18 Apr 2014

On Being Public

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Recently, within a week of each other, two different people said to me, “You’re kind of a celebrity.” The first time, I nearly spit out a mouthful of water. The second time, I nearly choked on my panini.

Just because you're in a magazine doesn't mean...

Just because you’re in a magazine doesn’t mean…

“Well,” I said both times, “The nature of my work is very public. And I’m fortunate enough to get to work with some great people.” A smooth answer, but on the inside, I was surprisingly embarrassed. A celebrity? Me? Not possible. Celebrities are glamorous and interesting. I’m just a normal chick. I change into my pajamas as soon as I get home every day. I read about nerdy things on the internet. I have a hard time keeping plants alive. I struggle with social anxiety on occasion. I never, ever wear make-up. I’m just a normal, average, slightly boring girl.

My drink and dinner companions were insistent, though. “No, really. People, like, know you. Everyone I know either does yoga with you or knows someone who does. People gush about you.”

By this point in the conversation, my Ego had twisted about as far to the left as it could manage and was begging for mercy. I deftly changed the subject. I deflected attention away from myself and onto the other people. Just like I always do.

You see, for all the public-ness of what I do, I’ve never really been comfortable being the center of attention. I realize that sounds silly coming from someone who stands and talks in front of people for a living, but it’s true. People who know me well will stop a conversation and say, “Quit doing that thing where you don’t talk about yourself and ask a bunch of questions instead.” Some of this is a service mindset. I strive to live my life in service of others and their highest self. But some of it is straight-up fear of being seen, which translates to a fear of being vulnerable.

My very public work actually puts me in the position of being able to hide from truly being seen. I can put the focus on the teaching, the yoga, the student, and–even though I’m the one talking–never actually have any attention on myself. In times of great stress, I often retreat to my work, because it is the safest place to hide without totally isolating myself. Hiding in plain sight, so to speak.

And yet there are times when I can’t even hide in my work. Times when my work confronts me with the very thing I’m trying to run from. Two weekends ago, during a deeply stimulating and emotional conversation with my wonderful teacher trainees, themes of grief and relationships ending kept coming up. I found myself at a complete loss for words. The conversation touched on something too deep, too raw, too fresh within myself to run from in that moment. So, against my better judgment and all my training as a professional, I turned the attention to myself.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m struggling with what to say because I’m relating too much. I got dumped last night.”heartbandaid

I did not want to say those words. I DID NOT want to admit that I was terribly vulnerable and hurting underneath my confident teacher exterior. It’s not that I was faking it, it just felt safer, as it usually does, to focus on the other person, on my beloved students who are looking to me for knowledge and guidance. It usually feels better to focus on them. But in that moment, I needed to turn the focus back on myself. I needed it to be about me. I held my breath waiting for their response, worried that I might lose status in their eyes for bringing my personal stuff into the training room.

But they were amazing. They whispered expressions of sympathy. Some got teary-eyed. When we took a break, they gave me hugs, asked how I was really doing. They brought me little gifts the next day, and sent me texts, emails, and messages as the week went on. Just checking in, just expressing love.

The most amazing part is that it felt good. Good to be seen and validated in my sadness. Good to feel cared for. Good to be able to be my deeply flawed, deeply human self for a minute. Whatever I had been hiding from wasn’t there after all. All that was there–and this shouldn’t have surprised me–was love.

Will I quit hiding in my work from now on? Probably not. Old habits don’t fade that easily. But will I remember to let my guard down and let the people I love return that love to me once in a while?

Definitely.

Dedicated with deep and grateful love to my beautiful teacher trainees. Thank you for being my teachers.

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3 Responses to “On Being Public”

  1. Carla Jean Whitley says:

    You’re not normal or boring–thank God. You may not be a celebrity, either (thank goodness for that, too!), but you are a dear and amazing person.

  2. Alex G says:

    your a stone cold fox. just face it.

  3. Brandon G says:

    Good stuff, Melissa.