What Is It You Are Looking For
It took a lot of courage for me to realize and accept that I am completely responsible for my happiness. In the past, any time I would get triggered, I would unconsciously respond. Part of that response would be to sort out, analyze, and assign the blame for how I felt. If I was frustrated because I was running late, I would blame traffic, other drivers, and even myself for picking the wrong lanes to drive in. This kind of pattern and habituation showed up everywhere. In almost every nook and cranny of my life. I accepted the way that I felt as the end of my experience in any moment. And there is no freedom in a life bound so tight. Yoga showed me another way. I thought I had lost everything. Everything that I thought mattered that I had built my life around was falling apart. My identity and value had been loosely constructed around being a Marine and being a lawyer and putting forth a certain image…that I had it all together. My life reflected my errant belief that the things I did, and had, and that were said about me, necessarily determined on a moment to moment basis if I was a good person or not; if I had any value at all. When you live your life constantly trying to prove yourself to yourself you get tired. It’s a fool’s errand. How do we get so blind to the truth that we are beautiful and perfect and that there is nothing quite like us? I have a few theories on that.
Yoga was introduced to me, as it is to many, as a fitness alternative. I was running ultramarathons in early 2015 and it was taking a toll on my legs and lower back. By the time I was leaving the Marine Corps at the end of 2017 I knew there was something else to it. There is a company in the United States called Yoga Fit. They have a curriculum called the “Warrior” teacher training program. The program was designed by an Air Force Colonel. It was intended to bridge the gap between the healing benefits of yoga and some of the unique challenges of teaching yoga to the military community. I took the 100 hour teacher training course. It started to shift something in me. Something I recognize now as “awareness.” I think this is when I first noticed myself…and noticed myself noticing myself. :-)
The 100 hour teacher training was broken up into weekend modules. It took me over a year to take all of the modules. During that time I continued to struggle with addiction and lengthy bouts of depression and suicidal ideations. But I was moving in some direction. I was unsure of where I was going but I was moving. Over the course of my training I got to know the course developer, Col Shaye Molendyke, very well. She was a senior military officer who understood the gravity of my situation professionally and insisted on loving me nonetheless. She was grace. My friendship and mentorship with her is what started to awaken my desire to pursue yoga on a deeper level. When I left the military, it is Shaye that I asked “where do I go?” She sent me to Anand.
Anand Mehrotra is a visionary leader and founder of Sattva Yoga in Rishikesh, India. I won’t give you facts and figures about Anand. You can google that. What you won’t find on google you have to experience with your own heart in your own space and in your own way. Anand is wisdom and love. Ultimately, he is a mirror. The love you receive from him and the guidance you absorb, are a reflection of your own inner light and beauty. I know, it seems weird and esoteric and altogether unlikely, right? I thought so too.
When I arrived at Sattva I had my defenses up. I was seeking and searching and I had a genuine honest inquiry. And I also had a deep commitment to my identities as a Marine, a veteran, and a plethora of other versions of myself I could pull out at a moments notice in order to fit in. But I wasn’t at Sattva trying to fit in with the world. I was trying to fit in with Bobby. I wanted to BELONG. In one of her books, I can’t remember which, Brene Brown explains the difference between fitting in and belonging. Fitting in requires you to change something, anything, or everything about yourself in order to “comfortably” associate with a person or a group or an idea. Belonging is come as you are bring ALL your fuck ups and let’s sit around the table and have dinner and we’ll figure out how to put your broken pieces back together…together. When we feel we don’t belong, when we feel disconnected, sometimes even from ourselves, we create identities to fill in the blanks. Well, that’s what I did.
I arrived at Sattva for a three and a half week 200 hour yoga teacher training course. I was going to live on the grounds at Sattva for a month and immerse myself in the education and culture of yoga in the birthplace of yoga. I thought it would be like boot camp. Kind of. There is a strict schedule to adhere to…kind of. And all of your time during the day is accounted for…kind of. Mornings started early with Puja and then group meditation by the river. Then there was a two hour “Journey” with Anand. Then breakfast, classes, on into the late evening. The last event of the evening was usually a Satsang with Anand.
Journey? What the fuck…I remember when I first got to Sattva and saw JOURNEY WITH ANAND 9:00-11:00 I thought…”where the fuck could we possibly be going?” The trip to Sattva from Rishikesh is 15 kilometers up a mountain a…treacherous is a kind word, single lane mountain road complete with perilous cliffs below and rapidly rushing river currents. Alas, we were not leaving the ashram.
My first journey with Anand is the first time that I experienced Kriya yoga. Kriya is the yoga of electricity and largely involves moving the breath in specific, rhythmic, and repetitive patterns, in order to shift the electromagnetism of the body. There is a metric ass ton of science behind it that I won’t go into now. I really want to emphasize that i felt ridiculous doing it. I felt out of place and awkward and silly. I was so embarrassed sitting in a this room in India holding my nose breathing fire? Then I’m holding my breath and pumping my naval and I’m sure that everyone around me is pointing and laughing. The remnants of my judeo christian ptsd were screaming “if there is a god you’re pissing him off now!!!!’ All of the voices converged to this point where I was so ashamed and afraid that I thought a panic attack was imminent. I had a choice in that moment. I could get up and leave. Or I could stay and keep breathing. And that would require trust. I had to trust this guy I’d still never met in person. I had to keep breathing in this awkward pattern and make these insane chanting noises and….and….and suddenly I was weeping. And breathing. And sitting up tall. My own love and grace crashed over me in waves. I think this is one of the first times I can remember that I exercised my choice…I chose to dig into my soul, pull out trust, and sprinkle it on top of my shame. That was the day it all started to change.
When you sit with the shame and accept it as a part of you, maybe show it some love and trust, it will always dissolve. The feeling of shame is real but shame is not. There is no real disconnection. There is only the idea that we create in our minds that we are disconnected. And we give ourselves reason after reason to believe this. It simply isn’t true. You are love. We are love. If we can learn to sit with our feelings and breathe life into their space, they will always expand to reveal love beneath. Sattva yoga is designed to help you access that truth in any moment.
I ended up staying at Sattva for an additional month to complete the 500 hour teacher training program. I learned a lot more lessons along the way. I am very excited to share them with you here in the future.