There are times when you may find yourself in the middle of a class getting annoyed by what you perceive is your lack of ability. You may start to lament letting yourself go or waiting so long to begin. Or you may start believing that getting older automatically implies loss of ability. Or maybe you see what the person next to you is doing and start beating yourself up because you feel like you can’t do the same thing. This drumbeat can become a self-fulfilling prophecy; that is, saying “I can’t” means “I can’t”. Personally, I hate hearing the words “I can’t”. It’s amazing to me how easily we downgrade our abilities. These negative thoughts can become what Sharon Salzberg refers to in a recent blog post on onbeing.org as “inner landmines”. They can trip you up and derail your efforts before you even know what’s impacting you. Sometimes the attack can be so severe that it triggers thoughts of giving up. It can even be the first brick in a wall of resistance that keeps you from believing that you can change.
This is just plain wrong. Recent brain research continues to prove that we are never too old to change.
If you find yourself in this type of negative spiral, it might help to stop and examine what is creating that resistance. It probably has nothing to do with the person next to you. It has much more to do with how you see yourself. Instead of focusing on what you think is wrong with what you’re doing, how about celebrating the fact that you are there doing it. Think of all the people you know who give in to their inner “boogey men” and don’t even try. Here you are making the effort. That’s special! You may think that effort isn’t perfect, but whatever you’re doing is better than not doing it at all. Through the years I have seen (and I have had!) many “aha!” moments when something that seemed so elusive suddenly becomes clear and do-able. Think of riding a bike. Or that subject you took in school that seemed so opaque. Whatever block you overcome, it soon becomes so effortless you begin to wonder what was so troubling. I recently heard a description by a father of his son’s first steps. The child took one step and suddenly his little face lit up when he realized he was still standing and could take another. Sure, he fell shortly thereafter, but it was enough success to inspire him to keep trying.
Maybe you have always downplayed your abilities. Some of us have been raised to believe that this is a form of necessary modesty. More often, though, these thoughts have morphed into demons that hold us back from trying new things or pursuing something we’ve always wanted to do. Despite this self-directed negativity, most of us are capable of incredible compassion towards others. It is not being selfish or even self-centered to believe that you are just as deserving of compassion as everyone else in your life.
So allow yourself some of the generosity you are so willing to bestow on others. The first rule of yoga is “ahimsa” which is usually translated from Sanskrit as “non-violence”. We are not capable of non-violence toward others until we first learn to be non-violent toward ourselves. Subjecting ourselves to “inner landmines” hardly qualifies as non-violence. Even if you’re the only one that knows.
When you hit a wall with your practice remember the rule of ahimsa. Be gentle with yourself. Maybe you need to just stop, take a breath and try again another time. Or try making the best effort you can make at this time regardless of how far away from your ideal you think it might be. Either way you can’t lose. Mindful effort is always better than not trying at all. And practice works. Keep trying and you will improve. You may never look like your neighbor but that doesn’t mean that you are not achieving the desired result. Even when you think the results are less than optimum you’re probably improving more than you realize. Reward yourself for the effort you’ve made and smile! Give yourself a break and applaud your achievement. After all, you showed up and that’s half the battle.