I first met Stacey when she walked into my yoga studio—clearly uncertain, nervous, and just dipping a toe into her practice.
She confessed later that she hated yoga that first day. “I came back for the meditation.” And come back she did.
Recovering from an illness, she was receiving physical therapy and learning about the functions of her body. Her doctor had recommended yoga as a complement. She returned weekly, then twice a week, and eventually started private yoga classes. On her 60th birthday, she started a teacher training course with me. When she finally lifted both legs up into a handstand, she cried gorgeous, joyful tears.
I watched her gain strength and confidence. She didn’t miss a single minute of the 50 hours we had scheduled together. She took diligent notes, passed every test with 100 percent, and answered questions even when her answers were wrong. She became my teacher too, and a personal inspiration. At the end of the training, with beaming blue eyes and rosy cheeks, she said: “Being an inspiration is really hard work.”
We forget that.
We all love to see the narrative of loss and redemption. We light up for that “after” shot, but we often forget that this is only the highlight moment. It’s not the whole story. The whole story includes pit stains, dark circles, arguments (both with ourselves and our loved ones), failure, small successes, more failure, and plenty of sad tears before the happy ones arrive.
As any student of Greek mythology or Hollywood movies knows, there has to be pain for a hero to emerge. Our human tendency to eschew pain and gravitate toward comfort means that few of us ever make use of our experience of pain. Most of the time, the best we do is survive it. In rare examples, though, we are willing to do the hard work of befriending our challenges.
Often we wait until our heroes are polished and prepped before rooting for them. We don’t like their mess, because it reminds us of that mess we’re so busy running away from in ourselves. We wait for the mess to be cleared, but at that point, they don’t even need our cheers. They need our cheers when they’re doing the hard work of making something of their struggles.
There’s no timeline for this process. Part of loving someone through the work is knowing they will move at their own pace and the progress will rarely be linear. We will be cheering on a loser for sometime before we get to cheer on a winner. We will cheer their anger, frustration, jealousy, and sweat.
Try it in your own life.
Find the person who is least deserving of applause. Don’t give her your pity or sympathy. Don’t wish away her pain or tell her to be strong. Cheer when she’s weak. Let her know you’re watching the effort that goes into being with her weakness. Most importantly, let her know her pain is not wasted. Rather than offering a helping hand, let her help and teach you too. Don’t be the hero coming in to save her; instead, let her be of benefit in your life. You may be surprised by what she can teach you. If nothing else, she’ll feel empowered and valued on her journey.
One day, you’ll cheer for her victory. You’ll watch her hold her trophy and be an inspiration to many. And it will feel so good. Why? Because it felt so bad along the way.
Author: Bethany Eanes
Image: Esparta Palma/Flickr
Editor: Danielle Beutell