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.
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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.