For my entire life, I’ve been driven by success. I measured success by the number of eyes that were watching me, by the number of mouths who sang my praises, by the number of laurels I collected. This blind, obsessive drive for success ranks as one of the top silent torturers of my psyche. It didn’t matter how many people read my work – it was never enough. It didn’t matter how perfected my vocal technique was when I was a lyric baritone, I was always more aware of the microscopic flaw than my general improvement.
I spent my twenties in a state of self-loathing and ambition. I found myself relating deeply with the words of Salieri at the end of Amadeus: “mediocrities … I am their patron saint.” I had dysmorphia of my interior self – I could never see my skills, my successes, even as I was driven to obsessive perfectionism and success.
It was only after I gave up classical music and took up yoga that I experienced a profound shift. In fact, I can only describe what happened as a mystical experience.
I was in a yoga class, resting deep in a practice. I had gone deep – deep into the inner, quiet places. Out of nowhere, in this state of deep meditation, I experienced a blinding flash. It illuminated my entire mind. I don’t know where it came from, and I have no way to describe the experience itself: it filled up my entire being, filled me with a realization so huge I could barely contain it.
This was the word that filled my being, so fully as if I felt I was a going to burst with it, run over with it. It’s such a simple word – a small word. But in that moment, it became the size of the cosmos itself. It was no longer just a word, but a description of a reality.
The experience -for it was a full-being experience, and not simply a “realization” – that accompanied the word was this:
The mark of a good life – of a successful life – is not fame, money, or mastery, but how fully one realizes union. Union with God, union with the world, union with one’s own being. A good life, a successful life, a meaningful life is one in which we realize fully our union to all things. That is the measure of a life.
This realization has forever altered my life. I came out of that yoga class a different person.
I still get frustrated, angry, upset. I still wake up with the existential angst of a late twenty-something trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing. I’m still driven by mastery, and I still lust after success.
But now I remind myself, as often as I can, of the mystery that was revealed to me that one day on the yoga mat:
The key to my life is union with all things. That is what will make me happy. Nothing else will.