Living Your Full Potential

I just finished watching the film “The Social Network”, and then (I can’t decide if this is ironic or predictable) went on facebook. I usually spend at least an hour a day or so trolling around online as a way to unwind, entertain myself, or be social. And it struck me suddenly as quite incredible that two really smart university kids could come up with something that has swept the world into a whole new realm of social interaction. Facebook is a daily part of my regime, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I can guarantee there are many others out there who are in the same boat. But what a feat it is to develop a program that would become so part of daily life across the globe! And as I did my usual rounds on FB, I became awash with a mixture of awe and remorse. I used to be smart. I once had dreams of grandeur, of creating something significant to the human race. What happened?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be successful. I think back to when I was in high school or even university and what that meant to me. I suppose all I ever wanted was to inspire people by doing something that I loved, and feel like I was living up to my full potential. And by this I mean that I wanted to believe in my heart of hearts that I was MY best, not necessarily THE best, because just as soon as you reach the top there is inevitably going to be someone snapping at your heels to usurp you. And it’s lonely at the top. I’d rather be surrounded by friends and be well liked. So I set goals around the premise that I would aspire to be inspirational, kind, and have fun. But still, even with guidelines more specific that mine, how do you rate success?

I suppose success to me has always been more of a feeling than a tangible reality.  And so I’ve been chasing this sensation, feeling for it like a pocket of warmth in a seemingly endless tundra of possibility. I’d have to say that lately I’ve been living a dream that’s very close to what I imagined success to feel like. I am overwhelmed with gratitude when I take stock of what I have in my life. I have the most amazing job(s) with the most amazing people on the planet, in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I am very well cared for, to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach. But at the end of the day, it still feels like there’s something missing. No matter how much I work out, how creative I am, how many positive interactions I have a day, or how much money I have in the bank, one thing remains the same: I come home, and all I have is me. All I will ever have is me. I have to be inside my head and be OK with the person dwelling there when I shut the light off at night. I have to learn to be alone and not feel lonely. And lately, despite all of the wonderful things in my life, I can’t help but feel like I’m settling. Settling for what? What part of this lesser version of myself is not letting my potential greatness emerge?

Sometimes I wonder what would it be like to be a super athlete. To be completely and totally conditioned to a particular sport to a level that could compete with the world’s best. I admire the dedication, the courage, and the self-confidence that it takes to achieve such status. Just for the record, being in shape is something that is entirely new to me. I feel like I am in adequate physical condition, certainly compared to how I was before. I was the girl in junior high who always “forgot” her gym strip, was picked last for every team, and loathed her body. I was happy to be a book nerd and an art geek. Growing up I had severe asthma and was told by more than one doctor that I could not exercise; otherwise I’d be at risk of an attack that could end my life. I longed to run like the wind, play with the other kids, and attend track meets, but instead sat longingly on the sidelines, wondering if I’d ever have that much fun. Then one day in my early teens I decided that I was done being sick. I handed in my resignation for the position I’d filled as a casualty of illness, and I began to exercise my willpower. So many physical limitations are mental manifestations. So instead of being a victim, I manifested health. And because I wanted it so badly, I healed. I finally got to go to a track meet (only as a spare, mind you!) but I was there. And I was hooked. I joined the tennis and badminton teams in high school, started running and going to the gym, and found yoga in university. Running my first half marathon was the greatest feat of my life. Imagine the feeling that swept over me as I crossed the finish line: a girl who was told that if she got out of breath she could die had just completed her first race. I arrived at the finish line sweating and sputtering, drenched from the rain, and totally, completely, breathtakingly alive. It was as if suddenly everything became possible.

And then I realized that anyone could become an athlete by putting in the hours of hard work and dedication. Surely there is a portion that is genetic, and circumstances may have a bit to do with it as well. But more than anything it has to do with the power of the will. My uncle Jim Domanko is such an inspiration; after incurring a severe neck injury from landing on his head on a mountain biking trail that rendered him incapable of walking, by the sheer power of his mind, he recovered and went on to run an Ironman. Thus, I truly believe that anyone can become an athlete. So what about a genius? A rock star? A hero? An artist? A political leader? If you are unhappy, do not accept that what you are now is all you’ll ever be. Our self-concept is a collection of all the things we’ve been told since childhood. Every comment, every let down, and every insult morphs into an insecurity that will follow us around for a lifetime. The bottom line is: what we believe about ourselves will become reality. So all you have to do is want something badly enough. All you have to do is believe.

Therefore my work is not so much to reach higher, but to ground deeper. Push down to go up. Find what it is inside me that drives my passion and fuel it up. I am not content with mediocrity. I will make a pact with myself to surrender excuses and create some real changes. I choose to create me, the best and most honest self I can, through dedication, hard work, and letting go. Baby steps: like eating organic, committing to my own personal yoga practice, and buying a video camera. Who’s with me? I’d love to hear your own personal goals, stories, and steps you plan on taking to living your dream.

I think it’s time to turn out the light. Goodnight, and namaste.

