By: Danielle Wilson
Why do we hold all of the things, and beings, and aspects of the world to such narrow, pointed standards? To be successful looks like this, to be fit looks like that. Those people are living happy lives, while these people are sad and discontent lives. Duality is everywhere, so it seems the second we denote anything as “good,” all which opposes that, even on the most minute level, is forever burdened with the badge of “bad.” Why should one person’s version of happiness or success determine whether everyone else’s is more or less than? Life isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. In fact, life looks different on every being who lives it! We could daydream about how beautiful the world would be, how easy life would be, and how happy everyone living it would be if we all celebrated each other for creating and basking in our individual versions of joy, success, love, comfort, and existence—without judgement or expectation looming overhead. Jealousy would become a stranger, fear would dissipate completely, and confidence would run through our veins like blood, itself. So, if life could be lived in such a brighter, kinder, more accepting way that would drench the world in happiness and peace, why aren’t we living it already?
The answer is fairly simple: ego. Evolutionarily, the ego’s true job is to help us survive our first three years of life. It is the force that learns right from wrong and safe from dangerous in order for us to acclimate to the world and society around us. It takes each person and experience it encounters and begins filing them into a specific wiring of the brain in order to draw upon for guidance during future endeavors. Like typing a key word into google, the events of our first years of life are triggered to cause reaction for the rest of our lives (that is, unless you are able to become aware of the trigger, observe it, work through it, and reroute its pattern). This is where the development of fears and anxieties, conditioned beliefs, or ways of being are initially conceptualized. Whether helpful or harmful, the young conditioned ego becomes the software that drives and manipulates our everyday thoughts, actions, and reactions as grown people.
Cats provide an excellent example of the questionable evolution of certain “childhood survival” traits. Did you know that the large cats which our house pets originate from do not purr beyond kittenhood? The purr’s purpose is to gain the attention and care of the mother in order to survive the first difficult months of life in the world. Once the kitten begins growing strong enough to fend for itself, it will not purr again for the rest of its life. Domestic cats have evolved to maintain their purr throughout adulthood in order to manipulate their human counterparts to do their bidding—feed, pet, play, etc. The ego has evolved in the same right. At a certain point, its purpose is no longer as vital as it once was during the trials of survival. Yet, it persists. The nagging desire to adhere to duality creates a very specific picture in our minds—and in our society for that matter—of what is what, even down to the insignificant details. But the ego is overstepping its boundaries and overachieving when it comes to ensuring our survival. This way of wiring thought that was once effective begins to hinder us as we condition ourselves to seek validation, narrative, and certainty based upon the code written in our “software.”
We see someone who fits the bill as “most talented, most successful, nicest, happiest, prettiest,” the list goes on, we compare ourselves to them (as well as the conditioned narrative we’ve designed in our minds), and then we cut ourselves down in every way that we don’t measure up. But the truth is, we couldn’t ever possibly rise to the occasion of someone else’s anything, simply because we aren’t them!
We see this strange idea of what is “good/bad,” “worthy/not worthy,” in the mainstreaming of yoga, today. Consider the fact that there is a healthy and correct way to align your body during asana practice, and then there are an infinite amount of ways that are incorrect. Unfortunately, in today’s dawn of validation via the ego’s favorite outlet—social media—image is everything. The flexible yogis and the upside-down yogis have set the standard as the most advanced, successful, talented, or knowledgeable, particularly on social media platforms, but in reality, being bendy, flippy, or inverted doesn’t necessarily equate to achieving proper form which is really the only true standard we have to compare ourselves to. In this definition of success, the yogi with squared hips and properly place feet in pyramid pose—even if they’re using blocks on their highest height, with bent knees, and their stomach a foot from their thighs—is the yogi truly excelling and growing in their practice. Then again, measuring based on form could simply be my idea of success, while others see form as fluid and direct their standards otherwise. Regardless, asana practice provides shapes and movements to guide us, but not to define us, so it is imperative to remember that the moment we gaze around the room in judgement or comparison, is the instant our ego is leading the charge of our perceptions and self-consideration for success.
As us yoga instructors always say, your mat serves as a reflection of your life; it is a wonderful place to get to know yourself. The way we skew, broaden, or release our judgements and perceptions in our practice is mirrored in other aspects of our lives. It is imperative to our self-esteem and quality of life that we work through the way our ego’s software is wired, so we can differentiate between which perceptions are authentic, which are genuinely based in survival/security, and which merely follow the stipulations of a misguided narrative. I challenge you, this month, to employ the self-awareness you cultivate on your mat to sift through your standards and ideas of success, happiness, and whatever other facets of life make you feel more or less than. How much of your perception is driven by your ego’s need to compare and validate, and how much is born of your pure intention to learn, grow, and be constructive with yourself throughout that process? When we grant ourselves allowance to land in our own personal brand of greatness, we learn to love our most authentic Self without questions or agenda, and that’s when we really know we’re living our best life!