One advantage to getting older – at least for me – is that experiences accumulate. Through the years, just like all of you who are reading this, I’ve encountered many challenges. Recently it has occurred to me that there is at least one positive result of living through difficult circumstances. Each of them helps me to become less judgmental of others and of myself. The word “never”, as in “I would never respond that way”, is gradually disappearing from my vocabulary as I loosen my grip on fixed ideas coming from years of conditioning. Increasingly the truth of constant change becomes more evident as well as how little in life is really under our control.
Even though we have similarities as human beings, we are all also uniquely different. Each of us has our own individual characteristics as well as our own gifts. There is really no “one size fits all”. That also means there is sometimes no universal notion of right and wrong or good and bad.
Still we all want to do the “right” thing, even when we’re not really sure what that is. And we are often quick to berate ourselves (or others) when we think we (or they) have gotten it “wrong”. We often hold ourselves to impossible standards. Some of this comes from all the things we’ve been told by others throughout our lives. Experiences of praise or punishment, consequences of actions we’ve taken or witnessed – all of these things contribute to the person we are today and the ideas we’ve formed. We may no longer even know where those ideas originated, but they are part of us nonetheless.
Changing these ideas, or just finding ways to be open to new ones, can be really difficult. Maybe, though, instead of being daunted by that prospect and giving up before even trying, we can learn to recognize this challenge as an opportunity for practice. An article in Yoga Journal by meditation teacher Sally Kempton titled “Make Peace with Perfectionism and Make Mistakes” provides an example of one idea for this type of practice – retraining your inner critic. The article cites Patanjali‘s advice to “Practice the Opposite” from Sutra 11.33. The Yoga Sutras are a collection of verses describing yogic philosophy. This practice suggests that you talk back to your inner critic. So, for example, when you find yourself saying “I shouldn’t be doing this because I can’t do it right” counter this with “I can do lots of things right and my way of doing this is just as good as anyone else’s.” Similarly, if you start to think “I can’t possibly survive this crisis” remind yourself that you’ve survived numerous crises in the past and you can survive this one also. I’m sure you can all think of many other ways to try this out. You might even find it interesting to come up with a counterstatement for every negative thought about yourself (or someone else!) that comes to mind. Here’s another example: “I keep forgetting to do this practice so I might as well give up”. You can counter that with “I’ve remembered before and I can remember again.” Each new moment is a new opportunity to try again. Just recognizing that you forgot is a huge step in the right direction. Give yourself a big pat on the back for that.
Recently when I mentioned to a woman that I am a yoga teacher, she said “I can’t do yoga because I can’t relax”. All of you, myself included, can probably relate to that statement. We all felt that way at some point when we were new to yoga. Some of us may still feel that way. In fact, sometimes yoga itself can be stressful if we put too many expectations on ourselves. Also I know many “Type A’s” who don’t like yoga because it’s “too slow”. My response is “it’s a practice thing”. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. However, I also know that I didn’t always feel that way. Finding it difficult to relax could be one more reason to keep trying. But it could also be another example of how we are each different from each other. We all need to find our own way to what will best serve us.
As I get older I’ve noticed that I’ve become more open-minded and less likely to automatically dismiss or condemn another point of view. That also has made me less likely to try to impose my opinions on anyone else. My classes are a judgment-free zone. Come as you are and do what works for you. And if it doesn’t work for you, that’s OK, too. Maybe the timing is not right or perhaps there is a different type of practice waiting for you down the road. Just try to keep an open mind and remember that everything is always changing. What you feel today may be different from what you feel tomorrow.