Many of us here at Yoga Thailand spent last night sitting on or kneeling in front of the toilet (or both). Myself included. However, most of the people that were sick still went to practice this morning. I often wonder, why, even when the body is weak and tells us to stop, do we still push ourselves?
When I watch people practice (or when I watch my mind as I go through life), it often reminds me of how most of us are pretty good at loving other people, but not so good at loving ourselves. Most of us, we either push ourselves to reach a specific goal, or we allow ourselves to take it easy today. That, however, is often followed by the guilt-trip. Which is just as uncompassionate as option 1.
Both mental patterns are products of the same constant bargaining with ourselves: I will love myself WHEN... I will be happy with myself WHEN... I will accept myself WHEN I have gotten rid of this weakness... I will give myself a break WHEN...
But how about loving yourself NOW? How about giving to yourself NOW?
I have written the book about being hard on myself. And I have spent a lot of time investigating why. Is it my strict upbringing? Is it years and years of classical ballet? Is it my fiery personality? Is it society? Is it cultural? Is it karmic? Is it an imprint on my subconscious from other generations in my family? I have a million answers, but none that really solves the problem.
I have to say, it is thanks to yoga that I have at least become aware of my destructive behavior towards myself. I have learned to recognize the workings of the ego. It dishes out all these negative thoughts so it can stay in control. Just think of all the things we could do if we didn't waste all that energy on thoughts like “I am only worthy if I learn to be more (adjective of your choice)” or “Who will find it in their heart to love me if I don't learn to be more (adjective of your choice)” or “Or if I don't behave a certain way, I will not receive affection.” etc.
However, even when you recognize that it is just the ego opposing resistance, these emotions still surge, and more often than not we are still overwhelmed by them. This causes such a great conflict because we think now that we intellectually know the cause, we should be able to rid ourselves of them. When we see that we haven't succeeded in destroying the ego, we make ourselves feel bad about that. Which is again the same pattern.
Something Stephen once said on a teacher training was very helpful for me: We don't need to destroy the ego. We need a healthy ego to survive. The ego, the mechanism of grasping for what we need and like, is vital. It is what causes the body-mind complex to reach for the inhale, for food and water, for knowledge and information. However, just because the ego is necessary, that doesn't mean that we need to let it run our lives.
Dorien told me a very good metaphor today. If we think of ourselves as the director of the orchestra, then the ego is probably the very obnoxious horn section of the band. It is up to us, our higher mind, the Buddhi, to direct the orchestra. We have to hone our skill so we can learn to tune out the wind pipes a little bit – they still play in the orchestra, but we have throttled the decibels.
So, we learn to observe, without creating stories, just like a meditation. See every bit of how we punish and put ourselves down, of how we feel guilty and ashamed of mistakes and shortcomings. Then comes the even harder part: We have to learn that we cannot change our Samskara by force, by interfering, by doing. We just have to sit and watch and not do. Because that IS loving yourself. Interfering is exactly the same not accepting and bargaining. Assuming that there is something to correct, to press into the desired shape, is not loving yourself. Non doing is letting everything be as it is and still being true to yourself. Loving yourself in spite of all the ifs and buts. Unconditionally.
Ahimsa starts with yourself. I believe that you start being compassionate with yourself, you become also more understanding of the struggle of others.