Risky Business

‘Does saying you’re a yoga teacher in a room full of people with “real jobs”’ ever make you feel less than or not as intelligent as the other people in the room?’ Friends. You’ve NO IDEA. I was DELIGHTED that someone felt so comfortable around me that they would blow right past their thought editor, implying that I may not be that bright and also of a lesser class in one sentence, and know I wouldn’t take it the wrong way. Yup. They’d had a really nice savasana. I knew exactly what they were getting at though, and it’s a really good question.

Someone with a “real job” told me once that they thought I was the most successful person they knew. I laughed in their face. ‘I’m serious. You are the most self-realized, happiest person I know. You love your job. You love the people in it. You are building the world you want to live in and putting something good and meaningful out there every day. You love to travel and have found a way to incorporate that into what you do. You still make music and film projects. And anything you want to make happen, you just make happen.” Which got me thinking about the meaning of success and wondering if I am in fact, a hashtag winning raging success, blissfully blindingly failing, someone who forgot to get a real job or just not that averse to risk?

Growing up, life was already so risky that I learned to lean into it becoming even less averse to it. Probably not healthy or smart for most. You should definitely wear that helmet. Really. I don’t. But you should. I was weird, wild and queer as a 2 dollar bill in a country where bombshells ruled and buildings exploded every day. I didn’t want to wear dresses and I didn’t want to get kidnapped by guerillas. I just wanted to be challenged, to ride my horses and jump at such a refined level that only few could excel there. Kids want to learn- see how they can move into the world and shape it, how they can create ripples in it and where the limits are. I think that’s what most kids want anyway, the freedom to roam and play in a relatively safe environment with a smart, kind someone nearby who does not harsh their mellow.

Somehow though, on the road to adulting, we all tanked up on technology and decided that the new goal was not to explore or adventure, or to have fun, it was to hole ourselves up inside our heads collecting factoids and attempting to keep failure at bay. Because the worst thing we could imagine now in this new, limited world, is not being good at something. And people finding us out. We lost our zest for learning, getting lost, and daydreaming. All the while not noticing that avoiding failure does not success make, unfortunately… Failing at something might eventually lead to success. But not trying it at all leads to well… nowhere.

We want to control, contain, and manage pretty much everything. Our phone can tell us the weather, exactly where we are in space, how fast our heart is beating, how many steps it took us to get here, how many times we looked at it on the way, whether any friends are nearby having brunch and even if there is someone we might want to get sexy with in the few blocks around us.

It also collects all sorts of information that used to be called ‘memory’ and live in our heads. I know that because I have a brain, and it’s synced to my Mac. Who needs consciousness, dude? I’ve got artificial intelligence.

But awakening is contingent on consciousness, and consciousness inextricably linked to memory. Which means that the health of our memories determines the precision and liveliness of our internal four dimensional GPS- linking us, routing us and rooting us in time and space.

Thus the war on risk is unknowingly a war on our consciousness and our ability to be. I gotta say though- my phone-mind doesn’t actually obliterate failure or even minimize risk successfully. The weather is never correct on it, thanks a lot, rain, you need to update your OS so I don’t get soaked so frequently on my motorcycle. (I do wear my helmet, though, don’t worry. I was just playing with your ealier.)

In Bhutan, trekking, we all took many MANY MANY steps and the fitbit’s tally didn’t offer any actual information as to our physical health. On the mountain, who cares what time it is or if it is below 20 degrees on your phone? The question is do you need your flashlight and/or an extra sweater and why oh why didn’t you pack more socks?

Yoga is like that. It’s actual. It’s happening right NOW. It is the practice of surrender, letting go and releasing into the unknown immediate moment. Yoga is not an app tracking our success, it invites us to be present and in relationship with the unchartered and gives us the grace to linger in the unknown.

We have not yet succeeded at protecting ourselves from failure anyway, no matter how hard we’ve tried. Life is simply risky. It just is, people. Yet socially, we create constructs of what success is or should be that keep us safely boxed into comparing and despairing, uploading our own suffering into our minds and holding ourselves hostage.

The truth is that success, failure and risk are not cookie cutter terms with cookie cutter answers. My successes and failures are mine and mine alone and they are contingent on my context, past, and relationship to how I define them. Much like love, commitment and prayer, they are so personal that they mean something different to every single one of us.

Some families discuss how awesome their failures are at the dinner table, believing that failure is where learning comes and creates success, while others celebrate their successes. Both can be worthwhile gratitude practices.

My Dad was an unknowing amazing success barometer. I knew I could always make him laugh really hard by informing him that I was adding yet another certificate to my wall of fame/shame at the house. He loved that. A wall of a hundred tiny “successes” eventually adds up to me being a big success, right? The truth was we both knew down deep that wall was covered in hidden treasures. One of his favorite stories of me was how after being accepted to the Yale School of Drama for Graduate School I chose to decline via a rejection written on the back of my acceptance letter. I think he was equally amazed/appalled by the irreverence of it all. He may have been bummed that I turned them down at first- not ever being exactly thrilled about the drama school part but adding Yale to it would’ve sort of made things legit for once. Fortunately, his trust in my instincts was ultimately steady and he knew I was doing the right thing for myself. He allowed me to develop my own perspective.

Sutra 1.33 says, ‘By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.’ It seems like the antidote to all this right here.

What if we protect our health, wellbeing, and the peace of our mind-stuff like the treasure it is- with the same fierceness with which we worry about success or failure? We may have to be brave. Google Rimpoche doesn’t have the answers. So things might get weird.

From my vantage point, this seems like the best plan.

I’m sure even Mick Jagger’s parents were like, ‘C’mon kid. This rockstar thing has gone to go. Time to get off the drugs and the partying and get a “real job”.’ Wouldn’t it have been so sad if his tiny wiry self would have acquiesced?

Be bold enough to follow your dreams. This life is yours after all. You can’t live other’s lives for them. You can only do you, most excellently. Here is your permission slip. Now go.

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***Class Change Alert: Starting June 7 I will be teaching on Thursdays at Five Pillars at 10:15, no longer Fridays. For that reason, I will be giving up my 9:30 class at West on Thursdays.

Teachers Practice this Friday June 1 at Prema Yoga in Cobble Hill as well as on July 6th from 12:45-2:45. This is a way to bring teachers together and a great sanctuary for learning and continuing to sharpen our skills. Come. I cannot wait to see you.

NEW online class– Galavasana: Flying Pigeon. You can take the one-hour version or the 75 minute version. Both available:

*I’d Love your feedback as to what other kinds of classes you would like on there. And Jay, I haven’t forgotten you. Sometimes the wheels of this shakti bus are slow moving.

Nuqui (Colombia) Retreat is happening February 18-25 of 2019 for those of you who like to plan ahead. It will be our fifth year and it is a lovely place to recharge an a great time of the year to do it.

The podcast is running a little late, but will come when it is ready.

****I have a continued interest in how to serve you better and the summer is a good time to let me know any thoughts you have on the matter or hopes of things I might offer, both on the website, and in life, or on the podcast or blogs. Let me know. I’m always curious and love the discourse.  Workshops for the fall will be up soon. Boston, I’m looking at you!  

All this plus archives of my blogs, the podcast along with new online classes and workshops and other resources on my website: