Two years ago, I sat in a teepee on a mountain in southern Arizona and promised myself I would change.
I was single, empty-nested, financially challenged, depressed, and anxious.
I was staying at a retreat center where I drank juice, ate vegan food, meditated, and took a break from technology. My checkbook afforded me three shorts nights on the mountain, after which I left with vows of new habits and goals.
I promised myself I was going to get out of my rut.
Prior to the mountain, I’d been on a two-year self-improvement bender. I took classes to release blocks. I attempted fear cleanses and raw food diets. I took on 30 and 40-day challenges in sobriety, writing, self-care, and meditation. I joined Facebook manifestation and empowerment groups. I downloaded binaural beat apps. Daily mantras and law of attraction quotes were delivered daily to my email box.
In my deep dive into personal transformation, I covered all my bases. My choices were non-denominational, haphazard, and weird at times. They were a total distraction.
I didn’t recognize it at the time but I was spiritually bypassing.
I kept making promises. I kept breaking promises. During those times, I’d go back to more typical distractions like work, Netflix, wine, carbs, and social media. I did everything I could to avoid feeling. The mounting shame from failure distanced me further from my inner truth.
I cringe when I look back. I had reasoned that I wasn’t getting plastic surgery, Botox, or dating younger men. I didn’t feel the need to lose weight, redecorate, or buy clothing. I genuinely thought I was signing on to do “the work.”
But all of it was nothing more than a privileged form of addiction. My magical thinking led me to believe that peace, love, and joy hinged on my promises of finishing, reaching, converting, changing, and perfecting. My teepee ceremony didn’t change my behavior but it did help me reach my bottom.
Geneen Roth, in her book, Women Food and God, speaks of finally finding peace when she gave up dieting. She let her relationship with food guide her to her true feelings about love, fear, anger, and meaning. When she finally gave up the compulsion to diet, she healed.
“You are not a mistake. You are not a problem to be solved. But you won’t discover this until you are willing to stop banging your head against the wall of shaming and caging and fearing yourself.” ~ Geneen Roth
I can’t recall exactly when I called myself out on my own bullsh*t, but I finally stopped making promises to myself.
I stopped thinking I needed to change. I allowed feelings to replace projections. I sat with the loneliness of being single and empty-nested. The fear of not having enough visited daily. The grief from bygone relationships and dimmed dreams knocked, and I let it in.
By weathering the emotional sh*tstorm of negative feelings, I was gifted the warm and tender ones as well. I became more grateful and tolerant, and I craved connection.
Seeking new friends, I found myself at a Kundalini yoga studio. Intrigued by the yogis who wore white and endorsed cold showers, gong baths, and a vegetarian diet, I took my first class at RAMA Yoga in Venice, California. The breathwork, meditation, and chanting were refreshing and I felt something strikingly basic. I enjoyed myself. I enjoyed being me. I enjoyed my body. I enjoyed the practitioners around me. The community was sweet, kind, and open-hearted. We laughed in class. I stocked up on white T-shirts and friendly vibes.
Kundalini yoga was effective at knocking out my self-improvement neuroses and steering me back into my body. The combination of meditation, chanting, and kriya (completed action) left me feeling focused and renewed. Living in the moment was not as difficult. I started to notice and relish the mundane: Baking muffins. Finding a different path with my dog. Shopping at the farmer’s market. Going for a swim in the ocean. Trying a new way to brew my coffee.
By ending my self-improvement fixation, I was able to navigate my way back to what matters. My values started to inform my decisions and I realized my life and business needed an overhaul. Designing and working in the construction business no longer felt right. Spending hours in my car in service of an industry I didn’t enjoy was no longer an option.
Taking a ruthless inventory of my values and my life led me to move from Los Angeles to New York City in 2018. What followed was a deep dive into reading, learning, writing, and creating. I’m still sorting out what I hope will become my right livelihood, but I’m happier and more hopeful.
Pema Chödrön, in her book, The Places that Scare You, refers to the human desire to escape discomfort. I hold her words close to me these days and continue to avoid promises and programs promising a better life.
“Never underestimate our inclination to bolt when we hurt.”