One Hot Mess in the Mud Puddle of Life

Dear Friends,

mud-foot-printsLast week, as I was diligently writing a review on Goodreads for a friend’s new book, I decided to see whether my book (Things I Did When I Was Hangry) had any new reviews. I noticed one of the new reviewers (we’ll call her K.) gave the book only two stars out of five and had written a rather long rant. It began with a bang: “This is going to sound extremely judgmental, but this woman is a hot mess and I don’t know why anyone would take advice from her.”

Sitting alone at my desk, I immediately felt flushed and embarrassed. K. was outing me on a public forum with literally 50 million members! Given that my book is jam packed with confessions of my most awkward moments, big and small, shame seemed a little unlikely. But sharing my own messiness felt easier than having this total stranger remind the whole world about it. K.’s four paragraph review ended with her acknowledging my book was an “interesting read–but not in the way I think she was intending!”

Sandwiched in between were K.’s judgments (she warned me) about me crying at the movie A Simple Plan (since it’s a heist movie, it’s not something to be cried over), the fact that the rest of my family never buys into the meditation retreats “at all”, and that, given all of the relationship troubles I’ve had with my husband, she assumed we would have been divorced by now. “But no” she says, we somehow stayed together even though we still experience regular conflicts.

After reading it through, in an attempt to uplift myself I thought, “Well at least she didn’t disparage my writing, just my life.”

As her words sunk in, I realized she was right, I am a mess. I am never in a holding pattern of happiness, ease or rest. I’m always randomly and rapidly moving in and out of feeling like I’ve got it all together. That’s because no mental state, including happiness or orderliness, is durable. And this insight is the foundation of my teaching and the deeper thesis of my book, which on the surface is about my journey with mindful and unmindful eating. K. had inadvertently confirmed just what I’d been trying to express.

The first thing the Buddha taught after his enlightenment was the unshakable truth that life will throw us difficulties no matter who we are, where we live, or even how diligently or wisely we practice mindfulness. We will never be someone who doesn’t get angry, who doesn’t have conflict, and who cries at all the “right” movies.

Believing that we can be anything other than a hot mess is what actually causes us the most suffering. When I speak to groups of high school students, I see this pain reflected in their faces and their answers to questions. What are your goals? “To be as successful as my parents.” “To get accepted into a top rated college.” And, though they don’t say it openly: “To look good.” And how many of you have suffered with anxiety that disrupted your life over the last year? More than half of the students, men and women, always raise their hands.

We believe that when we have the diploma, the job, the body, the partner, or we have written the book, we will reach a kind of plateau of life where we won’t be as challenged as we are now. We won’t be a hot mess anymore. K. clearly believed it. I often believe it. This belief underlies our culture and directs our lives. The very process of striving to find a resting place on solid ground is what gobbles up our mind space and energy and leaves us too drained to enjoy the messy moment we are actually living in.


Accepting and really grokking that we will never live on dry ground is the closest we can get to enlightenment, what I like to call imperfect enlightenment. This insight frees our minds to be able to be more present to what we are actually doing and gives us compassion for the rest of humanity slogging through the mud right alongside us. Going through the mud is going to get us messy. If we stop worrying about getting dirty and stop trying to get out clean, we can experience and accomplish more in the mud puddle of life.

So while some part of me is not thrilled that K. is out there reminding people about my imperfection, another part of me is glad to shine the light of mindfulness on the mess. And, I’m hoping that if you see that it’s not so bad, you might just be willing to roll around in the mud with me.

with love,


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  1. Sandy Shaposky on May 21, 2016 at 8:18 am

    Hi Annie:

    A couple of things….

    – I enjoy reading your blogs and appreciate your honesty. Not all of us of had tidy, neat lives, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it through those dark places (eventually) and get to the “other side”. It’s not Shangri-La on the other side, but it’s a whole lot better than the alternative.
    – Your blog prompted me to buy your book and I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m contemplating writing a sort of similar book, and have already started the rough draft. Who knows, maybe it will just be therapeutic for me to write, and nothing will ever come of it.
    – I don’t mean to sound corny, but I feel like we are kindred spirits. I can really identify with what you share. People like K. are all around us and can cause us to feel a lot of doubt and shame, and remind us of where we used to reside (in the darkness). And really, she’s living in her own kind of darkness to take so much time to try to make someone feel so awful. But the people who really know us, and love us, and who are on the same path that we are on, understand. And those are the only opinions we should truly care about.
    – I have a few addictions….and one of them is to self-help books…. 🙂 I’m working on buying fewer of them, but as addictions go, that one’s not so bad! Anyway, it’s rare that I find books that are so profound….that really rock my world and that provide tools I can use in everyday life. They open new doors for me and always give me renewed hope that this process really works. In case you aren’t already familiar with them, the books are “Anatomy of Spirit” by Carolyn Myss and “Rising Strong” by Brenee Brown (for some reason I’ve resisted her for years, and now I see…she’s a genius).
    – We only met one time, at your studio. I was observing Eduardo for my Yoga teacher training with Lynn Matthews. I’m just a month away from completing my 500-hour training. It’s been a long, but amazing journey.

