“(…) perfectionist standards do not allow for failure. They do not even allow for life, and certainly not death.” ~ Marion Woodman
I’ve driven people crazy quite often in this life.
I’ve literally made people cry in a work environment a couple of times. Have you watched Whiplash? I could easily have been the dominating professor who hits the drummer in the face for not being in rhythm: Are you rushing or are you dragging?
I was always a perfectionist.
Once, in a university movie project (I studied cinema), I pushed the cable girl to the floor and practically stepped over her without even noticing because I was guiding the shot of the cameraman—who, you know, insisted on doing it wrong. It was later in the day that someone told me she’d been crying (and the cameraman was obviously pissed off, too).
I’ve since let go of all movie and video business in favor of yoga. Yoga saved me from being a controlling, perfectionist freak. It was right after my first yoga class that I thought: hey, maybe it’s possible to be happy. Yoga allowed me to let go of my mind and inhabit my body, and it was liberating. I jumped into a yoga teacher training as a woman with her head on fire would jump into a river! I was thirsty for knowing and experiencing more.
However, people will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls, as Jung puts it.
Well, I became a yoga teacher, a quite happy one. Soon, I became a yoga teacher trainer—who doesn’t trust a perfectionist? Suddenly and again I was diving into a self-destructive pool of habits.
It takes a massive amount of effort to be conscious, and to slip into our old selves might be a slow process but it’s a certain one if we let go of being self-vigilant. I practiced, studied and breathed yoga 24/7. Slowly, what was once a nurturing path became a scary desert. I drove myself mad when I actually wanted to give the students my heart, my background and well, everything else they could ever consider asking for.
One swami (an Indian religious teacher) in one of the yoga teacher training classes I took said: if you can, don’t teach yoga. I thought it was such a weird thing to say and it took me a couple of years to know what he meant.
It was this:
My self-practice slowly started to become empty. There was no heart in it. I had settled into routines and putting together amazing classes (to clarify concepts and bring out experiences—the irony in that!) had driven my own presence out of the mat and of my life. The workaholic mind slowly took over again. My practice, which was my daily spiritual ritual, had become a puppet show: the body was just lifeless, hanging there. I was completely out of the yoga-zone no matter how many candles I lit before I practiced.
One day, in the middle of a seated forward bend, I suddenly just stopped. Everything was feeling numb and at the same time, I felt desperate. How did I get here? I thought. I kneeled and prayed. But even my prayer felt fake. The candles felt fake! I bowed my head to the floor, completely immersed in my own shock and started to cry. My past had caught up to my new yoga teacher life.
I had let go of the most important lessons of yoga and I was face to face with my own darkness again. Wasn’t this the reason I came to yoga? Wasn’t yoga supposed to free me from my controlling and dominating mind?
It was those tears that saved me that morning. Something moved inside me that instant.
“Tears are a river that takes you somewhere…Tears lift your boat off the rocks, off dry ground, carrying it downriver to someplace better.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés.
My heart had become naked again through my tears. Suddenly, I could flush out all the roles—practitioner, teacher, trainer—and be present in my body. I felt the pain and I felt the freedom to meet myself once again; after all, I had a chance. I had a chance only because I had spotted so clearly not only my previous conditioning, but also everything that I need not be again.
Thankfully, nothing is ever truly lost inside us, but as a garden needs constant care, so does our souls need proper looking after. Digging deep inside ourselves is tiring—but if we let go of being aware for a while, short or long, we will need to attend to all the weeds that grow back in. Better sooner than later.
Nowadays, I practice daily (and sometimes painfully) how to separate what is truly useful and nurturing to my heart from what is not. I did let go of being a know-it-all. I also practice trusting others to do a great job and ketting go of the fear of not doing (and being) enough. Letting these fears go while teaching yoga and also teachers-to-be allowed me to remember that giving is receiving once we act from our hearts.
My self-practice did come back to being my salvation and though sometimes the controlling freak-outs try to sneak up on me, I hardly let it get a real grip of my practice, my teaching and hopefully, my life.
Author: Suzana Altero
Image: Anne Wu/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman