Each of us lives amid a tangle of impulses, good and bad, and all that really differentiates one person from another is how hard we choose to fight our way to the good side, or how consistently we relinquish ourselves to the bad.
I have been both very bad and very good in my life, and at neither time was I 100 percent of either. I have found that, although it is easier to be “good,” i.e. make compassionate choices for myself and the people and things in the world around me, it is still not easy, and the lure of the bad is always nipping at my toes.
After rappelling up from the well of despair I built around an abusive relationship and a serious drug problem many years ago, it would be easy for me to say I’m doing “well enough” now. After all, I am no longer intentionally killing myself line by wicked line, deceiving friends and family, stealing, pillaging or otherwise working outside the parameters of common decency in order to shush the insistent voice in my head which relentlessly screamed, “I am afraid! And I don’t want to feel it!”
Instead, I am a loving mother and wife, I study, practice and teach yoga, and I try to write the truth as I perceive it the best I can.
But the fact is, despite my efforts, “well enough” isn’t enough, and although I’ve made some significant progress I am still struggling—and I probably always will—to do better.
As such, I always (usually) welcome opportunities to kick things up a notch, and one has recently flung itself on my doorstep with the unceremonious thunk of the morning paper. In two short weeks I will be honored to participate in a photo shoot with the renowned yoga photographer Robert Sturman, and it seems like the perfect chance to up my game.
In the old days upping my game had less to do with being a better person and more with my obsession with my appearance. In other words, my first thought always was, “How can I get skinny fast?” In my mind, no matter how bad everything else was, if I was skinny it didn’t matter. Not gonna lie, that thought was still the first one in my head.
Sigh. Those demons just can’t ever seem to rest their weary heads.
Fairly quickly, though, I wondered, what if, instead of polishing myself up on the outside for this shoot—which is about yoga after all, and thus is automatically compromised if driven by my ego—what if I tried to polish up my insides instead? And by insides I mean my heart, my soul and my thinking.
The words “Karma Cleanse” came to mind and I began to ponder what that might mean.
Formerly, a cleanse for me—as I said—was about nothing more than weight loss. That means my typically 95 percent vegan diet became a lot less vegan because I was eschewing things like grains and adding instead things like eggs and cheese to my meals to keep me fuller longer, get rid of inflammation and get those extra pounds off fast.
But is it worth a five pound weight loss to compromise my values? Absolutely not.
So what should I do to get my whole self as nice and shiny as it can be for this amazing experience I am about to have? Which, by the way, is taking place at the scene of my many original crimes on the streets of New York, making it all that much more poignant.
The idea of going back to the place (I live in Chicago now) where I let myself descend into despair, into homelessness and addiction, degradation and darkness, as a healthy, strong woman with her values aligned gives me a heady thrill.
I decided I should simply do all the things I try to do daily anyway for the health and wellness of myself, my family, all the people of the world and for the environment, but with an extra level of uncompromising commitment.
No more surreptitious slugs of milk before bed, no more forgetting recycled shopping bags when I go to the store, and no more snapping at my husband just because he loaded the dishwasher in such a way that not one single dish was actually cleaned.
For the next two weeks I am going to as Good as I possibly can in every way I can imagine. Some things on my list are:
1) Eating mindfully.
Putting food on an actual plate instead of grabbing it out of the fridge. Taking time to appreciate the flavors, textures, and fragrances of my food and also to thank the earth for providing it, and making sure it is clean, unprocessed and vegan.
2) Setting aside alcohol.
My love affair with my end of the day glass of wine (or two) is well documented. I don’t believe there is any harm in it, but I do believe I should be able to live without it, and this is the perfect time to assert that I can.
3) Speaking kindly.
The real challenge here is not speaking kindly to others (my husband and the dishwasher situation notwithstanding), but speaking kindly to myself. I don’t do it enough, and I’d love to get better at it.
4) Doing every little thing I can to live gently on the planet.
Shorter showers, using old veggies instead of tossing them, turning off all electronics I am not using, consolidating car trips etc. It doesn’t matter how small these actions are, it is about cultivating a state of being in the world.
5) Being an observer rather than a judge.
This is hard for anybody; it is human nature to judge—ourselves, others, anything that crosses out paths. But for these two weeks I am going to actively try to suspend judgement, and simply watch—my own thoughts most of all.
I’m sure I will stumble and fall far short of my goals, but that won’t stop me from trying. In the process, I will make my insides as sparkly as an old gnarled soul can be, and by the time I fly to New York I may not be thin, but I will be fit.
My hope is that the pictures taken there will reflect my cleaned up state of mind, and that when I look at them for years to come I will be reminded of my best self and the fairly simple things I did to manifest me, so that I may do them more and more often with each passing day.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Bong Grit/Flickr