The Art Of Showing Up
Last month, I visited Dallas, the city where I’d spent the past sixteen years building community, creating a nest of friendship, and finding my purpose. I could hardly wait to walk into my dear friend and teacher’s yoga class. After being away for two months, I craved the familiarity of her voice, the particular way she offers cues, and the dance of responding to her sequences. I longed to find my body moving alongside the breathing of the students I’d been practicing with for over a decade. I was giddy with anticipation to be back on my mat in what had become my yoga home.
After hugging my teacher and friend in the kind of embrace that penetrates all the way into hours beyond its end, I walked into the studio. The first person I saw is a woman a few years older than me, a lovely acquaintance with a steadfast practice. She gave me a huge hug and a smile and then said, “you are disappearing!”. My whole body tensed. A pang hit my heart. Hard. I was shocked, and sad, and disappointed. How had I been working in this town for so long and not had an impact? How had this kind hearted love been to my fundraisers and still not received, or not been activated by, the message? Where was I going wrong? I made her message about my failure as an activist. It wasn’t about me or about my failure, of course, but those were my initial internal reactions.
And then, it got worse. I didn’t quite know what to say, and I was caught off guard because a) I had no idea that I looked any differently and b) disappearing does not feel like a compliment and c) I was so excited to be there, and then suddenly, this. It was both a blow to my ego and a seduction for it. There I stood, at first saddened that body shaming is so prevalent, even amongst my Dallas yoga community, and then more so, horrified at my own shadow. Why? My shadow was delighted!
What happened next was the most surprising. I immediately turned to the mirror. What did she see? Had I lost weight? Is “disappearing” supposed to be a compliment, and is the part of me that felt “too much” now being seduced into feeling congratulated that I am smaller? NOOOOOOO! In that moment, I was simultaneously aware that I did not want to hear that remark, and yet, I felt excited by it. The part of me that most of the time lives out of consciousness reared its ugly head and roared inside of mine: “Look in the mirror! Weigh yourself! Feel smug!”.
And there it was. The truth of the worst part of me. The part of me that still, after all this work and all this time and effort, felt worthy because I was told I was “disappearing”. That word is jarring. I don’t want to disappear. I want to show up. And to speak up. And to stand up for what I believe, which is that size doesn’t define worthiness. And that weight doesn’t measure soul strength. URGH. I had to sit with my frustration at the comment and at myself for a few days before I could recognize that this moment was a teacher for me. They all are, right?
I want to show up. And to speak up. And to stand up for what I believe, which is that size doesn’t define worthiness. And that weight doesn’t measure soul strength.
My lesson is this: I am not beyond the seduction. I am not beyond the kool-aid I’ve been served up our entire lives that thinner is better. I am human, my shadow is tricky, and the more sophisticated I become at integrating my values with my actions and words, the more sophisticated my shadow becomes at its own chicanery, too.
So, I stay in the work because I am the one who most needs the work. I get to do this work of empowering others because I need to be empowered. And once again, the teacher is clear, I can only teach what I need to learn. Spending two decades has not been enough for me to eradicate my shadow entirely. But the more I can witness it, the more I can bring it into consciousness and carefully, gently, without the judgment that keeps it entrapped, cajole it up and out of me. And that’s all I can ask of myself.
I don’t want to disappear. But I do want my ego to get out of the way so that I can be more connected to what is true and real and of love and of God. So I’m grateful for the teacher in my friend who commented to me. That moment both humbled me and catalyzed my passion for this work., revealing once again the necessity of my being part of it.