“Who do you think you are?”
When you meet someone, how do you describe yourself? “I’m a father, mother, writer, daughter, yoga teacher, entrepreneur, successful business man/woman, lawyer, therapist, wife, husband…” “I live _______. I have ______.”
The degree that we are attached to consistently maintaining this sense of Self and identity is the degree we suffer when our truth or life changes. The majority of our lives are spent building up exterior structures and facades to uphold our ideas of who we think we are.
After 12 years of teaching yoga in the vibrant, bursting Santa Monica yoga scene and traveling the world leading workshops and retreats – I was very (very) attached to thinking of myself as a ‘successful vinyasa yoga teacher’. Quite proud, really. Then, I started noticing that I wanted to branch out in a new direction and went back to school to get my Master’s Degree in Psychology. Simultaneously, I switched yoga studios – moving from Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga in Santa Monica to Exhale – Sacred Movement in Venice. Where once my typical class was packed with 60 people sweating it out eight times a week, I now couldn’t seem to build a following of more than 15 people in a room. I was devastated. Constricted, confused, desperate – I panicked. Then, it happened. Everything I feared most came true.
Exhale’s management decided they needed to insure more income per class. Simultaneously, Annie Carpenter moved over to Exhale and swept up not one, but all of my six classes. Every. Single. One. Gone. (Sidenote: I love and adore Annie, showed up at her first class in solidarity and regularly attend her classes at Exhale or anywhere else I’m lucky enough to find her. I also love Exhale, teach my LA workshops there and it is still and always will be my yoga home base.)
In a matter of days, I literally was not teaching any yoga classes. What happened to the career I had so painstakingly built for over a decade? Moreover, what happened to the ‘successful vinyasa yoga teacher’ praised regularly on the street as people’s ‘favorite yoga class’? Who the hell was I? What did I answer when people asked…so, where are you teaching yoga now?
Answer: Nobody. Nowhere.
Or, as my greatest teacher Ram Dass likes to say: “Now here.”
I knew enough to believe that all this was happening “for a reason” (insert: annoying gulp and forced deep breath). The subsequent six months, albeit riddled with sadness, grief, confusion and massive self-doubt also taught me how much I had learned to trust life.
It was all I could do to tame the rowdy voices spinning in my head:“I’m not good enough.” “See, you don’t really know what you’re doing, afterall.“”Nobody likes you.” “You failed.”
Yet, underneath the devilish banter I kept coming back to trust. I knew I was reincarnating. Molting an old, outgrown skin. I knew that I didn’t know what was coming next. I knew I was being prepared for something greater and had to wait it out. I knew I had become proud and defined by the image of who I thought I was and what I thought deemed ‘success’ in this tiny, little microcosm of the Santa Monica yoga scene.
Yes, I endured a very real financial struggle. No, it wasn’t pretty. I broke my foot prancing around in stilettos one night after too much Sake, undoubtedly trying to quell the pain and prove that I was still sexy and successful. (More on that in another blog post.)
Broken foot = STOP.
Life comes to a screeching halt. One is forced to sit very still and just be – now here. No body.
Here are 3 steps to help you practice NOBODY TRAINING so that you can keep loosening the ties that bind you to who you think you are and you don’t have to break your foot to let go. This Nobody Training is a derivative of my mentor and teacher, Dr. Ron Alexander’s work in his book, Wise Mind. Open Mind.
1. NOBODY MEDITATION.
For 15 minutes every day sit in stillness and silence. Sit tall. Close your eyes. Follow your breath. Imagine all the roles that you play washing off of you like water off a duck’s back. See the masks you wear being peeled off. Practice letting go.
Imagine who you would be if you were not a mother, daughter, writer, teacher, entrepreneur, etc.
What would life be like if you moved to a different part of the country, started a whole new career? What new hobbies might you take up? Where would you travel? What kind of friends would you have if you lived in a parallel universe?
Keep emptying out. Every time you notice your mind center on what you “should” be doing, entertain the idea of something totally different. Example: If you’re trying to get fit or lose weight…What if you did like to exercise? What would your life be like? How does a healthy, thin person live? What are their habits and preferences?
2. NOTICE THE “I” MAKER.
Notice throughout the day every time you use the word “I”, “me” or “mine”. What do you think defines you? Begin to notice all the stories you tell yourself every day about who you think you are, how you act, what you think are your habits. What if they weren’t true? What new stories, characteristics, habits, desires could you create for yourself?
In yoga psychology, we call this “Ahamkara” or the “I” maker. We invest an inordinate amount of time and energy building and preserving our sense of “I”. Begin to poke holes in the illusion of your false self and who you ‘think you are’. What exists underneath all of this?
3. BE ANONYMOUS.
The next time you go to a new meeting, cocktail party, gathering, retreat or event – stay as anonymous as possible. Don’t tell people what you do. Let your “being” or energy speak for itself. Tell people you do something totally different. Ask them questions and engage on a level deeper than personality and small talk. Notice the tendency we have to project onto other people based on what little we know about them. Notice what other people tend to project onto you. Challenge yourself to resist making assumptions and stay open to the newness and all possibilities. What if all Wall St. brokers weren’t greedy? Or all yogi-meditators weren’t hippy-dippy? Invite contradictions.
Once I let go of my fixed idea of the ‘successful yoga teacher’ mask, I could finally relax into the truth that I really did not want to be teaching eight classes a week or be in a sweaty yoga room every day for the rest of my life. I definitely wanted to keep teaching, but I wanted to add a whole other dimension to my work: therapy, coaching, writing and more entrepreneurial endeavors that I simply didn’t have time for running all over town from class to class.
Then, I met the love of my life who happens to live in Aspen, Colorado. If my main source of income had still been local, group classes, I would have been much more resistant to splitting time and moving back and forth. In short, I had lightened my load of what I thought my life was supposed to look like and was open to receive the magic unfolding before me – a career change and a move cross country.
Please leave a comment with what roles you most easily get caught in.
What are your “go to” tactics to stay clear and present in who you are today? How do you let go of who you were yesterday?
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Live Truth. Love Life.