Just over two years ago, I made a commitment which was (unbeknownst to me at the time) the most influential determinant of the path I walk today.
At that time everything felt like it was wrong; and I was angsty about it. I was so miserable but would rather suffer than fathom the fear-inducing intuition that I had to make a change somewhere in my life, anywhere, to take the edge off of my perceived misery.
I chose pacifism instead.
That was ultimately not what was best for my own well-being. It was just really easy because I could make myself invisible, numb out any pain and go about my business quietly without making a fuss.
But hey, we don’t start until we’re ready, right?
The whirlwind version of my self-perceived misery is I was about three months out from wrist surgery and couldn’t do the sweat-inducing, fast-paced yoga that was a physical outlet for me, I was in a job that wasn’t really serving me, and I was depressed and leaning on quick fixes to take the edge off. Things got so bad that I was missing work to go to doctors appointments because my body was in rebellion and thus so misregulated it was dysfunctional.
I had intermittently dabbled in Forrest Yoga during wrist surgery recovery because it was less impactful on my wrists, and that was better than the alternative and better than no yoga.
There was one August day I remember when I had missed work to go to the doctor and thought to myself, okay, yoga it is. Via my logical brain which yearned for normalcy (whatever that meant at the time), yoga trumped sitting on the couch and moping or coping mechanisms.
What happened when I walked out of class that day wasn’t magic, but it was relief and deep acceptance that avoidance was no longer the way to go. Everything I’d been walking through—the medical woes, the depression and the angst—felt validated. I’d found a space where I could just be.
It was more than yoga. It was this deeply feeling somatic aspect that when layered upon the physical practice brought me back into my body in a feeling way that made numbing out less of a first choice, automatic, gut reaction.
I could be with my feelings and shake the echoes of “cheer up” or “smile.”
I could stop judging myself for that hour and a half about what I couldn’t do or for not feeling physically normal.
More importantly (even though I wasn’t putting two and two together at the time), I felt seen and respected. I didn’t have to fake feeling good when I wasn’t, feeling happy when I wasn’t or saying or doing anything that didn’t feel authentic to me.
I walked out of yoga class with a commitment that day to trusting in the process and a recognition that these were people who just got it, no explanation needed.
I came back, and I kept coming back. Because for the first time in a long long time, I was feeling this magnetizing pull to face the parts of myself I was scared of.
Naively in those early days, I thought, oh this yoga will make me better and solve all my problems forever and always. But it was not the grass is greener on the other side notion that kept me coming back. It was the reminder that in a sometimes seemingly cruel and chaotic world, I was doing myself a disservice by not coming back to myself. This was the beginning of the steps down my spiritual path.
But with time and commitment—and showing up for this work even when I didn’t want to—I learned that it’s not about getting better and pushing away suffering out of our lives forever.
“When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality.” ~ Pema Chödrön
I learned how to negotiate and build balance around how I respond in the face of chaos. I learned that I’m a lot stronger than I think or want to believe and trust in.
And I learned the most important lesson of this commitment, which is that the chaos will always be there. The pain doesn’t go away.
Two-plus years later, it’s different problems and feelings and challenges—but I perceive them with the awareness that some days I’ll win, some days I’ll lose and feel like falling on my face and pushing the world away, but I’ll have an awareness to access the physical and emotional intelligence to deal with them in a strengthened and embodied way.
And this, this is the crux of the spiritual path, it’s infinitely layered and infinitely long. But the pleasure lies in walking it and receiving the lessons.
Author: Caitlin Oriel
Image: Sébastien Marchand/Unplash