What a beautiful thing is to find clarity, especially coming out of darkness…
Today, I am happy. The promise of spring pierces through a long winter and warms me as I sit to write this in my favorite West Village cafe. It’s been one week since having produced the third annual Big Love Weekend, and for the first time, I feel like I’m landing safely on the other side.
What a great feeling, to find your purpose in life, your calling, and wham bam, you’re living your dream life! That has not always been my story…
It’s funny how the various manifestations of our individual stories through social media, the choices we make regarding how others are permitted to see our lives unfolding through pretty pictures and clever posts, can differ so vastly from the reality of a situation. Yes, I lived at an ashram where I learned to teach yoga and have since developed my devotion to practicing Karma Yoga — selfless service — and yes, being in community through love and service is my calling in life and a source of true happiness. But, throughout the story I was telling the world, one integral element had been missing all along, one key ingredient omitted: I’d neglected to develop a real sense of self-love, self-worth, and true self-care. That realization has only been the beginning of what I’m sure will be a lifelong challenge. The journey that has brought me to this delicate and hard-earned place of inner peace has been wrought with countless ups and downs. It has taken me to the peaks and recesses of both light and darkness. I’ve felt integrated and connected to myself, and as far away from my core as one can get.
But the more I learn to trust the process and allow myself to be vulnerable, to accept myself exactly as I am in this moment, to ask for help when I need it, and to fearlessly share the authentic version of my story, the human one complete with its blemishes — the closer I get to living my purpose and embodying my truth.
The latest chapter of my story starts in 2011, when I was diagnosed with HIV. I was in recovery from drug addiction at a rehabilitation facility when the diagnosis was pronounced, and I couldn’t have imagined feeling weaker or more compromised than I did in that moment. What that moment served to do, however, was to humble me beyond recognition, allowing me to occupy a place of genuine release and to dismantle my notions regarding my identity up until that point. I released my preconceptions about yoga. The practice of yoga as a series of asanas were slowly replaced with the deeper, more spiritual substance within it, the art of letting go and of accepting.
When I returned to New York City, I’d been irreversibly changed. Riding the train down from Canada was a pivotal experience, terrorized by the notion of facing off with my old life. I was “supposed” to have gone on to open a yoga studio in San Francisco, not fallen prey to something as crude and ugly as drug addiction, let alone become dirtied by such a disease. That wasn’t the blueprint.
I had trouble reconciling my version of my story with what I was faced with at that moment: my self-image as a penniless failure without a plan.
I reiterated what I’d heard myself say out loud days earlier upon receiving my diagnosis: ‘I have to learn how to love myself.’ In our moments of greatest need, it seems as if we are opened to receive and channel the greatest wisdom. How does one learn to love ones self, when he’s never really understood his worth or even felt lovable?
What I was unaware of at the time was that my healing would come in the form of answering those questions head on, and facing my biggest fears in the process. Instead of presenting as the yogi and the healer, I was the new, modified version, what my good friend, mentor, and supporter called the “Wounded Healer.” In revealing my darkness and my weakness to those who knew me, and in shining a light on my wounds, I allowed myself liberation through honesty and humility. Through the stages of addressing my addiction, an ever-present and ongoing process, I’d experienced the meaning of true vulnerability and dependence on others. I’d learned the power of connection to community, and witnessed the opening of my own heart through the opening of the hearts and homes of others to me during a time of great need. When I reached out without shame, I was received without hesitation and cared for. I began to heal.
That healing birthed desire, a fervent desire to give back and honor those who’d helped me without judgment and allowed me to preserve my dignity.
I teamed up with my favorite organization, God’s Love We Deliver, an entity that has become a cornerstone for over thirty years worth of delivering food to those too debilitated to shop of cook for themselves — people with MS, HIV/AIDS, Cancer. GLWD, nourishes the body, mind and soul through sheer connection — delivering love. Together we created a movement, small at first, which has continued to gather a momentum of its own and attract a growing community of beautiful souls who are willing to take their practice off the mat and into their daily lives. People who are willing to live their yoga.
For one weekend each year, over 200 folks come together to share our practice, our stories and our hearts. In the process, we’ve gone from generating $5K for God’s Love in the event’s first incarnation, to raising over $60K the last weekend of February 2015. Each year that Big Love Weekend unfolds in all its poignancy, I am reminded of the meaning of what it is to love. In order to show up for others, I need to show up for myself first. In order to teach Karma Yoga, I need to serve my own highest good, for we are all unavoidably interconnected. Whether I am teaching yoga in my studio or preparing meals in the God’s Love kitchen, I am sharing myself and my story, and the more real I can be, the more I can be of real benefit.
It’s a day at a time. It’s practice. It’s honesty. It’s showing up.
Learn more at Jase Cannon (formerly The Bearded Yogi)
You may also enjoy Pilgrimage of Divine Love by Jason Patrick