It was Summer time on the island of Koh Samui, Thailand. I was immersed in a scorching hot teacher training for thirty days straight. It was about a 105 degrees outside and 105 degrees in. Talk about throwing yourself in the fire.
During the first “dialogue” exercise and learning to teach, I bawled my eyes out in front of thirty three other trainees from around the globe. We sweat buckets with daily practice from early am to late pm. It was a rigorous schedule that pushed the limits of not only our bodies, but our minds. We had embarked on the journey of finding our true voices. This entails shining a bright light on all those things we all desperately try to hide.
What's the big deal about teaching a yoga class. How hard can it be?
Well, for starters, it asks you to get honest with yourself in front of an audience. No filters here. No making it perfect for social media.
Finding your voice whether teaching it out loud, writing a book or any one of the myriad of other ways to stretch our creative muscles, all seem to bring up the same stuff. Whether it be jitters, butterflies or a full on internal shredding of any confidence we might have, taking steps outside our comfort zone can bring up the inner voice that is not our personal cheerleader.
While teaching yoga can be immensely rewarding, it can also be one of the more frightening jobs out there. It is not a performance (although, I see that a lot). It is not reading from a script (although, I see that a lot). It's definitely not trying to be like your favorite teacher. It's you. And no, it's not about you. Sure there's going to be some natural nervousness. But to be a genuine yoga teacher, it requires not only a vast amount of knowledge, but authenticity. You gotta just be you, as you are, warts and all. It's like getting on a horse. If you are afraid or not sure, the horse is gonna throw you off in a second. Trust me, I know. I have been thrown. And great news. Being bucked is a wonderful way to learn.
Back in the heat of the jungle in Thailand, my first day of teaching in training did not go well. It didn't go at all since I couldn't get a word out past my blubbering. As my peers and teachers observed me have an absolute meltdown, my internal voice was whispering “Who was going to listen to what I had to say? Why would they want to?” I was completely unnerved and unraveled.
Well, somehow I got past it. The studies and physical practice came easier. But speaking
it? Out loud? In front of live humans? Not so much.
Cut to a few more trainings and opening my own studio through the years, somehow, I obviously managed to get some words out and was now in the director seat of teacher trainings. Many students have come through these programs and cried much like I did. Oh, how I empathized with these moments and the steps in getting to know yourself. Like me, they never believed they would get through it.
But we all did. Maybe some of it was not a pretty process but what transformation is? Why do we expect things to be easy and neat? Has anything lastly or worthwhile come without challenges? I remember as a child riding my cherry red two-wheeler for the first time and wiping out. I still have the scar on my right elbow. How many of us got on and rode perfectly the first time? The tenth time?
So here I sit, dipping a toe into unchartered waters and trying my hand at writing. It's a dream that I have had for a long time. And while I am not crying (not yet anyway,) the same kind of feelings are popping up from that first day of teaching. Why would people want to hear what I say? Why would they want to? Yeesh, there was that cheerleader of drama and self-doubt.
“The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” Steven Pressfield
A fellow teacher trainer shared a jewel with me. She named her confidence killing voice Brenda. Whenever this voice reared its ugly head raising all kinds of havoc and self doubt, she simply says:
F**k you Brenda.
We have all met Brenda at one time or another. She's loud, obnoxious and will do anything to squash our true voice.
Whether we are teaching, writing, singing, painting or a thousand other things that ask us to trust ourselves, it takes guts to stand up to Brenda. Here's 10 ideas that helped me get her out of the house:
1. Imagine speaking to your younger self ten or twenty years ago? Yeah, you know the cliches. I won't mention them here but most us can agree that many of the challenges were necessary to learn. Perhaps they might now even be considered blessings when looking back?
2. Fear and fire are not always bad things. It means we care and there is possibility inside the challenge if we are willing to look instead of running like hell.
3. Ask yourself what would happen if you decided to let go of the doubt? Would there be more space instead of strain if you gave yourself some room around the fear?
4. Read a book. Steven Pressfield, author of the War of Art, has so many wise
words for those of us that are stuck in our muck. “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance".
