Over the past eight years I've been struggling with a sense of spiritual dearth. Eight years ago, I left behind a blissful state of self-actualization (along with my soulmate, the one person who could fuel my spiritual flame to its fullest), and moved across the country against my will. I traded in my beloved Idaho mountains for the base beaches of Florida, and out of loneliness lost myself to new passions - the most powerful of which being competition (a force I now recognize as a symptom of forgetting the most fundamental concept of existence: that we're all one and the same). 

After I moved I had nobody to distract me with propositions of spontaneous adventure and nobody to remind me of the beauty within my soul. So I put all my energy into getting ahead. Even in the context of relationships, I developed the need to always "win" and come out on top. By the time I started college, I was consumed by this motivation. 

Yet the more "successful" I became, the more I felt something was missing in my life: specifically, spirituality. I felt incomplete for eight years. Then everything changed six months ago, when the yoga journey commenced.

Yoga teacher training helped me remember who I really am and what makes life worth living. (Hint: it isn't winning an argument or getting into Duke or landing a job at Google.) But the training is over as of a few weeks. It happened - I'm a graduate! Now the question is how to self-sustain the kind of growth that was originally sustained by a rigid study schedule, regular group therapy sessions and, most importantly, my community of like-minded teachers and classmates. Just as the goal at the conclusion of a yoga class is to bring forth - into the "real" world - the stillness attained in class, my goal is to keep focusing on pursuing a purposeful existence without somebody else constantly reminding me to. It won't be easy, but I simply can't fall into the same trap I did when I left behind the zen of Idaho and the joy of being with my soulmate. The trap of thinking I need something or someone outside myself for fulfillment.

I just spent a week in New York City, the city that utterly embodies the everyone-out-for-herself attitude that I held close as my personal mantra for so many years. Even as I recognized the city getting to me last week, I couldn't resist its effect. Compounded my the discomfort of the heat and the rain, and, if we're being honest, probably also by the booze, I felt myself reverting to the unstable mindset I inhabited when I lived in New York the summer after freshman year when I was in the peak of my competitive grip. Last week as I conversed with strangers as well as friends, old fear-induced thoughts kept creeping to the surface. I couldn't understand where they were coming from. And I couldn't stop them. The stewing set in on my first night in the city as I dined with a friend, even as I shared with her the yogi view that approaching life through a lens of "me versus them" will not ultimately lead to happiness. And when she left to catch a train home, I took my stewing to the streets. The night hot, the air thick, the rain steady: conditions were perfect for a good stew, one that would lead me to walk alone for two hours from Chelsea to Washington Square Park and back to my hotel. In the dark and the rain, I walked and stewed, soaking my work shoes and rubbing deep into a few choice blisters. 

My goal wasn't to stew. As I embarked to my old stomping ground, my goal was to calm myself down. To recharge. But all the sat-nams in the world couldn't do the trick. I was in too much of a negative New York rut. Instead of counting my blessings as the night wore on, instead I kept thinking about more and more things that piss me off. 

But all the while, as I was brooding over my resentments and my intolerances, I was really trying to get to what they say about me. Because, thanks to yoga, even as I stewed I knew my frustration was revealing more about myself than the objects of my frustration. 

And that's exactly what saved me from stewing myself into a New York sewer: the awareness that's a by-product of yoga. It's easy to maintain chi in the middle of nowhere, Idaho or when on the mat, surrounded by people "om"-ing with breath slowed down 5x, but true zen is being able to maintain that chi anywhere (including the city that never sleeps) at anytime. And Step #1 is awareness. Awareness that we create our own chi. Awareness that all thoughts stem from either fear or love. Awareness of self. With awareness comes the opportunity for conscious change.

So that's where I'll start my "life after teacher training" chapter: with focusing on becoming more aware. (Heaven knows one can never be aware enough.) And, as much as I love avoiding it, that means meditating regularly. Starting yesterday. The saga continues!

Oh, and that soulmate I mentioned? The universe is reuniting us this weekend. Stories to come.

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