June 27, 2013

How This Little Yogini Was Brought to Her Knees.


My Personal-ity Dilemma.

I heard a knock on the door.

I was just diving into some coconut bliss and goddess granola for dessert, following my delicious lunch of kale, red radish and raw goat cheese lunch.

I could see from the window an unfamiliar face of an African American, middle-aged man. He was on my porch, gazing in at me, stern faced.

I live in a diverse neighborhood that ranges from artists and baby booming yuppies, to people living on unemployment or selling drugs. I love the diversity and unpredictability. I find it grounding.

I slowly opened the door, keeping my cell phone in close proximity, as every possible melodrama and news headline flashed across my lower mind.

I took a deep breath and tried to look the man straight in the eyes, unwavering.

“How can I help you?”

The man asked if my husband was home.

“No,” I said hesitantly.

He proceeded to tell me that my husband had promised him work, and that he would like to mow our lawn. I looked around, but did not see a lawn mower. He also explained that times were hard for him and his wife, who was standing on the sidewalk near the house, stone-faced and wiping the sweat from her brow. 

“We have had a hard time putting food on the table, and the food stamps won’t arrive until next week. We are hungary. Please help us out,” he said.

I told him I would grab some things from the kitchen for them to eat. I went back into the house and brought back veggies, rice and a can of organic beans. As I came back out on the porch, they were both on the sidewalk. The man looked at what I had in my hands, waived his arm at me in aggravation, and said, “Seriously you expect that to fill us up?! Look at us! We was hoping for some McDonald’s or something!”

I felt like I did back in high school when I was the last person picked to be on a team. How can I meet this person where they are when the layers of our personalities are so thick?  My personality steeped in the identity of “helping” and his in “you owe me something better.”Here I was left standing on my front porch with my $30 organic skinny bitch yoga food.

Part of me was pissed! You have some nerve coming to my front door and then throwing your arms up at me!

All I could think of was how can I transmit 10 years of yoga and Ayurveda study to this ridiculous person in one sentence? That, or use some Jedi mind trick. “You do want organic stir-fry tonight. and you are sorry for inconveniencing me—namaste,” I imagined that with a waive of my sparkling yoga-jedi wand that he would drop all of his conditioning and habitual patterns and buy into mine.

The thing about yoga is that it develops this part of the brain called “witness” the part of yourself that watches how ridiculous the melodrama of life can be.

So while one part of my self was angry, another part was amused at the teaching and grounding in the moment. After all, realizing my personality of Pisces and Bhakti yogini, my head easily stuck in the clouds. I am aware that we have to be in the world too, keeping it all in perspective. Not everyone is interested in reading another Rumi poem on my blog or Facebook feed about how in love I am with everyone and everything.

Sometimes it is necessary for us to be brought up off our knees, onto our feet, and into the reality of the world we live in—even if it is a little mucked up. Life as I know it has been the dance between standing on my feet and dropping to my knees. It’s about the weaving of them both and not getting stuck in one place for too long.

What do you think all these sun salutations are prepping us for?

This day I should have used my feet. Taken a different path of action.

Why?! This guy was really an ass!

Because, part of me really buys into the yoga ideology that we are all one, and I couldn’t find kinship with this person except that we were both piddling all over each other with our personal identities. As our eyes met something happened. I could see exactly how he viewed me “goody-goody” and he could see exactly how I viewed him—”ungrateful free-loader”—and for a moment we could see ourselves reflected in one another’s eyes. As he left me standing there, dumbfounded that he didn’t accept my self-righteous food offering, I felt a sense of sadness. One that arises from the separation caused by the level of our personalities, how we catalog ourselves in the world. So what if he wanted McDonald’s?! Maybe I could have handled the situation differently…

In my yoga school our mission is to meet people where they are. I could have walked with him, bought them a meal, and gotten to hear more about their struggle. When someone trusts us enough to listen, we are given a gift of standing in some spark of truth.

Isn’t that what really nourishes us—for our stories to be heard?


Rather than finding common ground and standing on my feet, I hurried to my cabinet insulting him with my easy, messy, expensive, organic, hand out; ultimately so that he would get off my porch and allow me to get back to my bliss and goddess dessert.

My haste, my personality, and my fear were just as much obstacles as anything coming from his side. He was stuck in his conditioning, and so was I. Rather than forcing him to “take a hike” maybe I should have offered him “a walk.” Perhaps, a walk to McDonald’s was all it would take to practice some real yoga and create a different pattern. This is the hard work: keeping an open and fearless heart out in the world.

Yoga is the balance of inhale and exhale, dropping to our knees, allowing another veil of ourselves fall away and then standing back up upon our feet,  fearlessly, as we take what we learn from our stillness and devotion, and offer it back to whomever crosses our path, or knocks at our door. More than an offering of food, what if I really took time to listen? In the word of Ram Dass, “We are all just walking each other home” and McDonald’s could have been the start.


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Ed: Brianna Bemel

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