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The Life Out Loud: Where Spirituality Gets Sloppy

I have a bone to pick with spiritual gurus: They're just such goody two-shoes. Where is the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll?
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I have a bone to pick with spiritual gurus: They're just such goody two-shoes. Where is the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll?

I mean, is anyone really as saintly as Liz Gilbert makes herself out to be in "Eat, Pray, Love," avoiding even one torrid Italian love affair? As for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he was raised from a young age to embody compassion and mindfulness, never lashing out in anger or seeking revenge, and he does an excellent job of that. But this isn't a new story: Jesus resisted every temptation thrown his way some 2,000 years ago.

You might argue, "Hey, these spiritual types aren't trying to deal with everyday life the way the rest of us are. They get to go live in convents or under a tree in the desert or in a cottage in Bali with no wee ones running around, and devote their entire existence to the pursuit of enlightenment." But then there are teachers, such as Buddhist psychologist Jack Kornfield and celebrity guru Deepak Chopra, who manage to attain great wisdom while holding down a job and raising kids.

We need spiritual role models, of course. I wouldn't wish a Jim-and-Tammy-Faye-Bakker-esque humiliation, fraught with dripping spider-legs mascara, upon any one of the aforementioned leaders. However, I do find that their standard of virtue can be set too high for the rest of us.

Plus it makes me wonder: Where's the fun in a life like that?

Here is where I diverge from many of the modern and ancient masters. I revel -- passionately, blissfully and unapologetically -- in the "non-spiritual" aspects of my life. I celebrate my wild side with gusto. I enjoy being sloppy with my emotions. I've been called loud, obnoxious, and an attention-seeker. At times in my life, unlike Liz Gilbert, I've been promiscuous. And I'd argue that it hasn't done me any harm. Nor have the drugs I've consumed at Burning Man. I've been known to make quite a mess of things in my personal life, getting divorced and then spending four years as "the human yo-yo" with a guy who couldn't decide if he adored me or I made him miserable. I've plunged into new activities and commitments without thinking through my choices mindfully, as the spiritual gurus would urge. Sometimes, I give things a try just to see what will happen, knowing full well that I might wind up with a broken heart or woefully miniscule paycheck.

This, to me, is what it means to live "the life out loud."

Don't get me wrong. I have discovered that the spiritual first-aid kit can prove immensely valuable. In my 20s, I had what appeared to be the textbook near-ideal life: I graduated from Stanford, worked at the prestigious McKinsey & Company, married a dot-com entrepreneur and then started my writing career. But in my early 30s, trauma, like an earthquake, brought my life tumbling down. My parents got divorced. I separated from my husband of nine years. My father was publicly convicted and put under house arrest for a federal crime.

When my soul was no more than dog shit smashed on the bottom of my shoe, I prescribed myself spiritual medicine. I dragged myself to yoga for daily 90-minute doses of salvation. Unable to sleep without Xanax, I found meditation an equally intoxicating way to calm my mind. I read spiritual books offering advice on how to be comfortable with uncertainty. I journaled obsessively.

These days, I'm a self-confessed yogaholic who freaks out when she has to go a week without a bowl of kale. I meditate regularly. Sometimes. At least I intend to meditate regularly. I believe in seeing a psychotherapist, life coach, energy healer or chakra aligner in order to come to terms with your past. It's all good stuff.

I guess you could say I'm the Bad Girl of the Spiritual Club. If there were a summer camp where we all met up -- me, His Holiness, Liz, Jack and Deepak -- to impart great learnings about egolessness and tactics for freeing others from their monkey-minds, I'd be the one caught smoking a joint in the bathroom on lunch break.

Here is another of my spiritual bones to pick: I despise the concept of "balance." The word gets thrown around the self-help literature sloppily and indulgently, like butter on a French menu. "You must find balance between your work life and your personal life; between inner focus and outward presence; between letting yourself indulge just a little bit but not too much," the experts intone.

The problem with seeking balance is that it sets you up for failure. Like Goldilocks, you wind up on a quest for "just right"; only, unlike her, you never do find what you're looking for. You're forever measuring, evaluating and judging yourself and others in an attempt to create the perfect situation, when in fact, perfect doesn't exist and no one really has figured out how to lead a balanced life. (At least not that I know of. If you've met the real world Goldilocks, please provide an introduction.)

So I say: Why not go for messiness? Not "just right," but a metaphorical chair that's too big -- a job that pushes you too far, say. At other times, you'll go too small, backing out of that marathon or social situation because you just didn't have it in you. When you stop attempting to balance it all on your plate like some Martha Stewart meal, you might just find yourself relaxing, screwing things up, laughing and taking a nap.

It's life, after all. Indulge! Go for the meditation retreat and the all-night rave party. The kale and the butter. Get lost. Get hurt. Then pick up the pieces and move on. On the spiritual path, every failure is a learning opportunity, every challenge a chance to connect with your higher self. If you live from your heart, you can't ever really go wrong.

Have at the life out loud.