Last night, I was running late to a lecture after a looong day. I reluctantly hailed a cab, cursing myself for not leaving early enough to ride the subway. “Bowery and 1st, please.” The driver scowled and said something my deaf ears couldn’t hear, so I did my usual nod-and-smile routine as he took off. As he turned down 6th street, major construction took up the Bowery, causing a traffic jam all the way to China.
Yep, definitely going to be late. Very late. A ride that should have cost under five was about to shoot up to the double digits as he started turning all over the place, taking the scenic route to my destination. “WHERE are YOU GOING?” slipped from my lips before I could swallow the words down. He started throwing his hands wildly (yes, while driving..welcome to New York) and said in his thick Jamaican accent, “I told you there’s a traffic jam there, you crazy woman!”
By that point, I could feel the steam coming out of my ears. “If you KNEW there’s a traffic jam, you should have turned on first street.” Whoops, that hit a nerve. He turned the steering wheel sharply, whipping to the curb. “Don’t tell me where to go woman. I know what I’m doing, this is my cab…” He jammed his finger into the meter, which what just read $5.00 magically jumped to $7.00. I had bitch mouth diarrhea by that point. “SIR (aka asshole), the meter was JUST 5.50 and now it’s $7.00, this is fucking ridiculous.” Jesus, Moses, and Buddha Desirée…you’re goin’ crazy town.
As soon as those words left my mouth, I realized, yes, it was ridiculous. Here I was, fighting with this poor cabbie because I was too unorganized to be on time, creating unnecessary stress and taking it out on the first person I could. A knife was driving into my heart and I was the one holding the handle, thinking it was really him.
I opened my wallet and found Mr. Hamilton sitting there all by himself. As I handed over the ten dollar bill, I took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry”, which felt harder to do than curing cancer.
Clad in heels, I began to run down The Bowery, past the construction, past the honking cabs, past the happy hour drunks. My thoughts raced just as fast: how many other situations have I pointed the finger at someone else, completely blind to the three fingers pointing back at me?
As much as we like to blame others for our problems, there’s enough war going on in the world that we don’t need to fight unnecessary battles. Learning to slow down, even if just for a fraction of a second, makes those moments where catching a glimmer of how things are really arising possible and gives us space to change our animalistic impulse reactions in situations. Maybe we’ll laugh at ourselves for how silly we’re acting instead of cursing the cab driver. Maybe we’ll give our boyfriend or girlfriend a hug instead of calling them an asshole or psycho bitch. Maybe we’ll have patience with our parents rather than hanging up on them when they give us advice for the umpteenth time. Maybe we’ll have patience with ourselves rather than beating ourselves up any chance we get. Maybe we’ll learn to slow down enough to see that we’re writing the story—not the other way around.
My friend from high-school, Blair (the quintessential surfer dude) lives in Malibu, California. I decided it was time to getaway from the city and pay him a visit. He picked me up from the airport with an ear-to-ear pearly white smile and a big bear hug. With his ability to make me laugh with just one look at him, he’s one of the few I’ve kept in touch with from home.
My favorite thing about Blair and his roommates apartment is that they always leave their front door open. All day and night, they have friends coming in and out, making their entrance known with a loud “Yeeeew!”
One absolutely perfect sunny afternoon, a few of us ended up on the porch. We were all sitting together under the warm sun, sharing stories, laughing. I looked at the boys and thought, “My god, they’re just a bunch of happy dudes.” I couldn’t help but compare their lifestyle to my own in the madness of Manhattan. And it hit me: their days are spent surrounded by friends whereas many of mine are spent alone.
Studies show that 340 million people suffer from depression, myself included. From the Tibetan Buddhist perspective, we understand the cause for depression is thinking about ourselves all the time. Unfortunately, this is what our consumer capitalist society teaches us: to do, buy, and try the things that will make “ME” happy. Well, if any of that really worked, then I highly doubt that depression would be predicted as the number two cause of death by 2020…
Master Shantideva gave us the secret to happiness: “All the suffering in the world comes from wanting happiness for oneself. All the happiness in the world comes from wanting happiness for others.”
It doesn’t matter how many yoga classes you take, how many green juices you drink, how many vitamins you swallow. What matters most in this short life is making others smile.
I spoke with a friend of mine recently, who just moved to the city. She said she feels so lucky she has a beautiful apartment, good job, lives in an amazing city, but can’t believe how lonely she feels. I told her that’s the funny thing about New York - there are so many people right around you. Literally, millions of people right at your doorstep, yet at the same time, it can be one of the loneliest places to live. It’s something I personally struggled with for a long time.
Many us are taught that to survive in this life, we have to protect ourselves from getting hurt. And with that, we put up a brick wall around us, around our hearts, preventing anyone from coming in unless they crush the wall into bits and pieces.
In Yoga, we can practice opening our hearts. By opening our hearts, we open up to life, to love, to connections, to friendships, to opportunitie. So the next time you step on the mat, let the practice be like a sledgehammer, breaking down our own brick walls so others don’t have to do the dirty work. We don’t need those walls. They haven’t gotten us anywhere all these years, have they? Have they made any of us truly happy? No, they haven’t. So, try it, let go and open up. If you don’t like it, which I highly doubt you won’t, you can always build another one.
Hunting for the diamond necklace
That is already around your neck” —Rumi
My teacher Hector said something amazing in meditation class the other week: “You don’t know that you don’t know, until you KNOW that you don’t know.” It’s like when you’re 10 years old, you think you know how to drive a car. You just put your little hands on the steering wheel, jiggle it a little to the left and the right. But really, you don’t know that you don’t know how to drive a car until you’re 15 and you get behind the wheel to learn to drive and you think, “Holy shit, I KNOW I don’t know how to drive a car.”
Lately, I’ve been thinking: how many things in life are we absolutely oblivious to even though we seem to think otherwise?
Last year, my best friend and I went through breakups at the same time. You know how girls do. We sat on her couch, ate Ben and Jerry’s, talked about how awful our exes are, painting pictures that they’re horrible monsters and we’re these holy saint-like beings, who obviously did nothing wrong.
A year later, I look back and laugh now as I think, “Holy shit, I KNOW I didn’t know I wasn’t exactly Mother Theresa…” Exhibiting all the characteristics of crazy town, I was clingy, moody, and pushing for a serious relationship way too quickly. I mean, I tried to move my cat into his apartment(who does that?). Yet, I was completely ignorant to my own madness, until now, I look back and know I didn’t know.
I think this applies to our yoga practice too. We go to yoga classes, do some sun salutations, some warriors, some downdogs, maybe even a few OMs, and think we’re doing yoga, that we’re “yogis”. But really, we don’t know the potential behind the practice until we have some sort of experience that forces us to see otherwise. You know, like when you leave class and you feel so buzzed you can’t help but wonder if you’re teacher slipped something in your Kombucha while you were falling asleep in Savasana.
There’s so much more to the practice than getting a good ass or becoming a human pretzel or having some tricks to show off to your friends when you’re drunk (guilty). Your practice is ultimately a vehicle to the Self. So ask yourself, each and every time you step on the mat, “How much of myself do I really not know?”