As a former yoga teacher, and student of yoga for nearly 20 years, I have a confession to make: I am not a yogi.
Let me explain.
According to arguably the most famous yogi, Patanjali, yoga is ‘chitta vritti nirodha’, or “the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”. In other words, it is the attempt to attain stillness and clarity of mind, such that one might abide in the ‘True Self’ or ‘Absolute Consciousness’.
Words such as ‘enlightenment’, ‘transcendence’, and ‘bliss’ have been used to describe this state. More could be said, but I recognize that many of you reading this are practitioners or teachers of yoga and I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you understand what I am talking about. So much has already been written and taught on this subject, and the point I am trying to make is not this.
The point however, is that the thing I have been searching for through my practice is not Spiritual Enlightenment.
I have not been seeking to reside in a continual state of bliss. I have not been seeking access to all of the wisdom of the Universe, nor a key to the doorway of all of the ancient secrets and treasures.
I have not been interested in dressing in robes and being perched in the lotus position in a velvet chair beside a statue of Shiva, lecturing to hundreds or thousands (even if that was a reasonable goal). It was never my intent to get enlightened so I could enlighten others. I haven’t been trying to renounce my current life in favor of solitude and decade after decade of uninterrupted meditation. I’m not really interested in attaining some altered state that will only result in further separation from the very people I desire to serve. Even though it might have seemed that way at times, I have not really been seeking to unite all of the aspects of myself in an integrated way such that I feel a sense of wholeness at all times. My goal hasn’t really been to transcend all my problems and turn my back on earthly concerns. I didn’t really expect that I would never argue or disagree with anyone ever again, or never lose anyone I loved, or never have financial concerns. It never really occurred to me that if I practiced hard enough and became blissful enough, that children would no longer go hungry, that violence would cease, and the Earth would miraculously be healed from the devastation we have inflicted upon it.
By practicing yoga all this time, I had maybe hoped that people would like me a little better. Actually, I had hoped to like myself a little better.
What I was really seeking was the ability to hear my own voice above the chaos of the world around me. I wanted to feel at home in my own body. Actually, I wanted to love my own body. I wanted to hug people without feeling uncomfortable. Look someone in the eye for longer than 2 seconds without getting embarrassed. Hold someone’s hand or cuddle without it having to be sexual. Feel a closeness with others that would make it okay to lay my head on their shoulder or ask for comfort when I needed it. I wanted to love myself. I wanted to know that I was okay. To feel a sense of confidence and security that had always eluded me.
I wanted to be able to say ‘no’ when I meant ‘no’, and ‘yes’ when I meant ‘yes’—and have it be respected. To create healthy boundaries and remain loving and kind at the same time. To express myself freely. To speak my truth. To be heard. To learn how to listen deeply. To touch others and be touched. To understand how to do all of this in a world where touch is taboo and speaking up is frowned upon. To experience unconditional love when I had never experienced it before. To find the strength and courage required to heal my inner wounds. To face my mistakes. To apologize for past regrets. To do my part in healing the earth while living in a society that seems to be at war with that desire. To recognize that this kind of healing, and attainment of such a lofty goal takes a lifetime or more.
There are people that have been on this path way longer than me, but one thing I know is that it requires patience and there is no skipping ahead. Perhaps cessation of the fluctuations of the mind and residing in a continual state of bliss—such that I might experience ‘the divine-pulse-of-the-universe coursing through my veins in every waking moment’ is a state I will attain eventually . . . in 8 or 9 or a thousand more lifetimes. But from what I can see, most of us have enough trouble feeling at home in our own bodies and speaking kindly to ourselves. We might be well-advised to leave enlightenment for another day so we can see what’s going on for us today. Patience. One step at a time.
So, if admitting that I am not searching for enlightenment, or bliss, or union or whatever makes me something other than a yogi, then I am not a yogi.
More than likely, I am just a girl seeking healing, truth, and love in a world where this is kind of hard.