Spark Joy

Sorry I have been absent for the last two weeks. I was attending an intensive 16-day Yoga Teacher Training workshop. When I shared this news with my friends and family, the general reaction was: “WHAT? Are YOU going to be a Yoga Teacher?” My response was: “Maybe.” 

In Marie Kondo’s best-selling book Spark Joy, she suggests that the secret to tidying up and de-cluttering your life is to hold each item you own and see if it "sparks joy." If it doesn’t, she says you should get rid of it. I have decided to extend this metaphor to devoting this year to exploring things that might “spark joy” in my life. This is my year of self-discovery. This is my year to browse the shelves of life. This is my year to be less attached to the outcome. Taking a Yoga Teacher Training course was the first step on that journey.

I have spent my entire life on a treadmill. Running as fast as I could to somewhere. Where exactly? I don’t know. I was always running to my next goal, but also probably running away from my demons too. Somehow I equated being quiet or still as not being productive. At first it was a race through school. I thought I was going to be a doctor, so while I was in college I never relaxed. While others were partying and enjoying college life, I was always stressed out about every assignment and test. All I could think about was how each exam would affect my overall grade and how that might affect my ability to go to medical school. I held my breath so tightly that I couldn’t absorb what I was supposed to be learning. The only thing I mastered was being stressed. I got an A+ in being Type A. So, when I burned out as a pre-med student, I switched my major from Biology to Psychology. Perhaps an unconscious choice to cure my own neurosis? Or a conscious one as it had virtually all of the same pre-reqs as my Bio major.

When my dream of medical school was thwarted by mediocre grades and a loss of confidence, I felt it was necessary to channel my energy into finding a new career path IMMEDIATELY upon graduation. I took a bunch of electives in television production. I did an internship at a film studio. That led to a summer job as a secretary to a producer. Then, I landed a full-time secretarial job working for another producer BEFORE I even graduated. It didn’t even occur to me to take a day off between graduation and starting my first real job.

But I got fired from that job after six weeks because that producer didn’t like where I placed his tea cup on the coffee table. Not joking! This should have been a red flag right there, but I was persistent. My brother (a young entertainment lawyer at the time) helped me land another secretarial job working for a producing team. I was with them for about two and half years. I learned a lot by paying attention and being highly organized. But, I always resented the dog-eat-dog nature of the entertainment business. Eventually, some combination of sheer perseverance and luck, I was able to land an entry level job as a network executive. I rode that roller coaster for another 28 years jumping from company to company until I finally got off the wild ride and became an independent producer. 

Segueing from television executive to television producer was the safe choice. It was an easily digestible soundbite to tell friends and family. I left my corporate job as an executive where I bought television ideas from writers and producers, then I became one of those producers who sells ideas to the executives like my former self. But the truth is, I just don’t like being a salesman… and unfortunately sales is more than half the job.

Television was a job that I fell into and I made a career out of it by working hard and mimicking other successful people. It was like riding on the back of a bull. I just held on as hard I could to survive. Eventually, I was considered a bull rider too. In this metaphor, I cannot help think that I wasn’t really riding bulls as much as I was surviving the bull sh*t that was came with the territory.

I have often said that I was so busying working that I forgot to have fun. I envied people who were more carefree. To borrow a term from Michele Obama’s autobiography, “I was a box checker.” Get a college education. Have a career. Get married. Buy a house. Have a family. Work hard. Work hard. Work hard. Check. Check. Check. I was, also, a world-class list maker. Rule follower. People pleaser. Do-gooder. These qualities made me reliable and successful, but they were often in the absence of balance and joy. I simply forgot to check the box for Choose Fun.

When I moved back to Hawaii a few years ago, I finally had time to slow down and smell the plumeria. But I didn’t know how to slow down. I had lived one speed: Hyperdrive. I needed tools to change my brain chemistry, reduce my cortisol-pumping adrenal gland, and modify my outlook. It all started with meditation. (Thanks to my friend Bill.) But learning to meditate wasn’t easy. My mind was like a surly inmate… and it wasn’t going down quietly. It has been two years of daily meditation, and finally, I look forward to it every morning like a great cup of coffee. Several months after embarking on a daily meditation practice, I decided to launch my blog. Writing was a way to channel my creative energies and compulsive mind into something productive. Unlike producing, it didn’t require someone else approving it, buying it, or giving me money to make it. It was my own little weekly production. 

But meditation and writing was just the beginning of this new self-exploration journey. This is why I came back to a yoga practice after 25 years. Thanks to my awesome yoga instructor Tommye, I decided to take it to the next level and consider teaching.

Teacher training was daunting. 6am-2pm for 16 days in a row (including weekends). This required getting up in the pitch black and tip-toeing around my house to not wake my family or my dog. If I woke my dog, he would bark his little head off and that would wake everyone else up. By the way, I am NOT an early morning person. Eating breakfast at 5:30am was far earlier than my stomach was ready to accept food. After breakfast, I would head off (in the dark) to a yoga studio where we greeted each other in silence and sat down to a meditation circle every morning. After meditation, the sun would come up and our teacher would start to teach. She would teach philosophy, anatomy, alignment, the posture names, and then we would practice for hours. My body was so tired, and my brain so full, that I found myself limping home to a hot bath of Epsom salts and a variety of menthol eucalyptus based muscle rubs. I couldn’t even form a sentence for the first few evenings after training. 

During the training my mind went to some dark places. You are too old for this. You can’t teach yoga if you are already sore after three days of training. There is too much detail. I cannot possibly learn all this and regurgitate it out in a cohesive (much less) soothing way. So I thought about just dropping out. But then our teacher sent the class an email that addressed that very thought. The subject line read: “Steadying The Overwhelm.” She went on to write, "You can drop it and run away, but think of the satisfaction, the growth, the empowerment that will come when you decide to stay and do your best.” So, 16 hot mineral baths later, jars of ointments for achy muscles (Tiger Balm, Arnica, Deep Blue, Vicks VapoRub), Advil, and tons of water, I continued to show up every morning at 6am in the dark, took my seat on a bolster in our meditation circle, and finished the course. It culminated with a two-hour written final and we each had to teach an entire class, open to the public. I survived both my fears and my sore muscles.

Oh, and I really really liked it. 

My class was comprised of nine students ranging from about 25 - 60 years old. Most of whom were in excellent shape. Most of them vegetarian or vegan or pescatarian. Most of them had been doing yoga for a long time along with a variety of other sports. Most of them were freelance massage therapists, nature guides, and free spirits. One was a female police officer. Everyone was on their own journey. Everyone was looking to learn more about yoga, but mostly we were there to learn about ourselves. Everyone seemed to be looking for more purpose and meaning in their lives. 

I couldn’t help but wonder if I had taken a class like this 30 years ago, would it have altered my journey? Would I have had the courage to have taken a different path in my life or my career? But by the end of the class, I learned that this question no longer serves me. I have spent a lifetime apologizing for the way I lived. I felt apologetic for joining the “circus” at a young age and not finding a way to get out earlier. Juggling too much. Not giving anything proper attention and always being in emotional conflict with how I spent my long days and most of my weekends. Always working. Always stressed. But that was my path. Rather than apologizing for it, I now look at it with greater reverence. I did it. I survived it. I am grateful for all of the education and the good living it provided me. It made me tough, but it also made me compassionate. I am on a new path now.

So, am I going to be a yoga teacher? Maybe. But I hope it is in concert with a myriad of other things that “spark joy.” I want to teach other people whose lives are imbalanced how to find balance in their life. Whether that be yoga, meditation, a healthier diet, or even a new career. Because… it’s never too late.