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Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to realize that this too was a gift.” – Mary Oliver

Enrolling in yoga teacher training was a massive decision for me. In weak moments, a small voice in my head hinted that I was having delusions of grandeur to even think that I could become a teacher. Even after I was accepted, I worried that someone in authority would realize that I had no business being in the program – deeming me too new to yoga because I’d only practiced for three years or too inflexible because I still couldn’t (all the way) touch my toes or that I was too chicken because I was petrified of being upside down.

Yet enroll I did. Though it was a hefty burden for our household budget, my husband and I had decided it was yet another step in the direction of my “next thing” after leaving my corporate career for stay-at-home-motherhood. In fact, as a symbol of my commitment to my studies, we decided to pay in full for the year-long program.

Three short months later, the woman who owned the yoga studio decided to close her business. She announced in an email that she was unable to reimburse her students for tuition paid in advance and asked for our understanding and patience.

That note hit me hard on so many levels that I could barely breathe. In the nitty-gritty real world, my husband and I could barely afford the tuition we had paid, let alone a second tuition somewhere else. The studio owner’s choice left me truly without the option to pursue teacher training.

Emotionally and spiritually, it felt like being hit with a cosmic 2×4 upside the head. It was nearly impossible to ignore the notion that this was a sign from above that I had no business teaching this practice that I loved. It felt like a crystal clear message from God (the kind of message that God so rarely sends) that I had completely and totally misread my path.

I spent the next two months frozen in a kind of limbo. I was still going to classes, but something had shifted within me. My confidence was rocked. My dreams were squished. I felt like I had been sent back to “home” in the game of Life.

And then the phone rang. A woman who had been a teacher in the shuttered teacher training program had been thinking about me, the only student in the program who was interested in Ashtanga yoga. She wanted me to call her friend, who also practiced and taught Ashtanga yoga. She “just felt like we should know each other.”

Feeling wounded and leery of “overreaching” again, it took me a week or two to muster the courage to call. But despite the emphatic “No!” that my first attempt at becoming a teacher had met with, I couldn’t shake the sense that this was what I was meant to do.

So I called. And I met the teacher who would lovingly take me through teacher training one-on-one, the way it is traditionally (and now very rarely) done. She was profoundly generous with her time and asked very little of me financially, happy to take what I could give. To this day, she is one of the first people I call when I feel muddled and unclear.

Over years, our work together shifted into an important friendship. We have seen each other through marriage, babies, chronically ill children, happy moments and sad.  Our relationship also morphed into a partnership. Together we wrote both of the teacher training programs that I love to teach at my studio. Life without her would be sorely lacking

That cosmic 2×4 that whapped me all those years ago wasn’t saying “No!” to me at all. Instead it was setting up a rich, rewarding and irreplaceable relationship. It was a “yes” that felt in every single way like a “no.”

The point of this little story is that blessings come in many different kinds of wrapping paper.

The next time life seems to be telling you “no,” do what you’ve learned to do on your yoga mat. Take a breath (or a hundred breaths). Check in with how you’re feeling inside and out. Be gentle, but be ever so honest.

If this “gift” from life makes you feel afraid, take a loving look at that fear. Is it keeping you small or keeping you safe? If this “gift” leaves you filled with desire, take a loving look at that desire. Is it coming from a place of soulful yearning or a place greed? If it makes you feel sad or happy or anxious or hesitant or proud or ashamed or … just look. Without judgment, with compassion and tenderness, look.

You may have to look long and hard. You may have to keep looking with the hindsight born of months and years. But as you look, you will discover that, no matter how ugly the wrapping paper, your most recent cosmic “gift” is indeed a blessing.

No matter your faith or sense of spirituality, you can trust the words of St. John: “God is light. In him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)