In March, Tatum Fjerstad is embarking on a 3-month journey around the U.S. to teach people to use writing and meditation as a healing process. On the way, she will be sharing stories of triumph, loss, joy, and growth from Actual Humans of Yoga. Or, as we like to call it: #AHOY! Help Tatum along her journey or email her to share your story.
I met Rachel during my 200-hour yoga teacher training in 2011. She studied the Jivamukti method, and can make some of the best vegan foods and beverages I’ve ever laid on my taste buds. She is also the human to a fluffy cat named Mr. Princess. Perhaps more importantly: Rachel is not a love and light yogi. She’s a tough girl with a real view of the world and she gets angry. She doesn’t hide from her anger. She rolls it around in her palm and talks about it with people she trusts. And, if you’re ever having a bad day, Rachel is the best girl to call. Her empathy game is on point.
Rachel spent much of her early 20s living the life of a passionate activist. She was one of those especially smart kids who saw all the reality and pain in the world around her. The education system of her youth didn’t give her the tools she needed to process all this awareness. So, understandably, she was particularly angry most of the time.
“For a long time, I thought I wasn’t allowed to be happy because there was so much darkness in the world. I thought I was going to have to make the world better before I was allowed to be happy,” she said.
At age 21, she went to Beej Vidyapeeth to study with Vandana Shiva, a global leader in ecofeminism, a former rocket scientist, and one of her heroes. At the end of her training, she sat down to drink chai at Cafe Nirvana in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama has his government in exile.
She held her tea and found herself, once again, steeped in her own anger.
“I was upset. I don’t remember why, but it wasn’t an uncommon feeling.”
She looked out the high second story window and on the street below she saw something that changed her:
An old monk who looked to be in his 70s walked by, holding hands with a young monk, not more than seven years old. She noticed the old monk was missing several fingers on both hands.
Just then, the old monk threw his head back and let out a joyous laugh that finished with an overwhelmingly radiant smile.
“I was completely taken aback,” Rachel said. “How could this man be so happy? He’d had so much taken from him. He had no fingers. He’d probably had to walk from Tibet, over the Himalayan Mountains to flee the Chinese government. Many of the monks who made that journey died. He lost his friends. His monastery was probably burned down.”
She realized, in that moment, that though her anger was justified, she could still give herself the permission to be happy when she wanted to be. And while she still gets angry, she also laughs from the deepest parts of her belly.
Anger is not an emotion to be pummeled into submission. Happiness is not the end goal. Anger can be useful. It shows us our darkness and where we can invite in forgiveness and perhaps ultimately release. But don’t fret, you’ll get angry again. And that’s OK. Chasing after one emotion while numbing another takes a lot of energy.
There is no pot of gold waiting for you if you’re less angry or happier that anyone else. Life comes to us on a broad spectrum that is meant to be experienced fully.
So give yourself the permission and space to experience all that you are capable of—anger, joy, sadness, joy, fear, love—just for the sake of it.
Tatum Fjerstad is professional napper who can’t handle that Justin Timberlake loves another woman. When she’s not imagining what her life would be like with JT, she is mostly a human being teaching other human beings how to be okay with being human. She does this through movement, meditation, and writing. Tatum is here to be helpful, honest, and make you laugh, obvi. To learn more about how she does this, follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and at tatumfjerstad.com.