“The past cannot be cured” ~ a famous quote by the Queen
So why at times do we treat the past like a disease that needs to be cured?
Thankfully through developing an understanding of Yoga (not the fancy poses like the one you see above in front of Buckingham Palace) but through the teachings shared in the Yoga & Mindfulness Sutras , we can decrease dis-ease that can come about from being at odds end with our past. Asmita, which is the second of the Kleshas talked about in Patanjalis Yoga Sutras, looks at how identifying with things that inevitably change (our body, roles or relationships for example) and how this can cause suffering or be a great source of dis-ease. So can trying to ‘fix’ or find a cure for the past.
I have had conversations in teacher trainings and mentoring sessions with people from a range of backgrounds and roles about the tormenting thoughts that can go on in the mind of having to live up to looking a certain way or the body being able to do certain things in order to feel “worthy” of teaching yoga. Ive also had similar conversations with those who aspire to teach Mindfulness who struggle with imposter syndrome (me included) and feel they are not worthy at times to teach because of not having our shit together so to speak. These feelings can be further triggered by comments or gossip of people thinking you should be a certain way physcially, emotionally or mentallly to fullfill a certain role. (The role of a Yogi)
I recently came across a journal that had my thoughts in it from a training I had done overseas over 13 years ago with a group of other yoga teachers. I wrote:
“I am not sure if I am good enough to be here”
It can be this form of mentality that if it gets the better of you can prevent you from doing what you love or living all together. Regardless of weather you can do these fancy poses, eventually do them, or never do them does not determine your value as a human being nor does it determine your ability to teach. There will come a time (as all of the great yogis of our time including the Buddha have shown) where the body will inevitably change and deterioate in some way shape or form. There will be times that your body will let you down, so will your mind. This does not mean there is something wrong with you, it means that you are human. Because of the nature of Yoga here in the west being very focused on the poses (especially in social media) our perception of what Yoga is can become warped or misunderstood. Due to this conditioning our perception around what it means to be of value as a human being in society can also become warped. Most advertising has an underlying message that we need to be better, do more or buy more in order to fit in or feel good. At times those of us in the helping professions can be at risk of high and unrealistic expectations not only from others but from ourselves. There can be expectations that Yogis be flexible, strong, peaceful 24/7 and never get effected by dis-ease in what ever the form.
This week is Mental Health Week and without going into further detail about recent experiences personally and professionally , its obvious with the rise of depression, anxiety, suicide that there is an obvious need to better understand how we can support mental health and release some of the pressure we put on ourselves or others to be a certain way. The Yogis talk about (Asmita) or an aspect of our Ego where we are attached to our roles or what we do and mistake this as being our true self. For example if we mistake our sense of self worth to be dependant on something that will inevitably change (Like our appearance, knowledge, body, work or relationship role) there can be a great deal of disease when change comes. Asmita is getting caught up in mistaken identity.
Over the years of Teaching Yoga and Training Teachers I have had connections and conversations with people who although on the surface have different roles like professional athletes, being the main care taker or financial provider for their family, those with high profiles or who are homeless, doctors, nurses, teachers, business owners, retirees, mothers, daughters, dads, sons. Some of these conversations highlighted how common it was regardless of the roles played in life that there is attachment or identification with these roles in ways that our self worth revolves around them. Likewise everyone has a past and different ways of seeing or dealing with past experiences. Past experiences although they do have an effect on our body and mind, they should not be the determining factors in how worthy we are as human beings. Even the Buddha when asked what gives you the right to awaken. His reply supposedly ~ The fact that I am here now (and he touched the earth) is enough.
