A call (and commitment) to radical honesty

Creative Commons License photo credit: Ani Carrington

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote what became a very hotly-debated article about what it means to be of service. Funny how the writing that challenges us most personally seems to strike the strongest chord with others, because I can’t tell you how emotionally  tinged that piece was for me (I almost didn’t publish it at all). 50 or so comments later, I see that apparently it pulled just as much at others’ hearts as did mine.

Sharing myself — my fears, my uncertainties, my triumphs and mistakes — in such a public way over the past year, has transformed my life in ways unimaginable. It was never my intention to be a writer/blogger, but I suppose the universe doesn’t much care for my grand plans for myself. I’m finally coming to accept that yes, I do have a voice– a very loud one, mind you– and while I’ve tried to quiet it down it for many years, it follows me around like a shadow I just can’t shake. I am a writer. I am a speaker. I am a communicator, a connector, a weaver of words, and if I am to make a difference in this world that’s without a doubt going to be a piece in the path.

 Speak Up for Peace
Creative Commons License photo credit: * Honest *

I once believed that my words didn’t matter. Maybe I was told “keep your mouth shut, Chelsea” one too many times, but I– like many of you, I would imagine– had learned that my opinions should be kept to myself. I’d come to fear that if I spoke too loudly I might hurt or overshadow others, that if I grew too large in my skin my power would injure, maybe even annihilate those I loved. But as I’ve fallen into this new role, I’m realizing that words, in fact, do not have to be hollow or injurious to others. Quite the contrary, conscious communication can be a force for good.

When we start talking about the issues that have been swept under the rug — sexual exploitation in the yoga room, cult-like dynamics in our community, eating disorders masked as health, and just plain ol’ yogic-style narcissm — I believe we create an opportunity for shifts in perspective that lead to meaningful change. And the very act of speaking the truth is cathartic in and of itself.

So, I’ve made a (meta)commitment to myself, and now I’m making a commitment to you, to share my journey with the utmost transparency and honesty. I will allow my keyboard to become my tool for transformation, my words weapons for peace– both for myself and for the world at large. I will not mask my own pitfalls or hide away from the topics that our society often hides away. There’s enough of that in our world already. I’m making a commitment to truth– no matter how uncomfortable or controversial– and I invite you to join me.

This is my public commitment to radical honesty. 

Creative Commons License photo credit: ohmannalianne

I see a lot of conversations online that drift into meaningless oblivion — articles become showers of should’s and writers (as well as yoga teachers) stray away from sharing their own experience in an effort to appear objective or avoid criticism. But in my opinion, our words (whether we’re teaching or writing) resonate most with others when we speak from our personal experience.

So in the coming months, I will share the messy, not-so-pretty stories of my own encounters with yoga, service, and life in general. And I’d like to invite you to do the same. Part of the reason I’ve chosen to write for Yoga Modern is that I believe it is a safe space for meaningful dialogue, a place where we can explore the questions our society (and the yoga community) often avoids without fear of violent repercussion.

This is my invitation to you.

Maybe you too have been afraid of your voice, afraid that if you said what’s really on your mind others might turn you away or devalue your words. Well, not here. Share your stories. Ask your questions. Together, our words can be the catalysts for a better world.

Posted by:

- who has written 43 posts on Yoga Modern.

Chelsea Roff is a writer by day and yoga teacher by night, a weaver of words as well as of asanas. She is Managing Editor at YogaModern.com, and her writing has been featured by Yoga Journal, Elephant Journal, Wanderlust Festival and the Hanuman Festival. Chelsea is passionate about using online media to inspire action that serves a greater cause -- whether it be the expansion of knowledge, support of our global community, or improvement of planetary and personal health. She travels the country teaching yoga in the most non-traditional of spaces, from cocktail parties to public protests to centers for at-risk youth. In Dallas, Chelsea helped start a yoga service organization that brings yoga classes to people in homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, and prisons. Chelsea currently lives in Santa Monica, CA, where she can be found cartwheeling across the beach, hiking in the mountains, and practicing yoga poses on her little pink scooter.

27 Responses

  • jeannie page says:

    Chelsea, these words could have come straight from my own mouth. Your experiences so closely echo my own. I too have always been a brutally honest person, and it has often gotten me in trouble. But like you, I too have learned that I have a powerful voice, and like you I have become a somewhat “accidental” writer/blogger. But I know that the Universe had other plans for both of us, and that none of it is by “accident”. Keep being honest and true…and keep on writing! Power to you girl!

  • Andrea says:

    Right on Chelsea! Authenticity is key in a time when we are severely lacking. As a studio owner, teacher, practitioner, and blogger, I've gotten much feedback (supportive and critical) of openly writing about personal issues, struggles, money, and whatnot but truthfully, I think while there is definitely a place for editing and not always a need for FULL disclosure, if what you have to say might potentially inspire, support, or help someone else through the sharing of common experiences… than that's just plain old humanity and it's priceless!

    • Chelsea says:

      Ah, you make a good point there, Andrea. I certainly didn't mean to suggest that we need to be spilling our guts out without the container of knowing when and whether our sharing is useful– but I suppose I see more of the not sharing enough than the sharing too much in the people I encounter. We can definitely find a healthy balance there, a middle path if you will. The question, I think is one of relevance. Is what I'm sharing relevant to the individuals I'm speaking to? Will it progress the dialogue or distract? Definitely a big question we have to consider if we're yoga teachers!

  • Jessica says:

    Namaste girl! Right there with you and supporting you all the way. Peace.

  • yoga-adan says:

    authenticity has raised its head above the digital sea, and is taking a look ;-)

    thank you!

