A Not-So-Peaceful Awakening
“I thought yoga was going to make you more peaceful,” my husband teased gently.
I had just gotten home from my weekly evening yoga class, and my mind was spinning with thoughts and ideas I just had to share with someone.
Yes, we’d ended the class in a nice, long Savasana, but instead of making me sleepy, I was profoundly awake and aware. More awake and aware, in fact, than I’d been in a very long time.
My body was tingly and sensitive. I was thinking and feeling all kinds of things—not all positive, certainly not all comfortable. Was I mad? Delirious? Losing my mind? I couldn’t be sure.
My thoughts had a captive audience: me.
Over here, I heard myself pondering large questions, such as the meaning of life.
Over there, I wondered about the smaller things, too, such as who decided we have to eat three meals a day.
The questions I’d always had about God raised their hands. The antsy yeah-buts I’d had on the tip of my tongue about parenting, marriage, friendships, and family life since forever all tugged and clamored for my attention.
I listened to the voice of my inner child, who still wanted to live life like the Choose Your Own Adventure books of my childhood. I was bombarded by the confusion of my inner adolescent, who was still struggling with being an outsider. I also heard the young philosopher inside me, who wondered why I’d stopped asking “why” and settled for given answers.
Spurred on by my inner philosopher, I asked my yoga teacher why months of practice weren’t transforming me into a more relaxed version of myself. I asked her why, instead of watching my life slide into place, all of my thoughts and beliefs—once safely tucked somewhere inside my brain—had spilled out all over the place.
In response to my question, she threw her head back, laughed, and exclaimed:
“Yoga isn’t about making you peaceful! Yoga is about making you more of who you are!”
More of who I am, I thought. What if I didn’t like “who I was?” What if this new awareness of my thoughts and emotions was not what I bargained for?
Peace and calm might be what we think of when we first start a spiritual journey, be it yoga, meditation, or some other spiritual practice. But “peaceful” was the last thing I was feeling.
Here’s what had happened instead:
- My quiet, still body in our opening and closing meditations had created an opportunity for my internal world to speak up.
- Smooth, even breathing during Vinyasa sequences untangled knots of suppression and blockage.
- Patience and steadiness during long-held postures invited long-ignored pain and trauma to float to the surface of my consciousness.
No, spiritual practice is not at all a recipe to becoming peaceful.
It is a practice for becoming our true selves.
Authentic spiritual practice thaws us back out, warms us back up, and reinvigorates our hearts and minds.
Here are six things that will happen as a result of an authentic spiritual practice:
- Brighter and More Expansive Emotional Landscape
Yep, exactly the opposite of what I thought would happen was actually true. I thought my emotional world would become still and serene like Claude Monet’s Poppies. Instead, it was like a Picasso painting—where everything seemed wild and out of place.This is because when we’re finally at rest, our inner landscape has the opportunity to come forward it doesn’t have when we’re constantly moving and busy. We notice sensations and emotions that we never knew we had—but were always there. Our Western society and associated lifestyle have a way of numbing us to the point of despondency and cynicism. Suddenly feeling emotions—perhaps even difficult ones such as anger, guilt, or frustration might initially feel like a failure. It’s not. It’s a sign that we’re coming awake.
- Deeper Curiosity
The numbness of modern-day life tends to make us apathetic. But, once we start paying more attention to and spending more time with our bodies and minds, our curious nature will naturally re-open. Who are we? Where did we come from? Why is this done like that? are just some of the questions that will likely surface.
- Adherence to Truth and Integrity
Spiritual practice is about searching for “Truth” with a capital T—Truths about the nature of the universe, of creation, of our origins, of our purpose. But it is also designed to guide us to our inner truths. These are our principles. Our values. These truths point to what we care most about and to where our integrity lies. As a result of this remembering, we become less willing to trade away pieces of our power for temporary exposure or approval. Our lives come into deeper resonance and harmony with our hearts.
- Genuine Compassion/Empathy/Sensitivity
Being “sensitive” and having “thin skin” is likely our default human setting, not a defect. We were all highly sensitive as children. But, as soon as we wanted to fit in, we learned to “toughen up” and “grow a thicker skin,” which buffered our natural sensitivity. Spiritual practice helps “thin us out” again, regain our sensitivity, and begin to feel (Passion) along with (Com) others in a more genuine and heartfelt way.
- New Avenues and Expressions of Creativity
Spiritual practice and creativity develop simultaneously. The more aligned we are to our inner selves, the more curiosity we awaken, and the more receptive we will be to the sparks of creativity swirling around us.Creativity sources from light and ether. As long as our gaze is at our feet (or perhaps our navels) it is nearly impossible to connect to the great source of creation. Spiritual practice also has a way of reintroducing us to awe and delight—two qualities that are also intertwined with the most powerful, unique kind of creativity.
If you start feeling like you want to take up a new hobby, or instrument, or even create a beautiful meal or outing for a loved one—these are definite signs that your spiritual practice is unfolding just as it should.
- More Authentic, Satisfying Relationships (in the end)
When we have a more authentic relationship with ourselves, it naturally extends outwards to our friendships, relationships with family, and romantic relationships. However, in the short term, it might seem as if we’re losing relationships. This is simply a necessary part of the process; if we can’t let go, we can’t grow.
“Once you are real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
Human life—the expectations, the confusions, the losses, the way we separate and judge and hurt each other—finds many of us turning down and off as we move from adolesence into adulthood and onward. We all know those folks who have hardened into their beliefs so fiercely they may as well be sitting on a shelf with a bunch of other stuffed toys.
Authentic spiritual practice thaws us back out, warms us back up, and reinvigorates our hearts and minds. From there, we can’t help but want to reengage with the world.
If it’s a roadmap to the land of peace of joy we’re after, there are certainly spiritual teachers out there who claim to have one if only we follow them. If it’s an ecstatic experience we’re after, we may be able to pay to have one of those, too.
But true, authentic spiritual growth is not about becoming artificially, temporarily joyful, and it’s not about escaping our humanity. Authentic spiritual growth is about becoming more human. It’s about sinking deep in the cool mud of our humanity and exploring every one of our tender blooms.
So, forget about peace and calm. If we engage in spiritual practice, then hold on tight—there is a wild ride in store.