I once had a conversation with someone who felt that because what had happened in her past , she was some how flawed therefore would not be able to teach yoga. Others have struggled with similar thoughts because of being a certain weight or stiff, that they too would not be able to teach Yoga. Ive been among those that have fallen pray to the mistaken belief that in order to be of service or of value we need to have our shit together physically, mentally and emotionally (and also financially) . Although these things definitely matter and have an impact, the state of these aspects of oursleves is always changing. Who we are at our core is not based on how much money we have or how many letters we have after our name , or the shape of our body. It did not seem to matter or make any difference when I was nursing people with cancer or mental illness. Neither of these dis-eases discriminates according to your social status, physicality or weather you are a Yogi or not. And yet I think as a society we tend to accept and have more compassion for people with some diseases more than we do for other forms of suffering. There can be more shame around certain things that happen in peoples past and more acceptance around other things.
Brene Brown talks about shame as the one thing that unravels our sense of self worth. Shame is a judgement . Shame is an unpleasant self-conscious emotion typically associated with a negative evaluation of the self, withdrawal motivations, and feelings of distress, exposure, mistrust, powerlessness, and worthlessness.
To what degree do we let our past , or our roles in life determine our self worth?
How do we find our self worth ?
These are some of the contemplations that the Yogis began to consider to help “Know Thyself” and understand the different layers that make us up as human beings. When we are at odds end with differnt parts of ourselves or do not quite understand the nature of things (including our past) we can feel disconnected. Even if we have good intentions to want to help and contribute, if the degree to which you can is used to judge yourself as worthy or not worthy then there is potential suffering.
I had a friend who made a statement that was powerful in its simplicity and an indication of how we can all be a little more “mindful” She said I don’t worry about if I am adding value or how much I can contribute. I just think if we can be kind and respectful to each other that’s enough. Because ultimately we may look different but we are all the same.
Mindfulness helps us peel back all of the superficial layers of what we look like, what we have been through and the roles we play and start to feel beyond these things that are changing. It can help us see when we are stuck in some mis-understanding and remember not to take ourselves so seriously. When it comes to putting pressure on yourself to be a certain way, especially to teach Yoga or Mindfulness perhaps remember these words of wisdom from the Queen :
“Let us not take ourselves too seriously because nobody has a monopoly on wisdom”
We are all in this together, but sometimes in my experience it feels like we are outcast because people may not understand what it is we are going through. Or we ourselves don’t understand what we are going through. Take some time to wise up to the signs and symptoms of different forms of disease, especially depression and anxiety as these are becoming some of our biggest contributors to suicide. Although they do not define anyone, nor does any dis-ease they are worth understanding so we can develop more kindness to ourselves and each other when we are experiencing them.
Below is a list from beyond blue highlighting the signs and symptoms of depression which may help to recognise and be more sensitive to someone who maybe struggling. I have personally found benefit in Mental Health First Aid Training and think its useful to do what we can to help ourselves and others through understanding the nature of these illnesses and forms of dis-ease and how to have more compassionate conversations.
Although we can never know it all and not always remember to be Mindful 24/7 courses like these and having more people in our community who take the time to check in to see if others are ok , invite them along to something, go with them to seek advice or remind them that they are enough , they are valued just as they are can be life saving.
Signs & Symtpoms of Depression :
- not going out anymore
- not getting things done at work/school
- withdrawing from close family and friends
- relying on alcohol and sedatives
- not doing usual enjoyable activities
- unable to concentrate
- lacking in confidence
- ‘I’m a failure.’
- ‘It’s my fault.’
- ‘Nothing good ever happens to me.’
- ‘I’m worthless.’
- ‘Life’s not worth living.’
- ‘People would be better off without me.’
- tired all the time
- sick and run down
- headaches and muscle pains
- churning gut
- sleep problems
- loss or change of appetite
- significant weight loss or gain
Mindfulness Meditation can help us understand what happens in the brain when we are in fight flight freeze or please mode. Integrative forms of Mindfulness/Nidra can help bring awareness to core beliefs that can trigger flight flight modes. How we work with these core beliefs , especially ones that lead to suicidal ideation I feel takes a community effort.
Contact us regarding our MIndfulness Introductory Courses or Training Programs firstname.lastname@example.org