The Cactus

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The story I’m about to tell started out as some else’s story, that then became my own. Yet it was always my story, right there in front of me, I just didn’t want to see it. Sometimes, no matter how much we avoid something, it finds a way of revealing itself to us, until eventually we either admit we see it, or go through life half asleep. I woke up a few years ago, once you wake up, there’s no going back, even if you try. But the ego has a way of trying to lull you back to sleep sometimes. Yoga continually opens our eyes to the truth, bringing us into every moment.

My story starts with my friend, who came to watch one of my yoga classes. She comes down every few months from Wisconsin to Arizona to study in the teacher training program we are in. She has beautiful, clear, articulate speech. I’ll admit that I’m slightly envious, with my quick slurred Jersey speech that lingers despite fifteen years of living out west. I see it as one of my imperfections. Yes, I could obviously slow down my speech a speak more clearly if I wanted to; but I don’t, unless I’m teaching a Restorative yoga class. But I’ll get back to that later. Anyway, as we are leaving the class she attended, she sees a beautiful succulent cactus in a bed of smooth river rocks that stands in the doorway. I pass this plant at least ten times a week, as it is in the entrance of where I teach. Being from Wisconsin, a succulent cactus is not something she sees very often. She stops to looks at it, intrigued by the strange shape of its’ tubular leaves. I dismiss it, telling her it’s fake, for it looks quite perfect, and can’t possibly be real standing in a place with virtually no direct sunlight. And then she points out the scar, blemish, imperfection, whatever you want to call the big black mark on the leaf. Suddenly, I’m intrigued , realizing the plant is real. How does it grow with barely any sunlight? I pinch it, squeeze it, it still looks fake. And yet it’s this imperfection that warrants it to deserve my attention. It’s the imperfection that makes it real, astounding that it survives in such an environment, suddenly something that was so quickly dismissed becomes strong and beautiful.

Last week I had purchased a book ,”The Gifts of Imperfection , Let Go of Who You Think You Are Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are,” by Brene Brown. I tried to read it. I couldn’t get past the first few pages. I finally just decided that maybe I wasn’t ready for . Each in his own time, right? Maybe it wasn’t my time. I’ve been carrying the book around for week now. Haven’t made a dent in it. So there I was, to some degree realizing I had to deal with embracing my imperfections, yet somehow at the same time resisting it, looking the other way, trying to close my eyes to slowly lull myself back to sleep, feeding my ego with tiny pats on the back that allow me to feel ok about lying to myself about who I am. I am imperfect. I have ADHD, I talk fast. My words blend into the next coming out faster than my brain can often even make sense of, sometimes making it difficult to listen. And when I’m in doubt or feeling insecure, I talk even faster and even more, waiting for some validation that what I’m saying might give me worth. A guy I was interested in once asked me for a pic of my legs. While this might not seem like a big deal to some women, it was to all 5 foot 1 of me. No matter what angle I took the picture, I was never going to look long and leggy. I am short, and so are my legs. I am imperfect. My hair is graying, and my skin often reflects the hormonal cycles within my month. I have stretch marks from pregnancies, reminders of the most important people in my life who love me, under any condition; an imperfection I wouldn’t trade in a million years. I am imperfect. I have scars, both physical and emotional, left behind from moments of adventure, moments of love, and moments of stupidity. These are a part of who I am. And while we continually grow and change to work towards being that best version of ourselves, working towards perfection is not the answer. It’s like grasping for water as it constantly slips between your fingers. To truly have the water you must take it in, drink it, let it become part of you, every part of your being, until it is no longer recognizable simply as water. It mixes with the good and the bad, and yet it is you, close to ninety-eight percent of you. The answer is in seeing those imperfections within ourselves, seeing the truth in who we are, in loving the dark and the light within ourselves and recognizing that one can not exist without the other. The answer is in loving all of ourselves.

So after my class I asked my friend for some feedback. The comment that really got me thinking was that she said my class was a little too formal, that she would have liked to hear me talk like I was just talking in a casual conversation. I don’t script anything, I just talk. But this was a restore class, it needed to be calming and soothing. My voice is clear, my words slow and precise. I sound like a different person than my regular everyday self. She proceeded to tell me the story about the cactus plant we had looked at together, how it’s flaws were what brought our attention to it, how it’s beauty was reflected only through the revelation of this flaw. And there I was, being confronted with my flaws yet again, with another invitation to embrace them, rather than look the other way, close my eyes, burry them beneath perfect eloquent speech. I thought about my community center classes and my ongoing corporate class where I do restorative workshops once a month. There I am different, they are my people. I see some of them several times a week and have been teaching the same group over a year. I’ve seen their imperfections, and they have seen mine. I’ve seen them struggle to get into a child’s pose and melt into a puddle of in tears in savasana. With them I am vulnerable and real, my true scattered self. My realness is what makes them feel safe and able to express their vulnerabilities. This was my wake call , whether I wanted to hear it or see it or not, yoga brings us into the moment. The beauty of each and every simple moment, even as simple as looking at plant. Gods creations are powerful indeed. And what was dismissed because of perfection, was suddenly beautiful and strong because of its’ imperfection. Our imperfections are our gifts to embrace and share with others. They reveal our true selves, our center, love.