As I sit here about to write this section, I’ve been looking at my chipped blue nail polish and thinking that I need to do something about it in order to avoid being embarrassed during a client workshop tomorrow. Whenever I go past a mirror, I can’t help but scrutinise myself looking for imperfections or checking how I look in my outfit. I am always disappointed to see that I can never measure up to the make-believe version of my perfect self that I carry around in my head. I have errant hairs, my skin breaks out, and my ass looks absolutely terrible in some of my jeans. My outfits can never be 100% fabulous every day. Some days I look and feel like shit. In order not to feel and look like shit on those days, I would have to expend an extraordinary amount of effort. My mentor would scold me for allowing the way I feel to show through like that, and would probably recommend a good pair of heels and some rouge.
I usually like this approach and I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing everything within your power to look and feel your best in order to make sure that you are living and expressing your best self. But what makes all the difference is where it comes from. Is this dressing up coming from a place of self-love or a place of deficiency? What does it feel like to ‘love yourself’? It’s nauseating how much we are told to do this. It has lost all meaning. In fact, I don’t believe that the world means it at all. The world presents other information and pretends it doesn’t. Think of the glossy magazines, the lingerie ads with the airbrushed asses of skinny chicks whose cellulitelessness rivals an eight-year-old boy’s. That’s not telling me I’m enough, that I am lovable as I am. That’s telling me I’m not even close.
I have grown up with a body-shaming voice in my head that shouts at me every single day in one form or another. At age 11, I suffered from bulimia and had a dangerous internal dialogue regarding food all through high school and my early twenties. The dialogue at the moment is not much better, truth be told. Now in the section ‘You Really Are What You Eat’ I was looking at this relationship with a lot more levity and from a health perspective. Again here I do believe it is important to make conscious choices regarding food but it is important to know where these choices are coming from. Are they the result of a punitive voice that tells you stuff like “Hey you fat fuck why don’t you just step your huge ass away from the pizza. Not like you can afford to pack on any more”? Or are the voices saying friendly things about loving your body and nourishing it with good foods. The same argument applies to fitness activities, and for me that means yoga.
In my practice over the last few weeks I have been struggling with getting into a handstand. I have it in my head that this is like a gateway of some sort into a ‘real’ yoga practice into which I cannot be admitted unless I am able to do forearm balances and other fancy stuff that you would see if you googled ‘advanced yoga’ along with people levitating through interdimensional portals that take you direct to the farther shore of existence. I am so hard on myself every time I can’t do it. I’m getting better very, very slowly. I find it really difficult to suck at something that I want so badly to be good at. On the one hand, this prompts me to explore the inner fears and issues that make me feel insecure when I am upside down, and that’s great. I have encountered a part of myself that doesn’t know what it means to surrender control, to feel light, to trust that I know how to fall, and that I have the strength to hold myself ‘together’ when things are on their heads. All that is good, but it is mixed in with a poisonous inner dialogue making the entire exercise ambivalent.
When I can do a handstand and can do scorpion pose, will I just then be another one of those douchebags that I see lurking around yoga studios? You know the type – the ones who think they have arrived at the farther shore, have started wearing only white, have converted to veganism, and regularly give little free lectures on the merits of being them at the advanced stage of the journey where they currently find themselves. Isn’t that sort of what’s happening here with me? I’m in yet another ego-building exercise. The new ego will be a much improved version that has ‘overcome the need to control everything’ and can just ‘surrender to the abundance of the universe’ and ‘gracefully accept my limitations’ and my effortless handstand, and the way I casually joke around, will be all the proof anyone will ever need to know that I am a real, enlightened being, and I will then go on to start a franchise peddling my crock-of-shit wisdom to lesser mortals…
Whoah, did you see that? The punitive voice just showed up and undermined me, rationalising all the ways in which what I am doing is not good enough, not authentic enough, not this and not that. How often does that happen to each of us every day?
My ego, my wound, my gift, my presence all interact and weave a web around me. Tiny gossamer threads settle on the world around me as I move through space. An action is a composite of these components, I suppose, but there are proportions involved. The same action can be done from the ego-wound or from the gift-presence and this occurs on a sliding scale. If questioned, I can offer a rationalisation that can easily show how I have acted in an enlightened manner from my gift-presence and not from my ego-wound. If I dig deep into the cold hearth, deserted in the wake of activity, I will see a miniscule ember burning brightly amid the ashes. This ember is my truth, and it always acknowledges the contribution my ego has made with an unconditional love, without judgement. The trouble is I don’t always dig deep enough in the fire. I settle for the rationalisation because it is convenient but then nothing is learned. Time always tells the full story.
I’m a fiery person, and my blood tends to boil. I get into tense situations of conflict with others often. I always feel morally justified in my position, which I probably mostly could be and maybe the reality that I am fighting to protect is in fact beautiful and in need of protection, but where am I fighting from? Am I fighting from the gift-presence that says this is not good for me, kind, or fair and it must stop immediately in order to restore balance? As a devotee of Tara, I understand that the Enlightened Quality of Wrath is the last resort that is sometimes needed in order to prevent great evils occurring. The trick in it is that I could be fighting from inside an ego-wound that needs to validate itself, and has learned to wear the mask of the Enlightened Quality of Wrath.
I cannot defeat my ego, because only my ego would want to do a thing like that. I have a strong mind, and it has helped protect me from limitless dangers. Unfortunately it has also protected me from a loving acceptance of myself, from compassionately accepting that the dark path I walked for more than a decade was, well, it just was what it was – no judgement. Tara is also the Merciful One, and the Enlightened Quality of Mercy does not have the same double-edged quality as Wrath.
Today, for the first time in my yoga practice, I viewed my body in the postures with mercy. I allowed a space to develop around the edges of my being so that my spirit was not pulled tight in each pose, struggling to align my body to the perfect image of the pose that I have in my head, catalogued away with all the other things I will never forgive myself for not being able to be…
After I left yoga, I was a grumpy cunt again and I snapped at my husband when he accidentally hurt me as we were getting into the car. I could easily just add this incident to the long list of imperfect moments that have made up my life, to the archive of evidence pointing to my worthlessness.
Or I could try saying, “You are worthy. You are loved. Even when you are a grumpy cunt.”
From the 16 Meditations for Deranged Workaholics series.