I met you in 2008, you were on the assisting team, in what was absolutely a dream-team lineup, You, Kinndli, Lisa Taylor, Mark White, Dave Farmar, Johnna Smith, and Dylan Ayaloo. Woah.
I dont remember the exact moment I met you in that 8-day training. But I remember what it felt like. You equal parts scared the crap out of me, and intrigued me…and in the history of my life whenever I feel that way, the outcome is going to be outstanding.
The part that scared the crap out of me was that I had quite simply never met anyone like you. The people in my life do big things. Period. So I am used to looking around me in awe, often times engaging giant groups of people into the “slow clap” (go to min 1:40) (slow clap that builds up from bum bum bum-bum-bum-bah-bah-bah-bah!!!!!) to celebrate successes. But dang. You sure took that to the next level. Even the slow clap couldnt do justice what you have leaped into life to do….oh no, I think the only thing close might be an airplane that flys across the world with a banner that reads “holy shit. Paige Elenson.” Just that. 4 words.
When I met you, Africa Yoga Project (AYP) had been your baby child for just about 1-year. But it was already one of those things filled with so much magic, it had far surpassed the question of “will this work”? To “how big?” it’s the forward-movement momentum, your relentless decision to say yes, and the intuition and heart to understand what truly affects a community. The AYP tag of “lead the change” began with you beating that drum, LOUD, and while others may have become immobilized by the hurdles, boundaries not just in an ocean, but between tribes, location, teachers, funding, etc…you just kept moving. You just kept saying yes. And today? Over 4,000 people participate in more than 200 community yoga classes weekly in 80 locations. Over 40-teachers, trained by Baptiste, receive a living wage and teach across Eastern Africa. These teachers are mentored by fellow-teachers in the US and beyond over monthly Skype sessions and eyes are opening.
If you had decided that the risk was too great, that you would not move from your life of comfort and predictability in NYC, that you would not ask the questions in the first place…but you did not. You asked that very first question, “could I” and now continue to ask questions…with a global audience now that is contributing to finding the answers. Amazing. What you do is live your life so that others have the courage to ask big questions.
You stood before our Level 1 group 4 years ago, and you shared with us about who you are, and what your stand in life was. The whole time you were presenting I was all over the place, squirming around in my seat, palms sweating, picturing in my head how I was going to talk to you that day and proudly announce that I should come to Africa! (I’d been working up the courage all week) In my head I pictured this as this big epic talk, that would end in some slow motion hug, at least 4 high-fives, and you so freaking excited that certainly, I was going to help you take this to the next level.
Here’s how the conversation actually went.
L- Hi Paige!! I’m Lyndsey!!!!!!!!!!!!
P- smiles big, eyes twinkle, yes, I know, I’ve been with you all week.
L- right, right. um listen, anyway, um, well, what I want to say is, I do a lot of work here in the states, I’ve um, I used to work in a non-profit with at-risk youth, and uh-um, it was really awesome, and well now-I’m selling pharmaceuticals-ha-ha (nervous laugh)-oh wow, look at the time, but at any rate–I just LOOOOOOOVEEE what you are doing–and I think that I have a lot to offer–and so maybe–I mean–could you maybe–um.
P- (looking on patiently)
L- come to AFRICA to volunteer!!!!!
P- (puts supportive hand on my shoulder, and if you had an inhaler for the asthma attack I was giving myself, you certainly would have given me that too).
P- Thank you so much for coming over to talk with me. (and here’s where I get a little fuzzy on the details cause I blacked out a little bit : ) I’ve loved seeing you experience this week, it’s a lot to take in your first level 1 training…
–(note level 1 training is definitely a training en route to become a yoga teacher, but in this training you realize that saying downward dog is about 1% of what being a teacher is. Its far more about who you are being in your life and how you show up in said life. In other words. Do it. Its incredible).
P- but what I’ve noticed about you in your generous sharing is I think you need to get clearer around where you serve from. There’s a big difference between empathy and sympathy, and I think you need to ask yourself who are you to judge anyone? I think judgement comes up for you a lot.
L- (at this point I realize that the high-five-slow-mo-hugging-is not going to happen, and I also lost the ability to move my feet, and or speak english)
P- makes small talk, and smiles, and tries to coax me back to earth, realizing I think that this conversation did not go how I thought it was going to go, scoops me in and gives me a big beautiful hug (in a way that only Paige can hug) and says she looks forward to seeing what I create in the future, that she believes I’m onto something.
This happened on the final day of my training, but I spent that day, and honestly years after creating this story around the conversation. Here were my conclusions. “I suck.” “I’m not good enough.” “I judge everybody” “I should have never said anything and went tanning on the break instead. ”
Cut to 2-years later when I arrive to my second Level 1 training in 2010. I applied to go to this training approximately 14 days before it was starting, and got into the training and assisting program for L 1 graduates. And guess who was leading the assisting program? You. Oh you.
I had no idea you were going to be at this training, and when I looked over and saw you I thought “uh-oh.” but you, in the way that you do, walk right over to me, give me a famous hug, and say, “Its been so nice keeping in touch with you over facebook, it looks like you are up to some really cool things” What an amazing week that was. You shared generously that week of your own experiences of time of feeling not good enough, and of the times in which you wanted to give up. Our group of 11, really dug deep into our own lives that week, and learned that assisting powerfully was so much less about this hand there, this foot there, and more about how grounded are you in your own body and in your own intentions. Amazing. At the end of that training you smiled warmly at our small group and opened the invitation for each of us to come to Kenya to volunteer as ambassadors.
So now we are 2-years later. And my plan of coming to Kenya with AYP as a volunteer has now turned into a 6-month “job.” One of your biggest Yes’s in Kenya was to falling in love, to an absolutely beautiful man, and in the truest form of alignment of love…there is soon to be a mini. When I got your email several months ago in February about this possibility, I was standing in my backroom at lulu, and it was a moment I will never ever forget, because that feeling of someone believing in you is not something you ever forget. We talked that week over skype, and I recalled our conversation from 2008 to you and asked you if you remembered it. You said that you did, and then I could actually hear you smiling on the other end and you said loudly “you are ready now, and that’s all you need to know.” Little did I know that I had secret agents working on my behalf in Kenya…Luca : )
I have learned so much about leadership from you in these past few months of prep. What I have learned most of all is, believe in people. You have this beautiful way of saying very little. And when you do speak its precise, and honest, and meaningful. And though you do not communicate in the sense that you will tell me “i believe in your more than anything, and you can do anything you put your mind to” you show me. Words are idle and meaningless if you do not have action to back them up, and to date, this is the greatest lesson you have taught me. Your generosity in creating space for me to come and do the very best I can has created a fire in me to see where in my life I can do that for others. Where in my life am I holding on for the sake of holding on…and if I let other people in, how could it be even more beautiful. With so few words, you have taught me this.
At any rate, I want you to know that I have no idea what the hell I’m doing, but I am beyond determined to never give up. I am deeply inspired to laugh every single day. To dance with my new friends. To take what is already beautiful, and create it even more so. You have extended an opportunity to me that I know has changed the current of the whole rest of my life. But then, that’s just what you do.
I cant help but to think of you when I recall one of my favorite quotes “when you teach one person. you teach two.”
You’re right, I AM ready now. And my pledge to you and AYP is to create this awakening in as many lives as I possibly can.
Thank you for you. You are extraordinary.
with love and gratitude- Lyndsey