“Actions truly born of one’s nature, even if they contain fault, should not be relinquished. For all undertakings are covered by some fault, just as fire is covered by smoke.” – The Bhagavad Gita
Several years ago I was sitting in my therapist’s office having an anxiety attack over my gym membership. I didn’t like my personal trainer. I was pretty sure she hated me. My anxiety over my trainer’s feelings about me meant I was skipping appointments which probably actually caused her to hate me. What if she saw me at the gym and publicly confronted me? What if someone made fun of me for being fat while exercising? What if I was the center of attention? I began spiraling downward into this black hole of panic.
My therapist stopped me, “Well, Lauren, why don’t you just make a goal to go to the gym twice a week? You don’t have to even exercise if you don’t feel like it. Just go to the gym. Just walk in the door.”
“Just walk in the door. If you can do it twice a week, maybe try for three times a week.”
I would like to tell you that I took her advice and totally turned my life around. The reality is that I never went back. I paid for my membership for a year before getting up the nerve to walk in the door…to cancel my membership. One of the mindboggling things about my time in therapy is that she would give me such great tools. I would hear them, but I would just say, “Yeah, but…(insert lame excuse as to why said thing is too hard or wouldn’t work)” Then seven years later, driving down the road her words would hit me like I heard them for the first time.
About ten years ago my therapist diagnosed me with dysthymia. I don’t know if I would have the same diagnosis if I were to walk into that office today because I do feel “better” than I did then. Yet I still have days where it is hard to leave the safety of my home.
One of these things that has helped me with my depression is maintaining my yoga practice, but I don’t think I would have ever been able to maintain this practice if I hadn’t learned self-compassion. Self-compassion doesn’t get the buzz that self-esteem does, but I think it’s paramount to making any behavior change. Where self-esteem says, “I am great,” self-compassion says, “I am human.” We often mistakenly believe that if we start forgiving ourselves for our flaws and mistakes that we will backslide into moral ineptitude. Studies show that self-compassion grows a sense of responsibility without shame or guilt. Imagine eating those extra veggies because you want to, not because a diet book told you, and you have to follow the rules.
Recently, I’ve started my own treatment plan for my depression. For example, my depression makes me want to hang out indoors which in turn contributes to me feeling more depressed. I’ve set some goals for myself (get outside), and I’m just practicing what my therapist told me: “Just walk out the door.” With self-compassion, I lace up my shoes, and I start walking. Performance review is completely off the table. Did I show up? Okay, tomorrow let’s show up again, regardless of what I did today. There are days where I do not do much. There are days where I hike four miles in the forest. I just practice showing up, forgiving my faults, appreciating my efforts, and then I rinse and repeat.
The above quote from the Bhagavad Gita tells us that there are flaws in every course of action. The perfectionism, the guilt we feel, does not provide what we think it should: high standards and high performance. It only paralyzes us. It paralyzed me, until I learned self-compassion. I learned to look beyond the smoke to feel the warmth of the fire.