You are the main character in your own story. And each of us has the opportunity to be the hero of our own myth.
American scholar, Joseph Campbell, observed a pattern in mythology: he discovered that human stories go on repeating themselves as if they never happened before. Campbell directs our attention to the hero’s journey, which he says is the same story retold worldwide and throughout all time.
Monomyth, is a term Campbell borrowed from James Joyce, which has since become a synonymous reference to the hero’s journey. Even legendary filmmakers: George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Coppola, have all looked to Campbell’s book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, before making some of their most famous films. The monomyth is forever retold because it reflects universal concerns:
Who am I? What is my purpose? What defines me? Am I my own rock? Is there anybody else out there?
The hero never starts out the hero. They are always ordinary, in every way. It’s always the journey that shakes them, breaks them and makes them. However, it is only after facing their demons that catapults them into the role of ‘hero.’ Maybe a hero for many, but often to just be their own hero- in their own life.
Four weeks of an “Intensive Advanced Yoga Teacher Training” program in another country, meant I would be thrown into a new routine and way of living, while working with seven faculty and nine other students, all of whom I’d never met. If the circumstances don’t intimidate, then certainly the words “intensive” and “advanced” should. Since that’s what it was. And I mean that in a good way. I think everyone knew what they were in for, but this wouldn’t be like most teacher trainings out there: I didn’t choose this program for Costa Rica, I chose Costa Rica for the program. What appealed to me most about Awakened Life School of Yoga, was that they emphasized what it means to have heart on their website. They were the only yoga program I found that did. To me this is ironic because heart is what yoga is, at it’s true core: the Yamas, Niyamas, Yoga Sutras, etc, all teach about having heart and giving it away. Choosing Awakened Life School of Yoga meant I learned and relearned how to do both while in Nosara, along with all the other elements that make up an advanced teacher training program.
Yoga means different things to different people, it’s what I like most about it. It can mean showing up to a class and moving, and/or it can mean a way of living that allows you to be more present and connected. It’s not a religion nor a spirituality thing either. It does have a history, and therefore there are texts written on how it can be used to benefit its practitioner most. The texts present ideas that can help overcome riddles of obstacles that pertain to life as we know it. For example, the Niyamas introduce terms like santosha, which means contentment. It’s not a belief, just a tactic, asking: Can you be content where you are, as you are?
The crazy part is, is that even if someone only focuses on the physical practice, they will eventually find themselves asking the same philosophical questions: i.e. (santosha) Can I be content (where I am in my practice)? Yet, this eventually starts to translate to life off the mat; if you do something enough you become it: you notice that what you practice on your mat helps you in real life, to breathe through a challenge, be where you are, have self-discipline, etc. Mind and body are one. Where yoga philosophy stops short of answering, the hero’s journey begins: Who am I? What is my purpose? What defines me? Am I my own rock? Is there anybody else out there?
This is where my journey begins…
Act I: Overcoming fear
After getting to know everyone those first couple days, I kept thinking about a quote I had seen just a few days prior: “Souls that resemble attract inevitably.” I really did see myself in each person I met. We all came for the same reasons. They each revealed to me things I liked and didn’t like about myself, and I love each of them for both sides of that. Group dynamics are a fascinating thing, and when 17 people spend everyday together for 29 days, it gets interesting. Right off the bat, we used part of the first day to tell our life stories: each person had about 12 minutes to share their story. It was one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever been a part of. When someone shares all their secrets, trials and tribulations, you empathize with them on a level that is not only profound, but allows for a friendship to build from a place of pure respect. Doing this also eliminated any kind of clique behavior that can sometimes happen in a group setting. Instead, we were all one clique… the rest of the visitors at Blue Spirit- and in the dinning hall specifically, were the others.
We only had a little drama, but it was dealt with right away because we had group meetings when things came up. When you are in a group setting from 530 am to 9 pm, this is really the only way to keep group moral at a good place so learning can happen without distractions. Nothing had a chance to escalate because nothing was “swept under the rug.” Because of this, I found my voice. And because I really found my voice as a woman, consequently, I feel how that confidence has allowed for me to evolve my voice as an instructor, too.
Finding my voice was like finding my handstand: both happened for me in Costa Rica, and I held them proudly. Victory will eventually mean continuing to hold both with ease, each time I am faced with the challenge; I’m not quite there yet, but it did feel good to see what it tastes like. Initially recognizing that handstands were a fear wasn’t easy to admit to anyone or myself. It actually wasn’t until recently that I even felt comfortable trying a handstand without a wall. It wasn’t the upside-down thing that scared me, because I’ve been comfortable being upside-down for a while. The truth is that I didn’t believe in myself. I questioned my strength and had this internal dialogue going that said: “I will always fall because I am not strong enough.” I got that voice to shut up though, and that alone feels like a victory. The first time I stopped listening for it was the first time I held a handstand, no wall necessary.
