I recently read an excellent book by Brene Brown called Braving the Wilderness.
There were so many things in this book that resonated for me. For one thing, Brene loves Maya Angelou. And the whole idea of the book revolves around a few words expressed by Maya Angelou that go as follows:
"You are only free when you realize you belong no place—you belong everyplace—and no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great."
The book examines our ideas of what it means to feel a sense of belonging. What we might sacrifice to "belong" to someone or something. Brene writes about what she describes as "the Wilderness" and the wild heart (with the strong back and soft front) that dares to go there.
I think I have (like most people) struggled with this idea of belonging to someone or something since I was a child. I vividly remember how much it hurt to not belong, to be ostracized. The phone call that I had at the age of 9, sitting on the corner of my parents king-sized bed and talking in low hushed tones into the olive green rotary phone that sat on my dad's bedside table. The only other phone was in the kitchen, and this conversation was much too personal (and painful) for my parents or big brother to hear. My mom could hear the change in my voice however. She could sense the shift in tone all the way from bedroom to the kitchen—a long hallway away.
The girl who I considered to be best friend at the time was, in a sense, breaking up with me. She told me she could no longer be my friend. Do you remember how our early friendships were like romances? Myra had been invited to join a clique of cool girls and this was a condition of her inculcation. She could no longer hang out with me. I was not a cool girl.
This was the beginning of what have been many episodes where I might find myself either out of, or accepted into an "in” group.
In sixth grade I fell in love with the theater. Here was a place where you could be anyone, anything, there was an almost magical sense of belonging because it was you who created it. The theater kids were like the science kids (my brother was one of those): mostly misfits and outcasts and this was one of the first places that I felt like I truly belonged. Drawing, dancing, doing theatre—all were created worlds filled with people like me, people who did not fit in anywhere as much as in their own imagination, or in the imaginary worlds that they created with others.
I cycled back and forth over the years, eating my paper sack lunch alone in the corner of a playground, then being a cheerleader. I was popular—I was an outcast, an "oweirdo" and a cool girl.
The funny thing is—and don't we all know this—some of this shit never completely ends. It might change—as we get older and maybe wiser, we care far less about what others think about us. We start to care less about the need to belong if doing so strangles the spirit.
I loved the part of the book where Brene said she had to write a permission slip for herself in order to do a brave and difficult thing.
After reading about Brene writing herself a permission slip, I thought about the "permission to play" that I chose to describe one of my life’s philosophies and my approach to teaching on my website. I think I did this as a way of giving myself the permission (and courage) that I needed in order to grow, to learn, and to change. I wanted to let those who study yoga with me know that this was an ethos—an ethos of permission. Permission to fail. Permission to shake things up and try new things.
I have values that I reevaluate regularly. They underlie everything I am trying to do. Play is one of them. So is kindness. So is inquisitiveness. Once I gave myself permission to play—in public—I was able to drop the persona of what I thought an Iyengar teacher should look like, sound like, and be like. I gave myself permission to be a living, breathing, curious, joyful and imperfect process. This is the permission that allows one to be a true explorer with flaws and failures, and most importantly courage.
I am at the point where I am writing myself permission slips to live, practice and teach differently so that I keep growing. I am giving myself permission to fail and learn by stepping out of the box that limits new insight, connection and the deeper sense of belonging that Angelou writes of. This is not easy because growth is not a completely smooth ride. It is scary, it is challenging, and "the price is high. The reward is great."