You just finished your Yoga Teacher Training, your Vipassana certification, you’re a newly anointed practitioner of XYZ and you now hold the keys to the Universe and want everyone to know.
I get it. I was there and did it too. I cringe when I think back to a party I attended years ago, when I had just finished my first Yoga training – standing in a group of people, extolling all of my newly found virtues, big happy smile pasted on my face as I explained that all of their problems were in their mind and that if they could just become the observer of their thoughts, they could transform their lives.
Every time that memory visits me, I am consumed by the urge to reach through space and time and clamp my hand over that young girl’s mouth and Shhhsh her into submission.
Not only was I way outta my lane, I was talking outta turn, freaking people out and however subconsciously pushing people away who couldn’t possibly relate to what I was talking about.
Because here’s the truth – we’re all suffering. We’re all going to continue to suffer. If you’re suffering right now, regardless of your belief in God, regardless of your meditation practice, your exquisite handstand to scorpion transition, regardless of your Sunday bound piousness, you’re suffering, and it’s not because you’re not working hard enough or not getting it right or are a hopeless sinner.
You’re Human. It’s in your nature. And it’s ok. No rain, no rainbows, right?
So, now that we have that out of the way – how can you go about your spiritual practices and life in a way that doesn’t repulse the people around you, doesn’t ostracize you in your community and doesn’t leave you lonely and alone?
We can start by emulating what my teacher Yogarupa Rod Stryker says – (paraphrasing) If you can’t explain what you’re doing to your neighbour without him looking like you’re speaking Swahili – you’re doing it wrong.
- 1. Don’t speak another language.
Speak to people in everyday, relatable language that they (and you) can understand. Trying to impress people with fancy words, complicated practices, and extravagant/obvious garb is a surefire way to alienate both them and you. Let’s use an example:
Farmer Joe: Wow, Jane you seem really different! You seem really happy! What are you doing?
Jane: Well Joe, I have a steady pranayama practice consisting of 20 minutes of Nadi-Shodhana followed by Japa recitation to Ganesh for 40 minutes. I follow that up with 90 minutes of Asana and top it off with Yoga Nidra.
(Farmer Joe exits stage left, confused and mumbling about Witchcraft and Millennials)
In this example, it’s obvious that Jane is both puffing her chest and creating a setting that isn’t very inviting or attractive. Remember, this exchange started with Joe complimenting Jane and enquiring (likely for himself, because: suffering) what she’s doing that is creating such a change.
He leaves uninspired and turned off.
So, let’s try that again.
Farmer Joe: Wow, Jane you seem really different! You seem really happy! What are you doing?
Jane: Thanks, Joe! That’s really kind of you to notice. Really, I have just tried slowing down, I try to set aside a few minutes every morning to breath gently and close my eyes. Then I try to remember all of the things and people I am grateful for, including God. And I have been trying to move my body every day. And that’s about it!
(Farmer Joe – enthralled, asks for more details and goes on to ask Jane if she can teach him that breathing, sitting thing).
Aha Inclusivity. Community. Bring people in, don’t push them away.
2. Remember – You’re a HOUSEHOLDER.
What does it mean to be a householder? It means that from a spiritual perspective – your spiritual journey INCLUDES your sexuality, your finances, your children, your ability to enjoy your food, drink, life etc. What it doesn’t mean is being a Yogi cave-dweller, whose job is to meditate on the Universe and report back to us (Householders). You can swap out the Yogi for your Priest, Preacher or anyone else who has taken vows to not partake in ventures outside of the faith. That’s their path – it’s not yours. And that’s awesome. It’s awesome because your job is to enjoy your life! I see this all the time – ‘spiritual seekers’ who are denying themselves all kinds of sense pleasures as a path towards God, and I have to tell you, most of the time it’s misinformed and off-side.
