…or Humble Lessons From a Previous Humbug (including the secret formula for manifesting what you want from the Universe!)
Holiday Cookie Pose
The holidays are a time when many of us revisit long-held family and personal traditions. We eat the same food, partake in the same activities and music, visit with the same family and friends each year. We look to these familiar traditions for comfort, but soon realize that while the external shell of our traditions may look the same from year to year, our inner experience is always different. We return to the same point on the calendar expecting a circle, but instead experience a spiral – each year drifting a bit from the person and circumstances of the previous year.
And so, much like a seasoned yoga student’s experience of settling into the first Downward Facing Dog of the day, holiday traditions provide for me a powerful vantage point for observing what I’ve lost, gained, learned, and let go of during the year. I think of these opportunities for observation as equivalent to Yoga poses. My personal favorites are “Baking Holiday Cookies Pose” and “Singing Carols with my Sister Pose.”
These “yoga poses” provide moments of stillness and reflection that I consider gifts from the holiday. Willing or not, I am often forced to look at who I was, who I am, and perhaps contemplate who I may become. (Yes, like Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.”) It can be exciting to observe how my life has changed, but it is also often bittersweet and humbling. Most people, myself included, tend to remain attached to the stories of our old selves and old circumstances.
My Old Self
Since I entered my first yoga teacher training in 2003, Yoga has been my primary field of work and study. So much has changed in the American yoga “industry” since those early days – class content, public perception, teaching styles, studio business, and of course changes in my own teaching. Each year around the holidays, as part of my reflections, I question whether I’m walking a path of integrity, and if I feel the continued call to teach Yoga. For 15 years, the answer was always “yes,” but at the end of 2018, the answer had changed to “no.”
After so many years on the same path, I’ll be honest… I started to coast. I studied less with teachers that inspired me because both they and I were constantly traveling. I started having more opinions than questions. I was no longer able to attend a yoga class without analyzing or “harvesting” what I learned/observed so that I could later use it in my own classes. Which, simply put, felt dirty. Of course I wasn’t parroting directly from other teachers; I was teaching from my own experience. But, my own experience had become thin because I was analyzing my own practice at the same time that I was practicing. I wasn’t ever practicing yoga, because I was never authentically engaged, or mentally present in the classes I took. I had stunted my own growth, and my teaching became flat because my own practice lacked integrity. On top of this, I secretly judged younger teachers for their enthusiastic, flowing, ‘Flash Dance’-like classes.
Even though I saw the change happening in myself, I couldn’t stop it. I’d completely lost my beginner’s mind. While I still believed in what I was studying and teaching, the way I was interacting with it had shifted from the open, fresh, passionate response of a beginner to a judgmental, rigid, dry person. Ishvara Pranidhana? Forget it. My perceived skill had long snuffed out both the surrender and the mystery. I became secretly miserable and numb. Bah! Humbug!
The horrible irony about all of this, is that I was still “successful” by most accounts. Students still thanked me for the information I taught them and the “heart” they said I brought to it. It was a humbling reminder that as teachers, we are just mirrors for students to reveal about themselves whatever aspects they are ready to see. I noticed the type of students who were seeking my teachings had changed. Whereas I was once a lantern for curious butterflies and creative seekers, I had become a solid wall attracting students who wanted authoritatively safe, concrete answers. As Carl Jung said, “But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.” Being me had become at best, unbearably stale, and at worst, untrue.
Starting January 1, 2019, I took a year off from being me. I told people it was a year off of teaching, so as not to scare my friends and family. But, it was actually a year off from nearly all my work, and my entire identity. In January 2019, I sold all my aerial hammock inventory, cleared my teaching schedule, and started telling people I was “on sabbatical” for the year. “Sabbatical” sounded a lot more constructive than “Bah, humbug!” Or, “I’m f**n’ internally failing at this.” And, it was certainly less confusing than “I achieved outward success at the expense of losing my mind.”
I honestly didn’t know if I would return to teaching. All I knew was that I had to become an authentic beginner again. And if I lost my Yoga and meditation practices in the process, so be it.
Change Creates Grief
It turns out that it’s not easy to strip oneself of an identity built over almost 2 decades. It’s easy to be a beginner when young because one constantly encounters new things. In middle age, however, work demands one hone an expertise, and the world shrinks. The tendency is to get addicted to feeling competent, and more importantly, a relatively steady income.
In February and March, I felt angry and oddly full of grief. April and May were filled with powerlessness, fears of uselessness and insecurity about the future. I ended up teaching a few Skype classes and privates during those months because I needed a “hit” of feeling useful and competent. Unfortunately, those classes provided important but painful reminders to continue my quest for Beginner’s Mind. It was rough.
