jay xmasThis year I didn’t make any new year’s resolutions or goals or commitments or intentions.

I did, however, write down the highlights of the past year, the things that stuck out as significant, and took some time to feel my feelings around them. Some things elicited joy, some gratitude, some sadness, some surprise. After I made it through the list, I felt a sense of completion with 2015 and a sense of curiosity for 2016.

And then I felt a bit of surprise and delight that I didn’t feel like I needed to mark this arbitrary date on the calendar with any kind of spiritualized version of “get your shit together, Jay” or “now it’s time to change this about yourself.”

It felt like a small victory in accepting who I am and trying to simply pay attention and stay curious to my impulses, desires and intolerances as daily guideposts.

On New Year’s Day I found myself in a conversation with a friend about the concept of spiritual bypassing–the idea that we use our spirituality to (try to) avoid, suppress or get around the more gritty, shadowy and challenging parts of being human. For example, always reading your horoscope to make sense of how to live day-to-day, or spouting a spiritual platitude rather than feeling your grief about the death of someone dear to you. Essentially it’s about wearing “it’s all light and love” as a suit of armor and not letting anything or anyone get to your soft, vulnerable humanity underneath.

I shared with my friend how I was the absolute queen of this in my early twenties. Having gotten certified as a yoga teacher and experienced a devastating divorce in the same year, I was a perfect storm of spiritual bypassing. All I did was practice yoga, read spiritual books and talk about spiritual principles. I wasn’t at all in touch with what I was feeling–nor with reality, for that matter. I know I annoyed the hell out of my friends, and I always felt a manic sense of being adrift in my life.

I look back and can appreciate how this was my way of eventually coming back to myself and my wholeness–it took me fanatically looking for the ineffable and falling in love with the spirit in all things in order for me to slowly but surely find myself and fall in love with the messy imperfection of myself and the world. But I can’t help but wish that I had had a mentor or teacher at that time who could have modeled for me what it looked like to embrace my feelings, to resource myself in the face of the challenges of my life and to cultivate the capacity to be with the injustices of the world.

That mentor would eventually come to me in the form of a wilderness rites of passage guide, and then again years later in the form of a counselor. And when I started to get those lessons about psychology and relationship and neuroscience and what real inner work looked like, I remember feeling a great sense of disappointment in my yoga practice and yoga teachers. How had I not learned that there? I knew it wasn’t because it couldn’t be found there–in fact, what better place to plumb the depths than a practice that is at it’s heart about being in relationship with what is happening in the present moment in a way that brings together body, heart, spirit and mind?

And so I made a commitment to teaching yoga as a way to help support people in having a real experience of themselves and the world around them, and to give them access to their inner resources to navigate their lives with more integrity–even if it looks and feels messier. As I began doing this, I slowly started to come across colleagues who had the same commitment. Hala and Julian are two such colleagues, and I’m so grateful that, through Awakened Heart Embodied Mind, we now get to offer the kind of training I wish I could have had all those years ago.

I’m grateful that we get to offer this training because I think the yoga world needs more teachers who actively debunk unrealistic uses of spirituality and dismiss the practice of yoga as acrobatics. But grateful also because I get to immerse myself in a community in which I get to continually learn what it means to show up as myself as authentically as I can and face my insecurities and shadows and build my resilience and capacity for true connection. Because I tell you what, I am still very much a humble student of this myself. And I suspect I will be for many years to come.