    Best wishes to you.


    • Annie Mahon on May 22, 2016 at 6:07 pm

      Dear Sandy, thank you for the lovely comment and sharing your thoughts. We definitely ARE kindred spirits, so many of us coping with shame that swirls around us and we may be more susceptible to it than others. Glad to hear that you’re getting the book – I have read some Carolyn Myss but not that one, and I have read Rising Strong (at least part of it!) and love Brene Brown as well. It’s so helpful to keep ourselves surrounded by people who don’t pull on our shame – whether they are friends or authors. Congratulations on your 500 hours, that’s a huge accomplishment! with love, annie.

      • Sandy on May 22, 2016 at 7:30 pm

        Nice to hear back.

        Funny (and maybe not so surprising), I see too that you grew up in Michigan….so did I. Berkley to be exact (outside of Royal Oak). And since you went to Michigan, surely you must play euchre. And then there’s pasties, Vernors ginger ale and trips to Mackinaw Island…

        Eventually, after I read “Hangry” I’ll have to leave a comment on Goodreads in response to “K”. Kindred spirits have to look out for one another….

        • Annie Mahon on May 23, 2016 at 8:28 am

          Thanks, Sandy. So funny and yes, I did know how to play euchre, but have forgotten – my kids play with my nieces when we are in Michigan… thanks for writing a review, that is much appreciated. xo

  2. Jeanne Fitzpatrick on May 23, 2016 at 6:49 am

    Hi, Annie! Thanks for your reminder that we are all hot messes of one kind or another, and that by trying to avoid the mud, we just might be missing out on some keeps us from some pretty amazing stuff. With love.

    • Annie Mahon on May 23, 2016 at 8:46 am

      Thanks, Jeanne. I totally get what you’re saying, even with the thumb typing 🙂 xo

  3. Joan Meier on May 23, 2016 at 8:30 am

    Dear Annie, I loved this blog and so will Jerry when he sees it. We are so fortunate to have your open, deep, passionate and honest self among us. It takes courage to share your struggles publicly and it is a sign of great strength and health that you don’t need to hide behind a mask of perfectness… Thank you for sharing yourself with us and helping us all learn to accept our messy selves.
    Love, Joan

    • Annie Mahon on May 23, 2016 at 8:47 am

      Thank you, Joan. I like the idea of the mask of perfectness… and I picture that as a mask that we think is opaque but everyone else sees as transparent 🙂 And thanks for sharing with Jerry. xo

  4. Kelly on May 23, 2016 at 8:41 am

    Hi, Annie. As my wonderful wife routinely reminds me (which I need her to, as I’m a writer, as well), it’s what you do with the critique that matters. Well done for finding the grace hidden deep beneath that mud and bringing it out into the light to share with us. Anne Lamott talks a lot about the power of confessional narrative for giving people the opportunity to say, “Me, too.” Thanks for having the guts to put yourself out there, again. #hotmessclub

    • Annie Mahon on May 23, 2016 at 8:50 am

      Thanks, Kelly. It’s awesome to have people around who can support our creative pursuits, isn’t it!? I’m not sure I’d be putting myself out there if I hadn’t had both role models and cheerleaders. My Dad became a sculpture, actor and saxophonist when hew was 76 and he shows his work in the community and shares it with his family all the time. I am blown away by that kind of transparency. I LOVE your hashtag and will use it widely. xo

    • Christine on May 23, 2016 at 10:11 am

      Kelly, I needn’t add words, as you’ve summed up the response so perfectly. Yes, Annie a graceful response, indeed.

      Mud is for playing in, too. Glad to be in this earthy muck with people like you.

      P.S. Love, love, love to know that about your Dad!

      • Annie Mahon on May 23, 2016 at 12:39 pm

        Thanks for posting, Christine. I think the more people see that everyone is in the mud, the easier it gets for all of us. xo

  5. Leigh on May 23, 2016 at 9:22 am

    Thank you for always sharing so honestly and openly – makes it easier to for others including myself to be honest whether with others or just with myself. I always enjoyed attending the Mindfulness Sittings at your studio when I was in DC, but lately haven’t been able to attend when I was in town. Anyway, just wanted to say I do appreciate your sharing what K. said – your response to her words was just what I needed to hear at the moment. I recently finished a yoga instructor course and want to begin teaching yoga classes, and that in itself – i.e. starting from scratch and doing it on my own – is bringing up fears and doubts rooted in long ago. But you are absolutely right- nothing is permanent. And that is ok. That is the way things are: all ever changing. We just need to learn to go with the flow of it and not get bogged down in it.
    I look forward to reading your book someday hopefully soon!

    • Annie Mahon on May 23, 2016 at 9:46 am

      Thanks, Leigh! So glad you heard what you needed and that you recognize the fears and doubts are from long ago. You will be a wonderful teacher and I’m sure you will also offer people what they need when they need it. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Long live impermanence!” xo

  6. Leanne on May 23, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    I love being a hot mess! Wouldn’t life be boring if we always had it all together, if we always got on with everyone, if we never laughed at our questionable actions or inappropriate moments. Sometimes the most challenging times in our lives give us the greatest reward! Hard times make us learn, reflect, and grow.

