Yogi Assignment: Self-love

This week’s Yogi Assignment is as much for me as for you. I usually write about whatever life lesson I’m most present to. As a lifelong yoga practitioner I don’t believe in perfection in the material world, neither in my body, my mind, my actions nor my asana. It’s all a work in progress. My time on yoga mat and in meditation is often my most clear time during the day. If there are emotions or thoughts that I’m running away from they are waiting for me on the mat, in the space between the breaths.

One of the hardest things for me to deal with is negativity, both in my own mind and in the world at large. I’ve struggled with depression since I was nine years old. Each dive down into the darkness of my inner world is a little different. Sometimes my depression comes with intense negative self-talk and suicidal ideation. Sometimes it comes with panic, anxiety, and crippling fear. Other times it shows up as physical exhaustion where I need to sleep for hours and hours. I know my life is blessed and I have immense privilege. I know there is no logical “reason” for me to feel or think like this. Depression is disease of the mind and it’s not like I or anyone who suffers from depression can just be talked out of it with good vibes. With yoga, mediation, prayer, and a good therapist I have tools at my disposal that help me treat, manage and make friends with my demons. It isn’t easy but it’s some of the deepest yoga I know.

Negativity in the world is hard for me to navigate often because the balance of my mind is in fact so tenuous. I vacillate between letting people walk all over me, accepting abuse, taking things way too personally and being so sensitive that I blow up either internally or externally. I also don’t like when people have a negative view of me and want to believe that if we can just talk it out, we will find a place of compromise, love and mutual respect. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case.

Dealing with negativity, both in the personal and the global sense can be overwhelming. Hearing and receiving other people’s harsh judgements can be hurtful. But just as it’s impossible in the inner world to be all positive all the time and never be sad, angry or fearful, it’s also impossible to think that life will be totally free from difficult situations. Denying or suppressing your own shadow makes it even harder to sit with or be present to other people’s shadow without just wanting their anger or hurt feelings to go away. And yet, I don’t believe that we have to be a verbal punching bag and just lie down and take verbal assaults, whether they come from our own mind or from the outside world.

While it’s so cliche to say that love is the answer to hate, it really is. This week’s Yogi Assignment is Self-Love. There are so many ways that you can honor and love yourself but this week I want to talk about loving your shadows and making peace with your own darkness. Once you see your own shadow and learn to love it and forgive it, I think it’s so much more likely that you’ll be able to love and forgive the world for its shadow.

We need to look no further than ourselves to see that we live in a fallen world. We need mercy not punishment to heal.

I, like many people, can be so hard on myself sometimes. I’m working on accepting my humanity, learning from my mistakes and being gentle with myself along the way. If it were an injury in the body, if I had fallen out of a handstand and landed funny on my foot, I’d be so gentle and kind to aching body. Translate the lessons learned on the yoga mat into life lessons. Be as gentle with your mind and heart as you would with a hurt muscle or joint.

When you encounter negativity in your mind, see if you can love them. Start off by forgiving yourself for being negative and then work with the quality of your thoughts in the moment. If you find yourself complaining see if you can turn the thought around and be grateful for something. If you notice yourself painting horror pictures about the future see if you can change the narrative and reach for a peaceful outcome.

When you encounter negativity in the world, pause and watch your reaction. Do you feel yourself getting angry, sad, or fearful? How does it feel in the body? Then, before you respond or react notice what the impetus or root of your need to respond comes from. You might find yourself trying to vindicate or defend yourself. You may find yourself wanting to strike back and add more fuel to the fire. Either way, the most important thing is to be fully aware of the root intention of your response before your decide to take action.

Constructive feedback and even conscious protest can be loving, although it may certainly feel like tough love. But there is no obligation to engage or entertain hate, whether that hate comes from your own mind or from the world around you. Closing the door on your own negativity can feel like a victory, but walking away from someone who has a negative view of you can feel like a devastating loss. But it’s not your job to be responsible for other people’s anger. You can only be responsible for your own actions and your own emotions. If their anger is justified, apologize, learn from your mistakes and move on. But if it’s just hateful then make your peace internally and accept their tragic view of you.

There is a delicate balance to strike between being present with genuine dialogue from sincere people and making yourself available to haters who just want to bash you. It’s also often a similar line between integrating constructive criticism as opposed to devolving into nihilism and self-sabotage. I don’t know about you, but I find it rather hard to navigate between these two states. Life, like the practice, is not a pass or fail test, but a school of learning and transformation. And we all need to keep practicing.

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