The Greatest Lesson I Ever Learned

Sometimes it takes great pain to reveal great truth. And what a gift it is to have yoga to challenge me to arrive at my most humbling lesson. 

With the radical shifts I so desperately needed in my life came the realisation that I have something important to offer.

Here I share the life-affirming, life-transforming lesson that led me to celebrate the complexity of being human and share from that place.

Separateness

What has caused me the greatest suffering in my life is the belief that there’s something wrong with me. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a distant observer, an over-thinker and intense analyser. In my teens and twenties, everywhere I looked it seemed everyone was doing just fine, coasting along happily with it never occurring to them to stop and tear their life to shreds the way I was.

My propensity to sit back and observe and compare was paralysing at times. I felt separate, dark, not enough. I felt like a sort of human-alien.

The Veneer

But as I got older I experienced spontaneous moments of not-giving-a-fuck and I would expose a piece of myself. There I began to scratch the surface.

People would soften around me and open up, they’d tell me things they’d never told anyone. They would gravitate towards me because they didn’t have to hide anything. They’d momentarily reveal a piece of themselves, then suddenly retract and retreat back to the glossy veneer, fearful they’d been seen.

I’d find myself alone again. So I tried to fit in, to conform, to belong to something and pretend I had it all worked out. I faked confidence and nonchalance and it worked for a while. I felt noticed, significant and enough.

Facing Myself

Then I got into yoga. I became intensely uncomfortable and awkward again. I began to see the layers of inauthenticity and self-sabotage and I began to peel them back asana by asana. I kept going back to the mat despite knowing there was more pain and discomfort in that place where I couldn’t hide from myself. But I’d tasted those post-asana highs and nothing in my life had made me feel more alive or more connected.

For several years, I’d pass by the familiar faces of other yogis with nothing more than a smile in acknowledgement that we were enjoying the same classes each week. I’d dread the teacher telling us to say hello to our neighbours on the mat before each class. I was still under the illusion of separateness.

Then I took part in a powerful workshop at my favourite Bondi studio. Each week we were encouraged to self-study (svadhyaya) and then share one-on-one while our partner listened silently (shravana) to what we had uncovered.

I had nothing to lose and I was in a safe space, so I was brave. The words, the feelings, the revelations poured out of my soul. I felt held and supported and never judged. I would sit with tears streaming down my face as I shared my darkest depths and as my partner shared hers.

“I’d try to fit in, to conform, to belong to something and pretend I had it all worked out. I faked confidence and nonchalance and it worked for a while.”

My Greatest Lesson

I began to realise why I had suffered for so long and I was relieved, inspired and grateful. I had been given permission to be myself and it had led me to my greatest ever lesson: I Am Not Alone.

The pain I had released was a gift to my partner in those sessions, and the pain each partner released was a gift to me. We were raw with each other and after every session we would walk out a little lighter and brighter behind our tear-stained faces.

For so long I had believed there was something wrong with me. Now I was realising that we all suffer and we can all feel isolated in our suffering and therefore suffer worse. I understood that none of us have life all worked out, even if for a second we believe it and profess it.

Fear & Forgetting

When we begin to suffer again and fear grips us with its ugly fingers, we can fall back under its spell: the illusion of separateness. ‘There must be something wrong with me if I can’t access any joy.’ We retreat and sit alone in our darkness, trying to fix ourselves.

What we easily forget is that we are all under the same sun, moon and stars, we are all experiencing the same energetic pulls, the same waxing and waning and ebb and flow. We are in constant flux, and we are all in this together.

What a relief it is each time I’m reminded of this.

Image: Jake Holly