From then on, since I didn’t know what I wanted, I began to make choices based on what I knew I didn’t want anymore, and took a chance on the rest.
What happened once I created a frighteningly blank schedule? The Universe, in her infinite wisdom and creativity, laughed and shoveled new challenges my way to further dismantle my self-image. From the outside, it probably looked exciting and abundant. But as the person standing under the avalanche, it was incredibly scary, even though many of the experiences were things I’d also long desired. In hindsight, I now see all the experiences were gifts. Even if at the time, it just felt like a chaotic pile of unknown things, many with sharp corners, coming straight at me.
The process wasn’t pleasant, and I certainly wasn’t graceful about it. But I learned something about myself. By focusing so much on growing my skills and business, I’d shut the door on several gifts the world was waiting to bestow. And as soon as I created a little space, the door popped open, and a mountain of gifts toppled over me. Now that it’s been almost a full year since I quit my old self, and the avalanche of gifts from the Universe stopped flowing a few weeks ago, I looked around and realized I was in Texas. I’d met my soulmate, and moved to Austin. I’d faced down past demons and set personal boundaries that’d been dangerously unclear. I’d attended several personal-development workshops throughout the year. And, I’d apparently made a gym and running routine, and was spending quality time on my yoga mat (!) to cope with all the change.
HUMBLE LESSONS LEARNED
If 2019 was a blizzard for you too, a big high-five to you, Survivor.
Still amidst the snowdrifts? I’ll lend you my two personal shovels:
1) The “Upper Limits” Problem. I came across this concept years ago (in a book by Gay Hendricks), and staying aware of it helped me stay above water this year. The U.L. problem contends that when we reach what we perceive to be our upper limit (of success, happiness, career, etc) we start to behave in ways that knock us down a notch or prevent us from going further so we can remain in our comfort zone. Essentially, ANY kind of change in life (positive or negative) is difficult because it is unfamiliar and therefore uncomfortable. We inherently understand that after trauma or loss we need to take time to recharge, sit in a bathtub, read a book, rest. But what should we do when we experience success or significant personal growth? The exact same thing. If we don’t allow just as much space and self-care for processing during times of positive change, we risk turning back to our old patterns. Google “Upper Limits problem,” for all sorts of helpful coping tools regarding change.
2) Emptiness is Everything. A familiar metaphor to Yogis: If your cup is already full, there is no space for anything new. If you currently feel ‘stuck in a waiting room’, unclear on your next steps: Just wait. Trust. Rest. Clear your mind and cultivate Santosha (contentment/lack of desire). When it’s time to act, your gut will tell you. Do not jump into activity simply to fill the empty space.
In fact, protect that empty space with everything you have. Practice saying ‘no’ to things that aren’t perfectly what you want. Set the intention that nothing can claim that free space unless it is an absolute, 100% “HELL YES!” That empty space is the crucible that will transform your inner self. It is the crystal ball where realizations appear. It is the holodeck where new people and passions are brought in to your life. Clear out more empty space and stillness than you think you need in every aspect of your being (i.e. koshas): physical, energetic, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Meditate a little longer; regularly walk in nature without your phone; sleep alone a few nights (if you have a partner); reserve time for doing absolutely nothing and then defend it with your life.
And thus we come to…
The Secret Formula for Manifestation of What You Want From the Universe.
Click bait is real, and if you just skimmed the majority of this article to find this, no shame. And even though I could create a 30-day online course designed to “activate your innate power to manifest the life of your dreams” for the unbelievable price of $108 $69 (available only for Instagram customers who swipe up now)… I’m just going to tell you what it is.
Intention + Surrender + Empty Space = Manifestation.
That’s it. And once you’ve manifested something worth keeping, you let go of something old. Above all else, you must maintain the empty space.
My New Self
Today I went to yoga class and felt fully present. That’s been the trend lately, and I’m feeling #Gratitude. These days I no longer analyze class or hold it to some unrealistic standards. My teacher is 23 years old and she’s fearlessly teaching her own truth. I show up and surrender myself to the practice because honestly I’m just too beat up by the changes of 2019 to do anything else. And, I feel… great! I feel like Scrooge flinging open the windows on Christmas Day. Perhaps I’ve made it to the other side. I forgot how good a beginner’s mind can feel. Does that mean I’m ready to teach again? Who knows? Who cares? The holidays are upon us and I’m dropping all expectations and just showing up.
Same holiday poses, new presents presence.
Happy Holidays, Ya’ll! With love from Texas,
About the Author
Becky Stella is an Unnata Aerial Yoga Course Leader, teaching Unnata® Aerial Yoga since 2009. She is founder of www.AerialYogaOnline.com, a resource for aerial equipment, rigging, instructional videos, and trainings.