Last Thursday night I had the rare pleasure of meeting a group of friends for dinner to celebrate the end of a yoga season at the University of Toledo’s Eberly Center. We’d been trying to coordinate schedules for a while and somehow the stars aligned so that most of us could gather at KotoBuki for some amazing sushi and great company.
“Look at all of these people you brought together!” Corrie beamed. “None of us would know each other if we didn’t know you.”
I smiled at Edith and Brenda. “Well, those two came as a set when we met in my yoga class at the JCC…what was that? Fifteen, sixteen years ago?”
“At least,” Brenda smiled.
I nodded at Michelle, Edith’s incredible daughter who just completed her first year in college. “And I’ve know you since you were seven!”
As we went around the table telling stories of how we met (Beth and I took spinning classes together, Corrie was a student at a class I had taught at her place of business, and Melissa and I became fast friends this year at UT), I thought about the fact that in Toledo, we don’t have six degrees of separation. It’s more like two at the most, and because I’m a teacher, the endless networking web only grows wider. So it was interesting to listen to the multi-faceted conversations that bounced around the table. Eventually, the topic of being able to create positive change bubbled up to the surface.
“You’re not the same person you were when we met two years ago,” Corrie smiled. “Before you were struggling to find something, but now you’re much more at peace. You have a quiet confidence and have settled into the center of who you are. That’s a big difference. I’m still learning to be my own skin.”
“You’re a healer, you know,” Melissa said.
“I’ve heard that before,” I laughed. “But we’re all healers.”
She shook her head. “Not like you are…energy resonates from you and goes to other people and you don’t even realize you’re even doing it.”
“That’s right,” Corrie told Melissa. “I need Katie’s healing words for guidance because whatever she says or tells my body to do…by the end of the class, I feel like I’ve cleansed all the bad out.”
“That’s some high praise,” I replied. "Your body simply tells the whole story, and I've learned how to read between the lines."
"You're like my therapist, but I don’t have to say a word," Corrie continued. “The peace you have now is what I want to find for myself in my own way, and it can take a long time. But life is a dance…you learn as you go.”
Last weekend I was interviewing my friend, Tony, for a book we’re working on together. Near the end of the session he said, “The Guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh wrote over six hundred books about the journey of life, and in the end he said it’s really easy: laugh, dance, be here now. That’s it.”
“Six hundred books about that?” I smiled, lifting a brow.
“Pretty much,” Tony said. “Laugh, dance, be here now.”
I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that Rajneesh eventually changed his name, for when I lived at Esalen, I didn’t know him thus, but as Osho, a mystical writer who cracked opened the door of my consciousness while I tended the garden, hiked the canyons, and practiced ecstatic dancing. In those days, it was difficult to do more than keep my head above water, especially when in the midst of chaos and intense relationships. Through it all, Osho’s wise council kept me sane, perhaps his most powerful teaching being, The greatest fear in the world is the opinion of others. The moment you are unafraid of the crowd, you are no longer a sheep, you become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart…the roar of freedom.
It would take months before I would find the strength to move back to the Midwest. Years before I could finally find the courage to leave my family of origin. And even longer before I would be able to walk through life as a lioness, not a sheep. Finally, I learned how to align my heart, my head, and my spirit so that now wherever I go, whatever I do, I can find lightness in a situation, glide through it as gracefully as possible, and more fully embrace the present moment.
Not that it was (or is) all that easy.
There were particularly intense experiences in which I was afraid I’d never laugh again, never find joy in any place or in anyone. There were moments when all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and never come out. Years when all I could do was put one foot in front of the other…never mind putting on my boogie shoes. So it’s been an incredible blessing to learn how to laugh and dance and be here now by practicing yoga.
The other day I was preparing for some classes by doing advanced inversions in front of the floor-length mirrors at the gym. It’s difficult to watch my alignment in the tiny one I have in my home studio, so now and again I’ll risk practicing headstand, handstand, and scorpion in front of a bunch of men who are shooting baskets, grunting their way through set after set of sit-ups, or beating the crap out a boxing bag. I know I’ve come a long, long way when I can tune out all the distractions, take off my shoes, and turn myself upside-down.
It’s one thing to be able to stand on my own two feet in the midst of tumult. It’s another thing altogether to be able to stand on my head. Even better when I can do it all the while remaining calm and centered.
Last Saturday a group of students and I were deep into an intriguing conversation about how practicing yoga has changed our lives for the better. “I look at the wide variety of students in my classes and they’re all so different,” I said. “I know I’m the common denominator in bringing them together, but I have to wonder…what’s the common thread?”
“Well, we love being together in this space,” Dana replied. “The energy we create here is what attracts us to your style of yoga. Each person’s identity feeds the whole, and even though we’re all different, everyone has something unique to offer. There’s a level of consciousness that you have that’s felt by everyone on some level.”
"And the purpose of yoga is to raise our consciousness," Barb smiled. "Then we can bring that awareness to the rest of our lives outside of this space."
I’ve been exceptionally fortunate this year to have the opportunity to take that consciousness out into the community and share the gifts I’ve been given. There have been moments of light, moments of darkness, and while not all of it has been comfortable, every experience has allowed me to put the past to rest so that I can more fully be in the present moment. Perhaps that’s what being a healer is all about – having the capacity, willingness, and strength to continue moving forward, releasing that which no longer serves me in order to more fully embrace and channel the light and love that is available to all of us.
So this weekend, may you all find a little time to laugh, a little space to dance, and the ability to be in the present moment…wherever it might lead you.