Today I embark on what has been a dream for a third of my life, to visit the majestic and ethereal land of Bali, the spiritually fertile land of exquisite beauty and enlightened souls. A surreal day this is, reality meeting years of fantasy. I still can't wrap my brain or even my heart around it. It all exists on a different dimension somehow, one still just beyond my grasp. But in a matter of hours I will be in the midst of it, in it, actually living it. And I haven't a clue how to handle myself.
I felt a similar sensation when embarking on a three year journey in Italy back in 2007. Italian blood (and pasta) had long been in my veins, a remarkable trip already under my belt, the olive oil like language already singing in my head. There was only excitement for Italy, in many ways thinking I already knew what to expect. What three years brought was the repetitive life lesson that you never know what to expect, how something will feel, what life has to bring until the moment is upon you, until you're in it.
After teaching Yoga and other classes for a couple years in Sicily, I knew I'd need more training, more learning, more inspiration before I could successfully transition back to the United States. More uncharted territory was ahead: Chicago. After living in my dream place for three years, I opted to study more Yoga in another fantasy land of mine: New York City. There were nerves over being alone in the city without friends or family, taking on a challenging training in the States not knowing how my experience and practice would compare to others, and the slight worry of taking my skills into Chicago, even newer land to plow with even less people on my side.
No three years of my life were more filled with intense emotions, personal evolution and lesson learning than my years in Chicago. I found my voice and purpose as a teacher and writer, I saw the good, bad and ugly of my being and slowly began to acknowledge what I wanted to change. Through the greatest friends and colleagues I've ever known, I began to implement those changes, I felt myself softening, actually living the wisdom I'd only intellectually understood. I simultaneously saw the massive potential for growth and improvement while accepting, and even liking, where I was. This is where the present moment, living for Love, and truly taking to heart the words of philosophers and spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle, Joseph Campbell and Osho came to be.
And then more change, more territory to map, more personal challenges to confront: Los Angeles. I left Chicago at the best and worst moments. I felt so in tune in my being as a teacher, I couldn't have felt better about my group of friends and my amazing students, and I felt I navigated the city really well. I felt creatively fulfilled and also settled in my soul, never finished, but I liked where I was. I was excited for the new road ahead but admittedly resistant to leaving the beauty of what was.
Again, the harsh truth of yogic wisdom rang in my ears. Everything and everyone is transient. Relationships begin and end, as does life, homes and cars come and go, all things large and small flow in and out of our lives, changing like the weather. To keep my sanity and keep drawing positive experiences into my life, I needed to embrace this, yield to the unpredictable flow of life. The answer is not to stay, to remain, to become rigid and avoidant. No. This was exact time to rip off the bandaid of the past and move forward vulnerable, ripe for new experiences to take hold in my being.
On my journey out to Los Angeles, there was more uncharted territory to confront, both in the land of this gigantic and glorious country (we drove through eight states, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah being new to me), and in the mysterious corners of my psyche. I felt deep, aching loss leaving Chicago. Every street corner, bike path, spectacular piece of architecture triggered memories, happy, loving memories; memories I was afraid I could never recapture or recreate in my new life ahead. Wasted energy those fears are, born only from conjecture. Nonetheless, the first couple hours out of Illinois rang a melancholy tone.
As the vast expanse of America's heartland opened for me, I felt my heart slowly doing the same. I felt the excitement and the energy of infinite possibility that lay ahead, and without a home to sleep in or a job to support, I had to trust myself to handle the unknown, not run away from it, but see it head on and welcome whatever lessons life wanted to teach me. Like with Italy, I could've imagined for hours what Hollywood might be like, making assumptions about LA and California based on the same bullshit we all think before we truly know, but I'd made that mistake before. All I could do was remember Yoga and stay present, I would be absorbing it in due time.
Now I sit in my lovely new home in LA, having a few classes and studios under my belt, no real jobs yet, a couple friends, and the looming presence of my 500 hour graduate teacher training just days away. Three week intensive, days beginning at 5 a.m. and ending at 10 p.m. A week in Thailand to celebrate my completion in Bali, the month ahead will be cleansing, awakening and renewing without a doubt. For 30 days, I leave behind sugar, meat, alcohol, marijuana (yes, I smoke and I enjoy the hell out of it, much better than the unfortunate poison that is alcohol) my loved ones, my comforts, and many other vices behind.
I'm exceedingly fortunate to be traveling to places far from my home, far in distance and in experience. I know I will learn and I will be humbled, as I always am while traveling. I haven't a clue what to expect and while my past led me to feelings of anxiety and discomfort over what I couldn't control or predict; now, I feel so strong in what I can control, my breath, my mood, my smile, my gratitude.
This week as I prepared to leave, I found myself working intensively on a pose I'd yet to achieve. More uncharted territory. Since day 1 of my practice and teacher training, I am reminded, my mat is a metaphor for my life. How do I handle fear? How do I handle failure (often times not well)? How do I see myself? What expectations am I carrying? Am I comparing myself to others? Does how I look matter more than how I feel (no!)?
Nearly 11 years into my practice, I've experienced every emotion on and off my mat. As I practiced more consistently, my life outside my mat reflected a happier, calmer experience. Poses I thought I could never do became a reality. I began to feel strength building from the inside out, I knew where my body was in space, and more importantly, how pivotal my mind and heart were in having a successful, blissful experience.
As I started to embrace what I could control, everything I couldn't worried me less. Yoga was a mirror, showing me that life was a reflection of my inner experience, and I was the captain of those interior waters. The waters outside were unknown, not my business or within my power to affect. I must flow from the inside out.
Today marks the beginning of another journey into uncharted territory...I hope you'll join me on the ride and find your own inner power to withstand both clear and rough waters. Here we go!