A little over a year ago, I completed my yoga teacher training following a gruelling and transformational 2-month stint in India. If someone would have told me then how much my life would change in the following 365 days, I would have thought they were full of shit. But alas, this happened.
What began with me going across the world on a gut-fuelled whim turned out to be the single most pivotal and significant decision of my life thus far.
I started this blog to document the the good, bad, and the ugly, and THAT I did, even though at times it didn’t sit too well with certain readers who wanted a yoga blog to be more sunshine and unicorns than my honest truth. But transformation and growth can be messy, and at times far from forming a smooth transition into zendom. So I just wrote my story, as I was living it. Without any added bullshit to make it more “yoga”.
Without re-hashing the details of the why (since they exist here in the cyber traces of this online space), I thought it interesting to make a list of HOW that original gut feeling translated into a total life overhaul.
So here it is, laid out in black and white, from the girl who previously balked at “transformational stories” and who wanted to scream each time she felt “forced” to meditate.
1. My interpretation of everyday events (thus life in general) stopped being filtered though the lens of ME.
That is, I no longer saw myself at the center of everything. And once I took myself (and my ego) out of the equation, I realized that most people are so preoccupied with their own stuff that little old me has very little (if anything) to do with their actions and reactions. Once I understood this, I no longer felt a need to please others, to over-perform in order to gain validation, or to fill up awkward silences in group conversations. Phewph.
2. I started listening more and talking less.
This one is also related to point 1, above. Instead of waiting to jump in with my tidbits of whatever I felt I HAD to say (which most of the time we only really do because we want to say something about ourselves, unrelated to the conversation that is actually taking place), I learned to sit back and really listen.
Not only have I learned more interesting things that I ever would have while only “half-listening”, but I also observed that the words that come out of people’s mouths don’t necessarily reflect what they are really trying to communicate. By really, actively listening, I learned more about the speakers and human nature than I ever would have were I merely playing the “I’m only half listening so I can get my turn to talk” game.
3. My appreciation for, and openness towards others grew.
Once I stopped taking everything personally (again, see point 1, above), I actually began liking people more, and making more meaningful connections, even in situations where small-talk would have previously made me want to jab sharp pencils in my eyes.
4. I released the need to try to control everything around me, and subsequently loosened my grip on my perfectionist tendencies.
As a self-reformed type A personality, I can tell you that even though this was challenging, it ended up taking a whoooole load of weight off my shoulders. By embracing the chaos of life and accepting things as they were instead of how I thought they SHOULD be, I started being aware of WHY I reacted in certain ways to situations I didn’t like. In each instance, I was faced with a choice: react from fear/anger or consciously address the situation.
More importantly, I also learned that sometimes walking away from something that is no longer working can be much more rewarding than fighting against it. Walking away doesn’t mean weakness, it means you are drawing a line in the sand when you’ve had enough, and setting boundaries for what you are willing to accept.
5. I became aware of my “go-to” thought patterns, and that I have the power to change them.
For example, I realized that one of my underlying beliefs that previously permeated my thoughts and actions was: “there’s not enough”. Blame this on growing up in a communist country or whatever, this script influenced my beliefs about the world, and consequently, how I approached situations. It translated into competitiveness and panic of “missing out” or of not getting what was “mine”.
By becoming conscious of these thought patterns and consciously changing them for a new script (for example: there’s more than enough of…), not only did my focus shift to a more constructive interpretation of events, but what I was focusing on began expanding and materializing in amazing and concrete ways.
I let go of the need to prove something to myself, and fighting to always come in first. What’s ironic was that once I let these toxic patterns go, I not only became better at what I was doing, but my experiences were more enjoyable. Instead of focusing on the “end result” or what I “was getting out of it”, the process of doing became the means and the end.
Another “script” I had was that “everything good in life comes from struggle”. Once I changed that script to “what I need comes effortlessly to me in the right time and place” life became much less stressful, and amazing things started happening in a smooth, almost effortless progression.
6. I became more aware of the power of the words and language I used.
Words have a great impact on our thoughts and subsequently, the reality we create and perceive. By becoming aware of my thoughts and of the words I was using, and consciously framing them in a more positive and constructive manner, the outcome of my actions and interactions improved the quality of my life.
