The Bullshit of Wisdom
Once upon a time, in a zip code not too far away, in a bizarro alternate reality, there was a version of the Ümabomber who dropped badass spiritual wisdom on people for work. Part social psychology studier, part boot camp ass kicker, and part stand-up comedy act, I donned my wizard robes (actually, brightly colored stretchy pants) and gave inspiring and humorous lectures and lessons full of insights gleaned from many trips around the solar system. I also kicked major butt in the workout department.
I attracted kindred spirits: graduates from the School of Hard Knocks. Underdogs. And really, really smart people who wanted nothing to do with wispy feel-good new ageisms. As a yoga teacher, I was nurturing in a tough love way, grounded, serious, but playful as well. I held people’s feet to the fire. Yoga—at least the way I understood it—and had learned it from master teachers was a tool for self-knowledge. Sure, there were the physical benefits—strong core, flexible limbs—but the real benefit for me was more psychological than anything else. On the whole it is a practice of self-mastery.
As soon as yoga became mainstream, it jumped the shark. It was no longer a discipline, now it was A LIFESTYLE, complete with overpriced, proper apparel, extreme dietary restrictions, and smug, self-righteous pop culture vocabulary. And Lord Shiva help you if you didn’t selfie your handstands all over Instagram.
The shark jumping just happened to occur right around that time that a movie called “The Secret” came out. Coincidence? Methinks not.
As soon as The Secret started circulating, there was a massive shift in the entire culture of yoga. For years I had been teaching at a very high level—I don’t mean trick poses. I mean life-changing, mind-blowing paradigm shift shit. I was renowned for my direct, no-nonsense, assertive style. It wasn’t for everyone. It was physically and mentally challenging. If you wanted someone to stroke your hair and hold your hand and tell you fluffy feel-good affirmations, I wasn’t the teacher for you. But if you wanted someone who would hold the space for you to get really real with yourself in a grounded, supportive way, and get some great physical therapy at the same time, The Ümabomber was your girl.
Once the shark was jumped I was expected to speak in weird, passive language using soft, feathery words. Words like juicy, blossom, shine. These words were to be delivered in hushed tones, breathy whispers with extremely dramatic sibilance. I was to be more “suggestive” instead of directive. And rather than educating people by dropping knowledge bombs them I was now supposed to just make them feel good. I was—in fact—not just supposed to TASTE the rainbow, I was supposed to BE the rainbow.
What I mean is, it was now required to BE POSITIVE at all times and in all ways.
Dog just died? BE POSITIVE! Boyfriend dumped you? BE positive! Cancer diagnosis? BE POSITIVE! Filing bankruptcy? Be POSITIVE! Lost your job? Be positive! Cancer diagnosis, job loss, bankruptcy, and dead dog all in the same week? Be SUPER posi! And my what crappy karma you have! You should chant OM to your chakras to realign them, try this juice fast I’m starving myself with and for fuck sake SMILE.
This surge in positive thinking using the Law of Attraction looks very bright on the outside, but there’s a dark underbelly to it all. Denying others—or even ourselves— the right to feel sad, lonely, unhappy or scared isn’t enlightened, or generous, or kind—all qualities the practice of yoga is supposed to engender. In fact, denying others’ feelings and insisting on bright, positive energy all the time is one of the worst kinds of self-righteousness, steeped in delusion and arrogance.
Manson cites multiple studies that debunk the whole “Law of Attraction” theory and explain why it seems to work.
“This is kind of my theory for why this strain of thought has persisted across generations; it’s a psychological pyramid scheme of sorts. You take one person who decides to ignore reality in favor of feeling good all the time. This sort of self-absorption then turns off anybody who is content and rational, and instead attracts the most desperate and gullible. This person, delusionally positive to the brim, then ironically attracts and surrounds themselves with other delusionally positive followers. Years later, one of these delusionally positive followers then decides to “manifest” their dreams by spreading the law of attraction further to other desperate well-wishers. The chain of positivity carries on this way through the generations, where each author, blogger or seminar leader who speaks ardently of manifesting one’s purpose, or believing oneself to happiness and bliss, or listening to The Universe, generates a new population of delusionally positive followers who then go on and do the same thing all over again.”
