I'll never forget the day: I was 16 years old, and it was four days after I'd gotten my drivers' license.
It was early evening, and I was driving my car, listening to Softcell - Tainted Love. The beats were on full blast, and I can even remember the sunglasses I was wearing. I'd just earned a lead role in my school's musical, so I was headed to an evening rehearsal. The midwest September sun was just on the horizon at eye level — not a cloud in the sky. The sun was blinding.
So blinding that when I turned left to cross what appeared to be an empty lane of on-coming traffic, I didn't even see the motorcyclist I accidentally cut off... until he crashed into my car.
The series of events that happened after this moment set the course for a pivotal direction in my life. The man lived and recovered, thank God. The guilt I felt, the pain he dealt with, and the actions taken to rectify the situation aren't relevant to this story.
What's relevant for the specific purpose of this email is how subsequent events shaped my view of the world for the next 15 years of my life.
The day after the accident, hand-written signs appeared around my high school that bashed me (by name) for what I had done, including cruel, personal jabs about my character and my family. I was mortified, ashamed, and devastated.
I can pinpoint this as the moment I started unconsciously worrying about what other people thought of me. Not the people who matter (the man, the authorities, etc.), but people who are irrelevant to the story. The people who anonymously write signs and plaster them all over our high school. The people who made comments at me under their breath in the hallways. The people who have no idea who I am, or what exactly happened — who have never spoken with me, face-to-face.
When I went to college two years later, it was like I got a blank slate — no one knew me and my stories. I could start fresh. But things like this don’t just get flushed down the toilet of existence. They get tucked into a corner until the time is right to overflow. Unbeknownst to College-age me, I spent those years living with that same underlying “truth” that it matters what people think about me.
It wasn't until I started walking the path of yoga 10 years ago (not just making shapes with my body, but yoga as a way of life) that I began to see the impact of this event. I may not have been physically injured in the crash, but I had stayed so deeply entangled with this idea that other people's opinions of me matter to my success or failure.
For so long, my problem was my past. "I'm sorry for what I did. The signs people made about me screwed me up." But what took me so long to realize was my role in the creation of (and continued power given to) that problem by allowing it to screw me up. The isolation and guilt I felt as the wrong-doer, fear and unnecessary concern of what others were saying about me, and seeking validation to support my position… all of those things aren’t me. I am not defined by my past. I am only right now.
Let me say that again, because it’s so freeing:
I am not defined by my past. I am only now.
This is Self Realization—the ultimate goal of yoga.
What's mind-blowing is that Self Realization cannot be pushed on anyone. We see this in action every time we watch a loved one suffer (and incessantly try to help "fix" the situation, to no avail). Self Realization couldn't have been forced on me back in high school... or in college. And can't be forced on you simply by reading this email. That’s why it’s called SELF Realization. It’s the Realization of the Self — through no other means other than the SELF. Whether it takes 15 years or 15 minutes to see the Truth, it needs to be self realized.
Looking back, am I incredibly sorry for what happened? Yes, always have been. Can I make it go away? No. Did the entire situation shape my world which has brought me to this place I am today? Yes.
And that’s how we change our past. We simply change the lens through which we look. Every experience in our lives shines a new value as we look into the review mirror… and at any moment, we can use that lens to change course and drive in a different direction.
And you know what? I think that's the point.
When I think about trust, I imagine little building blocks, stacked up in towers. Each person in my life has their own tower. And each block represents trust.
I've been listening to Brené Brown's latest book, Dare to Lead on Audible lately, and she talks a lot about vulnerability and trust. I love how she reminds us that long-lasting trust is not necessarily built by big, sweeping accomplishments or acts. Trust is built in the small moments over time. The little blocks we stack on top of one another, showing the depth and height of trust we have for another human. It's the little things... when someone remembers your birthday, or notices your new haircut and gives you a compliment. When someone does something they know you need before you even have to ask. Trust can be built by someone just showing up for you.
And just as easy as it is to place a block on top, you (or someone in your life) can knock that entire fragile mountain over with one swipe of your hand. And then we begin again, from scratch.
For our purposes in studio classes, workshops, and especially with programs like BeYou, BeStill and Yoga Teacher Training, we are building trust within. We are slowing, stacking the blocks (maybe blocks we've never stacked before!) one on top of the other, building trust within ourselves that the shapes we're making with our body, the thoughts we're journaling, or what we're feeling is OK. That what we're digging into is a good idea.
