As the year winds down and the holidays end, I find it striking that this wholesome season is a time of year where we encourage lies amongst our closest relationships. In fact, if someone isn’t deceiving you, it means you’re not that close.
What ever could I be talking about?
Well it’s the time of year where parents deceive their children into believing a large man can not only fit down the chimney, but that he’s doing it to eat cookies and leave presents.
It’s a time where lying to your spouse about where you were today isn’t frowned upon, cause you were at the store getting them a gift.
It’s a time of year where we brag about the lies we told and the items we hid, and get social encouragement for it.
So why all the deception? Oddly, it is through the lies that we try to create magic. The magic of Santa Claus, the magic of a surprise gift, the magic of the unexpected.
It’s interesting that professional magicians are merely skilled deceivers. As they have no true magical powers, it is through the manipulation of people’s perception that the magical effect is created.
And the same with the magic created by actors, both on stage and in film, who convince us that they are somebody they aren’t, and thereby take us into a magical experience of perceiving the world differently, from a new perspective.
Both the magician and the actor have one thing in common – their deception is approved and accepted by us, the ones being deceived. That is why we don’t call them professional liars, even if they deal in untruths.
So is the same for the holidays, where sneaking off to buy something with money we surreptitiously acquired, and then hiding our new acquisition from our significant other, is praised because it’s a Christmas gift, rather than shunned because it’s a drug habit.
A History of Lying
I grew up as a very poor liar. If I was supposed to keep a secret, I’d blurt it out as soon as the faintest pressure arose to reveal it. I couldn’t make up a story for the life of me, so I’d just stay silent if I really needed to keep info from someone.
One time in 7th grade, I cursed out the teacher and was taken to the principal’s office. I had my reasons, but didn’t think the principal would understand the truth, and I didn’t know how to make up a lie that would help me out. So I refused to talk as I sat across from him at his desk, him leaning over and getting more and more angry with every unanswered question, every response of mine just still lips and glaring eyes.
He eventually pulled out a piece of paper, threw it on the table with a pen and left the room, telling me over his shoulder that I needed to write down my explanation of what had happened. After he shut the door, I ripped the paper up and threw it in the trash can.
He came back into the room about 10 minutes later, and when he saw the paper was missing he became irate, his mind quickly assuming that I must have eaten the paper, and I heard him exasperatedly telling his secretary “he ate the damn paper, what’s wrong with this kid?” as he left the room.
While my deception skills were poor I simultaneously dreamed of becoming skilled at professions that required top notch deception. I was always drawn to movies about amazing poker players who could read every tell and control all of their own leaks, like Maverick, or to magicians who could convince everyone of their magic powers, like David Blaine. But as a child trying to learn to be like those heroes, I always failed.
It was in my twenties when I finally learned about deception, after I decided to transition from online poker (where body language played no role) to live poker (where body language can be a huge part of the game).
I went to the expert on the subject, psychologist Paul Ekman, and began to consume his books and online courses. I remember he said that once we learned what he was teaching, the way we saw the world would change, because we would now be seeing people’s true feelings, and we wouldn’t be able to unsee it.
It took many hours of practice, but eventually what he said came true. While before I could only see the story people were intentionally presenting to me, I could now see the story underneath which they were trying to keep hidden.
But more than seeing the deception of others, I began to see the deceptions I was doing to myself. As I began to learn the physiology behind each emotion, and train my ability to be aware of the changes in body language connected to them, I began to catch myself in lies to myself.
I’d tell myself everything is fine, but my arms hugging my chest and the roiling in my belly revealed the anxiety that was eating me from within. This new awareness was simultaneously liberating and terrifying, and the story I’d created to make myself feel confident fell apart as I realized what was really going on inside.
Let’s just say, it was a rough time but all for my greater good. It was the beginning of my spiritual awakening, masquerading as a nervous breakdown.
The breakdown is over now but the process of increasing awareness and shedding my self deceptions continues to this day.
Learning about body language and deception meant learning about psychology, and when I decided to stop playing poker for a living it felt right to finally go to college for real (I’d been in and out many times, but that’s another story) and this time, to get a degree in psychology.
It was during that phase of my life that I had the privilege to learn to think like a scientist, and then apply that to a spiritual journey. In many ways, learning to read my own body language was a key step that led me on the path to create Innovative Yogis and do the work I do today.
So, as the year ends and we’re in the spirit of deception, I want to encourage you to check in on the ways you’re deceiving yourself:
- What is not ok in your life that you’re pretending like it is ok?
- What isn’t working that you’re continuing to do just because you really want it to work?
- What feelings are you pushing down, and covering up with other emotions?
- What stories are you telling yourself in order to hold onto a habit that you’re ready to let go of?
This holiday season I hope you give yourself the gift of cutting through your own self deceptions. Not all of them (that’s too tall an order for any of us to do at once), but some of them. And then continue the practice as you start 2023 and step into the new life that opens up after you stop lying to yourself.
And if that process shakes you or scares you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Penpa and I are here to help, if you feel like we will be helpful. That’s why we created Innovative Yogis, so that we can help others along this path. We have multiple private offerings available, and will be sharing more courses, workshops and retreats soon.
Upcoming At Innovative Yogis
This also feels like the right time to announce our newest offering. It’s our desire to hold space for our community in an accessible, affordable way, so starting in the new year, we’ll be hosting a monthly meditation circle for all of our Patrons. It will be a time to practice together and share our experiences.
If you’re not a Patron, you can become one easily by committing to giving at least $1 a month to support our work. While we ultimately wish to offer everything for free, we also know that when it’s free we sometimes take it for granted.
That’s why this opportunity is essentially free, as we can all afford $1 a month. Think of the dollar as a symbol of your commitment to show up to your own personal growth.
We will also be adding an in person monthly gathering for Patrons in the future, so we can all come together as community and share food, conversations, and spiritual practices together.
Our dream is to have enough Patron’s micro financing us with a few dollars a month so that we can afford to make all of our offerings 100% free. Remember that as a Patron of Innovative Yogis, you’re helping make our gifts available to those who don’t have the money to cover their value.
Before closing this, let me add one more thing about the holidays – maybe instead of playing the game of deception to create magic, try playing the game of presence, a truer magic. Be fully present with your loved ones, participate in what they’re doing, share yourself honestly, be vulnerable, and let go of anything pulling you away from the here and now. Then see what type of magic you create this holiday season 🙂
If nothing else, just try to be as grateful as this guy and life will be good, hehe.