What Manson describes is exactly what I observed in the field of yoga. It began to feel like some kind of weird, feel-good self-help cult, than the disciplined, reality-based practice I had learned many years ago. The insistence on pathological positive thinking began to make me feel like I was part of some fundamentalist religion than a tool for self-discovery.
Sure, sure…there are many great teachers of yoga who are true the original intent, purpose, and practice of yoga. I’ve trained with some of the best. But for myself, yoga—the thing I once credited with saving my life—was now a straightjacket of conformity, neurosis and ruin. And yeah, I was angry…I had practiced my own version of this delusional thinking; I spent my life savings filling in the meager income I received as a yoga teacher so I could keep doing what I loved. I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention to what I needed, I was focusing on what felt good. Guess what? It didn’t work.
After teaching for 15 years, setting down the torch I’d carried was akin to a divorce or worse. It was an excruciating process that took years to complete. Ironically, one of yoga’s central teachings is about not identifying with concepts and ideas, but I’ll admit it—I was deeply attached to my identity to being a yoga teacher, a guide, and a healer. Over the years I’d taught thousands of students, helped them become kinder, more loving, stronger versions of themselves, while I became the most stressed-out, broke, neurotic person in the yoga studio.
I felt as though I was attending my own funeral in some ways, day after day—a sort of morbid Groundhog Day. Worst of all were the feelings of isolation, fear and loneliness that came when my former peers sat in judgment of me. Granted most of my critics were exactly the uber posi-tribe Manson points out, above. They insisted I just needed to change my attitude, ask the universe, BE POSITIVE, and The Universe would provide…namaste.
Instead, I quit.
It was one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done. It forced me to get serious about my writing work, which I had a great deal of insecurity and fear around. It forced me to take chances, to risk real growth and change. And it forced me to reclaim yoga as the word I use to describe my own relationship with life.
Many of my former peers and probably not a few students would read this and label me a hater, and they’d be right. I hate ignorance and willful disregard of common sense. But I have never advocated building an altar to pain and suffering (unlike certain schools of yoga). Still, I would rather have the richness of experience that comes with allowing myself my pain—as well as my pleasure—than to reject anything but a sort of false happiness.
“My teachings are easy to understand and easy to put into practice. Yet your intellect will never grasp them, and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail. My teachings are older than the world. How can you grasp their meaning? If you want to know me, look inside your heart.”
—LAO TZU, TAO TE CHING
From the ashes, the Phoenix. The Ümabomber is nothing if not scrappy and resilient. I am still purpose driven. Still realism based. And still passionate that survival is not enough. Existence is not enough. We are here to live meaningful, happy lives. Those lives must contain sorrow, nervousness, pain and other “dark” emotions. Without them life has no depth, no resilience, and no growth. Even the most esoteric spiritual traditions nod toward the “wisdom” of the natural world; contrasting energies are the pulse of reality. That’s not woowoo magic. That’s science, baby.
I am still a “believer” in yoga. Or—it would be more accurate to say I’m a fan of yoga. I don’t really believe anything I can’t experience directly. But real yoga doesn’t require belief. It requires doing. It requires honesty. And it requires broad-mindedness not empty-headedness.
People constantly ask me if I still “do yoga” now that I don’t teach much. I tell them I do, but it’s not what you think of as yoga.
The open road and singletrack trail are my yoga. Learning to dirt jump at the pump track—this is my yoga. Writing every damn day in a variety of mediums and forms—both for money and for love—is my yoga. I still teach yoga, but the medium is different. This blog is my teaching platform. I’ll come out of retirement now and then to show bikers how to fix their janky hips and strengthen their core. I’ve even got another BikeYoga book coming out soon. And like Lao Tzu, my teaching is easy to understand and easy to put into practice…
Life is short. Don’t count the moments, make the moments count.
I know that those who worship in Church of Bike don’t need preachin’. We need more saddle time. More time spinning circles outside. More getting up to go down. More brappin’ and less yappin’.
In other words if riding your bike is the place you feel most alive, RIDE MORE.
Don’t wanna pick up what I’m throwing down? Try this bullshit…and SMILE.
Need some knowledge dropped on you? Email The Ümabomber your burning questions about bikes, business, boys, girls, riding, life, love, and the pursuit of pedal-powered pleasure. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I definitely know how squeeze the crap out of the questions and make them give up their secrets.