7. I released the need to “be right” or have the last word, and began approaching situations that would have formerly ended in conflict with a more open mind and a less self-righteous attitude.
I met negativity with positivity and anger with kindness, and the outcomes were astoundingly positive. What you give out is reflected back to you, and so many aspects of my life became more harmonious and peaceful.
8. I faced my biggest fears and started weeding out things that were no longer working, even though they were comfortable. I took more risks.
For instance, I loved what I did for a living, but found that too much time was being spent in meetings or office politics, so I decided to get back to the root of WHY I love my profession: creative expression and helping others (and myself) express their vision through creative means.
Although it was terrifying, I quit my job and went freelance, with zero guarantees of success, and absolutely no safety net or a plan B. As a result, I felt creatively recharged, had the opportunity to work on amazingly creative projects and collaborate with all sorts of new people and businesses whose values were aligned with mine. Not only did I feel fulfilled, but I also had more time left over to pursue other hobbies and passions, and gained the feeling that I am living life on my own terms, instead of obeying someone else’s in exchange for a paycheck.
It turned out to be the second-best decision I’ve made in the past year, and I would have never made this decision was it not for the first one. Never would I have known before going to India that THAT decision would lead to this one, and that it would feel so right.
9. I began living in the moment and being mindful of the now.
It is human nature to get carried away by our thoughts, which constantly speculate and stress about an unknown future, or ruminate over a past that’s behind us. By focusing so much of our energy on a time and place that doesn’t actually exist, I was wasting time instead of enjoying my current experiences.
Once I became aware of my constantly buzzy brain, I learned how to train myself to come back to the present moment and enjoy it for what it is. By no means am I able to do this all of the time. It’s a constant work in progress. Meditation has helped a lot, although I’d be lying if I said that I don’t still have my days where sitting still in the moment doesn’t feel like mild torture. But these instances are getting farther away and fewer in number.
10. I finally reconnected with my roots and visited the country where I was born and spent my early childhood after 26 years of resistance to returning.
You can read about that experience here: http://yogabender.ca/eat-pray-love/.
Not only did that journey into the past lead me to a greater understanding and appreciation of where I come from, but it put into perspective things about my family and my own personality that I had no way of fully understanding prior to returning. I came back from that trip with an indescribable sense of connection, love and respect for a place that I had previously spent enormous amounts of energy on, trying to forget it existed.
11. I became kinder to, and more forgiving of myself.
Through a steady self-yoga and meditation practice, I began treating my body and mind better by feeding it with constructive thoughts, good food, and healthy habits. I’m by no means a saint and I still DO enjoy the occasional vices, but in moderation. I’ve learned when to back off and listen to what the body I live in is trying to tell me, instead of always pushing it to extremes.
12. I’ve started taking responsibility for my own part in events, and instead of casting blame or projecting onto others.
Taking a step back and asking myself what part I played in a situation, and what I can learn from it instead of pointing fingers and having the last word has taught me to let go and forgive more easily. Uncomfortable and humbling as this may have been at first, it’s helped me grow, learn about myself, and have stronger, more honest and loving relationships.
13. I’ve learned to embrace the unknown, and to look at life as a beautiful set of opportunities, even in the most challenging of times.
We are all works in progress, and as long as we are breathing, we are learning. We have a choice in each moment to look for the positives, instead of focusing on the negatives. We only get to live in this body on Earth once, so why not make it as peaceful, joyful and meaningful as we can?
And there you have it.
I often reflect on how I reacted to my experience in India while it was happening.
Looking back though the lens of who and where I am today, I realize how resistant to it I was, and how I reacted from a place of fear, habit, anger, and resistance.
I’ve often asked myself if I could re-live that adventure today, how much more would I get out of it, knowing I would approach it from a place of openness and acceptance?
And then I remind myself that I wouldn’t be who I am now, asking these questions, if I hadn’t gone through that time exactly as I was then.
And I smile, wondering who I will be in a year from NOW.
I love the fact that I have absolutely no idea.