Practice Makes Permanent
When I was a wee tot, my oboe teacher said to me, "Practice makes permanent".
(Yes, I still play the oboe. Yes, it's very cool.)
Even in high school, everything I learned, I translated into a metaphor for the greater human experience #yogiinthemaking. That sentiment stuck with me. To this day, that mantra grounds me in the reality of the human experience. Perfect does not exist. I refer to this as the asymptote of perfection. We strive for perfection, but no matter how hard we work, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we effort, we never quite reach this idea of perfect.
Perfect is something I learned from somewhere outside of myself. The patriarchy decided that a perfect woman, daughter, girlfriend, teacher, student, yogini looks/behaves/conforms in a certain way. Total bullshit. For most of my existence though, I've performed my identity the way that society explicitly and implicitly told me I should. That came along with massive inner conflict that led to so many expressions of numbing.
I remember in the darkest part of my eating disorder, I was cast in a play at Central Square Theater in Boston. During one particularly focused rehearsal, the director, an insanely smart, talented, and compassionate woman named Megan, paused and said, "you're used to getting As aren't you?" The answer was yes. If you have ever been involved in a creative field, you've most likely discovered that the quickest way to block any creativity or inspiration is to apply the pressure of perfect to the endeavor. There is something about the culture of high achieving individuals that makes it incredibly shameful to fail, to be less than perfect, and with that we lose the impulse to try and risk.
Among many different factors, this idea of performing perfection was one that led me to such a destructive way of existing. It didn't matter how hard I tried to make myself fit into this perceived notion of perfection, I was never enough. Practice makes permanent. The thoughts that I think consistently are the ones that I become. The actions I take consistently define who I am. The way that I treat myself is the way that I perceive myself. I used to practice “not enough” and so found myself, in every aspect of my life, coming up short.
Enter Yoga and Mindfulness and Self Care. When I talk about the yoga practice, I'm not only talking about the physical practice. But let's start with that. Take, for example, chaturanga. How many times in a vinyasa class do I cue that posture? A TON. Besides down dog, it's probably the most frequently visited posture in the asana practice. Imagine for a moment that my chaturanga looks like my butt up the air, a sinking into my shoulders, elbows behind wrists, no activation in core, glutes, or quads. If I practice chaturanga in that way, it will never get better or safer or stronger. My mind and body will instead believe that this is the true chaturanga and anything else is not the posture. Practice drills into us with what we are currently doing. It takes a ton of awareness to recognize when the body compensates for a weakness or undeveloped strength. It takes as much resilience and passion to encourage the body and mind out of the habit and down the uncomfortable path of evolution.
Applying this to the rest of the human experience, the way that we practice speaking to ourselves, taking care of ourselves, interacting with ourselves (thoughts, feelings, sensations), is what we become. Even more important, we must discern which narratives we practice others prescribe to us and which ones come from the authentic self. This is a life long and constantly evolving dialogue.
TOOLS FOR PRACTICING ENOUGH-NESS
If perfect tells us that we are never enough, we must start practicing the opposite. But how? It can be incredibly overwhelming to start from bottom of the enough mountain. Taking the first step requires a ton of courage and willingness to let go of the narrative of perfection. I am still very much on my own path to undoing decades of not-enough-ness. These are tools that I use when I feel myself spiraling into the trap of perfection.
MOVE YOUR BODY - My favorite way to jump off of the perfection train is to move my body in a way that demands trying and falling and getting back up. Physically practicing resilience teaches us that we are strong/soft/agile/creative/courageous enough to keep going. Sometimes this looks like a yoga practice with zero rules, trying all the crazy arm balances or pose variations, moving through transitions that might not fly if I was teach a class. Sometimes that evolves into blasting my favorite song and rolling around through my impulses. When we get stuck underneath the weight of needing to be perfect, often the body physically gets stuck. Moving in a way that breaks the pattern of stuck tends to free the mind from the imposed restrictions as well.
PUT IT ON PAPER - I’m a big fan of letting thoughts leave my head by physically writing them down. Get a stack of sticky notes or index cards. Every time a thought of not-enough-ness comes into your head, write it on a separate note. Organize these spatially so that you can clearly see each note. I often group thoughts together by what they deal with: my worth as a human, my ability to perform the task at hand, perceived expectations. For each thought, I ask a series of questions: what expectations make me feel like this? Is this true? Where did I first hear this? Cross out, write over, tape over the doubts with the truth.
For example: I’m scheduled to teach a huge event and in preparation create a class. Immediately I feel paralyzed because of the magnitude of the event. I’m not good enough to teach here.
Thought: Compare to the other teachers at this event, I am in my teaching infancy. Therefore I am not good enough to command the space like they do.
Expectation: to fill 90mins of time with a safe, compassionate, and elevating experience for thousands of participants.
Truth: I have done this before. I know how and, on the daily, create experiences like this for hundreds of people. Am I enough? Yes. I am.
Thought: Your thoughts don’t matter.
When did I hear this: meetings and interactions where others trample over my words to speak theirs, ignore what I’m saying, and five minutes later literally say exactly what i just said as if the idea magically came to them. I then practiced and repeat this narrative throughout my adult life. This is another manifestation of it.
Is this true: Not in the slightest. Their inability listen compassionately is not a value judgement on me. It's a statement about where they are at in their own personal development.
Practice makes permanent. How are you practicing with yourself? Change is not comfortable or easy. Change often means confronting deep hurts and choosing to heal, choosing to unlearn, choosing compassion. With consistent practice comes changes. Who are you practicing to be?