A few months ago, I saw a friend with her daughter and 2 nieces at Chantlanta. The younger niece is nearly 2 and very observant. Her language skills are still developing, but she’s always very intent on communicating.
This time, she rushed up to me, urgently exclaiming, “I’m naked! I’m NAKED!” (She was fully clothed.)
I immediately responded, “I know! Me too!” She looked a little confused. I continued, “We’re all naked, under our clothes! Everyone here is NAKED!”
Despite her confusion, she repeated herself, almost in desperation: “I’m NAKED! I’m NAKED!”
My friend had been laughing at our exchange, and commented, “Yep, she’s my honest one. So ready to be vulnerable to the world.”
Although the drollery in my response was intentional, I had an equal measure of sincerity. Not that the toddler would understand any of those nuances. But the conversation was an entertaining reminder that we all, in fact, cover our vulnerability in various ways. Clothes, conversation, reputation, and so on. Regardless of the presentation, though, underneath it we are all vulnerable and naked. (NAKED!)
That night, the guru appeared in the form of a toddler, and she made me think about how we cloak honesty and vulnerability. Certainly, sometimes covering up is appropriate. We all need protection, boundaries, and modesty. But that moment, brief yet so clear, reminded me that plenty of my presentation had become avoidance of truth. The child-teacher encouraged me to be more real, more vulnerable.
So I decided to strip away a few layers. As civilly as possible, I dropped some of my safe indulgences: deference, false politeness, fear, hesitation. In my April post, I got a little more naked (NAKED!) than before.
Later a friend told me that after she read it, her first thought was, “I hope Stephanie’s ready [for the onslaught]….” (in an “uh-oh” sort of tone)
She was exactly right; there was absolutely an onslaught. Within a week, I received an email from one of the people I referenced. Per his admission, he found the post “confusing” and didn’t “know the intention.” However, his lack of understanding didn’t prevent him warning me that my post could be slander.
(Obviously, he didn’t understand that he actually meant libel. But I mention it because defamation of any kind is a big accusation, one I believe worthy of using the proper term.)
I responded politely the next day, acknowledging our difference in opinion and asking him to be more concrete about his confusion. The following morning, one of his students stopped by my yoga studio. She claimed interest in classes and used some language, verbatim, from his email. We had a pleasant enough exchange. You can decide for yourself if that was just an uncanny coincidence. She said she’d to attend class in the next few days, but she never returned. Of course.
I never got a response to my email, but that night, I found that the teacher had taken to social media instead. In contradiction to his polite email, he called me names and insulted one of my teachers. (I found the latter particularly childish and inappropriate.)
Over the next several days, he harassed a mutual friend in his attempt of acquiring my phone number. That friend didn’t divulge it, but I think he found it via other means—since several times a week I get phone calls from random numbers, which has never happened so frequently.
He accused other mutual friends of spreading gossip and convincing me to write my own blog post. (Neither is true.) He even contacted the owner of the building where my yoga studio leases space. I was too embarrassed to ask the stated rationale behind that communication.
It was all very intense. I didn’t regret what I wrote, but I was bothered that so many unrelated people had to handle fallout which should have been given directly to me.
Anyways, the lack of truth, integrity, respect, and maturity in another person’s actions matters far less to me than how I conduct myself around lack of truth, integrity, respect, and maturity. I read all the comments and insults on social media—all with an open mind, willing to believe I might learn new information or see more from a person I don’t know that well.
My immediate reaction was to feel upset. I had the natural temptation to fire back and defend myself. But the feeling was brief—in the next moment, I suddenly felt completely relaxed. Seriously. I broke my silence about my opinion, and then that person’s actions justified that belief.
I imagine that me feeling angry or afraid was the intention of the many, many strangers who wrote (and offline surely said) nasty things about me. But I never felt insulted or bothered again—though I told myself those feelings would be justified if they appeared.
I decided to do nothing, say nothing, offer nothing to the momentum swirling around me. In my silence, I received many gifts, in various forms. Some were predictable—supportive comments online, private messages of encouragement, appreciative conversations.
Unexpectedly, however, the insults and lies were also beautiful gifts. Had I been distracted with defending myself, the gifts from the vitriol either would not have appeared or would have gone unnoticed. Instead, I felt completely supported. Vindicated. Free.
So often we don’t act because of what might happen. For years I stayed silent, in part because I feared feeling guilty or afraid. And yet when I did finally act, I saw that what I believed was a guarantee was in fact a possibility. Certainly it’s important to consider tangible consequences. But fearing possibility can keep you powerless. Not having fear creates space for noticing the present.
Though the onslaught is the most recent experience of this lesson, I first learned from my asana practice not to fear possibility. When I was newer to asana practice, I was often afraid. Mostly of pain. In sirsanana. In urdhva dhanurasana. They were scary. I often felt pain when I tried them. My standard inner monologue in those moments was something along the lines of Oh my god this is going to hurt so damn much f@&% me why I am doing this crazy s#!$. (And other freakouts of that nature.)
I remained terrified of that pain, even as I gained mastery in those poses. But eventually, I started to consider that the accompanying panic—Oh my god this is going to hurt so damn much f@&% me why I am doing this crazy s#!$—might be unproductive. That it might be unnecessary. And, perhaps, that it might induce pain. (I didn’t know all this stuff back then.)
By then, I panicked the most in kapotasana. So I steeled myself to move into the pose more neutrally, rather than allowing my standard reactions. When I moved with the intention of non-reaction, the pose didn’t hurt. Only then did I realize that my expectation of pain, rather than the pose itself, caused my pain.
Todd, my teacher, articulates this lesson in a beautiful way. His way of not be overwhelmed by expectations of pain is to ask himself directly: “Where is the pain?” Actual pain has a specific answer, such as “in the back of the right knee.” But if the answer is vague, such as “in the body,” then he knows that he’s fearing possibility, that his expectations are creating the pain.
That was exactly what I considered as I wrote the April post. I saw my fear, heard the panic, felt the resistance. Thus I asked, “Where is the pain?” What I saw, heard, and felt never articulated itself—never proved its actual existence.
Once I ceased imagining that pain, it stopped existing. Which is why I was never distressed or worried about all the insults and accusations. Not because I had previously obtained some cosmic guarantee that I wouldn’t feel upset at unknown events in the future, but because I don’t fear the possibility of unknown events in the future.
This is why speaking up is so important—because groundless fears about possibilities often hold us back. And it’s vital—I mean it—not to suppress your truth, your identity, your expression. You’ll always encounter both encouragement and resistance. So why hold back?
I vote we all be a bit more real, a bit more naked. (NAKED!)
SK © 2015