Almost 35 years ago, after graduating with a Master of Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, I became licensed to practice Professional Engineering. Today, as my license comes up for renewal, I notified the state professional licensing board that I am essentially retired from engineering; I will officially go on “inactive” status this month.
Why? Why retire from a highly-respected profession in an era when technically-skilled and analytically-minded people are in demand? Why move away from a profession in which I found intellectual-stimulation and achieved business-success?
For those of you who know me, you will understand that this “letting go” of my engineering identity has been happening for over 20 years, ever since about the time that I sat on top of a mountain in the Cascades with a National Outdoor Leadership School group and was asked to tell the group, “who am I?”.
It was around the time when my business partners looked at me with disinterest when I spoke about sustainability that these wheels started rolling. Momentum picked up when I moved to our current community here in Manchester, VT, 15 years ago, and design professionals looked at me blankly when I inquired about sustainable design opportunities. Sure, I found some like-minded professionals to work with in Brattleboro and Burlington, but the thrust of my work was always dictated by the wishes and priorities of the client, the person paying the bill. And then, especially here in Southern Vermont, the perceived completed-project-value provided by a structural engineers seemed to be discounted.
I found myself designing energy-efficient timber framed homes (and quietly designing sustainable-features into the houses I worked on), which was satisfying and creatively-stimulating. But, year after year, the houses got bigger and bigger, and less and less in line with my sustainable design interests. My builder and timber-framer clients were great to work for, and they afforded me the flexibility in my life to pursue multiple interests and maintain family-priorities, but their clients were demanding bigger and bigger houses which started pushing the limits of my personal capabilities and interests.
I realized that in order to influence the sustainable design priorities of the home-building public, I would better spend my time being part of a community that helped bring more and more awareness to the impact of the day-to-day choices we make, whether in construction projects or in how we interact with one another and with nature, in order to sustain life here on Earth. I remembered that my initial interests in pursuing “civil” engineering were motivated by aspirations to help people and communities. I saw new meaning in the business name that I had chosen when I started designing homes in Vermont 22 years ago, Gaia Structures. Gaia, Mother Earth, a concept that all living organisms on Earth are inter-related and will naturally affect the nature of their environment in order to make the environment more suitable for life.
And by cosmic design, I was introduced to yoga – a way of living wherein we “yolk” what we might previously have seen as separate (our bodies, our minds, our physical existence, our higher purpose in life) into daily practices of holistically living in the moment with full awareness, celebrating the joy of community and mutual-support… and making our environments more suitable, more fulfilling, for all of our lives.
So, teaching yoga for me is more than introducing asana practices, alignment, and individual-body modifications and healthy-living regimens. It’s about raising awareness, increasing ability to see truths more clearly, so that individually-motivated choices from a perspective of separateness turn into community-motivated choices from a perspective of interdependence and togetherness. It’s about inspiring choices that aren’t so much about building monuments to reward personal achievements often made at the expense of others, but more about building thriving communities which reward our abilities to make our lifestyles more sustaining and suitable for all of us.
From my perspective, yoga is entirely about living sustainably. Yoga is totally about Gaia, living in harmony with Mother Earth.
What I continually remind myself, as a yoga practitioner and as a teacher, is that positive change happens one relationship at a time, one moment at a time. If I re-member that all of life is indeed inter-connected, I will always know that each single thought, action, and word that comes from me, influences the world. And with practice, I might also be able to see more and more clearly how my day-to-day choices are indeed influenced by the world. But it is my responsibility to make wise choices. Yoga helps me see this higher perspective. Yoga helps me live with more awareness, more connectedness… and make wise choices.
Teaching yoga feels like the right way for me to influence the world, one class at a time, one person at a time… with a deep, heartfelt sense of humility towards the auspiciousness of the Universe and the Earth we inhabit. To me, this work is intellectually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually stimulating! For me, success is not so much about day-to-day accumulation of assets; it’s more about making day-to-day heartfelt connections with people and with nature, and maintaining a big-picture perspective of helping to make our communities more suitable for all of us.
The problem-solving engineer in me has not died. It has only moved towards the source of the problems we all face, and away from fears associated with feelings of personal separateness and attachment to personally-motivated goals for the future. It takes courage. It takes faith. It takes humility. And it takes work.
Yoga is now my vision and my practice. For me, so far, it has taken 22 years of practice to have the courage to finally let go of one perceived identity and to trust another. Of course, I am realizing that it was never really about my self-perceived identity; it was (and will be) always about realizing who I really am!
Who am I? That’s really the question…