I absolutely love the work of Dallas Clayton, an artist and children’s book author. His work is inspiring, uplifting, and incredibly playful. The other day, he put this picture up on his Instagram page:
This quote really resonated with me. Perhaps on accident, the theme of my last year has become fearless authenticity- the theme of my teacher training the fall of my junior year of high school. At the time of the training, that phrase didn’t mean very much to me. It seemed obvious , the same old “be yourself” we hear all the time. And I felt like I was being myself. How could you not be? I didn’t feel like I was putting on a mask or hiding who I was, so that must be authentic, right?
But it turns out that simply not hiding who you are, isn’t the same thing as being who you are.
Many of the friends I made during teacher training told me the same thing; I was in my shell for the entire 200 hours. I hardly spoke, I rarely shared. I was more a quiet observer, dutifully taking my notes and memorizing my Sanskrit vocabulary words. I was learning how to teach yoga, but I wasn’t learning how to be a teacher.
I wasn’t lying to anyone, I wasn’t pretending to be someone that I’m not, but I also wasn’t showing anyone who I really am. I was struggling to be “fearlessly authentic” because I simply didn’t know who I was- I didn’t know if I was ready to be in the training, I didn’t know if it was the right choice to begin, and I sure as hell didn’t know what it was inside of me that made me do it. All I knew was that if I didn’t, I would regret it for the rest of my life.
I have distinct memories of sitting in the studio, looking at everyone being so raw and open and wishing that I had the courage to be the same way. I remember countless times where I bit my tongue waiting for the right moment to share, and then never jumping in to the conversation. Everyone around me was having personal discovery after personal discovery, and I felt completely stagnant, with some more knowledge about how to cue Sun As or assist a twist.
But the difference between us was that while I tried to keep pieces of myself quietly out of sight, they bared it all. I wasn’t trying to lie about who I was, or what I had gone through, but I didn’t want to pull it out into the light. It was ugly, and it was shameful, and I didn’t want anyone’s impression of who I am to be tainted by the past few years of my life. I was afraid that sharing too much or being too vulnerable would crack me wide open, and after being sewn up tight for so long, I couldn’t imagine what that would feel like.
I finished the training, but it was like pulling teeth. My teachers noticed my reluctance to throw myself into my training, and I took their concern as disappointment. My perfectionistic personality immediately transformed their efforts into criticism- I wasn’t doing training “right”. I was “in trouble”. I was left with a nice certificate of completion, but something was missing inside. I didn’t feel like a teacher. I felt like someone who still had so much to learn.
For months I stagnated. I taught here and there, classes that I didn’t feel quite satisfied with. They flowed well and the music worked out and the students were happy, but I knew I wasn’t teaching the classes I wanted to teach- the kind that left my students empowered and inspired. The kind of classes my teachers taught. The kind of classes that inspired me.
And then I started listening to the universe.
I’ve told this story a few times before, but this past summer, I was teaching a lot. Two or three classes a day, working front desk, running around from too-early to too-late. On the way to work one day, my car tire blew out, and I pulled something in my back, and I took it all as a sign from the universe to slow down.
I got to class that day, not feeling at all ready to teach. I felt like the world was pressing right down on top of me, like I was moving too fast and too slow all at the same time. And as the students were grounding, as the room was silent, I started to speak.
I told them everything. I told them about my back and my car and the stress I felt. I told them I had been feeling worn down and giving more than I had inside. I told them I was trying to learn from it all.
And that class was the first class I really taught.
The class was breathing, the room was flowing, the energy was intense. There was something deeper being cultivated in the students- and myself- at last.
I hadn’t shared much about myself with my classes before this. It was the standard, “My name is Maris, I did my teacher training here at Just Be, I’m so happy to be here and teach today…” I was that teacher who came in and taught and would chat with you about anything you were going through, but never offered anything in return. I was failing to see that sharing is a two-way street, and I wasn’t holding up my end of the bargain.
The more I started sharing, the more I started connecting. The more I told of my story, the more I learned about other people’s stories. By being open and honest about who I am, I was making it okay for those around me to be open and honest about who they are.
Big things started happening around me.
I started teaching more, and the number of students in my classes started to grow. I was teaching in two studios, and then three, and then community events as often as I could. On my seventeenth birthday I taught yoga in the park to a huge circle of yogis, and just before that, and article went up on CNN detailing the story that I’d been reluctant to share for so long.
And that’s when I realized, maybe the most interesting thing about me, is the thing I’m most afraid of sharing.
Sharing doesn’t just mean sharing the pretty stuff. It means sharing the things that don’t quite work out, and the things that set you back, and the things that make you human. No one wants to read about or talk with someone who’s pretending that everything is perfect- because the fact is, no one is perfect. And pretending that we are just creates barriers between us and others who know their life isn’t perfect, either.
What are you most afraid of sharing?