For years I've been afraid of everything I want I'm afraid to lose this sense of longing I've set a place for at my table I'm afraid it will leave me and I'm afraid that it won't When I face that inner voice of mine that's all it seems to say: I'm afraid I'm afraid I'm afraid this mantra skips and repeats etches and engraves deep marks in me flutters nervously behind my eyelids where can I go when I'm afraid of every outcome it's hard to move forward on shaking, unsteady limbs I've exhausted every effort to soothe the voice that says "unsafe" I've built up walls and barricades I've torn them down to demonstrate that I can be brave but still the deep seed of fear remains it cracks through the concrete I lay it crawls ever upward through my veins searching for the sun
One of the most common and recurring whines I’m sure we’ve all uttered in childhood is, “But it’s not fair!” Only once we’re older to we really realize that life isn’t fair. As children, though, we are told to “play fair” to “share” and things of this nature. We learn the moral value of justice and fairness, expecting the world that taught us these values to actually embody them. It’s no wonder that there is such friction and frustration when we go out into the world only to find that these lessons were all just talk.
I’ve always felt like most people make peace with this inconsistency more easily than I have ever been able to. I constantly feel victimized and cheated by small injustices we all face every day. I become especially exasperated when I think of the injustices of society as a whole. Even when I know that this period in history is a lot more just than it has been in the past, I can’t seem to let go of the idea that it should be better.
I constantly catch myself playing little mind games to even the score when I feel like I’ve been cheated out of money or have been treated unfairly in some way. The absolute madness of Comcast charging me $15 for a “self-installation” fills me with so much anger that I instead force myself to look at it as if the “free” product was what was $15. If something bad happens to me, I think of all the reasons why I must have deserved it. I’m always tallying up the score in strange ways like this in order to make myself feel a situation is more fair than it actually is.
For the longest time, I thought this was an excellent way to handle the injustices of the world. If I can play around with the facts in my head enough that I end up finding some sense of peace then all the better. However, just the other day I began to question this process of mine. Why must I make everything fair? After all, I know full well that life is not fair. Is it really doing myself any favors to pretend otherwise? Maybe instead I should be working on learning to sit with that unfairness.
It also occurred to me today just how hypocritical I have been in this regard, as we all tend to be honestly. We never scream “it’s not fair” when the scale is weighted in our favor. If I find myself on the beneficial side of an unfair arrangement, I feel rather pleased. I don’t feel any need to examine it or balance everything. Yet, if I’m the once short changed I am appalled and outraged. I feel helpless in the face of the big, bad, corrupt, unjust world. When I do something well, I expect to be rewarded in some way by the world. Yet when it comes to all the terrible, selfish things I do, I don’t expect punishment.
Most if not all of our suffering in this life is brought about by reality not living up to our expectations. By finding a way to make things always seem fair in my head, all I’m doing is subtly reinforcing my believe that the world should be fair. I think it’s time that I work towards accepting things even when they aren’t. Eventually there will come a time that no amount of mental effort will allow me to balance the scales of my life. It may sound depressing, but one of my new mantras is going to be “life isn’t fair.” I want to learn to accept this fact so that I am not crippled by my reaction to this part of reality when I inevitably encounter it in the world. Not only will practicing this new mindset of surrender and acceptance help me mitigate my anger at personal as well as societal injustices, it will also help me avoid internalizing a lot of the bad things that happen to me. Just because I experience some type of awful loss, doesn’t mean that I deserved it, nor does it have to be the end of the world, when things don’t go as I think they should.
My new favorite mantra is, “can I love myself even though…” I fill in the blank with whatever I’m struggling with or judging myself for at the time. It has been a huge shift in perspective for me. It gives me that perspective which allows me to refocus and consider what the goal of this life truly is. Even though it’s extremely hard for me, my main goal in life is to love myself and others and be a positive force in the world. Love is the greatest gift that we have been given, and there is no greater way to express our gratitude for this miraculous capacity for love than to let that love light shine bright enough to encompass our whole being and those around us. It’s more fun to imagine life as a game than a test. It’s not a game of aggression and struggle against forces trying to destroy us either. It’s a casual game like the ones I enjoy most of all. It’s simply about exploring, being curious, and having fun, seeing what wonderous things we can create along the way.
It’s easy to become distracted by all the negatives we’ve been conditioned, and to a certain extent, designed to focus our attention on. We are constantly trying to find happiness and self-acceptance by changing external circumstances. If only I was skinnier. If only I was smarter. If only I was less anxious. If only, if only, if only. Now when I notice myself getting upset about these rather trivial imperfections, I’ll say to myself, “can I love myself even though I’m imperfect?” Then I listen to that opening feeling in my heart answering back with a resounding, emphatic, “YES!” If my initial reaction is a stubborn “no”, (as it sometimes is) then I’ll ask myself to give it a try anyway. I’ll look at it as a challenge to work with and overcome. It doesn’t have to be so serious. It’s all a part of the game. Looking at it this way keeps me from judging myself for judging myself, which is obviously counterproductive. Instead I become curious and excited to tackle this new challenge.
We are all born full of love and acceptance. I see the truth of this in the faces of the children I work with every day. It’s only as we grow older that we begin to close our hearts to the world and to ourselves out of fear. And when you stop and think about it, this fear or anxiety we feel is an instinctual act of self love. We have these feelings so that we are able to recognize danger and protect ourselves. You aren’t broken. You mind and body are just doing their best to keep you safe. It’s up to us to use our higher consciousness to teach our minds and bodies that it’s okay to relax. The more we practice opening again, the easier it becomes. Sometimes when I’m having a particularly difficult time, I’ll remind myself of that. Even though it seems impossible to practice self love and self care right now, I know that it will only get easier and easier if I keep trying anyway, if I forgive myself for all the hiccups and hard days along the way.
This mantra doesn’t always have to be directed at self-criticism either. For example, sometimes I get overwhelmed with how much I want to do around my house. In that scenario, I’ll ask myself, “can I love myself even though my house is a bit messy or not exactly the way I’d like it to be?” Then rather than ruminating on all I’ve got to do, I’ll instead focus my energy on the fact that I can love myself anyway. It really takes a lot of the pressure off and reminds me of what’s truly important.
As you go through your day today, I encourage you to try this mantra out for yourself. Notice how different our “problems” feel after reaffirming our love for ourselves. When we give ourselves the love we seek, everything else starts to feel a little less important, less scary, less urgent. There is nothing for us to fear, no suffering that can touch us, when we truly practice self love and self compassion each and every day, when we love ourselves even though…
“Use your yoga” is a phrase that I picked up from the studio where I completed my teacher training. These three simple words really help remind me to bring my practice with me off the mat and into my day to day life. It is a short mantra that we can all benefit from. But what does it mean?
“Using your yoga” means applying what we’ve learned in class to every situation we are faced with on or off the mat. For me, it is most helpful to remember this when I am faced with something difficult or unpleasant. Rather than focus on how “unfair” life is and how displeased I am with what is happening, I am reminded that while I can’t change the external circumstances, I can change how I look at them.
Instead of viewing something as an inconvenience or an annoyance, I can choose to view it as a challenge, an opportunity. I can be grateful for the universe providing me with this situation. It may be helping me have new insight into something about myself I need to work on. It may even be the perfect instance to practice cultivating that which I am lacking, whether it be patience, forgiveness, resilience, etc.
Rather than viewing difficult times as something that have torn you down, choose to view them as necessary obstacles that will ultimately build you up. That’s using your yoga! It usually isn’t easy, but it’s always worth a try.