  • justthisbreath says:

    It must be a really empowering experience to have your voice heard. You write well….I'm really happy for you. Please know, though, that this is no huge paradigm shift. There have always been people who have been able to say their truths openly and even though they may have had unpopular points of view, they have been, for the most part, supported.

    I'm pretty sure this isn't the most common scenario, though. Most people want to hear and read things that support what they already believe and are not at all supportive when hearing about experiences that differ. Attempting to be authentic in such an environment can be extremely disempowering. In fact, I've come to the conclusion – this is only for myself, of course – that it's better to simply smile and nod than to be authentic regarding many topics….

    • Chelsea says:

      Perhaps it's nothing new for the world, but I think for many of us coming to a place in our lives where we feel free to speaking authentically can be a huge personal paradigm shift. Sure, there have been many who came before me who spoke openly and honestly, even in the oppressive climate you're talking about, but I think for me personally it feels very new. It's a paradigm shift in my own life, one I felt inspired to share with others… kind of in hopes that they might share their own experiences with it. Sure, it feels empowering, but sometimes it feels downright terrifying! It's nice to read comments from people like you who share their own perspective and insight on the experience.

      And yes, I too find there are many things I'd rather just smile and nod than sing out my opinion on a topic. Hell, often I think my silence says a lot more than my words. The question I have to ask myself is whether I'm being silent because of that oppressive environment you're talking about or because silence is the greatest contribution I can make to the conversation at that time.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, justmybreath.

      • justthisbreath says:

        I'm sure it's a huge personal change if you've felt the need to be silent before. That's not what I was trying to say. It sounded (to me) that you were saying something in the world was changing or, I don't know, in your own community maybe…and becoming more accepting of differences in views. I've just seen that change SO many times in my life…there are differences that are considered acceptable now and were not maybe 10 years ago; some of the things which were status quo 10 years ago are somewhat less popular to think or say. It's nothing obvious either…it's more just like vague cultural things…I know that some of those things depend on where you live. Some people have experiences which people love to hear about, even if they are horrible experiences, because it validates their world view. Other people have experiences that no one ever wants to hear because it might change some cherished notions they have about the way the world works. In truth, I believe everyone should have the absolute right to tell their own story…I guess I was just saying it doesn't really happen that way a lot of times.Sent from my iPod

        • Chelsea says:

          Ah, I think I understand a little bit better now. And I think you're right, cultural and societal forces play a huge role in shaping not only whether we feel safe to share our stories. I'm not sure whether or not I sense a shift in my community… I would like to think it's becoming a more welcome space for people to share openly, but at least in this post I was really writing more about a change I'm witnessing in myself.

          But maybe the personal shift is in fact due to one in our culture at large? Take it one step further… maybe if enough of us make the decision to move toward radical honesty for ourselves, we can create a societal shift from the grassroots. I love that quote, "lead by quiet example". I think if we want to make the world a place that is more welcoming of people sharing themselves honestly, we've got to start by just living that way ourselves. :)

          • justthisbreath says:

            Yep, it would be nice…I guess I used to think that…I don't know though, maybe some people have the fortitude to just continue on relentlessly, knowing they are entitled to their truth. Unfortunately, I don't think I'm so unusual…for many people, if you're invalidated enough, you just stop.Sent from my iPod

  • Kevin F says:

    I linked to this blog through the Radical Honesty facebook page. Nothing is more exhilirating, more rewarding, more sexy, or more scary than putting your messy ol' human self out there for others to praise, reject, or ridicule. Radical honesty has a polarizing effect… no longer will you feel like a nobody because you are trying to please everyone. Instead you will piss a lot of people off, but the upside is that some authentic and deeply loving relationships will tumble out of the mix.

    I clicked around on your page, and I felt inspired by the page of yoga trainers in Africa. The rows and columns of faces… just beautiful!

    Keep it up!

    • Chelsea says:

      I just checked out the Facebook page (and wikipedia entry!) too, Kevin, and it made me smile to see that there are so many others who have used this phrase to convey a similar sentiment.

      I'm curious about this polarizing effect you mention though… do you mean that in a positive or negative manner? I can definitely see in theory how it might piss a lot of people off, but I have to say for me the people that haven't resonated with my honesty haven't really phased me much. When I'm speaking from an honest and very grounded place in myself, especially with a person I'm engaging with in person (so not talking about blogging here), for the most part the reception has been almost wholly positive. People feel your authenticity, and more importantly they feel your vulnerability. Do you practice radical honesty yourself? Have the positive experiences outweighed the negative?

  • prettyhumanbeings says:

    Chelsea, you continue to be an inspiration. You have a gift for calling a community together into honest conversation. You might be interested in Gwen Bell (gwenbell.com). She is a yoga teacher and digital strategist who is highly committed to transparent and sustainable digital living. She has been inspiring and challenging to me and from this article I think you might find her tools really great.

  • Chelsea says:

    Thank you, Elena. Your post on Huffington a while back about why we keep secrets really resonated with me.

    For anyone who missed it, a great article on a related topic:

  • yoganonym says:

    how's this for radical honesty? I am a yoga teacher and have been for many years. I avoid other yoga teachers bc they tend to be fake. I prefer to hang out with non-yoga people bc there is more to life than talking about yoga 100% of the time. It gets old after a while.

    • Chelsea says:

      That's pretty honest, yoganonym, but maybe not the radical honesty I'm calling for. I can understand why you felt you needed to make your statements from behind an anonymous username, but I think radical honesty requires we show up completely and transparently — even when we risk being attacked or ridiculed. Thank you for adding your statements to the conversation though, even if you didn't feel comfortable sharing your identity I think they are still valuable and important for others to hear. I hope at some point you are able to vocalize those sentiments to the individuals you feel are being fake with you.