Say “Yes” to Reality!
by Brian Leaf
One morning, as I was meditating, I realized that I needed to write a book. But I had the distinct feeling that, before I could get started, I had to clean my office. By myself. Not hire a cleaner, but get down and scrub.
So I cleaned. I braved the spiderwebs. I filed piles of papers and recycled phone books from 1997. I inhaled dust in my quest to realize this calling.
Then I meditated again.
And … a few sentences came. Each day, I would meditate and a few sentences would come. I would walk zombie-like (in order to stay in the zone) to my computer to record the sentences before returning to meditation.
I wondered if I might be insane. When I finally showed the manuscript to people, would it be a Beautiful Mind moment, replete with Psycho music and the realization that, wide-eyed and drooling, I was proudly presenting 17 journals of unintelligible scribbles?
But when I wrote about using yoga to heal my colitis, about finding Kripalu Yoga, and about practicing yoga in Carlsbad Caverns, the Badlands, White Sands, New York City, and a Grateful Dead concert, I was charged with energy. Rainbows sprang from my head and illuminated the rooftops. So I kept going.
All the while, something inside me was shifting. In laying bare my secrets, my fears, and my most humiliating idiosyncrasies, I was becoming more honest and authentic. As The Help’s main character, Aibileen Clark, says, “No one had ever asked me what it feels like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free.”
This has spilled over into my day-to-day life. Recently, I was walking in the woods when I happened upon a friend with his folks. I shook his mom’s hand and then reached down for his dad’s. He was resting on a log, crutches propped next to him.
My friend asked me about my book.
His dad, an academic, looked up. “What’s the book about?”
“It’s a yoga memoir,” I told him.
He seemed skeptical and grouchy, and clearly in pain. “I just had a hip replacement,” he said. “What ‘yogic’ advice do you have for me?”
Months ago, I would have balked, afraid of being judged or criticized for my yoga zealotry, but now that, in my book, I’ve shared with the world my accidental visit to Ruby the prostitute (I thought she was a licensed massage therapist), I have no secrets and I’m unafraid to speak my truth.
So I answered. I told him how Ayurveda sees the hips as the seat of the vata dosha, the energy that moves us and makes us feel alive. I told him that after a surgery that cuts into that area of the body, it was natural for him to feel shaken, scared, and depressed. I told him to give his body and spirit time to heal, and not to buy into the fears that came up.
He looked up at me. Then down. I thought he might swipe at me with his crutch, but instead, he cried. He cried for a bit, and then he thanked me.
Wow, I thought. I really made a difference. I guess I’m pretty great.
Which is a bit of a problem. I’m glad I can speak from my heart now, and I love the fact that I helped my friend’s dad. I’d like to do a lot more of that kind of thing. But, to do it properly, I feel that I must not use helping others and receiving their praise as a way to boost my ego or prove to myself that I matter.
So what do I need to do?
This, too, came to me during a morning meditation. I need to accept myself regardless of whether anyone else accepts me. I need to love myself regardless of whether anyone else loves me.
I’m starting this new project by accepting and loving every one of my experiences, feelings, and thoughts—every time I can remember to do so. When I find myself rejecting or fleeing the present, I repeat to myself, “Say ‘Yes!’ to Reality!”
For example, maybe I’m angry, and I’m feeling uncomfortable that I’m feeling angry, so I’m straining to smile and turn the anger into daisies. When I notice that I’m doing this, I simply say ‘Yes!’ to reality: I notice both that I’m angry and that I’m straining to change the anger.
It’s not that I give myself over to the anger or that I encourage myself to repress it. I simply notice all that I’m doing. I’ve found that when I do this, when I accept all parts of myself in the moment, my straining and even my anger dissolve. My muscles melt, my heart softens, and I am filled with energy.
When I already accept and love all of my experiences, feelings, and thoughts, I can speak from my heart and serve others, but not as a way to feed my ego or convince myself that I matter.
When I am already loved, I can truly serve. And that’s what I really want to do
By the way, my book came out in October, which has kept me busy, so once again, my office is a wreck.
I wonder what’ll happen after I clean it this time.
Brian Leaf is a Kripalu Yoga teacher and the author of 12 books, including the memoirs Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi and Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi.
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