Sometimes I accuse myself of being lazy. Then I find myself deep into a project, without thought of eating or sleeping, and I realize that there's a difference between being lazy and being unmotivated. When it comes to the things that inspire my passionate focus, I am a tireless, dedicated perfectionist. My standards are exacting and occasionally unrealistic. There's some control neurosis wrapped up in that, but it's moreso due to a desire to make the world a perfectly, ideally beautiful place. Why settle for anything that's not exactly right? Work until your fingers bleed, until you fall over out of sheer exhaustion.
There's nowhere that these rigorous requirements are enforced more stringently than inside my own head and heart. For someone who works helping people to breathe, heal and feel good, I am not especially nice to myself. I know I'm not alone in this. The idea of being ones own toughest critic far predates me. I suppose the harshness is a sort of insulation against criticism. If I thoroughly point out how flawed I am, I beat everyone else to it. "Yeah whatever I already know that about myself!" That seems healthy...
Recently, I began to notice the effects of this fascist rule over myself in my yoga practice. I have been participating in these online challenges, posting daily video and photos of assigned poses. It's been a wondrous and expansive exploration of my capabilities and limits. I've gained new skills and confidence, and made friends with a really sweet mama yogi in Sweden. The dark side of this was watching all the joy get sucked out of something that I love by my monstrous need to be perfect. It was only after I pulled a rib out of alignment that I had some (mandatory) space and stillness to fully feel how painful it can be to treat ourselves so militantly.
One of my favorite wise sound bites from a teacher of mine is: "Space and freedom through stability and discipline." Sweat and focus are a kind of alchemy that transform our efforts to pure gold. Hard work is a good and right thing, but we have to be easy about it. There is a balance point there, one we will always be playing with because the demands of our lives change all the time. Very few beings exist in a perfect state of balance and peace, and that's okay because we're not perfect and we never will be. We will have moments of utter perfection, only to teeter again on our axis. And that's okay! I came across this quote a few days ago that touches on this exploration of (unconditional) self-love:
The pillars holding up our capitalist society as it exists are the truth that we are imperfect, and the lies that we need to be perfect and that someone can sell you something which will make that possible. When you weigh this much or own this car then, THEN you will be perfect! It's all possible...for a price. Even self-help gurus peddle this shrill, tired rhetoric. When you read my book and recite these mantras then, THEN you will be perfect!
Even I, who love self-exploration and -improvement, am reaching a point where the impulse is to take a step back and simply admire what is just right, right now. [[I could be more consistently grateful. I could spend less time on the internet. I could have a stronger home practice.]] I spend a lot of time thinking things like this, striving to be the best possible version of myself, to find that space and freedom through my stability and discipline. But dang, lady, when will it ever be enough? When will I ever be enough? What will it take?
It's a sad thing to think that we could go our whole lives never experiencing our own unconditional approval and love. This constant dissatisfaction drives many to "success," but can you actually enjoy that success if you never feel like what you've done is good enough?
What I propose is what I will always propose: a softening and a surrender.
Soften to your own weaknesses, fears and ugliness. The only way to ever really get better is to shine a light into your dark places. Pack a picnic. Bring your curiosity, compassion and courage. Maybe bring a good friend or therapist. Illuminate and give expression to everything inside you that you've smothered for so long, that will eventually make you small, hard, angry or drive you mad.
Surrender to unconditional self-approval. Let it wash over you like a wave. Let it take you in like a warm embrace. You can love yourself really well and still strive for greatness. In fact, I'd wager that achieving great things will be all the more satisfying if you can celebrate and approve of your success. I'll even go so far as to say that it's not really success if you can't celebrate it. If you are not enjoying the journey of your life, what are you doing? When you look in the mirror ask the question, "Do you love me?" and begin to answer Yes! wholeheartedly, every single time, no matter what.
We're trained to seek and need external approval from very early on. It's a kind of survival necessity. As we grow, hopefully we begin to learn the song of our hearts, developing the confidence to trust and sing this sacred truth loud and clear. This authentic confidence can only come from a deep, internal well of self-approval. It gives us the strength to say what needs to be said, even if it's unpopular. So much of my life has been difficultly defined by a hungry search for external approval. It is only now that I see that I was begging, manipulating, compromising and waiting for something that no one else could ever give me. What a tremendous waste of time!
This is my commitment to give myself the sort of love and approval I've always wanted. No more waiting. There are far too many truths to speak and risks to take, far too much messy, gloriously beautiful and imperfect human experience to miss. I approve. I celebrate. You and I. Right now.