In attempting to secure myself a position as a more “professional” art teacher and yoga teacher, I originally wanted to stay away from writing overtly personal posts on this here blog. But, that (writing in such a manner) is also something I truly love to do, so I think I’ll attempt to write such posts–just as long as I can connect them to the overarching themes of this site: personal growth, life and its meaning, mindfulness, health, yoga, and art and all of its gorgeous limbs.
That being said, what I’d like to think and write about today is the idea of pretense: the attempt to make something that is not the case appear true. Our worlds are filled with pretense today, so much so that I’m not even sure we realize it.
I saw something on Facebook this afternoon that sent me into a miniature rage. It doesn’t matter what it was, what mattered was that the message was inherently dishonest. I knew the truth of a particular situation, and what was being voluntarily presented to the world was a glorified, glamorized, and completely falsified image. What disturbed me more was how many people believed it to be true. What disturbed me further was knowing that many of these people had no choice but to believe this image as true–how could they NOT when they knew so little about the reality behind the shimmering facade? That is one of the dangers of social media, in my opinion, you can (if you want) essentially re-invent yourself, and no one has to know.
One thing I wonder is why so many of us are drawn to pretense–either creating it or admiring it. Do we create pretense because we’re afraid other people won’t like us for who we really are? Do we not like who we really are? Are we afraid that our own flaws will scare other, more “perfect” people away? Do we feel inferior? Do we chase after pretense because it gives us hope? Because it makes us feel better about what is missing from our lives? Does the glitz and glamour of pretense fill the voids we feel we cannot? Does it distract us from our real problems? Does it make life (and that darned path to wholeness, contentment, or whatever) seem easier than it actually is? Even ideas such as loving your body or loving yourself take on nauseating themes, because it’s not always a light-hearted or joyous process. Don’t tell me that what you really dislike about yourself are your thighs. Tell me what you really, really dislike about yourself. Tell me about something that can’t be improved through simple repetitive exercises. Because it’s OK to, at times, really dislike pieces of yourself. It’s a (rather beautiful) part of the process. And it can’t be skipped over. Light makes no difference to those who have never experienced darkness.
As an aspiring yoga teacher, I want to briefly pause here and discuss how pretense has invaded the yoga culture. I do hope that in the process I do not alienate prospective students or fellow yogis, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take. I suppose that if I can’t be honest within a particular subculture, then maybe I don’t belong there. But, I digress.
Here’s my problem: I’m tired of the dreamy, saccharine, overly-sensitive dialogue and imagery presented throughout much of the online yoga community. I’m sorry, but here’s the truth (according to Ms. Katie Duane): the “yogic path” is anything but dreamy, sweet, or easy. It certainly can be, at times, but the path to greater self-understanding and self-realization is ALSO overgrown with ugliness, doubt, and seemingly impossible tangles of thought and emotion. Sparkly photos and sentimental quotations give us the idea that transformation is delightfully magical; which can cause us to derail the minute things get truly difficult or frightening. And you know what? Coming to know yourself (through yoga, meditation, writing, art, reflective thought, or however) can be, at times, absolutely terrifying, disappointing, and disorienting.
I suppose I get it, all the pretense, here–why jump on a train when it looks like it might take you through hell before it arrives at an ideal destination? Is there a faster train? Is there a short cut? Is there one with charming scenery to admire along the way?
Something I learned during my own yoga teacher training, and on my own (and continued) path toward self-realization is that the answer to all of the above questions, in my personal opinion, is NO. I think for a while I confused myself by believing that there was an alternative, and so I jumped from train to train to train hoping that each would take me there and that it wouldn’t be too terrible of a ride. What I failed to realize was that I was wasting precious time. The train itself is also the destination. There is no there out there; we don’t transform because we’ve arrived. We transform because we’re willing to stay the course… through the good stuff like love, joy, and peace, and also through all the shit, like anger, jealousy, fear, sadness, and confusion. I skirted some of the really hard questions for a long time. At age thirty, the combination of a difficult job, life-long issues with obsession and anxiety, falling in love, and completing copious amounts of self-study for my yoga teacher training meant that I had a kind of crash-and-burn type experience rather than a magical, glittery one. For a little while, I hated yoga as a result.
In effort to stay true to my message, I’ll disrobe any pretense I might have wrapped myself in. With regards to yoga, first: I am not a perfect yogi. I do things and eat things that many people think yoga teachers “shouldn’t”. I attempt to eat well, but also indulge from time to time (and I don’t feel bad about it). I attempt to do yoga everyday, but somedays I get lost in my head, or other activities. Sometimes I even rush through my yoga practice because I’m not really able to be present that day (it’s an ability that fluctuates, and I’m working on it). I have had life-long issues with how to best cope with (and overcome) obsessive-compulsive disorder; I recently experienced potentially the worst obsessive spiral I’ve ever entered, and I’m not quite out of it yet. I was even briefly taking anti-depressants to help me sort out what was real and what was obsession–I know many holistic healers and yogis would balk at this: but have YOU ever had thoughts that completely spiraled out of control? That controlled you on a daily basis? That made you question every idea and feeling you had? It is so easy to judge others, especially when we think they’re supposed to be perfect (or close to it), but nobody is.
In order to be a teacher of anything, are we expected to be masters every step of the way? Without fault or weakness, without our own personal, internal battles? How honest should we be? How much pretense should we cocoon ourselves in? I wish the answer was none. As I made abundantly clear above, I am NOT a perfect yogi, but I am on a deeply yogic path, every day of my life. I am honest with myself and others, and on a constant search for a simultaneously deeper and higher understanding of myself, others, and the world at large. I am also constantly reflecting on the meaning of existence, my role in it, and how to be a better human being. I do these things through reading and reflecting, thinking and writing, meaningful conversation, quieting my mind through meditation and breathing, and aligning my body and mind through yoga, as well as other forms of conscious movement (running, dancing, biking, hiking, whatever).
Most of all, I’m tired of the overly sentimental approach (and any and all pretense associated with it) to self-transformation because it ultimately deprives us of what is possibly the most precious jewel of all: that as we learn to accept and embrace the ugly, the dirty, and the problematic, we also find ourselves able to see true beauty in that process, in that apparent darkness. Because it IS in there. That beauty, the divine, that ethereal fucking light–whatever you want to call it–it’s everywhere. And until we are able to see that beauty in the darkest and ugliest and most confusing parts of ourselves and our lives, we aren’t able to see it, nor feel it, in everything. As a result, we coast through life blind to so much beauty, feeling, and experience.
What I hope to teach my students, and myself, through reflection and both yogic and creative expression, is to find the courage to drop the pretense, and see through the pretense all around us. To instead be present with what is, to accept and embrace our selves, our lives and our world, to both accept and challenge our limits, to think about things in our own ways, and to be able to see, feel, and share the beauty that exists in everything.
I’ll do my best!
(painting above by my dear friend Greta Taxis)