An old acquaintance left a voice message for me recently that went along the lines of, “Sorry I’ve missed you. You must be off somewhere on a spiritual high floating above the clouds or something.”
After first laughing out loud upon listening, his message got me thinking about the assumptions and misconceptions of what it means to follow a spiritual path in a modern world. And I feel the need to bust some myths about the spiritual life that will likely come as no surprise to you.
I stopped and reflected on my own path, involving almost 25 years of some type of spiritual practice including anything from yoga to meditation, mantra, crystal healing, sound healing, and mindfulness. I was reticent of the struggles that led me into yoga teaching some eight years ago and the deep inner knowing that without reaching that point of “rock bottom” in my life, I never would have had the courage to follow this calling.
Was my path over this time continuous, linear, and ascending at all times? Hardly. I would describe it more as twisted and spasmodic, like a steep and winding road littered with potholes, landslides, and the occasional shooting star up ahead!
Do I feel like I’m walking around high on life all the time? No way! In fact, quite the opposite. Some days, it can be a sheer struggle to show up on my mat, accepting all of my self in that moment, even if I am breaking apart inside. It could have been anything from an argument with my kids before school drop off or an anxiety attack about nothing in particular. I have learnt not only to embrace but to accept the light and the dark and to allow anything that needs to come forth to reveal itself in whatever way it needs to.
I shifted my focus to reflect on the spiritual paths of my most influential teachers. Had they always been on a “high,” smiling from ear to ear? Absolutely not. Most of my teachers had landed on their path without deliberation, in many cases a final attempt to save themselves after years of struggle. I have sat listening to many of my teachers and peers reveal stories of pain and challenge, admitting that their spiritual practice was an essential component to the daily management of past (and present) obstacles in their lives.
I will never forget a conversation I had with my first yoga teacher when I was in my late teens. He was (and still is!) the most calm, steady, and centred person I have ever met. Nothing could faze him. Sometimes his young daughter would be with him at the start of our classes and she would scream around the room doing cartwheels and trying to get his attention as we all lie silent in Supta Baddha Konasana (reclined bound angle pose).
You could tell it was disturbing him, but he never flinched, and she eventually gave up. After asking him what led him to become a full-time yoga teacher he looked me squarely in the eyes and said,
“I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for yoga, I would be dead right now.”
Wow. I had not expected that response. As it happened, his life before becoming a yoga teacher was anything but bright. He was living in share houses in unsavoury locations and at times would need to carry around a knife just to protect himself. He abused himself with drugs and alcohol. When yoga found him, it literally saved his life.
It has been over two decades since that conversation and he, like me, may not have his sh*t together at every waking minute of the day, but his dedication to yoga and spirituality provides a rock of stability at the core of his being.
Whilst I certainly cannot speak for all yoga or spiritual teachers, I can honestly say that I have never met a spiritual teacher who has their sh*t together all the time. We wouldn’t be human if that was the case.
The spiritual path is equally as challenging and confronting as it is joyous and liberating. Being true to yourself and courageous in character are essential cogs that keep the wheel turning. And it will keep spinning, sometimes so slowly that it feels like you are going backward.
But forward it shifts.