Yoga at Starbucks, Part Two
I seem to have ruffled a few feathers last week with my post. You can read it here if you haven’t already. The post was shared on Facebook by multiple high profile people and the comments on those shares got a little fiery.
This may come as a shock (LOL), but that isn’t the first time I’ve said or done something that rubbed someone the wrong way. I’ll be the first to admit that I can be opinionated, outspoken, and blunt. Perhaps even confrontational. This has definitely caused some upset over the years. I take full responsibility and constantly strive to be a better communicator. As I pointed out last week, we all fail everyday. One of my repeated failings is being too headstrong to be as sensitive to others’ feelings as I’d like to be.
But my unabashed self expression has a flip side. While sometimes my thoughts are unpopular, they are authentically mine, and I share them freely. I have always been willing to be vulnerable and sincerely express myself despite judgement. As much as I’ve been told that I’ve said something insensitive, I’ve been told that I was brave and open and vulnerable even more. I don’t just share the controversial stuff; I also share the scary, hard stuff that a lot of people are uncomfortable putting out there. I think my candor has mostly been a force for good, and as I’ve grown I’ve come to appreciate that quality in myself and others.
But that’s not actually the point I want to make.
I’d like to say that I agree with the spirit of the feedback I received about the post. I was accused of public shaming. I was accused of lacking compassion by not being more understanding of the woman’s pain. I was accused of being judgmental. Essentially, many readers turned the tables and asked me to assess whether I transgressed by having a negative opinion of the woman’s actions and writing about it, just as she had transgressed by berating an innocent Starbucks employee. Readers wanted to remind me that we are in no place to judge each other.
I want to say THANK YOU for challenging me.
I was initially surprised to see the unfavorable response I was getting from the post, but it certainly made me analyze why I wrote it and what I could have or should have done differently, if anything, to have been more clear about my intentions and compassionate to the woman's struggles. I decided that if I could go back and write it differently, I would change the location or other details of the story to add another layer of anonymity to further protect the woman. I would emphasize even more that I believe the woman was doing her best and in need of understanding and compassion. I would soften the tone to better communicate my intended meaning, which was that we all do ugly things everyday, but if we are serious about practicing all eight limbs of yoga, not just the fun ones that look good or pad our egos, then we have to take the time to examine our actions off the mat.
I meant for the post to provide a concrete, real life example to which we could all relate to help us remember to keep our cool and choose kindness and patience in frustrating situations. For me and many others, real life examples are more impactful than made up “what-would-you-do” scenarios. I meant for the post to remind us, myself included, that the real test of whether we are progressing down the path of yoga is not when we can finally jump back, but when we behave more peacefully in the world. I wish I would have explained further that, just like on the mat when we’re working on a posture, it doesn’t always come. Perhaps that woman had been working hard on her temper but simply couldn't make it happen that day, just as minutes earlier I failed to take my legs back to bakasana after bhujipidasana. I was particularly slippery that day and my knees just wouldn’t stay on my arms. Maybe she was slippery, too. I didn’t mean to single her out and wag my finger, but after thinking about it I realized I could have done a better job getting that across.
After reading the feedback I received, a few things crossed my mind. The first was that people say things over a keyboard they would never say to a person’s face, which is a shame. The second thing was regret for putting myself out there. I felt ashamed for saying something unpopular. I felt unheard and misunderstood. I felt a little rotten. I doubted my intentions and wondered if sharing my heart, flaws and all, was really worth it. But after some contemplation and talks with good, wise friends, I realized that I’d rather share my story and sometimes be misunderstood or go too far than tuck my tail and shut my mouth for fear of offending someone. It’s just not in my nature to silence myself.
No matter what, I think the post started an important conversation that I hope we continue to have. Is it ok to form an opinion about another person’s actions? It is ok to say what someone did was wrong? Is it ever ok to call someone out when they’ve been hurtful? Is it ok to discuss what is or isn’t yoga? If so, how do we go about having those conversations? How do we navigate that territory without shaming or being judgmental? If isn’t ok, why not? I’m glad to have facilitated such an important discussion. These are issues we all deal with, both on social media and in our “real” lives. If nothing else, I’m happy to have made readers think about that.
I sincerely want to thank everyone who offered feedback on my post. It was a learning experience for me. I will continue to put myself out there, sharing my thoughts and hopefully helping others. If, along the way, I say something insensitive or put my foot in my mouth, I hope you all will extend to me the compassion and benefit of the doubt that you felt I failed to offer the woman at Starbucks. I hope that as you read more from me you’ll come to trust that I never mean to be hurtful, that my intentions are pure, but like the woman at Starbucks, I sometimes fall short of expressing myself with clarity and perfect kindness. We are all in this together, and I’m grateful to be a part of this incredible community of yoga practitioners.
If I were a bigger believer in God, I would definitely take this as a sign to continue to put myself out there, but since I’m not, it feels more like a coincidence that perhaps offers some consolation. The day after my post started gaining attention, Sharath said in conference, “If you do asana practice but then start a fight, that is not yoga.” While I’m certainly no yoga guru, and I don’t compare my thoughts and ramblings to the insights and wisdom of a man like Sharath Jois, it felt like a small validation that I wasn't totally off base to say what I said about the behavior I witnessed at Starbucks. Be nice. Don’t fight. Asana alone is not enough.