“I’m sorry I’m late, I didn’t want to come.”
When I was a teenager, going through my angsty period (that seems to have started when I was five and still lingers to this day) my mother would say to me “Just put on some lipstick and smile, not everyone needs to know how you are feeling all of the time.” As if lipstick would magically mean people wouldn’t know I was upset. Of course, like sticking a band-aid on a gaping wound, no amount of lipstick can cover up feelings of unhappiness. I didn’t understand it then and I would argue back: “Why should I have to pretend not to feel a certain way just to make people like me?”
There is a lie perpetuating through our perfectly Instagrammed world that it is not okay to feel not okay.
What used to be a tiny section hidden in the back of the bookstore is now sprawled across the tables by the entrance door. Self-Help books on everything from “How to Be Happy Everyday,” to “How to Be Happy and Lose Weight,” to “How to Be Happy and Make Money,” to “How to Make Friends and Money While Eating Nothing and Losing Weight in Order to Make Everyone Around You Happy.” Okay, okay I’m still working on that last one, patent pending.
Today it isn’t just about the books. In fact, the books have become almost an after-the-fact accessory to the offerings that inundate our environment. There are happiness apps, daily newsletters covering everything from gratitude to god and whatever lays in between. There are videos and Youtube channels, podcasts and live events. We have seminars that cost thousands of dollars where you stand in a room only to get yelled at by people wearing head mics until you break down to the very source of your misery and emerge reborn, tasked with the mission of getting all the other unhappy people in your life to take the same course, so that finally, you can all be happy together. And then of course, there is yoga and meditation– complete with a prayer-hand emoji unicorn pink heart sparkle!
When I underwent my training to become a teacher of a specific form of meditation several years ago, I was told at the end that I couldn’t graduate because my teacher “could not put the mantras in a negativity box.” In that moment I realized a few very fundamental truths: that I, by living authentically during the training process and hiding nothing– as was the agreement my class had made to each other– had made myself a target of their own discomfort. And that according to them, I would not be able to help anybody if I was “broken,” because in order to help people be happy you have to always be happy. (Which is a lie.) So alas, I plastered a smile on my face, got my mantras and went off to help make people happier.
Over time a funny thing started to happen. I began to share my authentic feelings and stories with my students… and I started to get a lot more students. When I get in front of a room to teach Kundalini or speak to an audience, my preferred topic is always about overcoming negativity and suffering. I talk about what I am going through, presently and in the past. I talk about my struggles, my cancer, my breakups; I talk about what it means to be human because I want every single person who has come into my energy field to understand that what truly makes them human is their own struggles and their own suffering.
Take a tally of all the ways you feel let down, wrong, or bad in a day. Is it because you believe there is something fundamentally wrong with you? Is it because of some circumstances in your life that are beyond your control? Is it because there are people in your life that made a lot of promises to make themselves feel better that actually ended up making you feel bad?
Have we become a society of “Mood Makers?” Are we a people who seemingly float around on a cloud of unicorn fluff and angel wings in a place where nothing ever goes wrong– and if it does do we hide behind our spiritual practices or latest therapies, making it seem as though we never have a bad day– especially on social media?
The teachers and people I have come to respect now are those who stand behind their authenticity. There is no place in our world for people who cannot be authentic. We are too smart and too sensitive to buy into any empty box that comes wrapped up in a pretty package. And life is too short to settle for that empty box once we’ve opened it. We deserve more.
We are all big, beautiful messes sometimes and we shouldn’t be afraid to own that– just as we aren’t afraid to own it when we are feeling awesome. I have both a beaming smile and an aggressive resting-bitch-face. I work at being a radiant and graceful woman, yet sometimes I still curl up in a ball and cry like a little girl who needs to be held. I have learned as I’ve grown to become more discerning at who gets to see all those parts of me– so in some ways my mother was right. Not because it is bad for me to be me, but because not everyone is as comfortable with their own authenticity, and that is what makes them uncomfortable.
And you know what? These days I still wear lipstick. Chanel– the redder the better. It’s not to cover anything up, it’s simply because it makes me feel damn sexy no matter what direction my lips are pointing.
Artwork by: James Ormiston.