The Pain Cave

Friday night I dropped in late to “The Experience” at Love Story Yoga because I’m trying to be more social and a bunch of my beloved sober homies had made plans to go, and also because I would pay to listen to Stephanie Snyder read the back of a cereal box, and definitely because I couldn’t handle the thought of yet another Friday night alone in my dark, empty, pup-less house (my ex gets him until Saturday morning, my roommates have more of a life than I). While it used to be pretty typical, it’s been a long time since I’ve spent a Friday night at a yoga studio.

I missed the first half of the event because work so I arrived just as the panel discussion began. Three people shared their stories of recovery—two from drug addiction, one from an eating disorder—and how finding yoga became the path that transformed their lives. It was incredibly moving, because anytime people share their guts like that, a window, or sometimes a whole door opens in the room, and all the peacocking and posturing that drives me insane about the yoga world (my annoyance isn’t about yoga, it’s about people who do yoga) dissipates and we enter into this sacred portal together and on the other side we arrive at the place that is, well, actual yoga.

After the talk, there was a Q&A, and I asked a question about forgiveness, and other people asked questions about yoga, and changing careers away from one you hate, and about managing cross-addiction, and then we closed with the briefest of meditations, and then we wrote ourselves a letter that the studio is supposedly going to send to us in the mail about a thing we want to shift or transform in our lives, something concrete that we could take on for real, so I wrote a few things and hugged all my people close and ate an apple.

As we closed out the night that turned out to be so much deeper and richer than I expected, I couldn’t help but cry, for all of us, for all of us in that room, all of us reaching, trying—to be better, to evolve, to change, and I felt our pain, I felt all of our pain, it hit me how much fucking pain we collectively are in most of the time, and it fucked me up a little, in the most exquisite, brutal way, and then I walked to get dessert with some of my sober dears and there are so many people living on the street, you guys, on that however many block radius between Division and 24th Streets, and I always feel a little disgusting having this elegant experience in a shiny yoga studio where we have the privilege to like, eat apples with fancy almond and cashew butter and crumbling, but organic! gluten-free scones while literally on the other side of the studio wall there are desolate motherfuckers trying to survive on the streets, but also, if I go too deep down that rabbit hole I won’t be able to get out of bed, but also I can’t look away, so there is this tension I don’t know what to do with, what to make of it.

What I do know: I know in my bones that had my life gone slightly differently, if there had been more significant trauma earlier on, or if I hadn’t found yoga, or certain friends, teachers, if if if, there is no doubt in my mind that I could have been one of those people. You know the kind, the people we turn away from, the unpredictable street folk with their wild eyes and desperate yearning that is so strong you can taste it, and the taste is of filth, or excrement, and their faces are all sores and scratches, and of course there is this revulsion, but also I know that they would not be there living on the sidewalk if not for a level of pain I would not wish on anyone, except maybe the Cheeto-in-Chief, if I’m honest, and so in addition to this continuum of wealth in San Francisco that makes me want to punch everyone who rides a bus to the peninsula to work (sorry y’all—I know not all of you are shitty) there is also this continuum of pain, there is so much damn pain, and I walk out of a yoga studio or my CrossFit gym all shiny and open and awake and I see that those of us with less pain, we who are doing what it takes to grow up and face our shit, we have to help folks who have more pain otherwise there is no amount of fucking sun salutations or meditations or pull-ups or crazy contortions or WHATEVER, none of it means anything at all if we do not do something with it.

What I’m saying is that there must be a reach not just down, but out. I could spend the rest of my life meditating in a cave, reflecting on my own weird shit, but if I don’t eventually leave the fucking cave and DO SOMETHING with what I’ve learned in there, I might as well not exist at all. I might as well be a cipher, a hologram, a spiritual-bypassing-navel-gazing wannabe. I’m single at 35 and I’m often embarrassed by the depth of my self-absorption, how much time and energy I spend processing every single last thought and fear and anxious feeling and emotion and so on. I don’t have kids. I don’t have the type of job where people depend on me for their livelihood. I have a dog but he’s the most low maintenance creature I’ve ever known. It’s time to get the fuck out of the cave.

Up to now I think I’ve stuck, like, a leg out of the cave. I scrape out my insides here on the blog, I keep writing even though it feels like dying. I share my story. I am doing everything I can to grow a sober community that is based on liberation rather than deprivation. I love my friends so much—I am a great friend.

Outside of the cave, there is of course the light of day. It’s harder to hide there, out in the open. It’s vulnerable. Risky. Less stable, predictable. And I’m not going to say something cliche like, “and it’s outside of the cave where the magic happens!” because, you know what? Even though every now and again it *does* feel like, fine, magic, most of the time the digging down is hard and painful and awkward and gross and forgive me for using my go-to metaphor yet again, itchy, as we learn to live inside skin (lives) that is (are) too tight. I don’t actually know if it’s “better” outside of the cave. Life won’t stop just because I feel the sun on my face. But I do know that once we’re out, we can’t go back in. And I have to believe we can create a world where more and more of us choose to leave the comfort of our caves so that we all can rise. That there is indeed a place where all of us get to feel the sun on our faces, not just those of us with time and money and privilege and access.

I love you all so, so much. This is strange and beautiful and awful and terrible and I see you, and you’re stunning.