The Company You Keep

Aug 22 2016 by Allison English

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The Company You Keep

While I was away traveling and teaching yoga, I missed a dear friend’s birthday. I was in Peterborough teaching a part of the Forrest Yoga Foundation Teacher Training for a couple of days and then I visited my family in London. One afternoon during my time in London we decided to go to a proper afternoon tea sitting at Fortnum and Mason – a really old, iconic department store with a beautiful tea room. It was an incredible experience – so delicious and so filling. They were even able to accommodate my gluten free diet.

The beautiful tea setting at Fortnum and Mason.

The beautiful tea setting at Fortnum and Mason.

When I got home I asked my friend and another if they wanted to go out to an afternoon tea here in Chicago at the Peninsula Hotel to celebrate Friend #1’s birthday. I’m so happy they agreed! We met up today and sat around for a couple of hours sipping on delicious teas, eating finger sandwiches and tiny cakes. We sang a really quiet happy birthday to our friend so as not to alarm the calm tea room. We talked about our lives and laughed and smiled. I left feeling totally reset and uplifted.

My gluten free tower of tea treats at Peninsula Hotel Chicago. YUM!

My gluten free tower of tea treats at Peninsula Hotel Chicago. YUM!

Here’s the thing: each one of us could have spent those two hours complaining, whining or otherwise reminiscing about some of the really hard, challenging and awful things we are passing through these days (or have passed through). We each have them – really intense things that are the stuff of our life now and before. Instead each one of us spoke about our current wins, our delights and joys, the challenges we have overcome and who helped us. We talked about role models and inspirations that kept us going on days that felt tough. We encouraged one another on current paths that are really uncharted territory. In short, we had our own little empowerment tea meet-up – and it was glorious. We each got to be ourselves full on – vulnerable and raw – and to feel the support of the two others in that open state. We simply and yet very profoundly delighted in each others company. And because of that lovely company, we only have pictures of food!

I came home to see a post from a new Forrest Yoga Teacher who was traveling with a friend and realized she used to be a “misery loves company” kind of gal – and now she couldn’t stand it. I thought back to the many times in the not so distant past that I would dramatically change myself in desperate attempts to get people to like me or commiserate with coworkers complaining endlessly about this or that – our negativity and my inauthenticity fueling a downward spiral. I would hope to find community by fitting in or “doing the right thing” only to feel left out and alone. And I got to thinking about how far I’ve come with the company I keep as a result of my internal practices of inquiry. What a difference it has made in the quality of my life to actively filter the influences around me so they support the person I most want to become. Also how accountable I have become of my own actions in sustaining my energy and purpose.

There were many times in my life when I had little choice about the company I kept. As a figure skater I was placed around other figure skaters who trained at my same level. We were all so competitive with one another that nothing ever felt friendly or real. As a really nerdy high school student I never felt like I fit in anywhere so I didn’t really keep much company – I moved around between many groups never really staying long enough for anyone to get to know me. In college I received a scholarship contingent upon me living in a house full of other scholarship recipients and I didn’t even get to choose a roommate. It constantly felt like house full of strangers with a few exceptions. It was not until recently that I made the company I keep a conscious act.

The people we are surrounded by day in and day out have a real affect on how we feel. We have some choices about who we spend the majority of our time around. I know that we can’t always choose family situations or work colleagues, but we can profoundly support ourselves by monitoring who we let “in.” I used to think I had to let everyone in. As a result, I put forth a really diluted version of myself – I think one of my fellow Forrest Yoga colleagues called it my vanilla version! When I made it an active endeavor to fill my life with the kind of people I most wanted to be in my field of energy and in my heart, I felt different. Suddenly it was as if the world was in color again and the energy of life around me was on fire.

To be vulnerable, open and authentic around people and to feel their love and support is a magical gift. I decided that I wanted to surround myself with those kind of people – the ones who saw me just as I am: a perfectly imperfect human and love me anyway. The people who I can talk to about major screw ups without feeling like I’ll lose them. The people who inspire me to be a better version of myself, who help me on the days I lose my path, who remind me of my inherent goodness. And these people are the ones that I can also love as perfectly imperfect beings and reciprocate back to.

One of my favorite poems, “The Invitation,” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer has a line: “I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.” And each and every time I reach into the question if I’m keeping the best company that will propel me forward, I ask internally if this person would stand with me in my own personal fire of life. If the answer is yes, I know I’ve found my person. If the answer is no, I move on now.

I’m thankful for the presence of really supportive people in my life these days. I send prayers and blessings of lovingkindness to those I had to let go of or part ways with over the years for various reasons. The process has made me more comfortable in my own skin and stronger in my life path. So now I ask you, do you like the company you keep? And if not, where is it time to make a change? And if yes, can you say a thank you for those that bolster you up just for being you? I’m thanking my two friends for not only a glorious tea date, but also just the inspiration I needed in a laughter, cake-filled, conversational afternoon.