GIVING UP ON MY BEST SELF AND THE POWER OF PROGRESS
There was a period of my life during which, when I would meet new people, be it yogis, colleagues, friends, or casual acquaintances, I would share what I do, what I am into, and a couple, at the time, truths not unique to me, but likely universal.
“I write. I do yoga. I love to hike. And snowboard. At this point in my life, I am just trying to figure it all out, and be the best version of myself possible.”
I am just trying to figure it all out, and be the best version of myself possible. While the former part of this statement remains true, I have slowly begun to exclude the latter part of this statement from my life.
I have given up on trying to be the best version of myself. And it feels damn good.
For a long time, I was under the impression that these two quests, figuring it all out and finding the best version of oneself, were mutually exclusive; that one would invariably lead to the other. Once I figure it all out, I will feel a weight lifted off my shoulders, thereby allowing me to blossom into the best version of myself possible. Or, conversely, once I discover the best version of myself possible, things will just naturally fall into place, thereby allowing me to figure it all out with ease.
This faux-philosophy that I let govern my life rang especially true in regard to my yoga asana practice and how I incorporated yoga as a whole into my life off the mat.
Once I let my trepidation about stepping foot into a yoga studio for the first time slip away, I found myself strongly drawn into a practice that oftentimes allows me to escape the clutches of my own mind and immerse myself into something inexplicably but powerfully greater than “I.”
Once I let my trepidation about stepping foot into my first day of yoga teacher training slip away, I found myself drawn even further into this practice, and all in the company of a group of humans who, despite not knowing from a stranger on the street at the beginning, now know some of my deepest vulnerabilities and greatest joys.
Both practicing and teaching yoga have brought so much profound growth and exploration into my life in simultaneously humbling, enlightening, and challenging ways, which, until I adjusted my expectations of myself, were becoming less inspiring and more frustrating when I would find myself acting in ways not at all yogic, but in contrast, selfish, jealous, childish, irritable . . . the list of adjectives goes on.
“I was on my mat today – why did I decide to pick a fight with my significant other? I am a terrible partner.”
“I meditated this morning – why was I so irritable at work? I am not a good person.”I naively found myself assuming that simply by adopting some yogic principles into my life, this fictitious best version of myself would simply manifest, take over, and demolish any modicum of ego left in my psyche. I found myself holding myself to such a high, and frankly unreasonable, standard of behavior that my failing at my quest to find and become the best version of myself was, in fact, resulting in me becoming a decidedly worse version of myself.
And then, I had an epiphany: what if, for me, figuring it all out means letting go of the notion of pursuing the best version of myself, and simply embracing the shit out of being a perpetual work in progress?
And so, began the shift.
Rather than punishing myself for not always being on my absolute best, and yogic behavior, I began using my moments of unsatisfactory, petty, small behavior as opportunities for growth and exploration, asking myself “What, in your gut or heart, is making you behave this way?” rather than telling myself “You are a bad person” or “You are a terrible person.”
I made my life off the yoga mat analogous to my time spent on the yoga mat. It’s not as though, when I step onto my mat, I arrive with a notion of “Today, I am going to be the best at yoga,” or “Today, I am going to do the best tripod headstand ever.” Sometimes when I practice, I do feel strong as hell, and like I could conquer anything. And when that happens, I do get really stoked when my legs seemingly effortlessly stretch towards the ceiling in tripod headstand. Other times when I practice, even when I do feel strong as hell, it’s just. Not. There. The focus isn’t there. The balance isn’t there. The strength isn’t there.
In these instances, when the prana just isn’t there, I don’t walk out of the studio thinking “I suck at yoga. Today, I wasn’t the best yogini.” On the contrary, I walk out of the studio thinking “I can’t wait to get back in there and see how I can progress.” If I apply this philosophy to my yoga asana practice, why shouldn’t I, in the true spirit of yoga, unite my philosophy on my asana practice with my philosophy on my life? When I don’t feel as though I have had my strongest practice, I don’t beat myself for not being the best at yoga; I get excited to progress. So, on days when I show weakness of character or judgement off the mat, why would I beat myself up for not being the best version of myself when instead, I could be excited to progress?
That’s the thing about the notion of the best. It may sound like something to strive for, something to romanticize, but in reality, if I really think about it . . . where does being “the best” leave any room for continued growth? Or for continued exploration? Or for continued challenge? Of course, we all want to be good. Good partners. Good yogis. Good yoginis. Good global citizens. But, the reality is, we are human. And that is territory that, whether we like it or not, invites messiness and imperfections.
Perhaps it’s time to change the narrative from seeking to be the best versions of ourselves to simply being okay with being perpetual works in progress, on and off the mat, and allowing ourselves the room for growth, exploration, and challenge that being the best at anything simply rules out.