5. Meet yourself where you are and give yourself a good dose of love. Make friends with yourself. All of yourself, especially the parts you don't like so much. In Buddhism, it's called Maitri. Read more: (https://www.elephantjournal.com/a-month-of-maitri-beyond-self-care/)
6. Meditate.Yes.We are busy. Yes there is time. Sit down. Set a timer. Take a deep breath. Yes, it's okay that your mind wanders. Sit anyway.
7. Go outside just like Mom said. Getting a fresh breath of air can give us a fresh perspective. Walking, biking or any outdoor activity helps to create space around a crowded mind.
8. Perhaps it's time to name your nemesis and give them the boot. Articulating the internal voice that shows up when stepping outside what we know is a powerful tool. Once we are able catch the moment we start to get stuck by a Brenda voice, we can shift our habitual thoughts and create a possibility instead of a stop sign.
9. Recognize that we have a choice in how to respond to the inner voice that questions. The key is to catch the moment when we are reacting out of habit, emotions and memories. We choose whether to nourish our inner angels or demons.
10. Most of all be patient with your process. It takes time and a whole lot of love.
As I perch in front of the empty white page and the blue hue of my computer, my mind is everywhere else but thoughts on writing an article due later today....The daily noise of life seems loud and I feel like an empty shell.
I wonder what happens to us when we set out on a creative endeavor and any idea we might have had, seems to have packed and left the planet. What is that exact moment that cuts us off at the neck in trusting ourselves to write, paint, sing, dance, teach or do any other thing that asks us to go beyond what we know?
So I sit.
Note. This takes a whole lotta patience wrapped with love when one is trying to downshift from running around all week like a headless chicken. Hmmm, another neck reference which makes me think of how mine is sadly sagging and maybe I do need to spend a gazillion dollars on that miracle cream I saw online. I digress.
I set the meditation timer. I prop myself up with more than the usual pillows under my hips as I feel I need more support. Not just physically. But emotionally. Like I need to be held.
Sitting in my happy place outside on my deck, I immediately notice the melodies of the birds. High and low notes, some clipped chirps and some longer like a violin. I wonder if one is the the cherry red cardinal and his Mrs. that I see around our wooden bird feeder. And maybe some are the plump, round chickadees?
The hushed sounds of far away traffic off Route 87 remind me of what you hear when you put your ear up close to conch shell. How I love the ocean. It makes me exhale a little bit easier.
The color behind the curtains of my eyelids is vibrant. Pulsating hues of orange and blues. The aroma of the lavender lilac I planted last week wakes up my sense of smell. My mind wanders about the over flow of laundry in the wicker hamper. It also manages to completely veer off and worry about what class it will plan for later today. Instead of scolding myself for drifting, I gently remind myself to come back to my seat as if I were guiding a distracted child away from a shiny new toy. This is an improvement over how I occasionally hit myself in the head with a
verbal hammer when noticing that the mind has run off somewhere to fix and frolic.
As I sit, the sun is shifting and I can feel the warmth on the back of my hand and spreading to shine across the span of my back. The front side of my body is shaded and I sense how the moon must feel when it's face lights up from the axis of the sun. The darker side more reflective, cooler, internal. My mind pings about how I forgot to go to the bank. The barren refrigerator that needs attention. I have a moment of wanting to give in. Okay, many moments. But I don't. I just sit and become internally watchful. Shedding the layers of internal noise. Little by little. I start to settle into this one moment. The one that cannot live in regrets of the past or worry of the future.
The taste in my mouth has remnants of strong coffee. Overly aware that I need to brush my teeth. Instead, I soften my jaw and rest my tongue at the soft tip of the palate as if you were going to say the word love. How can I be gentler with myself? How can I lean into the moments of feeling like I don't know. I sigh a deeper exhale.
The soft wind is brushing my skin almost like a caress from a lover. The sound travels through the lush, green oak and ash trees behind our log cabin. I hear the ocean again. Like waves, I simply keep coming back to my seat. A breath comes in and a breath comes out. For a moment, there is a brief pause between thoughts. That space. That space where I don't know where I am, except that it feels peaceful. Present. Possible.
The gong of the timer echoes and I linger a little longer swimming in the stew of nothingness. It feels as if a new door and my eyes open at the same time. Do I know what's on the other side of the door? No. But I do know there is no way to know, grow, or learn for that matter, without stepping through the door. Write the first word. Dance the first step.
I tell myself: Let yourself not know how. Just start.