December 31, 2012

I’m Sorry, Mom. I’m Not Enlightened. ~ Emily Coppel

Photo: Emily Coppel

I didn’t want to see it through their eyes. I hadn’t figured life out, and I couldn’t be their spiritual success story.

I am a child of “spiritually-seeking” baby boomers.

It’s hard to say whether they have always been this way, or if it’s one of those things you notice about your parents when you leave home, come back and find real people.

If I trace the history, I do remember my mom giving me Be!—a small blue book of poetry with the title neatly embossed in gold on the cover. The poems were simple and the messages encouraged what the title and exclamation mark suggest. Some new age lingo here might give you a better idea: Be present, be mindful, be self-aware, monitor your thoughts and live your life with purpose. In fourth grade, I carried it with me instead of burying it in my school bag, similar to how someone (e.g. me, 16 years later) might tote around a yoga mat.

She had given me the ticket to mastering existence, and I had figured it out before everyone else—you just have to listen to the birds. I was nine.

A few weeks back, I went to a yoga class in New York at a studio near NYU. My main reason for going was to gauge how spiritual the 20-something was, who put together a dynamic playlist for the hour. Hits included the theme song to the movie Free Willy and “Never let me go” by Florence and the Machine. Maybe I wasn’t the only one with a new age upbringing.

Before I go into my breakdown analysis of this yoga class, I should mention a few things.

The first is that I recently returned from two months of traveling alone in India.

One of those months was spent doing a yoga teacher training course in a small fishing village with an instructor/former rickshaw driver who could fold himself into a box. My mom told me (and her friends) that I was “on a spiritual path.” I scoffed. No, I am not Elizabeth Gilbert, although yes, I do see the parallels. So I’ll laugh politely and hope you don’t bring it up in front of anyone under 40.

Twenty-eight days of yoga later, I was stiff, bitter and cynical. However, I could do this.

Each scorching and humid day, I sat for hours with my legs folded under me, and I knew precisely (47 minutes) when my feet would go numb. My conclusion, from days on end of philosophy class and meditation, was this:

Self-actualization is hard. And maybe, I don’t really want to be enlightened.

When I came back from India, my mom and step dad visited New York for Thanksgiving and begged to see my pictures. Really, they begged. I made an excuse every day why we didn’t have time. But really, I didn’t want my trip to become something else. I didn’t want to see it through their eyes. I hadn’t figured life out, and I couldn’t be their spiritual success story. They left, and I didn’t show them one photo.

After all of this, I needed to see how other 20-somethings deal with the elusiveness of spirituality and the pressure around figuring “it” out.

Back to the yoga room.

As everyone does before a yoga class, I stretched and compared myself to the lean, spandex-clad girl next to me. When the bright-eyed teacher started the class, she told us to think about our day. She told us to breathe, she told us to let go of any thoughts that might be getting in the way of our practice. Her words were approachable and realistic. She made me sweat and I noticed I was the only one actually dripping on the floor. Then it ended.

We rolled up our mats and went back to our lives, holding eye contact with each other for a second longer than when we entered.

For the rest of the night I had Michael Jackson’s song “Will You Be There,” the theme song to Free Willy, stuck in my head:


But they told me

A man should be faithful

And walk when not able

Fight ‘til the end

But I’m only human

Hold me.




Emily Coppel recently returned to the U.S. after living in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she was working to build a youth media organization. She loves yoga, but it’s often a tumultuous relationship. Emily now lives in New York City. You can email her at [email protected].



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Assistant Ed: Josie H.

Ed: Kate B.

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