My Own Worst Critic No More

During my Christmas holiday my best friend and I sat at the kitchen table deep in conversation, while her 2 year old daughter sat on the floor, immersed in her coloring book. Minutes later we realized that she was unusually quiet all of a sudden and soon discovered that she had moved on from coloring in her book to coloring the walls of the living room. To the question of what on earth she was doing she responded with confident “doodling”. Well, fair enough…

I was waiting for my friend to get angry or frustrated or mad. Instead she very calmly explained to her daughter that she wasn’t allowed to color on the walls, took the markers away, and burst out laughing as soon as her husband had ushered the toddler out of the room. This was forgiveness in its purest form: my friend felt there was nothing to forgive.

After our rather futile attempt to wipe the doodles off the wall I walked home in contemplation of what had just happened. How often do we forgive our loved ones but are much tougher on our own selves even for minor transgressions? Why has being “your own worst critic” become acceptable and even encouraged in our society?

Ahimsa, non-violence, is one of the five Yamas, the moral codes of conduct, of classical yoga. As a devoted yogi I try to be non-violent: I do not eat meat, often remind myself to let things go instead of dwelling in negativity and anger, and if all else fails, at least try not honking in traffic. I try to practice Ahimsa to the best of my abilities and find that my life is lighter without the burden of negative energy. But it isn’t rare for me to feel guilty for eating an extra cookie for desert, shame if I gain a pound here or there, or resentment towards myself if I feel I have fallen short of some goal I had set. Somehow the practice of Ahimsa toward my own self has not occurred to me.

So as I look out at the year ahead, one of my resolutions is to embrace the perfectly imperfect me the way my best friend embraced her daughter’s creative outburst, wall doodles and all. Yes, I will continue to set goals for myself and hopefully reach them. But I will not allow them to become my measure as a person. I will love myself unconditionally and will not berate myself for questionable dinner choices. I will give myself self-compassion and self-forgiveness. I might as well, seeing as I am stuck with who it is that I am. I might as well embrace it. Doodles and all.

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Practice Your Gratitude!

Nari Yogini Recently I made a pact with myself that I would try to go a weekend without complaining, and each time that a negative thought threatened the pact I would think of something I was grateful for. This weekend reminded me just how much I had to be thankful for but just how much I had been taking for granted…

Growing up after the breakup of Soviet Union, when things like electricity, running water, and a square meal were luxuries, gratitude was in abundance. We were thankful for neighbors willing to share their milk and eggs, or that none of the kids got the flu this winter. When I sat with a candle reading yet another Alexander Dumas book, I was grateful for the candlelight that gave me the ability to read and also transformed my world into the shadowy world of the 18th century France, where secrets were whispered in palace hallways by very similar candlelight. I was too busy being happy to give the situation about why it was I needed the candle a second thought.

But the mind craves constant stimulation: anything that isn’t new and exciting (however good it may be) does not register. We take things for granted, and with time we find ourselves completely out of practice of gratitude. Our minds wind up stuck in problem solving mode, too busy or tired to notice much else. But there is a reason we call gratitude a practice: just as with asana practice, the more we come back to it, the easier it becomes. So too, the more we train our minds to tune into things, large and small, that deserve gratitude, the more gratitude and joy there is filling our lives.

We may find it easy to be grateful when things are going well, but can we cultivate gratitude when things aren’t necessarily going our way? Making gratitude dependent on outside factors we rob our lives of joy and happiness, and blackmail the universe to give us what we want, or else… True gratitude is not the denial of life’s difficulties, since these are a fact of life. But rather it allows us to find a new perspective and embrace each moment exactly as it is, without placing demands upon the world and upon ourselves.

So this holiday season spend some time sitting down with your reality and see if you can generate some gratitude for people in your life that make you smile, the things that you have, the passions that drive you, and the inspirations that help you pursue these passions. See if you can be grateful for the challenges too, as these are the best teachers we have in life. And be grateful to yourself and for yourself and everything that you are. You are enough and you are amazing.

Come back to gratitude practice the way you would to your physical practice of yoga. Don’t be afraid to work at it: abundance comes to grateful hearts!