Satya – how to be truthful when there is more than one truth

I had one of those realizations yesterday that stops you in your tracks, snatches your breath, and causes your eyes to widen like saucers. I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, biking home from a class that I teach in the mission area of Kelowna by Sarson’s Beach. It takes me roughly a half hour to bike out there, and then I teach for three hours (two classes back to back) and then set out on another half hour ride home. I was trying to decide if it was worth my time, if I’ll be able to survive financially if I resigned from teaching the class, and what the alternatives to teaching this class would be (more hours as a wine shop sales girl, dealing with the tipsy and oftentimes aggravating public? Do I hope for more classes at the hot studio? Can I physically manage to spend even more time in the 90-degree room? Should I just learn to tighten my belt and not eat out so often? Am I forgetting that teaching yoga is a privilege and should be done selflessly, and not as a means to an end, a way to make money? Am I a terrible person?) In short, my mind was saturated with worries – vrittis – if you will. Vrittis are the electrical currents, the storms, of our ego mind. Yoga is the intentional calming and stilling of said storms. I can hear Nikki Doane reciting the mantra “yogas citta vritti nirodhaha” – have I learned nothing? Why am I letting my mind get the better of me?

I was also feeling blue about having recently broken up with my boyfriend. It wasn’t an easy decision, and frankly, I suck at breaking up with people. I don’t like inflicting pain of any kind, especially emotional pain. I loved him, and felt a genuine and special connection between us. But just as my heart is no longer into teaching the class in the mission, my heart was no longer in the relationship. Or, rather, I should say my heart was still in it (silly heart!) but deep down in the belly of my consciousness I knew that something was wrong. It manifested as fitful sleeps, private outbursts of tears, and a general sense of malaise that comes from not living my truth. I could have used a million excuses and talked myself in circles into staying with him (he’s an amazing cook! He is wildly handsome! He does yoga! He pays you the nicest compliments! You’re not going to do much better than this!), but in the end it had to be done, otherwise I wouldn’t be acting in earnest with him or myself. The thing is, I hate letting people down. I hate feeling like someone trusts me or depends on me and I drop the ball.

What I’m slowing beginning to learn, however, is that we are doing others a disservice by not adhering to our truth. I would be cheating my students if I didn’t believe 100% that I am supposed to be teaching that class, just as I would be deceiving my ex by pretending I am happy and everything is OK. Truth is a tricky subject sometimes, and has to be carefully felt out. I say “felt” rather than “thought” out, because so often our bodies and our subconscious are far wiser than our confused, ego-encrusted mind. I try to live with truth – with Satya – but what do we do when there is more than one truth, or when our decisions are not clear? Sometimes finding our true North can be a painful process; We can’t always easily discern right from wrong, or what will serve the best interests of ourselves and others. For me, it’s usually the choices involving people I care about that I lose sleep over. Making a difficult decision reminds me of one of those sticky summer days when everything is lukewarm, and you search hopelessly for relief from the stagnating heat. And when night comes, the heat is not relieved by darkness. The temperature hovers over the city like a warm blanket, stifling any hope of slumber. You lay awake, tossing and turning in bed, as the muggy, warm breeze seeps through the window. There’s nowhere to escape. When a difficult decision presents itself, reducing dissonance in our mind can be like trying to find relief from a permeating, midsummer heat. At times, to be true to a loved one, we inevitably have to hurt them. This is the most painful thing I can possibly conjure. There is no way to be 100% right and emerge from the situation unscathed. Yet there is an ache, something deep down in our heart of hearts that is telling us that something has to change. We must aim to align ourselves with the universal truth – the one that will ring true in our hearts, ultimately creating a harmony with all things. So hurt we must.

Then I had my realization.

I am not the first one who has struggled with this. I am not the first person who has felt the stab of a broken heart, grappled with feeling inadequate, or felt the guilt of insincerity. Human suffering is a breathtakingly universal experience. We are bound together in our understanding of life – the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows. Even though we see with different eyes and interpret through different psyches, there is no denying how utterly alike we are.

Suddenly, on my bike, as the wind played with a strand of my hair and the golden sunlight faded on the horizon, I was flooded with an overwhelming sense of connection to all living things. I ached for all the heartbreaks, all the sorrows, and all the disappointments that ever stung a hopeful heart. I truly believe that all beings are intrinsically good, and it is only fear that clouds and twists our good intentions. I realized that all of my troubles stemmed from fear: fear of not having enough, fear of what someone will think of me if I break their heart, and fear that I am not a worthy person. Thus, I recognize that I must choose to live from a place of love, trust my intuition, and move forward courageously, knowing I am not alone. Even the most shameful and debasing things I feel I’ve committed in my life have been done before, and likely the same reactions have been felt in their aftermath. If I was looking objectively at another person experiencing these emotions, wouldn’t I long for them to forgive themselves? Why can I not have the same compassion for myself?

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.” ~John Lennon

I suppose in the end it all boils down to forgiveness. Can we forgive each other, choosing to see our sameness over our differences? And can we absolve ourselves for causing harm in order to create resonance with the truth in our deepest heart of hearts? All we can do is set our intention, resolve to be truthful, and learn to let go.

Just as the light in me sees and honors the light in you – as well I see and accept the darkness and the pain. In both extremes, we are one. Namaste.