Presence, not perfection.

Growth hurts.

Sometimes we don’t realize that we are going through a major life change, but we can’t shake the fact that something feels different. Change could be obvious; perhaps we leave a relationship, we move, we fall ill, we start a new job, or we take up a new activity. Being new at something is always frightening. Or perhaps changes occur invisibly, as is usually the case with internal growth. On the surface we appear “normal” – we go about our daily routine, interacting regularly with the world around us, while something momentous stirs in the depths of our souls. There is a lotus waiting to blossom from the muck. Perhaps we feel it in our bodies – it can manifest as sleeplessness, fatigue, sickness, or a dull sense of malaise that we can’t put our finger on. Maybe our heart aches. We feel broken somehow, split open, cracking apart as a new version of ourselves emerges from an old skin. Something deep down begins to bubble, and suddenly we are thrown into chaos. We get scared. The unknown looms ominously before us as we leave the safety of our comfort zone and come a step closer to realizing our truest, highest selves. Sometimes it feels like we are trespassing in our own lives, we are awkward in our own skin. But this feeling is temporary. If we stayed with what is comfortable, we would still be asleep in our mother’s womb – alive, but not living.

Just like the massive journey that earth takes around the sun each year at unfathomable speeds is unfelt, mammoth changes in our lives can go unnoticed.

Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears;
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent. 

~from “A Valediction, Forbidding Mourning,” by John Donne

Similarly, one tectonic plate moving a mere inch against another can mean huge earthquakes and resulting tsunamis that can wipe out nations. There are no rules for how change can affect us. However, no matter how big or small, it always feels better – we come out on the other side exhausted, ripped apart, and shaking, but laughing in spite of ourselves, howling at how silly and trite we were for believing that what we were before was all that we ever could be. It’s like being reborn – like shooting through a scary water slide and being spat out, soaked and tingling with life, our face splitting in a grin, our walls knocked down to reveal an infinite universe of possibility. It’s all about having the courage to jump, to take that leap of faith, and the tenacity to remain strong through the uncomfortable moments. There is always a period of chaos that we must brave before growth can manifest. This is the uktatasana of life. It’s awkward, it hurts, and all we want to do is straighten our legs and lower our arms. Comfort is just one forward fold away! But despite the sweat pouring down our faces and our screaming thighs, we stay. We endure. We breathe. We even find a little sukkah or ease amidst our discomfort. And the next time it’s not so bad; we can stay longer, because we are stronger.

I would argue that in order to experience a flow of uninterrupted growth, we should never adhere to our current situation. By remaining open to change by relinquishing unhealthy attachment, we can tap into the magic that happens in transformational moments. As soon as we cultivate a rigid self-concept, we are in danger of becoming stagnant. We also become so attached to our routines and their expected outcomes that we suffer on a regular basis because life is not stable. The other day, I had my entire afternoon planned out based on a set of keys. I was going to use one key to open my mailbox and take care of some important paperwork that I knew was contained there. The other key opened my apartment laundry room, which was the Promised Land for the mountain of clothes in my hamper. I was heading downstairs via the elevator to begin working on these tasks, content in my plans, when I dropped the key chain down the elevator shaft. I stood, gaping, at the dark abyss that swallowed my keys, with a growing sense of dis-ease as my plans for the day disintegrated. Luckily, I went to a yoga class instead, where the theme was “letting go”. Turns out it wasn’t the end of the world that I couldn’t get my mail or do my laundry. To be honest with you, I still haven’t taken care of all my paperwork and there is a large pile of (clean) laundry sitting beside me on my bed as I type. But I’m still alive! Case in point: even though my plans were foiled, life moves on. This is just one minor example of the sometimes crippling surprises that life can dole out. The reality is that life will always unfold in the moment, and we have to bend and shift along with it. We can’t guard against every tragedy. But on the bright side, neither can we anticipate every moment of joy.

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

~from “A Guest House,” by Rumi

There is a goddess in Hindu lore called Akhilandeshvari, whose name translates to “the never NOT broken goddess”. I like the double negative as opposed to “the always broken goddess”, because to me it indicates that being broken is a choice, rather than an infliction. She is not a disaster needing rectification. Akhilandeshvari keeps herself shattered in order to stay alert to the ebb and flow of life, and to allow recreation in every moment. She is wise to the fact that being “broken” is not a bad thing. I tend to agree. Usually it’s at the cracks that we become strongest. Embracing vulnerability and becoming comfortable with change, chaos, and being “not ok” can set us free.

Lately I’ve been having conversations with single people looking for love, and one common theme I hear is: “I’m not ready to be in a relationship because I feel like there are a lot of things I need to fix about myself first. I really want to work on all my hang-ups and faults before I’ll ever be ready to meet anyone.” This never really seemed right to me, and after some thought, I¬†understand why. I think that yes, we definitely need to know ourselves and donate time to svadhyaya, or study of the self, to understand fully the nature of our heart and what will fulfill us. But to think that we need to perfect ourselves in order to receive love is not only limiting, but impossible! The concept of “perfect” is what keeps the anti-aging cream and diet pill market thriving, because it can never actually be achieved. We are always going to be imperfect. Something that my yoga practice has taught me, and something I need constant reminding of, is that right here, right now, I am perfect. Even though I can’t swing my leg up over my head and launch effortlessly into 8-limbed pose, it doesn’t matter. Where I am right now is exactly where I need to be. A year ago I couldn’t flip from wild thing into wheel and back into one-legged downward dog, and now I can. I’ve watched my hips open slowly, like a flower shyly opening to the light of the sun. We can’t force these things. And just like my hips, my heart will slowly unfurl with patience and care. But rather than trying to get somewhere else, we have to be fully present where we are. Maybe the flower won’t be open today, tomorrow, or the next day. But maybe the day after that, just the right beam of sun will shine in just the right way as to inspire a single petal to awaken, reaching for its warmth.

I think it’s common in our society to want to thrash violently, head first, into enlightenment and realization of the self rather than letting it happen organically. Just like we choose aggressive health programs that may work momentarily, we forget the infinite wisdom of our body that is capable of healing itself if we listen and act intuitively. Similarly, our souls will heal if we step out of our own way and let the innate intelligence of our spirit guide us. So rather than self-perfecting, we need to work on self-acceptance. This is the only time when we will be ready to receive love: when we are no longer ashamed of ourselves and have the dignity to ask for love, to open our hearts and allow it to pour in.

Be present. Perfection is not a far-off place, a destination, or an end result. Perfection is presence – in every moment, good or bad – and choosing to be a “yes” to a better you. Not tomorrow, not in a year. In THIS breath. THIS breath is your whole life. Be your whole, honest self in THIS moment. NOW. Whatever life brings, you’ll be ready for it: always broken, never flawed.