I was on retreat last weekend with all the teachers from Wild Lotus Yoga.
This is the kind of staff retreat you don’t cringe at — there are no ice breaking games, no embarrassing stories, no faked camaraderie.
This was 26 yoga teachers and practitioners, coming together to practice, meditate, sing, and share. We did a little business, sure, but we mostly ate delicious vegetarian fare and had a yoga sleepover.
I arrived on Friday over-tired. I watched the thoughts in my head: “Why are we all wasting our time with this? Will anything productive happen? No one else really understands my business struggles.”
Y’all. It was a whirlwind of whining.
Yoga taught me to watch my thoughts. And in watching, to be free from them.
So I watched.
I was kind of annoyed by myself, but I have also come to expect this: even when I get to Bhakti Fest (aka Yoga Heaven) it usually takes me 24 hours to adjust to constant smiling and openness. (“You’re only smiling because of your privilege,” my brain says.)
I’ve learned: Sit still. Keep your mouth shut. Let it pass.
In 24 hours, you’ll be looking at everybody with starry eyes too, greeting strangers with hugs and “namaste.”
Just wait. In 24 hours, you’ll mean it.
In the meanwhile, I just keep my mouth shut and pray none of my judgement seeps out my pores.
So our first night on retreat, I sit down on a meditation cushion for opening meditation.
And then I watched my judgy mind pee all over everybody else’s lawn. And I sighed, and tried to turn it over; to surrender that need to constantly evaluate and fix.
And then something new happened: I started to play instead.
Out of nowhere, I thought: What would their names be, these demons in my head? Could I dance with them? How could I befriend them, as so many of the old teachings say?
So…. introducing: Spinny, Snarky, and Smarty.
Spinny is constantly worried about what’s coming next, and she’s going a mile a minute and once she starts one thing she thinks of the seventeen other things that will come next and they’re like little spider webs of to-do lists and oh wait, when was the last time I ate?
Spinny says: you’re going to forget. You’d better do it now. You’ll never be finished. You’re going to miss out.
After I danced with her a while, I realized her FOMO was a desire for me to experience this wide world. She sees how much is possible and available, and the thought that I might miss an ounce of that magic breaks her ever-lovin’ heart.
Snarky’s only language is sarcasm. Doubt is her currency. She’s constantly undermining any spiritual practice I have, remarking on how none of this stuff really works anyhow and when will you get a real job and restart your 401k?
Snarky is funny as hell, but that laughter is laced with biting doubt and vicious irony.
I asked her how she saw me, and what she wanted from me or for me. After some coaxing and cajoling, Snarky admitted: she sees how great I am, and she refuses to let me be duped or taken advantage of. She’s protecting me the only way she knows how. Snarky has been burned, and nobody will ever do that to me over her dead, smoky-voice.
Smarty knows everything. And I mean everything. And nobody else knows anything, and even if they think they know, they’re deluded. Smarty is bored just by being near you.
She’s an old friend, and hers is a very old story. She feels like a vestige of my past self — so obsessed with knowledge and achievement, I forgot to make room for mystery and curiosity.
Of all my demons, she’s my least favorite. And she’s probably the strongest.
But when I asked what Smarty wanted? She was just bored! She wanted something to do! She is so hungry to learn something new. She needs stimulation and challenge and new ideas.
It turns out, by avoiding her I was making her stronger. The more bored she is, the worse she gets!
So what now?
I am actively dwelling in the possibility and immensity of life.
I am keeping my boundaries strong, and remaining connected to my inner safety.
I am reading more! Learning more! Picking up new ideas.
In the stories of the goddesses from the Indian tradition, demons show up all the time: they try to stop the creation of the world, and then every time you turn around another one is trying to destroy what’s already here.
But those demons actually live in our heads.
Story gives us new insight into how to handle our own demons that are rolling around — when to befriend them, and when to eviscerate them.
I’ll leave you with a blessing I wrote for myself this weekend, which is really for all of you:
May you hear the calling of your deepest self whispering in every crowded moment;
Beseeching you: Stop, rest a while. Dwell here in possibility.
May you be freed from the spin of frenetic thought, opening instead to the breadth of imagination and wisdom that’s right here.
May you leave behind armor of “should” and “supposed to” — shedding expectations from inside and out — and wake to the pouring nectar of intuition and guidance from beyond.
Hold each moment gently, like a baby bird — nurturing, supporting, cradling, and then launching free in to the open sky of your tomorrows.
P.S. Read any good books lately? Smarty is hungry.