As the film opened I wasn't sure where it was going; was it about racial equality? Was it about family values? Was it about patience leading to virtue?
By my reckoning, it was about all of that. And more.
As the film came to a close, Forest Whittaker (The Butler) had a change of heart and saw life through new eyes. I won't give away what that was incase you watch the film, but suffice to say it touched and moved me. I thought about how often we remain trapped in our own views and opinions and don't realise we are pushing other people or higher experiences away.
Why would anyone do that? Why would any of us choose to push away another human being or the chance to be a better person?
Using examples from the film, the reason we push people away is often due to pride, stubbornness and ego. But what good does that serve? Why would we put our personal pride before the choice to love someone? It doesn't make any sense and yet we do it all the time. And, as with everything, there's the flip side; putting others first instead of giving ourselves love. It's the exact same thing in reverse. As far as I can see, neither option makes much sense.
Both lead to varying degrees of disappointment. And that's where I sat earlier this week when I recognised that for decades I have been pushing men away because I've been afraid to be vulnerable. A perfect example of that occurred this week, although this story has a rather nice twist…
From Tuesday through to Thursday this week I was feeling disappointed because a guy I was growing to like isn't into me. (Stop me if you've heard this one before…) Before I go into the details let me take you back to four weeks ago when I was on yoga retreat in Maui – where the story of my disappointment was born.
I don't remember exactly how it came about but I found myself on day two of Kelli Prieur's Heartglow yoga retreat curled up in child's pose feeling tears starting to well up in my eyes. As I lay there, with my forehead resting on the floor, I felt a huge burst of sadness wash over me. Hmm…
After class I went back to my room and felt compelled to write a letter To All The Men I've Ever Known. In the letter, I forgave all the men who've had an influence in my life. I forgave them for being anything from controlling and overbearing, to dishonest and mean, to being too nice, and even loving me when I wasn't able to receive it.
Yeah, I know, it doesn't necessarily make sense, it just felt right.
It was a letter with a spiritual rather than logical flavour and it made sense to me. I was essentially letting go of all the stories I'd made up and held onto about all the men in my life.
It wasn't them, it was me.
A few days later while the sun set on Maui's horizon, we were instructed to get into horse pose and told we would hold the pose for 4 minutes. Yikes. My mind instantly went into overdrive and 30 seconds into it as my shins burned like a volcano, my inner peace went from cool, calm and collected to can-you-stop-this-red-hot-pain-please.
In short: I didn't like it.
"Breathe into it," quipped Kelli, the instructor. F*ck you, said my inner yogi.
As I stretched my legs and came out of the pose I spotted a fellow yogi behind me squatting low, still as a statue of Buddha with a face like an angel. Yeah, f*ck her too. I could feel how strong my unwillingness to hold the pose for more than 10 seconds was as my mind went from tantric to tantrum. Regardless of the inner chatter I decided that I should just get back into the pose and try again. So I did. With at least 3 minutes left on the clock I spread my thighs and squatted low, shins still burning, mind still flaring. And that's when it hit me.
"F*CK THIS AND F*CK YOU!" I screamed. At the top of my lungs.
Oops, did I say that out loud…?
"F**********CCCCKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!!!" I yelled again. "I F*CKING HATE THIIIIISSSSSSSS!"
Somehow, my self-editing button had been switched to "off" and my mouth was actually saying (screaming at the top of her lungs actually) what my mind would usually keep to herself.
You probably don't need me to tell you that at this point, everyone in the room was looking at me. The quiet, petite, mantra singing yogi; i.e. me, was losing her shit. And it was loud.
As I stood up straight I started punching the air with my arms and legs in what looked like a bad case of kung fu fighting Gangnam-yogi style. I kicked and punched at thin air, (still screaming) until after a few seconds the fire that had been raging within me dissolved. My kung fu moves smoothed out and as suddenly as I had burst into flames, I got all Beyoncé, twisting and twirling to the beat of an inner drum that seemingly could be heard, or at least felt, by the yogis around me. As suddenly as the rage had taken me over, I felt a huge blast of joy bursting up from my feet to the crown of my head.
And then I noticed Kelli standing right in front of me.
Oh-oh, I'm in trouble.
Rather than reprimand me for disrupting her peaceful yin class, Kelli Prieur became my cheerleader. Apparently she (and the rest of the yogis as they told me later) felt as though they had just witnessed a transformation. A bit like a cosmetic surgery makeover only without the scalpels and botox. My makeover was an internal one. And boy did it feel good.
By yelling and screaming my way through my pain I somehow managed to release what felt like a lifetime of suppressed anger. How it happened I have no explanation, but I do know that it came on organically and once I'd screamed the roof off, I felt lighter, brighter and happier.*
Although it sounds ironic, this very release is what led me to feeling disappointed this week. How? Well, within an hour of landing back in Sydney, I got a text message from a guy I'd been chatting with before I left for the life-changing yoga trip. Being on a holiday high I was feeling bold and cheeky and so I suggested we meet for dinner. It went well and I've seen him a couple of times since then.
However, as my interest has slowly increased it seems his has waned; hence my disappointment. But the story doesn't end there. As I sat within the see-saw feeling of disappointment this week I felt my body telling me something else. I sat still and listened, just like I had during horse pose. The same up and down feeling of disappointment was there in my chest, but faintly below it I could feel a vague sense that the outer edges of my heart space were also being tugged open. Hmm, I thought, what's that? And then, it hit me (again). BOOM!
I was feeling Vulnerable.
Beneath my disappointment was vulnerability. I got a clear sense that my willingness to be open to the potential of giving love and receiving love had also left me wide open to disappointment. But I realised my being vulnerable was a good thing. A breakthrough. I hadn't truly been open to giving and receiving love in years (maybe ever) and here I was openly liking someone, not quite at the loving stage but really, what's the difference? Being open is being open. Hallelujah!
Incase you haven't joined the dots, the message here is threefold:
1) In order to find a new way of being, I had to let go of some old stuff. For me, that meant taking myself away from my daily routine to a yoga retreat and screaming.
2) Letting go of that old stuff allowed me to feel safe to be vulnerable with a stranger who could potentially hurt me. As it happens, I did feel hurt, but…
3) At the bottom of my disappointment was a globe of light that I would never have found had I not taken the first step of Opening Up and Letting Go.
Just like The Butler, I had to release my pride and my ego before I was ever going to find the incredible gift that was lying at the bottom of my least favourite poses – horse and dating. Little did I know that by sitting in the sting of my burning shins and allowing myself to like someone I would burst through a ring of fire that holds the key to feeling good even when I'm being vulnerable.
And, just like The Butler, if I continue to face any inner or outer turmoil and maintain an openness and willingness to choose love, then I'm pretty sure my dream of eventually getting married and living in a beautiful beach house in Queensland is merely a few hours, days, months or years away.
Until then, I'll keep on being vulnerable.
*Screaming is not the only route to happiness, but it may help.