The Dark Art of Questioning Everything

Or, why simplicity is bliss.

I think about white women who do yoga a lot. I don’t mean this in a fetish sense: I mean this very quizzically.

I went to a yoga studio one time. There were about 30 of us there — about 28 of whom were women. We were all white. I haven’t been back … it didn’t take.

This isn’t a think-piece about the cultural blindness that comes when an ancient Eastern spiritual art gets recontextualized and reappropriated as a fashionable fitness craze. No, that’s been done before, and it’s been done better. But I would like to discuss what people get out of it.

From two separate academic surveys in 2013 and 2014:

More than 90 percent of people come to yoga for flexibility, stress relief, health, and physical fitness. But, for most people, their primary reason for doing yoga will change. Two-thirds of yoga students and 85 percent of yoga teachers have a change of heart regarding why they do yoga — most often changing to spirituality or self-actualization, a sense of fulfilling their potential. Yoga offers self-reflection, the practice of kindness and self-compassion, and continued growth and self-awareness.

It’s interesting to see this laid out in so few words, in a Western context, and juxtapose the practice of yoga with its roots. The modern mystics appear to be finding the same sort of peace, flexibility, enlightenment, purity and spiritual growth as was intended — in spite of largely whitewashing and westernizing the practice from its origins. I am going to use this as a framework to talk about how people can get more out of life, despite a bunch of other people — ahem, people like me — looking at them and wondering why they’re doing it all wrong.

I remember the day I hit the eject button on my life. April 1, 2001. See, up until that day, I didn’t do a fair amount of questioning. I knew who I was. I knew what I wanted. I believed in the Catholic father, son and holy spirit. I adhered to the Ten Commandments. I knew I would attend Syracuse University. I wanted to be a sportscaster. I had the idyllic high school sweetheart girlfriend who I would marry after college. I woke up most mornings and ran, lifted weights in the afternoon, studied in the evening, snuck shots of Cuervo in at night. I pledged a fraternity. I bought Abercrombie shirts. I had a puka-shell necklace, an Anna Kournikova poster and frosted tips. I listened to both Creed AND Dave Matthews Band. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was a total (to borrow from the lexicon of that time) poser — I was doing what I thought I *should* be doing, and I was doing it pretty well for a while.

I started noticing cracks in my psyche early in 2001. I started openly questioning my faith in god, my career path, my relationships, right from wrong, sex vs love, sobriety vs edginess, conservative vs liberal, whether or not Nickelback was really the next great legendary rock band. I started getting very anxious around people, I stopped going to class, I started smoking weed, I started pushing my limits around what I could “get away with.” I never asked myself why my behavior changed then. I just started questioning everything. The day, April 1, 2001, was the day I decided to leave the path I was on — my career, my school, my girlfriend, my morals, my religion, Nickelback — and, as is customary among single white men who never really mature past adolescence, and have watched their former friends and classmates settle down and make families, I became a wandering bullshit artist of “enlightenment” and “alternative thinking.” I got laid a lot. I got drunk even more often. And I asked myself, all the time, “Why are you like this?” I have my answers. I don’t necessarily like them. And that’s another post for another day.

I’m one of those people who openly wonders, “What else is there?” Or, “Is this all that there is?” And I know from talking to you that a lot of you probably do, too. (I know from the sudden uptick in readership on the ol’ blog that this is more common around the world than I thought. Hashtag humblebrag.) The answers to these questions, ultimately, are as varied as the people who ask them, even if they should be simple yes or no. People are complex. So are questions. And so I spent time trying to find the answers to them.

I — not all that long ago — once had everything I wanted. And I was happy, but I still couldn’t silence the the inner voice asking “Is this all that there is?” To get to the heart of that, I spent the entire past year looking inward, becoming more insular, more quizzical, more introspective. (And a LOT more narcissistic, as if I needed more of THAT.) I wrote a lot. I thought a lot. And I lost a lot. I found no answers. Only anxiety that, if I couldn’t be satisfied now, with what felt like everything (after spending a healthy amount of time with next to nothing), then I suppose I’d be doomed to live a life spent aimlessly wandering from place to place, person to person, thing to thing, looking for the “else,” or the “all.” If you’ve seen me in the past year, and seen the way I have visibly deteriorated, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt I didn’t find that “else” or “all.” I always had somewhere else to go, or somewhere else to visit in the recesses of my own brain. It led me into a lengthy all-consuming darkness, where it truly became impossible to find anything.

If I could offer any advice — and, this is hard-earned more from pushing myself to the limits of my sanity and health than from runaway success — it is this: Just keep showing up. Don’t drop off the face of the Earth or wander the ends of it looking for the “what else,” you likely won’t find it.

The truly great people — the ones who are happy and fulfilled and full of life — just go where they’re invited. They look outward. They see needs and fill them. They see people and laugh with them. They see problems and solve them. They show up. And they do it every damn day, only briefly considering their options, but knowing that NOT showing up isn’t going to be one of them.

If you stay in the same room, the same doors will open. If you walk through those doors into new rooms, new doors will open. This is how you get someplace. By walking through the doors that are open to you, and scanning the room for other interesting open doors, instead of relentlessly searching to keys for the ones that are locked. This may sound like it’s path of least resistance, but if you’ve ever heard anyone say “In the time it took you to look for the remote control you could’ve gotten up and changed the channel” you realize that’s not true. Show up. Go places. Don’t let the lack of an itinerary scare you into staying home. Sure, you may not do what you expect, or get what you came for, or catch your big break, but you’ll get the more out of life. Sometimes, even the basic, whitewashed version of yoga is enough to get the full benefits of the real, deeper thing. You can still question things, but if you begin skipping out on life to question it, you have already begun to die.

And so the answer to “Is this all that there is?” Is a simple yes. This is it. You can either make the best of it, or go out and search for something that can’t be found, something that only exists just outside of the realm of your reach, somewhere in the darkness, somewhere you probably don’t want to be. The ones who haven’t left you will meet you back here in the light. And they’ll be willing to open doors again for you, if you’re willing to walk through them.

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