Yet, even the handstand doesn’t compare to finding my own voice like I did in Costa Rica, which far outweighs most things I’ve accomplished in life. Before the trip, I felt strongly connected to my voice in writing, and even in teaching too, but now it’s different. I feel more concerned with speaking my truth and letting it come from my heart, which has always been a fear for me. I just didn’t realize it, until I had the chance to face it like I did: there was night I felt really heard. I was upset, so I spoke up about it. Ironically, I think that night was actually the first time I really heard myself, it came from somewhere different. My voice was calm even though I had tears in my eyes, but I wasn’t afraid to let anyone see me cry, when I always had been (ever since my teens). I specifically remember meeting each person’s eyes with mine, and when did, I not only saw that I held all 17 people’s undivided attention, but each met my gaze with understanding and empathy. I got the apology I was looking for, and suddenly the place I spoke from felt soft again. After that night, I had even more respect for Liz and Chris, the Founders/Directors, because it was them that I spoke my heart to, and not only did they whole-heartedly apologize, but they even told me they were proud of me and emotionally pulled me closer. I sat back in awe when I realized that it is this type of relationship that creates the most growth. I felt it. When it comes to any relationship I choose to invest in, I’ll never settle for anything less. From my heart, thank you both for teaching me that. I’ll never forget it.
Act II: Preparing for major change
When you meditate everyday and are given tools to better understand and observe yourself, your thoughts, decision making skills, habits, patterns in your life, and feelings, it inevitably brings stuff up. As a society and as individuals, we repress a lot. We tuck it away because it seems easier that way. Yet, maybe one day you see that you have a choice: to open Pandora’s Box or keep it closed. But, you’re curious, so you say, “Actually, you know what, I’m gonna look.”
At least wear goggles or something, ’cause that shit is whack: You don’t realize you have fears until you consciously make the decision not to run like you always have, each time you feel uneasy. You don’t realize you have certain anxieties until you observe your habit patterns when that feeling comes up. You may not even realize that most of those thoughts jumbled up in your brain are the same thoughts you thought yesterday and they’ll be the same ones you’ll be thinking tomorrow. Then you’ll start to see stories you tell yourself… And when it comes to stories, you not only have the power to change history, but also have the power to drift off into a fantasy world so out of touch with this one that even ‘out of this world’ movies can’t compare. Where am I most of the time?
Who am I? What is my purpose? What defines me? Am I my own rock? Is there anybody else out there?
I wanted answers.
Act III: Accepting consequences of new life
I found answers.
Some of what I found I didn’t really like: I thought I was done with the you are not enough story, but it turns out, I wasn’t. However, now I have a new tactic, and it seems really conventional: I can choose not to listen. What a concept! I knew it before, but I didn’t know it like this… What helps is that I have an experience to prove this fear story is wrong: the handstand experience. I held a handstand when I chose not to listen to the story line: “I’ll always fall because I am not strong enough.” By experience I proved it wasn’t true.
It turns out, I had a few lines I would listen to myself tell myself, over and over. Then one day I started to think about two things:
1. I wonder what my potential would be if I stopped these lines before I knew one was about to play? Like some messed-up tape recorder harping on someone’s vulnerabilities, because that’s what it is.
2. It also made me truly think about the gift that yoga has given me, and I am so grateful. Essentially what this practice has given me is mental strength. All those fear lines I would feed myself, I was able to shut down every single one when I realized I had experiences on my mat to prove otherwise: I am strong, I am capable, I am enough, I CAN, I do try, I do succeed. What a gift!
Where am I most of the time? Present.
Who am I? A mindful seeker on a spiritual journey.
What is my purpose? To listen.
What defines me? My passion.
Am I my own rock? My own rock and my own best friend too.
Is there anybody else out there? For this purpose, we all have the same gift: empathy.
Act IV: Now what?
If you read my last entry: I talked about how I had a hard time dealing with my feelings. In every way, I feel relieved of this dilemma. I learned I was strong. This came with the realization that I actually have a lot more power over my life than I thought. As for the friend that no longer wants to be friends? I let it go. And all those feelings I didn’t want to deal with? I felt them and then let them go, too.
I could go on about other experiences I had in Costa Rica, the amazing people I’ve met and will continue to have in my life, or tell you their stories. I could go on about things I learned, how all this has truly changed what I see. I could also totally geek-out on yoga, but I’ll hold back on that too.
Instead, I want to share the most powerful realization I had:
Everything happens for a reason. I am not talking about destiny or fate. I’m not sure of those, but I do believe everything happens for a reason. Looking back, I would be a fool not to see how fortunate I am that the timing of each of my yoga teacher trainings couldn’t have been better, how classes happened when I thought I should give up, how things fell into my lap when I least expected them, how every time I questioned if what I’m doing matters -some wide-eyed individual comes along and shares with me what yoga has given them. Every. Single. Time. This was always the path I was meant to take, and I thought it was only some crazy fantasy I had, so out of touch with this world that even ‘out of this world’ movies couldn’t compare. When you follow your heart, it leads you in the right direction. Everything happens for a reason.
Act V: My Monomyth
This is my hero’s journey, but it’s not over. Actually, I have quite a ways to go, and many dreams on my list. But, I will recognize some small victories because it helps inspire me to keep going. We are all worthy to be our own hero, and when we choose to fight for our best selves, a hero is what we become.