We don’t really need to be told what to do to feel better, we all more or less know. The catch is, knowing what to do doesn’t mean we’ll actually do it. So why is that? Why do we often have such a hard time doing the things we know will make us feel healthier, happier, more energetic and peaceful?
I was deeply touched recently listening to a fellow student’s voice crack as she asked these very questions. I could hear the deep longing in her voice to understand as she said, “What is this part of me that stops me from doing what I know I really want? What is this resistance?! Where does it come from?”
Not only could I relate to her plea, but it made me realise that EVERYONE relates to it. I don’t think there’s a person alive who hasn’t struggled with moments of self sabotage or daily resistance to doing what’s best for them.
Our teacher wisely answered, “That’s a great question and I want you all to really look into it.” Ha!
So, I’ve been asking myself what the hell this is all about. Clearly, there are as many answers as people in the world, but given that this is a universal struggle, there must also be some universal underlying causes.
Serendipitously, one of the books I’m reading, ‘Daring Greatly’ by Brene Brown, revealed to me how this resistance relates to our belief in worthiness, scarcity and the ego. Not surprisingly, the Yoga Sutras threw out some very similar ideas thousands of years ago.
Brown says, “Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
Looking back I can see how my sense of worthiness, or lack there of, influenced whether or not I stuck to self care practices and/or how much I resist them.
For example, I used to resist exercising every day even though I knew it would make my life better and now I honestly couldn’t imagine a day without exercise.
So what changed? I started engaging with exercise from a place of worthiness rather than a place of lack, scarcity or what Brown calls the “not enough culture.”
Exercise used to be all about staying fit to look good, which is definitely engaging with the world from a place of unworthiness, lack and feeling not enough. Somewhere along the way (no doubt greatly influenced by my yoga teachers and practice) exercising became more about feeling good.
When the internal question of, “should I exercise or not?” arose, I used to translate it into, “Do you want to look better because in the eyes of this culture you clearly aren’t beautiful/skinny/strong/ect enough if you don’t?” Which is quite frankly depressing and un-motivating. No wonder resistance came up!
Now, I mostly translate that same daily question as, “Do you want to feel more energised, clear and light?” The question has nothing to do with my worth, no dark underlying self doubts are wrapped up in it, and I think for that reason I feel less resistant.
The Yoga Sutras teaches us to identify with the part of ourselves that is unchanging, that is pure light, connected to God and the whole world. This is call our purusa in Sanskrit or in English our soul.
The Yoga Sutras says that ego, I-am-ness, is one of the five causes of suffering. Ego means identifying with anything other than our purusa. It’s believing that we are defined by the things in life that change like appearance, wealth, social standing or even health.
Both thinking, “I am the best” or “I am the worst” are ego, and according to the Sutras will lead to suffering. Brown says the opposite of lack is not abundance, that’s simply the other side of the same coin. The opposite of lack is “enough.”
Knowing that we are purusa, pure light, means knowing that intrinsically we are enough no matter what changes occur in our life, body or culture. This knowing gives us courage, and strength to keep trying and practicing without worrying about failure, success or results. This is the attitude that turns practices into habits and lifestyle.
So often we give up on something before we’ve even begun because we’re so afraid to fail. And we’re afraid to fail because we’re afraid what that might mean about who we are. When we wrap our identity up in the results of anything we’re not engaging from a place of worthiness but of ego, and following the road signs to suffering.
We may not need to be told what to do to live a healthier life, but in order to actually take action and stick to it we need to approach our attempts for change from a place of worthiness and connection to purusa.
Sadly the larger culture of airbrushed models and material obsession teaches us the opposite, making the whole paradigm shift fairly difficult. I know the more I’m surrounded by people who engage from a place of worthiness the more this reinforces my ability to do so, and for that reason I see the support of conscious community as the final crucial element of bringing ourselves more and more into alignment with actually living the life we know we want to live.