It took a while for me to truly understand what loving myself meant.
We hear it often—love yourself. But what does that really mean?
The boom in social media has many thinking that vanity equals loving yourself, and that a selfie is merely an expression of that. Others think that accepting ourselves exactly as we are is maitri, or loving-kindness. And to a certain extent, it is.
But where is the line between maitri and non-accountability? Between being kind to ourselves and making excuses for how we show up?
In today’s “New Age” world, it seems trendy for people to be “detached”—it insinuates spiritual advancement, as that is what is written in many ancient texts. However, in most cases, the reality is not true detachment, but stoicism. Stoicism is viewed by many as being okay with everything, being cool as a cucumber, when what it really is is not dealing with reality.
Someone who does not show his emotions or chooses to ignore underlying feelings is not actually detached; they are simply avoiding.
This is similar to using loving ourselves as an excuse (usually only to ourselves, because let’s face it—people don’t care about what we do as much as we think they do) to not do the work.
I’m a dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner. I do my best to maintain a daily practice six times a week, as is tradition. The practice has given me so much, and has allowed me to shed necessary layers and versions of myself that no longer serve me. The practice, in itself, is a form of making friends with myself; it is where I meet the most genuine me.
The asana (posture) limb of the practice is a sequence, and one that does not change. Day in, day out, the sequence is the same. A practitioner gradually builds his practice in time, with the teacher advancing them at their own pace once they deem the student is ready. Nevertheless, the student repeats the same sequence the following day. The physical structure is the same, and yet every day, the experience during practice is different.
The mind, the physical sensations within the body, the energy levels—these all vary in countless combinations, resulting in a unique experience.
Having said that, thought patterns often emerge through consistent practice, and when I pay close attention and I’m aware, I notice that the thoughts that arise are usually recurring (hence the Sanskrit word samskara, which translates to patterns of the mind). In this way, I have been able to observe myself like never before. The more I practice, the more old thought patterns loosen and the more I am able to release parts of myself from myself.
I make yearly trips to Mysore, India, where I study directly under the lineage-holder of the method. I came back from my last trip earlier this year, and in the beginning, my practice carried on with the momentum from my two-month trip. As COVID-19 began shutting down the world as we knew it, I had to transition from practicing with a teacher to maintaining a self-practice: my biggest fear.
In the first few months, it was relatively easy and I surprised myself on a daily basis when I got up and stepped on my mat. As the months passed, my discipline started to falter (in different aspects of my life as well) and today, my practice has whittled down to three or four times a week, and on some of these days I do not even do my full two-hour practice, instead stopping when I feel like it.
This usually results in being disappointed in myself. In order to feel better, I sometimes choose to feed my ego by making excuses. It’s easy to gloss over the excuses and tell myself that I’m simply loving myself as I am. Is this what making friends with ourselves is? Being kind and accepting how we are in any given moment? Yes—and no.
We shouldn’t beat ourselves up, because what does that really achieve, apart from harm? At the same time, if we continue to avoid the truth, we are also doing ourselves a great disservice. By making excuses, I am not taking accountability for myself. “Something is better than nothing” or “You can’t beat yourself up; it’s hard not having a teacher” or “Listen to your body; it’s telling you you’re tired” are all potentially valid, but only to the degree that they are true.
In my case, they are all false because ultimately my choice boils down to my laziness. Some people might see these reasons as maitri, but in reality, they’re non-accountability. Why? Because I was not doing my best—I was simply making excuses, and giving myself an easy out.
So how do we transform the excuses into maitri? By acknowledging the truth, and making friends with that.
I have made friends with my laziness by acknowledging its presence, as opposed to pretending it isn’t there. This is where I currently am; I am not exactly where I want to be in regards to my discipline, and I am finally okay with that—I’m on my way!
The best I can do is give it my genuine all, without any expectations. There’s a fine line between maitri and non-accountability, and all we really need to do is be honest with ourselves.
In holding ourselves accountable for our actions, or lack thereof, we are practicing maitri. In making excuses for ourselves, we are not. We ask honesty from others, so why should it be any different from ourselves?