(or) Before You Yell Hypocrite, Check the Projector
“That’s the thing about a human life—there’s no control group, no way to ever know how any of us would have turned out if any variables had been changed.”
—Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
No way. Couldn’t be her. I couldn’t see her face, but from the back, the short brunette had the identical haircut as Claire. She was clearly annoyed, as would be expected from a mere mortal as the line at the post office slowed to a crawl. It only got worse when one of the two tellers, expanding queue be damned, closed her window and headed for lunch.
How did I know the fidgeting, exasperated woman wasn’t my friend Claire? Because Claire is one of the most amazing yoga teachers on the planet. She not only speaks of gratitude, love and acceptance but she’s the living embodiment of it. Even when I don’t feel like doing yoga, I’ll often take her class just to get a dose of her inspiring vibe.
Finally, the brunette made it to the teller and as she headed to the door, I saw that it was, in fact, Claire. She gave me one of her delightful hugs and when I asked how she was doing, she said, “I need a yoga class after that line.”
This reminded me of another yoga teacher who I had breakfast with after one of her classes. When her order didn’t arrive, she not so delicately stormed to the kitchen and demanded to know what was taking so long. I told my friend James this story and he said, “Everyone has a yoga teacher story, most of them involve road rage.”
I find it interesting that if we see someone go ballistic after an anger management class, our natural reaction is, “Well it’s a good thing he’s in class.” But if we see a yoga teacher or a spiritual practitioner lose it, we’re inclined to cry “hypocrite!” What we fail to look at is how said teacher/practitioner would have acted without their practice. For all we know, without yoga, the irritated Claire might have been the batshitcrazy Claire. And rather than jonesing for a yoga class, she may have been jonesing for a shot of heroin.
So why is it so typical to judge spiritual teachers? For one, it’s a test. We want to know if what they’re teaching works and judging their behavior seems like the best way to do it. We also may do it to give ourselves an out. See; it obviously isn’t working for her, so why bother. And yet another reason is one that I’ve been focusing on a lot these days—we are simply projecting. When we ourselves act hypocritically, we tend to be quick to call others out for what we perceive as hypocrisy. Yet is it really hypocritical for a yoga teacher to be impatient? Is it hypocritical for a meditation teacher to smoke two packs a day? And is it hypocritical for a health writer/advocate like myself to occasionally eat ice cream right from the container at two in the morning?
I prefer to use another word that starts with an H: human.
I just returned from Koh Samui, my former home, where my friends are mostly yoga teacher and spiritual practitioners. They do incredible work at Spa Samui and have been instrumental in the healing and happiness of thousands of people, yet none of them would be accused of resembling the Dalai Lama (big hitter). To discount their imperfections as hypocrisy or as evidence that what they do isn’t effective would be short-sighted. Had I done so, I would have missed out on some of the most transforming experiences of my life.
The first book I read on health was Andrew Weil’s 8 Weeks to Optimum Health in 1997. Twelve years later, he spoke at my school, The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and I was surprised to see that he looked overweight. So does that mean I should stop eating organic produce, having news fasts, and taking steam baths because Weil, 67 at the time of his speech, didn’t look like Charles Atlas?
More important, is it absolutely true (who loves you Byron Katie?) to say these techniques are not working for Weil? How do I know if he practices what he preaches? What do I know about his genetic make-up or his lifestyle? And going back to Elizabeth Gilbert’s quote, how could I possibly know what he would look like if he didn’t employ these techniques?
Most of us teach what we need to learn. That’s why when I find myself quick to judge, I recognize it as a projection of my own self-judgment. At that point, I remind myself that imperfection makes us human and it’s my choice to love myself, and in turn love others, in spite of those imperfections. Even the painfully inefficient U.S. Postal Service, I choose to thank for inspiring this column. I love you too!