And then the ultimate: We get to a point with our mountain of blocks that we simply trust. Everything in our life is always working out — even when it seems hard... no, scratch that. Especially when it seems hard. Somehow, someday, we'll see the light in those moments of darkness.
As you're working through your own yoga practice, meditation or just trying to survive your week, remember: You've spent weeks, months, even years building that mountain of trust in your life up to this point. So changing that way of life to practice more yoga, eat healthier, or spend more time in silence (or any other shifts you're working on) might feel hard. And you may feel defeated, just as often as you feel elated. Keep those building blocks in your mind, and remember that as you learn to trust, you place another block on the top. While I wouldn't say to you "go easy on yourself," I would say: Don't dwell on it if you've missed something, or if you've knocked your mountain of blocks down in one swoop.
Accept it, and begin again. Every mountain begins with just one block.
You've heard it before. You might have seen (or used!) the hashtag #BeHereNow. Maybe you have a T-shirt with that phrase written on it. Finding moments of pure presence is something we all strive for, isn't it?
(And forgive me for a longer email today... I'm in teacher training mode. Our YTT starts in just two weeks, and I geek out on stuff like this!)
I'm going to let you in on a secret: "Being fully present" to a yogi isn't the end-goal. Rather, it's the means to living an enlightened life... every single day, every single moment. Let me explain.
One of the most important bodies of work in the yogic tradition is Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. (His name is pronounced Pah-TAHN-jah-lee.) The sanskrit word Sutra can be thought of similar to our English word suture, which the internet says means "an immovable junction." And instead of referring to something medically related (as we would in English), the Yoga Sutras are the stepping stones for how to walk the yogic path, and they build on one another. Each sutra cannot exist without the sutra before it.
So it stands to reason that the first of 196 Yoga Sutras is the most important one: Atha yoga anushasanam. It translates to: Now, yoga begins.
And here, when Patanjali says "yoga," he doesn't just mean striking a warrior 2 or a down dog. Yoga — as Patanjali intends it — refers to a way of life that is all yoga. In fact, in the entire Yoga Sutras, he only mentions asana (meaning poses that we practice on our mat) three times! Thus, yoga truly is a non-dogmatic way of life we can all walk within ourselves, for ourselves, as part of this great collective consciousness.
Before my recent trip to India, I understood this first sutra... but I don't think I truly felt the depth of its power. My teacher, Anand Mehrotra describes this powerful NOW in a podcast I was listening to this morning, and I wanted to include a snippet for you. Anand says:
"You see, it all begins now. This is the most powerful moment that exists in time. For that's the only time you will ever experience: This moment, here and now. So if there has to be a beginning, it can only be now. Just like the wake of the ship; when you look behind the ship, you see the wake. But realize that the cause of that wake does not lie in the past. The cause of that wake is the ship in the present moment. It is THIS moment that is the cause of the past and the future. It is not the past which is the cause of this moment. You have to realize that. That it all begins now."
And that nugget about the past not causing this moment is HUGE! Let's read that again,
"It is not the past which is the cause of this moment."
How is that possible? Our lens.
We each have a lens that we're viewing the world through. An ever-changing lens, that can morph when you have an epiphany, or come to an understanding. Your entire worldview shifts. We even have a lens when we're clouded in a state of emotion, rather than a state of stillness.
Let's look at an example: Imagine people who were once proponents of smoking cigarettes. Today, we know this is wrong on many levels, and smoking is a direct cause of many aspects of dis-ease. But years ago, for many, smoking was the "now."
After we started understanding smoking was bad for our health, our lens changed. What once was right was now wrong. The fact of cigarette smoking happening didn't change... the idea ABOUT cigarettes changed. Thus, we can change our lens and thus, our view of past in the blink of an eye.
Or, for some, that lens is still in the process of changing over the course of many years, battling addiction, understanding, disease, and so on. For others, knowledge of the facts of smoking hasn't changed the lens at all; the smoking goes on.
Knowing that the past does not cause your now (remember the wake of the ship!), is it possible to — in the here and now — shift your lens and view moments in your life through a different lens? Even if your answer is no, I would encourage you to think instead: Not yet. And know that everything — even our shifting worldview — is happening in perfect time. Be gentle with yourself... and enjoy NOW!
Originally hailing from Wisconsin, Mollie is a cheesehead transplant to Northwest Montana, with degrees in Retail and Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Today, she lives off the grid, half the year in a Tiny House & half the year in a yurt — both of which she and her husband, Sean, built by hand. Nonprofit Executive Director by day, Mollie also owns and teaches at Yoga Hive — a chain of community yoga studios in the valley.