Over time, as the thinking mind begins to settle [through the practice of meditation], we’ll start to see our patterns and habits far more clearly. This can be a painful experience. I can’t overestimate the importance of accepting ourselves exactly as we are right now, not as we wish we were or think we ought to be. By cultivating nonjudgmental openness to ourselves and to whatever arises, to our surprise and delight we will find ourselves genuinely welcoming the never-pin-downable quality of life, experiencing it as a friend, a teacher, and a support, and no longer as an enemy. ~From Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chödrön
As I mentioned recently, my guiding word for 2016 is path. In a moment of luck, serendipity, magic, or auspicious coincidence, the monthly theme for January in the Open Heart Project Sangha is “stages of the path.” In Susan’s talk introducing the topic, one thing that really stood out to me was something she said about discipline being related to remembering our priorities — some of the most important of which are to find out who we are and share what we have to give, to nourish and nurture ourselves so we can be of benefit to others.
For so much of my life, I was confused about this. I looked to external standards and measures to determine who I was supposed to become, what I was supposed to do and how I was supposed to be. None of this process ever asked, “who are you? what do you have to offer?” My effort was completely disconnected from my inherent being, and was focused on becoming something else. I spent most of my adult life denying who I was, lost to myself, homesick for something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
A conversation with a friend got me thinking about how I got here, how I found myself back in my own body, reconnecting to my true self, and about all the remaining ways I still struggle. I went back through the timeline (starting nine years ago) and considered all the things that had to shift, all the effort and patience it required. It wasn’t easy, and I’m nowhere near done.
And I know that sounds like I’m talking about changing, about self-improvement, but that’s not it exactly. Before I was a constructed, false self, and the effort now is about sinking into my authentic self, letting all that other crap fall away. For example, some people might look at my body now and think “she’s bigger, she changed,” when actually it was the previous form of my body that was a construct. I put so much effort and struggle into how my body was before. It wasn’t natural or healthy, and yet to look at me, I was a better fit with the norm, the standard women are measured by. My body before by external measures was preferable, but I had to suffer to have it. I had to hurt myself to look like that. I’m now making the choice to not generate more suffering, to be kinder and less judgmental. I no longer go to the gym to change the way my body looks, but rather I’m there to feel good in the body I have. Sure, I hope the effort translates into an increase in strength, endurance, overall health, but I can no longer be motivated by needing things to be different, thinking I can control the outcome, hating myself because I don’t measure up.
And what a wonderful surprise to realize that the most important thing I have to offer, the best thing I have to give can only come from being fully myself. That who I really am is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing I need to fix or hide, but rather something to honor, something precious, something to set free. No smashing myself to bits. No more striving. Instead, I just need to relax, sink deeply into my tiny ordinary life, just as I am, letting the edges of my practice soften so that there is no longer any difference between my life and my path.