A few days ago, I stumbled across this poem by Yung Pueblo:
In just a few short lines, this poet gave a voice to something I’ve felt in my heart for a long time, and struggled to articulate in a sensitive, empowering way.
Over the past few years, it’s been my honor to help support others struggling with eating disorders, anxiety, and various other difficulties through my teaching and writing. I mean this with sincerity when I say that I never once have felt annoyed or bothered by someone reaching out to me for help or a listening ear, and have responded to every single letter, email, message, and comment that I receive asking for that support. It feels like the least I can do to honor the teachers and guides that have supported me along my own journey.
But there are many times that, looking back, I wish I could have shared this poem with people. Because I see the power inside of them, I see their desire to change their life, I see them pointed in the right direction with all the right tools and resources at their disposal, and they still feel powerless.
I understand that feeling, because I’ve been there. I’ve spent days wondering, “Why me?” Days wondering why these things were happening to me and why nothing was happening for me. And I’d be lying if I said that one day I just scooped myself up and turned my life around because I looked in the mirror and suddenly saw the power that was always there. It takes time, patience, and a lot of hard work to find happiness.
I think that’s a common misconception: that happiness is always effortless. That if we’re putting effort in we’re not “truly happy.” But the truth is, happiness is hard work. It’s a practice, just like anything else we do in life to better ourselves. It’s like the meditation, the asana, the gratitude. It’s something that’s ridiculously hard at first as we begin to learn the skill, and while it may get easier over time, it’s never completely easy.
Recently, I received an email from someone who was coming back to yoga after a break in hopes that it would help them gain control over their anxiety. Their words about themselves were harsh, and made my heart hurt. They were beating themselves up because they had to go back to yoga and restart their healing, and they ended their note by telling me that all they wanted was to “be normal again.”
My heart broke, because they are normal. The process of falling down and getting back up again is a universal experience, something we can all relate to in one way or another. There is nothing abnormal or inherently subhuman about needing support in order to be happy; because I knew that’s what their real hope was. Not to be normal, but to be happy.
The big problem here, I think, is that we conflate normal with being happy, and we conflate happy with being effortless.
We go about the world thinking that everyone else is just happy all the time, and it must be easy for them, because we rarely see them struggle. All the perfect people on our Instagram feeds, all the celebrities we see in magazines, even just the people in our everyday lives who keep their struggles private, make it all look so damn easy.
It must be so easy for them, we think, to just get up every morning and drink their green juice and wear their perfect clothes and have boundless energy to do all of their incredible things. Because we’ve all tried to be that perfect person, and we all know it doesn’t feel that way when we try it out. There’s no way someone can look that perfect and feel that struggle, right? There must be something inherently better about them, something that makes them more predisposed to happiness than us, right?
More often than not, I’ve found, the people who make it look so easy to be happy are just better at hiding the hard work it takes to be that way. They do it more privately, they choose not to talk about it openly. Or maybe they just don’t share it with you. But I promise you, happiness takes effort.
Happiness ain’t easy. There’s a reason why so many make it their life’s mission to find it. There’s whole books and movies and podcasts just dedicated to the journey of finding happiness. And I think it’s ridiculous to assume that the happiness one finds as a result of hard work is somehow less valid than the happiness that emerges more effortlessly.
That’s something I want to convey to many of the people who reach out to me seeking help. What you see of me much of the time is the result of lots and lots of hard work. It’s the result of thousands of hours of yoga, a ton of getting back up after falling back down, hundreds of bad days that I turned back around, and a shit-ton of therapy. But you can’t see all of that from a pretty picture of me doing yoga on the internet.
There are many times where I need to tell people that what they really need is time and patience: two things I can’t give them. On many occasions, I’ll get messages like the one I talked about above where people are frustrated that they aren’t happy yet.
“I’m doing all the things!” They’ll say, “I’m meditating, I’m doing yoga, I’m going to therapy, I’m talking to friends. I’m still not happy!”
And I know what they want. They want me to give them a secret, some hidden piece of advice I’ve been keeping in my back pocket like a pill and hand it over. They want to know what it is that made me a happy person.
