August 22, 2012

On Ego, Judgment & Aspiration.

There I was. In down-dog. When something magical happened.

My heels touched my mat.

I know—yours have been doing that since before you did your first sun salutation. It’s nothing extraordinary. But it was for me.

Since then, there have been lots of moments in my yoga practice that have caused little bursts of joy: I kept my balance for the full five breaths! I reached my other hand behind my back! My nose touched my shins! etc. No, actually, that’s about it. But still.

Thing is, I’ve been taught that the little boosts I get from these obstacles overcome are less than ideal, because they’re manifestations of my ego. Right? Because one’s never supposed to judge oneself, never compare oneself.  Neither against other yogis and yoginis (but seeing that yogini in a perfect dhanurasana was such a source of motivation!), nor against one’s former self (but I touched my toes!). Because that allocation of judgment—good or bad—means not accepting that things simply are as they are.

I get this. Sort of. I know that this is about being present, about endeavoring to not invoke suffering by being satisfied with the way things are. But here’s the thing: I’m not satisfied. And while yoga is a hugely important part of my life, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel comfortable in full-acceptance mode.

It’s something I write about quite a lot: acceptance vs. aspiration. It’s the theme song of my early thirties.

A few of my convictions that may fly in the face of “enlightened” thought:

1. What other people think is very important.

I know we’re not supposed to care what others think. The logic goes that since we’re supposed to shine like the special, talented, extraordinary snowflakes we are—here for a reason, perfect by nature of the fact that we exist, etc.—it must not matter what others think about how we do business.

We should hold our heads high in the face of their scorn.

I agree with this to a point. The bit I don’t buy is that we actually buy it. All of us care what others think. It’s why we wear clothes even when it’s sweltering (that, and we might be arrested otherwise). It’s why we sensor ourselves even when we have something really funny to say because we know it’s not an appropriate time  (or we don’t).

And thus far, it’s been a vital part of our very existence. We are communal creatures. We depend on others for our survival—more so socially and emotionally than practically. So what others think of us is important. Even if we’re intentionally using verbal, written, or nonverbal communication to invoke traditionally negative feelings:  intimidation, fear, disgust.

2. I am not good enough.

No, I’m not.  Not in this moment, not in the last one, and probably not in the next one. Don’t worry—I’m not (constantly) fixated about it, but I genuinely want to be a better person. And I’ve got a lot of work to do to get there. Sure, there are things that would be much better if I would simply learn to accept them as they are.

There are, however, far more things that could use improvement. Luckily, while I’m not comfortable with all of these faults, I find tremendous beauty in the human condition, so while I’m kicking myself part of the time, I’m also quick to forgive myself, to explore my reasons-why and to keep on moving forward. I guess that’s not very present of me, but then I’m also quite thrilled at the prospect of injecting more kindness, more efficiency, more knowledge and more empathy into the person I call me.

3. Humanity is not good enough (yes, that means you).

Yikes! All this judgment. But seriously—we’re not! There’s no two ways about it. We have serious work to do. It’s 2012. Human trafficking is alive and well.  People are imprisoned in countries all over the world for speaking out against tyrants and cruelty. We are destroying the only planet we have. Consumerism usurps ethics almost as a constant. The taste of bacon is more important than the human and animal suffering brought on by the meat industry.  There are homeless people on the streets of every major city in every country in the world (even Singapore). We still drink bottled water.

I know we can do better than this, because we have most certainly done worse. Some periods that come to mind:  the Spanish Inquisitions; Democratic Kampuchea; the Holocaust; the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

And I care what you think. I care because it makes me learn—sometimes from you, sometimes to avoid you. I care because I am not an island. I care because I need you, and I need to be needed by you (but not in a crazy codependent way—don’t worry).

Do not misunderstand me: there are fine lines to be drawn all the time in this life. Those lines move and change with the whims of societal norms—sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. There’s nothing black and white about the world we live in. There are times when our egos need to be put in check and even shut down, when there is no room for judgment, when one should choose to accept rather than aspire. But there are times when we’ll need to give ourselves a mental high-five, or chastise ourselves for not doing as well as we might have.  There are times when we’ll strive to be judged, because it is, at least in part, through the eyes of others that we learn who we truly are.

So, at the risk of going against the grain, perhaps some of you will join me in raising a toast to ego, to judgment, and to aspiration.

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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