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friendTwenty years ago, I made a friend. I was sitting in the back row of a darkened auditorium listening to a speaker at a publishing conference in Manhattan when it happened. The woman with the awesome head of curly hair sitting a few seats away leaned over and made a hilarious comment about something the speaker said. Or maybe I did that. It doesn’t matter. We both burst into disruptive laughter and, in that moment, I knew I liked her. A lot.

One equally hilarious double-dinner-date with our respective significant others later, and the deal was sealed. We were absolutely going to be friends. And we have been – through career changes, weddings, babies, deaths and many, many moves. Our friendship even managed to survive a sad period when we fell out of touch. (Thank goodness for social media’s power to reconnect lost loved ones.) Bottom line?  This friendship is the real deal. I like to think we at least suspected it’s potential in that auditorium.

So what’s that all about? What is it in us that draws someone else to us so magnetically? Why are some laughs with a stranger fleeting moments that we quickly forget, but others result in an exchange of business cards and quick plans to meet up for dinner?

Friendship like this is beautiful, powerful evidence that we’re more than what we look like and what we do and what we say. We feel so real with these people that what we look like, do and say feel like labels on the surface of what’s really going on. That auditorium was filled with people I could have (and probably did) speak with. But only one became my friend. There’s something sparkling within each of us – sometimes hiding under a pile of labels – that makes us who we are. And some people in the world are better able to sense and see that sparkle. Not only that, when we’re with those people, our sparkle gets bigger and brighter — and so does theirs.

And that’s exactly what happened in that first easy laugh – my friend and I felt, at a surprisingly deep level, that this was someone with whom we could be authentically real, with whom it was safe to be exactly who we were, with whom there was no need for masks or pretense or illusion. Sadly, this is a rare thing in this world. Often, we don’t even realize how much we hide. We’re oblivious to how often we pretend to be someone or something that we’re not. Sadly, this happens so much and goes on for so long, that we become more connected with our masks than we are with the real essence of who we are. Sometimes, we even lose touch entirely with who we are.

As we practice yoga, we discover how many masks we hide behind in life. It starts out, as yoga often does, with the physical. “I’m tight.” “I’m a clutz.” “I love to balance.” “I’m scared to be upside down.” Each time we unroll out mats, however, is a chance to tear away one of our self-applied labels. Suddenly we’re touching the floor in a forward bend and realize that we’re no longer “tight.” One day, we manage to stay upright in Tree Pose and realize that we may not  be so “clutzy” after all. There will be times when our favorite postures become our least favorites (it happens, trust me), and, out of the blue, we fall in love with our least favorites. When this happens enough, we see how changeable our preferences are and stop relying on them to describe who we are.

As happens with most realizations that we have on our yoga mats, it doesn’t take long until we’re noticing them off our mats and in our lives. “I am a yoga teacher.” “I am a mother.” “I like to write.” “I don’t like crowds.” On an on the list goes. And while each of these things is true and hints at aspects of who I am, none fully describe me. More importantly, they are not me. In fact, with steady practice, just as the labels we apply to ourselves on our mats frequently cease to fit, the labels off out mats can begin to pinch and squeeze. We begin to sense that maybe we’re hiding behind them and maybe we can outgrow them. Over time, our yoga practice helps us shed these labels and discover the joyful freedom of just being ourselves – changeable, vibrant and always growing.

As we do this, something wonderful (almost miraculous) happens. We befriend ourselves. We begin to sense our own sparkle deep within. As happens when we’re with a true friend, our light begins to shine brighter and more publically. Of course, we may lose touch with this dear friend every once in a while. That just seems to be part of the human experience. But, because this is the truest of friendships, we can be confident that we will be able to pick right where we left off when we reconnect – as my dear friend and I were able to do when we fell out of touch.

When we do reunite, just like with true friends, the joyful comfort and ease of being exactly who we are with someone who is being equally real with us, is beyond compare.