But there is no magic pill you can take to make you happy. Or if there is, I never found it. And if I did have it, I’d be tossing that shit around like it was Halloween 365 days a year, not hoarding it away. The truth is, it takes time. And I wish it didn’t have to be that way, I wish I had a sexier answer. I know it’s the hardest concept to cope with: the idea that in order to be happy someday, you’ll have to work through lots and lots of unhappy days with the belief in your heart that you’re working towards something worthwhile.
That’s called faith, I think. For some people God gets them through it, for others it’s a belief in the Universe, for others it’s just the love of the people around them. Whatever it is, whatever it may be that tethers you to this Earth, hold onto it. Find that one tiny thing that makes you believe that all the hard work you’re putting in will pay off in the end and hold it close to you. The days when you need it the most will likely be the days when it’s most distant, and it’s up to you to refind that connection to it.
I find myself constantly sending out copies of my favorite poem, “Our Greatest Fear” by Marianne Williamson. My favorite snippet is this:
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
I used to think my duty was to do the work for others. Not consciously did I come to this decision, but it was the result of an unconscious and lifelong desire to please others. When people come to me for help, I sometimes struggle with the dance around the true answer: You need time, hard work, and belief in yourself. Because I never, ever want to make anyone who comes to me feel like I’m brushing off their request for help.
Here is the truth.
To be happy is hard. It takes effort, a conscious decision every single day to work for it. There will be may days that your efforts to heal feel fruitless, days where you take two steps forward and one step back, days when you want to give up. You’ll find yourself comparing your present moment to the end products of others, but don’t lose sight of the fact that they worked long and hard to be happy, too. In fact, they still wake up and make the decision to be happy, just like you do. It might just be easier for them now.
Happiness is hard work, but you’re ready for it. You’ve always been ready for it. And more than that, you’re worthy of it. You deserve all the hard work it will take to find that happiness, but there are few things in this world that could be better served by your time and dedication than your personal wellbeing.
I can’t do this hard work for you. No one can. But I will make you a promise.
I’m here to support you every single step of the way. I will listen when things get hard and remind you of how strong you are. I will be your cheerleader when you need someone to celebrate the little victories no one else understands with. I will give you the tough love when you need it, and gentle hug when you need that, too. I will call you out when you’re being too hard on yourself and I will call you out when you’re not fully embracing all of the power inside your heart. I will see you, acknowledge you, and respect you as you are, no matter where you are in this process.
But I can do all of those things, and nothing will change unless you commit to doing the work.
You need to be honest, to dig deep and take a look at the ugly stuff you’ve been avoiding. You need to be prepared to fall down just as many times as you get back up. You need to have tough conversations, ask for help, seek out support. You need to embrace the idea that even if you’re comfortable with where you are right now, you may not be truly happy. You need to be willing to be scared, to feel the fear and do it anyway.
You need to step into your inner power, and realize that you are not special. You are not the one person on this planet who wound up here completely on accident. We all, each and every one of us, landed here for a reason; to do something with our lives that serves us and others. It’s up to you to let that light shine. The more you shine, the more you allow others to do the same.
Like I said, this shit is hard work. You’re gonna be uncomfortable for awhile.
But you can do hard things. You’ve done hard things since the day you were born, from taking your first steps to stepping on your yoga mat for the first time. You’ve exemplified bravery time and time again, and now you need to commit.
The yoga shows us the beauty in embracing the uncomfortable. The asana, the practice on our mats, is intentionally hard. We hold uncomfortable postures and get all hot and sweaty and literally flip our lives upside down all the time. And you know what? We survive. We grow stronger. We learn when to bend so we don’t break. We learn when to rest and when to push on. We are confronted with both our strengths and weaknesses in equally terrifying capacities in every practice.
And somewhere along the line, we fall in love with it. We show up, do our work, and don’t see it as a responsibility for anyone but ourselves. We see our teacher as a guide, but they don’t make the magic happen on our mats. We do. We do every chaturanga, every downdog, every salutation.
No one is forcing us to do that. As a teacher, my job is merely to make strong suggestions. As a student, my job is to do the work that I know I need.
In the end, all these words can be summed up in the poem I shared at the very beginning.
And so it is, and so it shall be.