I have a friend who taught a yoga nidra class that I attended. One of my favorite scripts that she read was a visualization of climbing a mountain. It began at the base of the mountain and described our ascent as we traveled with a guide.
In the beginning, the guide that I visualized was a generic-looking outdoorsman with a dark beard and a camera. As I approached the summit in my mind, however, I realized that my guide had become an older, stronger version of myself.
When I told my friend about this after class, she said, “Bethany, don’t you realize that you are supposed to be the guide by the end of the meditation?”
Last summer, during the shutdown, I knew that I was going through a difficult but transformational time in my journey. As I came through it and learned and grew, I was able to see how the journey up the mountain was a perfect metaphor for my own path. And I saw that while many people walked with me on the journey, there were definitely four people who filled the role of “guide.”
This is my story of their influence on my climb.
2012: The Path at the Base of the Mountain
Let’s begin this story in the fall of 2012. I had just returned from a 93-day sailing trip on the Great Lakes, and I felt a yearning for something more than life in my neighborhood in Harrison, Michigan could offer. I felt more and more out of synch with my teaching job that I had once loved. Returning to “reality” made me restless, and I coped with it by writing on my old blog, Journey to Ithaca.
At that time I was just beginning to embrace the minimalist lifestyle, and I quit Facebook for the first time. I reached out to a number of other bloggers through email, including one I will refer to as “Kyle,” who wrote a blog about mindfulness and meditation. Kyle got my attention when he commented on one of my blog posts, recommending the book Linchpin by Seth Godin and saying that I should read it, because it really applies to me.
I always loved it when friends recommended books, and I would always email them with my thoughts (and general commentary) when I had finished the book. This book, however, completely blew my mind. The information in the book, coupled with the idea that Kyle had said that I was a “linchpin” and capable of accomplishing great things, was mentally overwhelming. I began to realize that every assumption I had held about myself was likely false. I saw that I had been holding a negative identity of myself, and that my beliefs about myself were holding me back.
Kyle encouraged me in this redefining process and recommended more books for me to read about brain research, Zen, and positive thinking. At times during this process, I felt like I was losing my mind, and my emailing habits became quite excessive. Kyle had his own challenges, and while our interactions were purely platonic, I don’t know that they were necessarily “healthy.” However, he did lead me to the mountain that I would climb. He introduced me to ideas that would become the mainstay of my journey.
As I was reading and studying, my situation at my job only became worse. I was unhappy with it, and I wanted to see more and do more. The work that I had done allowed me to understand that I was in control of my situation, and that led me to make the choice to travel with my family across the country and start a new life. I saw that we could create something new, although I was terrified of repeating the same play on a new stage.
Eventually, I had made it as far as Kyle could lead me, and our paths split into different directions. We lost contact, which seemed to be for the best. Still, I am grateful for what I learned and the beginning of my journey.
2013-2016: The Beginning of the Ascent
I had started working with an online life coach before I moved to Texas, but I really did not commit to the process until a few months after I had moved. I had been introduced to the idea of redefining limiting beliefs by Kyle, but with Ewa, I went through boot camp!
Through our emails, Ewa taught me techniques for calming my very overactive fight-or-flight response, then guided me through a questioning process to uncover and replace all the assumptions I had been holding. I realized that I had a constant verbally abusive commentary running through my head, and I was able to stop it rather early in our work together.
My new job was not working out as wonderfully as I thought it would, and for awhile I had multiple email exchanges with Ewa over the course of a day. With her guiding me through the redefining process, I was able to change my perception of myself, which in turn, helped to improve my situation. After two years, I was moved into a much better-suited position at work.
Near the end of my time working with Ewa, I asked her to train me in her method, and I began working with coaching clients. I loved being able to help others in the way that I had been helped, and I was able to see that everyone is vulnerable and everyone faces fear. While I eventually stopped doing coaching (because I quickly burned out on the marketing aspect of running a side hustle), working with clients was an important step in my journey.
It was through my work with redefining, that I first experienced what I referred to as “the place of love”–the state of mind that lies beyond fear, assumption, and identity. It was fleeting, but it was very real.
