archives, yoga

My on-going relationship with enlightenment.

Enlightment is kind of a dick.

I mean it. If Enlightenment was a person, nobody would want to be her friend.

“Hi, I’m Enlightenment, and if you do things exactly the way that I’ve asked you to, I may allow you to barely touch a tiny piece of me. Maybe. But probably not.”

See? She’s a dick.

My issues with Enlightenment go back to my first Yoga teacher training, where several hours of my 200-hour quota were designated to trying to describe this state of being.  My wise teacher described Enlightenment as the “gentle awakening of living and conscious energy.”

This intrigued the students, and we began asking questions about how to obtain this unobtainable. I was immediately taken with the idea; I had always harbored a secret desire to sit on a mountaintop and tell other people about life. Probably because gurus always seem like they’ve got their shit together. And I would very much like to have mine together as well.

However, my teacher offered us a small smile, and gently told us, “You will not really understand Enlightenment, because you will not obtain it this lifetime.”

Thunderbolt. I was dumbfounded. And honestly, pretty pissed off. What was wrong with my current life decisions that prevented me from achieving this amazing state of being?

I argued. I asked my teacher why I couldn’t achieve something that was available for everybody. According to my teachers, there were several reasons. For one, my food wasn’t clean enough. Thank you, Western world preservatives. Also, I stayed up too late at night, and didn’t wake up with the sun. I work in a nightclub three days a week. Enlightened beings do not do this.

Furthermore, I refused to swallow 20 feet of gauze, swirl it around in my stomach, and then pull it out through my mouth. This is a real yogic cleansing technique, called ‘Vastra Dhauti’. People do this. They are stronger people than I.

Anyway, I found myself getting more and more frustrated that I was not going to be allowed to achieve Enlightenment.

Even if I was kind to everybody I met, did Yoga everyday, and said my prayers at night, it wasn’t enough. If I abandoned my family and friends, went to a cave in the mountains, and meditated until the moment I died, chances were I still wouldn’t hit the E zone. And that just sucked.

I graduated my training, excited to continue my journey in the Yoga world, but with a tiny pocket of emptiness. Was there really a point to it all? I would never be a true teacher. There would be no guru-on-the-mountain status. I wasn’t going to be Enlightened. Not me.

And to top it all off, there were other people in the world who would be, because they were wiser/humbler/whatever else one must be like in order to achieve the big E. But I wasn’t good enough.

I slipped back into my normal life easily, but that pocket of emptiness remained, and started to grow.

A lot of things that once brought me pleasure now just made me feel guilty. Baking cookies? Enlightenment no-no. Going out for a drink with the girls? Goodbye, Enlightenment. I found myself restricting the things that I wanted to do, because they were now bad.

I also felt secretly uncomfortable teaching classes. How could I guide my students in practice, when I was not further along the spiritual path? Shouldn’t I be able to start my classes with words of wisdom that would guide them through their day? Did they think I was a hack?

About this time is when I realized that I was being an idiot.

The truth was, I actually didn’t know a lot about Enlightenment. Yes, I had discussed it for a few hours in my training, but was that really enough to let it run my life? I was a smart, savvy woman in her mid twenties, who knew better than to trust one teacher’s opinion. Bring on the multi-sources! (Cue trumpets here.)

So I went to the library.

The first thing that I discovered is that it’s really hard to describe something that one hasn’t experienced. And most people haven’t experienced Enlightenment. So the descriptions of it are complicated. However, I started to see reoccurring themes: Opening energy. Waking up. Clearing the mind of the unnecessary thoughts. Rising above.

Once again, this sounded unobtainable.

If my yoga student comes to me and tells me that her father died, do I smile and nod, and tell her that it’s just the circle of life? If a student is crying on his mat, do I pat his head and rise above? This didn’t sit right with me.

But then I came across Pema Chödrön’s Comfortable with Uncertainty. In the first chapter, she states, “On the journey of the warrior… the path goes down, not up, as if the mountain pointed toward the earth instead of the sky. Instead of transcending the suffering of all creatures, we move toward turbulence and doubt however we can… right down there in the thick of things.” (1).

This, I understood.

Instead of rising above, we sink into. Instead of feeling nothing, we feel everything. We are in the middle of a world filled with so much; it was by connecting to it all that we could find a true and honest path.

This fit into my life.

If my student comes to me crying about her father, I will hold her and cry with her. We will hurt together, and she will know that the pain she feels is for the loss of her father only, and not because she is grieving alone.

The path to Enlightenment seems like it in an incredible one, and for every person it’s a different road. Everyone will find a different way to climb the mountain, if they so choose. But for me, the mountaintop is here, in my class, living and breathing with my students. They are their own gurus, each and every one of them. I am just here to remind them that.

For the first time, I feel like a real Yoga teacher.

And Enlightenment? Maybe I was a little hard on her. She’s not a dick. She’s just misunderstood.


Britt Mahrer
Britt Mahrer is a psychotherapist and author from Denver, Colorado. She specializes in empowerment and narrative therapy. To schedule a private session, speaking engagement, or for further inquiries she can be contacted via her website.
Britt Mahrer