Yoga isn’t going to make you impervious to criticism — because criticism bites. Meditation doesn’t make divorce less brutal — because divorce is rough no matter how it goes down. Green juice won’t keep the creep at work away — creeps like to creep. And prayer will not make your illness less intense to deal with — physical burdens are…burdensome.
For a lot of self-helpers, and juicers, and cosmic troopers who have been at it for a while there comes a pitfall — and you can trip into it on your first hot yoga class, or after ten years of regular meditation and fervent prayer. It goes like this: If I’m doing all this spiritual work, why does shit keep happening?
Variations include, but are not limited to: I’ve worked really hard to get my ego in check, why am I still so jealous of her?… I’ve had so much therapy, why aren’t I over this yet?… Been doing my abundance mantra for 40 days, but I’m still freaked about money… Take my supplements religiously, but I keep getting sick… I totally opened my heart chakra in that weekend workshop, but like, I still think he’s a total asshole.
Spiritual practice won’t stop shitty things from happening. Here’s the truly holistic picture: Life is full of shitty things, circumstances, feelings, emotions, and people with crazy-shitty motives.
You can still get your heart broken when you’re enlightened. Illumination doesn’t spare the body — pundit Jiddu Krishnamurti dealt with wretched migraines, the beloved Thich Nhat Hanh recently suffered a debilitating stroke. Tragedies strike. Tsunamis engulf. Life hits, heals, caresses, and batters every one of us — the saints, the do-gooder’s, in sun salutations, and in repose.
“Here’s what soul practice does: It helps you handle the hard stuff when it comes. Every conscious in-breath/out-breath you take carves out space in your being for the ineffable mystery. And you really need to leave room for mystery if you want to stay sane. All of your dancing, and asanas, and sweaty finish lines are making it much easier to unfold, rather than grip and grind. The prayers, the declarations, the incantations… they’re an IV drip of grace, streaming into your nervous system.”
Spiritual practice won’t make you super human. But it will help you fall in love with your humanity.
You get to choose your response to even the things you can’t prevent. When you’re down on yourself because you can’t get over it, when the Creepy Creepertons are on your very last nerve, when you’re tired of being tired, or your heart is in pieces…
The best self-help is self-compassion.