One of the ways I see it most often is with money – spiritual types who are uncomfortable with money, don’t know how to make it, don’t know how to keep it, can’t say their worth, can’t charge their worth and are stuck in the ‘suffering artist’ feedback loop. Money for them equals something messy, dirty, untoward and mos def unspiritual. No Bueno.
Another way I see this is at parties – everyone is having a good time and the ‘spiritual type’ is busy refusing the pigs in a blanket because ‘industrial farming’ and animal rights, and turning down the beer because it will kill my God Buzz. This example gets complicated because it’s great to have your virtues and to live by them. Don’t believe in Industrial Farming? Great, me either. Animal rights? Of course. Beer, well, we can disagree there, I’m a country girl after all.
The hang-up is this: No one needs to know your reason for being on everything. Don’t be party crasher with your values. They’re yours, and they aren’t going to be everyones. Another teacher of mine, Harshad Thomlinson said (paraphrasing), don’t beat people over the head with your beliefs. Live your life and if they notice and care – they will ask!
So have the veggie platter, skip the meat and opt for La Croix (or live on the edge and get yourself a Coors Banquet, you’ll thank me later) if you must, but please spare everyone your vibe-murdering ways.
3. Embrace your polarity.
You’re never going to be all 1 thing. You’re not meant to be! We’re complicated, multi-faceted beings that are prone to messing up because it happens to be how we learn best.
Your messy, confusing, changing life is what makes you relatable and lovable. When we try to act perfect and as though we have it all together, it turns people off because they can sense that you’re lying. It’s not genuine and frankly, exhausting to both live and be around.
Yogi’s swear. We yell at our kids. We drink. We smoke pot. We cheat on our taxes. We lust, we envy, we get angry and prideful. And just like everyone else, we’re trying not to do or be any of those things. The operative word being TRY. Just try. But please spare yourself and everyone around you the agony of you believing you’re above any of these traits. You’re human.
4. Mind your Biscuits.
Please, stop assuming that your way is everyone’s way, or that their life would be much improved if they just came around to your way of thinking. We all know how annoyed we get when religious solicitors come to our door, however well-meaning, to ask us if we have heard the word. Even if we were interested, the imposition is an immediate turn off for most.
And here’s the thing – their life isn’t your business.
Quick – take a look around – see the mess around you? The laundry, dirty dishes, the unfinished chores, the rough relationships, the un-mended fences, the un-tended gardens?
How could you possibly have time to remedy someone else’s life with all the work you have cut out for you?!
If someone (see: Joe) asks you for help or wants to know what you’re doing that is helping you, then by all means, use the appropriate language and give them the tools they are asking for. But if they have not asked you, for God’s sake, mind your biscuits. Unsolicited advice is the absolute worst and almost 100% of the time leaves the other people feeling invalidated and frustrated.
If someone needs you to listen, just listen. If you’re unclear, ask them “Do you need to me to listen? Or do you need me to help?”. They will be relieved that you asked and will often say, with a deep sigh, “Oh Lord, please, just listen”.
5. Stay in your Lane.
“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” ~ Rumi
Just because Yoga, Crossfit, Jesus, Allah or Veganism has worked for you does not mean it will be the right fit or path for someone else. Instead of feeling the urge to push your beliefs or practices on someone else, sit back and listen to the other person. Find the similarities in your beliefs, find the confluence or over-lap, because there will be overlap. Be curious and earnest – seek to understand them. Again, if they are curious about you and your path, answer questions, but if not, stay open and listen. As Rumi said, there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground – or as I like to say – the lamps are different but the light is the same.
Stop assuming that you are so different, or that how you connect to nature, God, Goddess or the Universe is so unique and the one true path. We are all here on a path, and they all lead to home.
In summary, being spiritual doesn’t have to mean being a jerk. It can mean being present, conscious and engaged with life, while still being human, messing up and starting over. Do yourself a favor – drop your defenses, allow yourself the freedom of mistakes, of not knowing the answer, and of being wrong. The world doesn’t need your performance of perfection. The world needs your most honest life, lived to the fullest.