It was while I was working with Ewa that I discovered yoga. I saw my overeating as a response to being in fight-or-flight and an effort to ground myself, so I joined a gym to try and adopt some healthier habits. This gym had a yoga class, and one of my friends in Michigan always talked about how much she loved yoga. (I wrote more about my yoga journey here).
I wrote to Ewa after my first few classes, discouraged because my body was so inflexible and there were 20-year-olds in class doing handstands. Ewa’s response was: “But what yoga really teaches you is that you can’t compare, that the only journey is your own. That each time you stand at the top of your mat, you bring your focus onto the tip of your nose and your breathing, cultivating your sense of awareness in a practice that is different every day, even if you do the same postures over and over.”
By then, I was living on a boat with very comfortable living space, working in a job that was okay, and looking for a new place to practice yoga. Ewa was looking to make a career change, when I emailed her and said I had found a new yoga studio that I loved, and I joked that I had a “girl crush” on the instructor, who would become guide #3.
Ewa and I have kept in touch through our new adventures, with a few emails throughout the year.
2016-2020: The Steep Approach to the Summit
My yoga teacher, Cass, says that 3 is the number of completion, so it is very fitting that she was the third guide on my journey.
I have written before about my yoga practice and the lessons I have learned from Cass, but I think it is important to note that I could not have learned and grown as much as I did, if I had not done the groundwork prior to the day I found Moonlight Yoga. The steepest climb on the mountain happened during my time working with Cass, but I had to climb up to that point before I could begin to traverse the rockiest part of the path.
It was during this leg of my journey that I began to see the full extent of the damage done by my lack of self-value. My work situation had become abusive, I spent my time with friends who did not lead me to become my best self, I drank way too much, and my binge eating was completely out of control.
Yes, I knew how to redefine, but I often would not do it on my own, because I was too angry at myself. I considered everyone to be a potential threat, and I did not know how to even begin to self-advocate without being passive-aggressive.
I enlisted the help of a therapist and later, a dietician as well. Therapy helped me to process my emotions as I faced the challenges and made the necessary life changes during this time.
But yoga was my mainstay and my path back to myself. And Cass was the one who helped me access it.
It was Cass who helped me to find my voice and showed me that it is okay to speak up and address issues directly. It was Cass who encouraged me during 6 am classes while I was going through my last year at my old job. It was Cass who told me with absolute confidence that her role was to show me my value and told me that I was beautiful when I was at my heaviest. It was Cass who was my biggest cheerleader when I decided to go back to teaching full time.
She was the first person I told when I was offered my dream job.
Cass taught me that I can create a new reality, and, most importantly, that I am deserving my dreams. Yoga has led me to create a life better than I ever imagined was possible. It is because of yoga that I look in the mirror and see a beautiful person looking back.
Yoga taught me patience. My body has consistently become more flexible, but it has been very slow, steady progress. I have learned that if this is okay with me, then this is okay. And I have learned to see and appreciate the slow, steady progress that I have made throughout my life, with my mind and with my habits.
Cass never told me what to do, but she always supports me in reaching the goals that I have set for myself. From day 1, her words and actions have been leading me closer to my fourth guide, the one who will accompany me to the top of the mountain.
2020-Present: Approaching the Top and Watching the Sunrise
Now the drama is (mostly) gone, and I am finding that I can take risks as I reach toward my dreams. My dreams themselves have grown, and I understand that failure only happens if I give up. I realize that if something is okay with me, then it is okay. I no longer feel the need to seek approval or validation (although I do like to brag about my accomplishments!).
This does not mean that I am perfect. I still have crabby days and days of self-doubt. And I understand that being okay with those is also a part of the process.
The best part is that as I have made peace with myself, I have become more understanding of those around me. I have had the confidence to step into more roles where I can give back, and I believe in myself enough to take chances and make a difference.
My yoga practice is still very much a part of all of this, and Cass is still a very significant mentor in my life. However, there has definitely been a shift, and I am definitely the guide on this leg of the journey.
The yoga nidra that my friend led years ago, ends with you and the guide reaching the top of the mountain and watching the sun rise over the city and valley below. I am not to the peak yet, but when I get there, I will definitely share pictures of the beautiful sunrise.