I often find myself at conflict with a lot of the messaging in the spiritual wellness or yoga communities. I don’t know if people have been on their own personal journey’s so long they’ve forgotten what it was like in the beginning, or if people simply aren’t suffering from mental illness the way I and many others are. Either way, these communities, despite perhaps having the best intentions, tend to overlook how hard it can truly be to move into a better headspace.
Constantly hearing things like, “just choose to be happy” or “do these practices and you’ll inevitably feel better” can be a little dismissive and hurtful. Especially when you really believe it’s that easy. Not talking about what hard work yoga and mindfulness truly are is a dis-service to so many people. It leads to toxic positivity, imposter syndrome, spiritual bypassing, and/or giving up on yourself all together.
It’s so important that we all remember that everyone’s journey will be different and take a different amount of time. After having a personal practice for over 12 years, I find myself wondering why I’m not “better” yet. I ask myself what is wrong with me when I notice myself perpetually backsliding into old familiar habits of negative self-talk and mindless action. It becomes a cycle of perceiving that I’m not kind or compassionate enough to myself, then beating myself up for not being where I want to be. It’s unbelievably frustrating. I keep asking myself, if we can all choose happiness in moments of anger or despair, why can’t I? Why am I still struggling?
Only recently have I come to realize that it’s much more complex than just choosing another way of being. We do all have choices, but those choices look very different for all of us. Someone who has been practicing self-hatred or even self-harm for years cannot just go to yoga everyday and decide to be happy and love themselves. It may take them the rest of their life to even come close to that goal, despite diligent, consistent effort. And that’s okay.
When you are confronted with a situation that generally makes your angry, the choice to simply let it go and be happy may truly not be available to you in that moment. Maybe your choice today is just noticing your anger, or your grief, or your nervous energy, or whatever is coming up. Maybe you can choose to sit with those feelings and allow them to be there. And maybe you will spend years practicing that noticing and allowing, without feeling able to choose a different feeling state. And that is okay. Healing is not a race, and the more your try to rush yourself, the less you will actually be able to heal.
Today I invite you to take a look at your own practice, especially if you’re someone who has tried and given it up as a lost cause. Are you putting yourself on a timeline? Are you criticizing yourself for not making progress as quickly and easily as others may seem to be? Are you losing faith in yourself after falling back into harmful habits time and time again? Have you given up on yourself? Take a moment to forgive yourself for having a different path than everyone else. Take a moment to acknowledge how hard it can be to try to heal, and thank yourself for making any effort at all. You’re doing just fine. Give yourself as much time as you need. You’re exactly where you need to be.
If trying harder doesn’t work, try softer