    • Annie Mahon on May 23, 2016 at 12:40 pm

      Hi Leanne… thanks for sharing that you’re a hot mess too! The hardest times are when we think we are in it alone. And we never really are, are we? xo

  7. Anonymous on May 23, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    I have never met you but am on the Circle Yoga mailing list. I don’t know why I clicked on your Hot Mess posting, but it is truly an inspiration. Your honesty and openness is a model. We are all members of that #hotmessclub in one way or another.

    • Annie Mahon on May 23, 2016 at 8:14 pm

      Thanks for the post and kind words. I hope we do meet one day… maybe at the next #hotmessclub gathering. 🙂 xo

  8. Susan on May 23, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    Hi Annie,
    I am not feeling eloquent about this subject, but I certainly don’t see you as a hot mess. I see you as a loving and beautiful soul who has the courage to open her heart and let us see all of you. That takes true courage! And being an author or artist of any kind who shares her art means exposing the self to others projections and reactions. I heard Megyn Kelly speak about reading and experiencing all the tweets and re-tweets during the many months of acrimony following that first Republican debate. In your situation, you certainly turned mud into lotus. Well done! Susan

    • Annie Mahon on May 23, 2016 at 8:15 pm

      Dear Susan, thanks for your kind words. I can’t imagine the kind of practice someone in the limelight has to have in order to not be reactive to all of the negative comments coming at them. It took time for me to even deal with this one! Hope all is well in your life. xo

  9. Marcia on May 24, 2016 at 7:01 pm

    Hi Annie, I think it’s gutsy of you to share this review. Great to see the support generated in response. I haven’t read the book but wonde if you’ve consider optioning it as a movie. I think it strikes a nerve for so many, and that it would really get traction. Best to you, peace.

    • Annie Mahon on May 25, 2016 at 7:14 am

      Thanks, Marcia! I’m giggling thinking about a movie of my book… Maybe if Amy Schumer plays me… lol. xo a

  10. Jerry Silverman on May 24, 2016 at 9:23 pm


    Your blog was passed on to me by my wife, Joan Meier. I feel you are communicating very important ideas about what it means to be human and what we can hope for in this life. I would go even a bit further than you do. Many of us have the mistaken idea that enlightenment is a place of calmness and repose. Rather, I am sure that to be enlightened does not mean getting away from the full range of feelings, the good and the unpleasant, but rather to be awake to all of it, not to try to flee what we don’t like but to live with awareness and in relationship to all of who we are. And I wouldn’t call what you or any of us go through as “a mess” which may imply that one is failing. As for K, she has a mistaken idea of what it means to be awake. I would just recognize that and know that you are much more awake than she is. No need to feel bad (which I don’t think you do). Thanks.


    • Annie Mahon on May 25, 2016 at 7:16 am

      Dear Jerry, thank you for the lovely message. I am with you about enlightenment being a place where we can feel all of our feelings with some level of comfort or at least acceptance. I sometime consider my practice to be one of learning to tolerate life as it is. xo

  11. Anna Callon on May 26, 2016 at 6:55 pm

    I love all of your posts, but this one speaks to me on many levels!! Thanks for not being afraid to be real.

    • Annie Mahon on May 27, 2016 at 5:41 am

      Thanks, Anna. Glad this one spoke to you especially. Hope all is well with you. Xo

  12. Molly on June 17, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    hello beloved friend. I see many people have beat me to the punch, I wanted to say very much the same thing, but now I will add something. First, it is funny how we pick the one crappy thing that someone says about it and let that get lodged in our craw, even when there are so many completely opposite viewpoints right there for the taking. Odd how we do that. But we sure do, I know I do.

    Second, K. is full of shit. I know that doesn’t seem very enlightened, but there it is. I have recommended your book to many of my students, exactly because of its honesty. I just finished reading another book by a student called “I am a Golden Buddha” and I wrote her very much the same thing. As i was reading her book, I kept thinking, “Oh my god, that’s me. I do that.” Your book was very similar in that way. What a gift it is for us to read of the flaws and insecurities of the people we love, respect and admire, to know that the road to self-realization is not some far away path that we might never find, but that one that begins right here, right now. You give all of your students and readers the opportunity to know that they are ok. That they can be a “hot mess” and also functional, productive, inspiring, thriving – not just in spite of their trials, but also because of them. As a therapist and a teacher, I feel like it is specifically in letting my students and clients see my own humanity that is part of the healing for them, and the realization that they will be ok. Would you ever want K. as a therapist? Yeah, no. I don’t think so. Because she is living in a pretend world where she still believes she can hold it all together, as long as no one finds out, she’ll be ok. I have deep compassion for her stuckness and wish her agility and epiphany. Meanwhile, I’m sticking with you.


    • Annie Mahon on June 19, 2016 at 9:06 am

      Thank you, dear Molly. I love how you go straight to the point and I am so glad you are stickin with me. Love love. Xo

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