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The idea that “positivity” is the ONLY way to be spiritual is a dangerous one

A little over a week ago, I sat in a salon chair having my hair blow dried for a wedding. My mom and I were down in LA, and she’d made me an appointment with her longtime hair dresser. I was feeling really excited to have a day of pampering with my mom before heading down to celebrate a long-time family friend’s special day.

About 15 minutes into the treatment, the hairdresser says, “You teach yoga? I am surprised since you were so firey and bossy with me yesterday on the phone. I thought you were supposed to be calm.”

HOLY SHIT. I froze–felt completely paralyzed–and heat radiated up my skin.

A little backstory: I received a call the day before asking if my mom and I would be willing to move our appointment times around a little bit. I was experiencing a lot of confusion from the front desk associate, lack of clarity, and frustration on the call, and I’ll admit I was not at my finest. I was edgy and curt. Ultimately, we did agree to move our times, I moved through my momentary frustration, and was looking forward to my appointment.

When he said that though–about being surprised that for a yoga teacher I wasn’t calmer–I felt CAUGHT. Like a deer in headlights.

His calling me out like that activated two things very powerfully for me: first, the limiting belief I’ve held onto for so long that I need to be “perfect” and second, the false idea that “spiritual” people are happy and positive all of the time and that I need to be like that because I’m in the business of spirituality.

After my initial moment of being plunged into fight-or-flight by his comment, I made a new choice that I would not have made in the past. Instead of over-apologizing and diminishing what I was feeling inside, I took a deep breath, looked the hairdresser directly in the eyes, and shared my truth:

I am human. I am not perfect. I feel it’s dangerous and doing active harm when we assume that because we’re on the spiritual path or we teach yoga or are in the healing arts or whatever that we don’t get to have the full range of our emotions. That we’re only supposed to be one flat-line experience of calm. To me, yoga and spirituality is owning all parts of me and giving space for the full range of my emotions. It’s about realizing I am learning and growing each day. It’s crazy-making to shame ourselves and make wrong the moments where big emotional reactions do happen or when powerful raw emotions rise up. Too often I am hearing people equate spiritual with only positive, shiny, and of course, never angry, and it’s BS!

Silence.

We sat for a few minutes in that silence while he continued working on me, and then, there was a softening. It felt like the walls between us came down, and we found a real, human, heart-to-heart connection. We started talking about different healing modalities and ultimately discovered that we both have a loving interest for the holistic arts and that we had a lot to talk about.

So why am I sharing this with you? Because I truly believe that the idea of positivity being the way to enlightenment is a dangerous one! And I also want to illustrate for you what it looks and feels like to be activated or triggered by something someone says, which is something that happens to all of us!

When I started on this spiritual path nearly a decade ago, I put so much pressure on myself to always be “positive.” I thought there was something wrong with me when I got upset or felt reactive or was anything less than “picture perfect”.

However, what I’ve come to understand over the course of the last decade is that yoga and spirituality are not ever about denying my emotions or shutting away the “uglier” parts of myself. On the contrary, I’ve been learning to include all parts of who I am in my everyday life. It’s been about cultivating a willingness to learn and discover…to be open and curious when I get reactive, rather than running away from or trying to shut those feelings down.

When we project onto others (or onto our own sweet selves) our ideas about how a spiritual person should be (“positive” or “calm,” especially), we’re doing everyone a real disservice. True spirituality, in my opinion, isn’t about being emotionless; it’s about learning to be all of ourselves–not just some bright and shiny version. In doing this, we allow and encourage others to embrace their full selves as well.

I’m so grateful for my encounter with this hairdresser, because although it caught me off-guard and definitely brought up a lot of discomfort, it was also a beautiful opportunity for me to practice fully feeling my feelings in a moment of confrontation, speaking my truth with grace, and grounding even more deeply into the physical embodiment of my truth by expressing it out loud.

A few days after this incident, I read a quote on instagram from another yogi, and it really integrated all of this for me:

I often think Yoga simply expedites emotional regulation and maturity. There are countless times where the lessons I’ve learned in yoga don’t show-up. Like, when I am in a traffic jam or realize I’ve run out of coffee beans when I go to make my morning cup. But, when I am truly tested, this is the lesson for me: show up, and experience the entirety of the present moment. (Jason Crandell)

Yes, that’s exactly it. Show up , experience the entirety of the present moment, and I would add: give yourself lots of loving attention and then allow yourself to make a new choice about how to react…a choice that lines you up with the present moment and allows you to express your truth and deepen the connection you have with the world around you.

Is there anywhere in your life where you’ve been stifling your feelings lately? Or perhaps you’ve noticed an unwillingness to experience your emotions in the present moment as they’re arising? What might it be like to loosen your grip a little? To allow yourself to be a little more human? What kind of support do you need in order to allow that kind of loosening? Are you willing to call that in?

Wherever you are, I invite you to pause, feel into your body, and make a new commitment: “I commit to allowing myself more and more freedom. I commit to loving myself through the intensity of my authentic feelings. I commit to knowing that life isn’t about perfection. I celebrate this ongoing journey of learning and discovery.”

I’d love to hear what’s arising for you!

With love,

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