How to be a human in a not-so-human world
Give up the search for perfect in this crazy world and walk towards the light. By Gopala Amir Yaffa
I have always considered myself to be a very happy person – and that's what I teach when I teach yoga. Isn't enlightenment just 'big happiness'?
But in the last couple of years, sometimes that happy person seemed very far away. There were even times when I felt incapable of being happy.
I have all the 'happy tools' – from my time as a monk in ashrams over 10 years and learning everything I could about yoga and mindfulness in the two decades that followed – but I often feel that I have no time to use these wonderful practices and ideas.
Similarly, I am aware that most humans in the 21st century are experiencing mental health issues. I know I am. It's pretty hard to be a human in a world that's not so human anymore. We are not made for this speed, sensory bombardment, being switched on and on-demand all the time.
Usually evolution happens through thousands of years of us adapting to our slowly-changing environment – but so much has changed for us humans in the last couple of generations and our genetics and brain functions have not quite caught up to it yet.
From my experience, there is no 'one fits all' solution here. The right support, a good friend, loads of exercise, nature, puppies, enough sleep and, of course, yoga and mindfulness, can all together form a path into a place that feels more right.
Everyone goes through a rough patch or feels listless on occasion. But depression – the feeling that you might never be happy again – is now so commonplace all over the world. And unfortunately, it is young people (who I work with through Rainbow Yoga) who are becoming the most likely group to screen for symptoms of this mental health condition.
Most of us (me included) are surrounded by beauty and goodness and opportunities, but taking those first few steps out of the heaviness and darkness and into the light and gratitude and joy can be challenging.
Quite a few years ago, for my 40th birthday, I took some time away from my busy life for some self-nurture. I went to Peru and spent a month with shamans in the beautiful Andes; I have always had a great interest in shamanism. One of the reasons I went there is because I felt that some things in my life, and in me, needed fixing. I felt a great, heavy load on my shoulders.
After four weeks of deep and meaningful inner work, while the shamans were doing magical healing on my spirit, I heard this great voice booming from inside of me that declared: "There is nothing to fix, you are perfect as you are." I got up, and that was it. I felt whole, which I believe I always was.
Of course, I'm not perfect, no one is. I am in constant evolution; an evolution that will never reach its end. But I'm perfect as I am – and so are you! We are perfect as we are. We are perfect in our imperfections.
We are even perfect as we are when we are depressed. It is okay, and it will eventually pass and change and evolve into our next entity, like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly through its time in the cocoon.
We always strive for more. It is our human nature to want to make things better and I believe that this is a good instinct. Yet it often leaves us constantly unsatisfied. We run around trying to fix the world, fix the education system, fix others, fix ourselves – I do all the time!
But I think we are looking at all those with the wrong model, the 'fixing' model. You can fix a car: tighten a screw, replace a part, change the oil. But people and the universe at large are much more complex than machines. We are not 'fixable', we are constantly evolving.
So many therapies are trying to fix us from the inside and from the outside. The media tries to tell us that we can get a quick fix by popping a pill or buying something. But those rarely have a lasting impact because the road of life is curvy and bumpy and the complexity of it all keeps throwing new challenges and opportunities at us at every turn. Try to fix it all, you'll get anxious and burnt out. Go with the flow of it and evolve with it, and you'll grow.
Fixing is trying to change or replace something. Evolving is accepting what is and becoming better for it. Expanding, and growing because of it. So the solution I'm offering to depression, and everything else that this modern era is throwing our way, is replacing 'fixing' with 'evolving'. Instead of running from it all, let's embrace it; let's learn from it and grow. One little step at a time.
Life is too complex to be 'perfect', and there is a lot to learn from the imperfections; it is actually the most imperfect and 'messed up' people that end up being the best teachers! if nothing ever happened to you, you have nothing to teach.
What have you learned from your challenges that you can share with the world, with the next generation? This is a question I ask myself and my students often.
Life is like a grinding stone; it can grind you to dust or polish you into a diamond, depending on how you show up for it. The lows are as much an opportunity as the ups.
Here is another lesson I picked up from the shamans in Peru and has helped me a lot at times, a lesson I have transferred to my students as well: the most influential and practical teaching I took from the Andes was the idea that maybe there is no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in our lives; rather, there is only ‘heavy’ and ‘light’, and we can dispel the ‘heaviness’ by bringing in more ‘lightness’.
This is a fantastic idea! We are not doomed by ‘bad’ things that are happening, or by ‘bad’ things we are feeling. Instead, when we are feeling heaviness weighing us down, we have the power to make things lighter by transforming them with lighter thoughts, lighter words, and lighter actions.
What do you think? A great lesson both for us and all the young people who also find life to be ‘too much’ at times? I’ve been heavy at times…so I know it is! Here's to more lighter and happier moments and years!
First published in November 2009, OM Yoga magazine has become the most popular yoga title in the UK. Available from all major supermarkets, independents and newsstands across the UK. Also available on all digital platforms.