering was real, I felt it strongly. Take a step further back, was the cause of my suffering real? Is the cause of most of our suffering real?
I began to crawl out of my hole a few days ago. After a lot of crying and venting, after I decided to get real and honest about what was going on in my mind, after looking at the behavior that I wasn’t proud of, I began to see clearly again. I begrudgingly went back to my meditation cushion and saw all of my confusion. As I have given myself some time to digest last week, it’s clearer than ever to me: doubt in our innate goodness is the most toxic thought pattern that we can feed and it can infect us like the flu. Doubting our basic goodness is aggressive. From a Buddhist point of view, it is best to cut through aggression with gentleness and kindness. The last few days have been full of forgiveness, I had to forgive myself for getting lost and everything that came along with it. I had to forgive myself for not trusting the natural unfolding of life and forgetting that it’s not about me.
I’m feeling well today. I see my experience now as just another piece to the puzzle. The puzzle of Truth. Attaching to hope and expectations is counterproductive. Being open-minded and becoming conscious of our thoughts of self-doubt is how we can liberate ourselves. We can only do this by staying rooted in the present. The road is not easy and it requires honesty and vulnerability. We shouldn’t believe everything we think. We could check in with our witness, our observer, that part of us that sees without bias. My aim behind this post, is to be honest, raw and naked about my experience to show that suffering is what we have in common. We are alike in that we are all at the mercy of our minds to extent that we allow it. This is our connection, our suffering and our desire for happiness and joy. We are not separate. We are one.