Observe what’s going on around you. Analyze. Adapt accordingly. Smile. Talk. Produce. Stay busy. Keep analyzing. Keep smiling. Keep talking. Keep adapting.
This is an approach I have often taken in life, especially when facing change and new situations. I moved multiple times as a kid (and then as an adult), switched jobs often, and have frequently heard the comment that I join and blend into new places and groups easily.
I figured out a way that seemingly “worked”– it enabled me to make a lot of friends fast, stay busy, and get praise from authority figures.
But not without cost.
Every time I focused outwardly on what other people and/or society at large were looking for and valuing, I was moving further away from knowing what it was that I, deep down, was looking for and valuing.
When there is a lot of noise and direction coming in from the outside, it’s hard to develop and recognize your own inner compass.
Increasingly in my teen years and into my 20s, out of fear and a desire to “be” what I thought others wanted me to, I was treating life like a math equation. Looking for formulas, patterns, steps and rules to follow. Constantly recalibrating. Fear -- of being unable to trust my own instincts, of unknown outcomes, of reducing a safety net -- led me to lean on outside information to “optimize” decisions and lower what I thought of as risks.
It was a way to find surface-level success but it also shut off a lot of my humanity and spirit. It tamped down my sense of adventure and playfulness, my intuition, my connection to the broader and natural universe, my ability to recognize and respect my own energetic needs.
I had warning signs that this path was hurting me – bouts of depression, anxiety, intense resentment and anger, a lot of fear. But I turned to “busy-ness” and productivity to tune out those signs.
I filled my time with distractions (socially acceptable ones, of course!) – a full social calendar, obsessing over things going on at work, exercise, mindless tv/books, planning, exerting control, worrying, buying things, a lot of talking, constant activity – anything to fill my head with sound and thought so that I wouldn’t have to face the awkward silence when things got quiet. Face the truth that I didn’t feel I knew myself very well aside from how others perceived me.
I ignored and repressed the signals that my spirit was sending me until they smacked me in the face in the form of hitting a breaking point in my 30s. Specifically, right after I had my child.
Having a baby brought a lot of this to the surface in a way that couldn’t be ignored. Partially due to the firehose of information shooting at new moms.
For someone like myself, used to turning to the voices of people I know and society at large to guide me in making decisions, motherhood was a deafening roar of noise and opinion on the thing that mattered most to me, a thing that is intensely personal but suddenly felt like it was part of a public arena.
And that was painful and confusing as I wanted to do everything I could for my baby but it felt like that meant giving up my sanity by trying to find this balance of gathering and processing ALL of the information but also learning to trust my own instincts (which frankly weren’t going to much be developed amidst the onslaught of external pointers).
And as a parent, suddenly the stakes felt high.
It took realizing how much I care about setting an example of a purposeful, human (and divine), passionate, and honest life to make me realize I needed to do the work to live my own life that way.
The idea of her growing up with a mom who didn’t know her own inner voice, who couldn’t model clearly “these are my values and I live by them, you are a complete soul who should embrace and enjoy life as you are, not as anyone tells you to be” kicked my butt into action. Or I should say inaction…
I decided to withdraw a bit and to consciously avoid my usual distractions. Quiet the chatter and instead sit in some uncomfortable silences and stillness and turn my skills at observing and noticing directly inward.
Luckily I had a longstanding yoga practice to lean on. I took time on my mat to meditate and ask myself questions.
Notice my breath, energy, how my body felt, my mental habits. Observe my patterns and challenge them. Look for my triggers, dig deeper into them. Tap more into my natural and spiritual self. Explore ideas. Be patient. Pause and listen versus act and talk.
I felt a bit like a socialite turned hermit.
Like I’d been singing as part of a parade down a city street and then silently stepped down a side path that led into a forest, directly into the heart of a cave in a mountain.
I wanted to really get to know and empower my inner voice, build my intuition. Look honestly (but with compassion) at myself. I pulled on other resources as well – including learning from the wisdom of nature and my child. There is a lot to be learned from the purity of animals, plants, and new souls to the earth.
It has been humbling, scary, tiring, and also incredibly freeing and joyful. And I’m still on this journey. I know it is one that never ends but the further along it I go, the more I enjoy the discovery aspect of it, knowing there is not one end goal or place I’m trying to achieve.
I decided at one point to sign up for a yoga teacher training, listening to my inner voice rather than the impracticality of the decision. The training I did paid respect to the roots of yoga, which are spiritual (not physical).
We did a lot of turning inwards and reflecting on who we are at our highest self. It was so in line with what I’d started to do on my own and helped me take it that much further.
We talked at length about the first 3 Yoga Sutras and the 3rd one really resonated with me – the idea of standing strong and firmly rooted in your truest nature, in your mountain.
Remembering that yoga is a practice that can guide one into this blissful state of connection with our pure inner spirit and voice, in touch with our intuition, and ultimately with the rest of the universe, is what has me excited about teaching going forward.
I like to hope that my pattern of turning to the external, analyzing and adapting, talking, and acting in accordance with what I think others want is shifting over time to one of pausing, turning inward, greeting silence, and standing true to myself.
I encourage anyone reading this to travel to your mountain - find yourself there.
Get to know yourself.
Be curious, ask questions.
Learn, have fun, be serious, withdraw when you need to, quiet the noise around you.
Empower your spirit and heart to lead you.
And then bring that true version of yourself back out into the world.