Guest post by Yogasteya member Kathrine Conroy
Mindfulness is being open and awake to the human experience, good and bad. Mindfulness refers to “living in the moment” and yet, it is so much more than that. Mindfulness means moving through this life with a lightness and joy, unburdened by doubt, fear, guilt and sadness. This is not to say that mindful people do not experience the full range of emotions: doubt, fear, guilt and sadness are all part of the human condition. But, mindful people do not allow themselves to be burdened by these emotions. Like a meditation, they acknowledge the feeling and let it go, free of judgment, free of anger and free of guilt.
Nothing takes us out of the moment like doubt, fear, guilt and sadness. When we feel doubt, we are usually wrapped up in the future: Was that the best choice? What if there were a better alternative that the way I acted? What if someone disapproves of my choice?
Similarly, when we feel fear, we are also not in the moment. We might think of being afraid in the face of an immediate threat, like a lion, and it seems like fear should definitely bring us back to the moment.
But even then, we are not truly in this moment. Instead, our fear is rooted in the future and the anticipation of danger: What if the lion attacks? Will it maim me? Will it kill me?
When we feel guilt, we are fixated on the past: That was not a good choice. We are also simultaneously fixated on the future: Someone will judge that choice harshly.
And when we feel sadness, we are everywhere but the present moment. We are mourning for the past. We are anticipating a future that will be different when we do not want it to be. In writing this article, I started to think of “tips” or “tricks” to assist in practicing mindfulness, but quickly realized they all boiled down to a single principle: GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION.
Let’s give ourselves permission to feel what we are feeling, whether it is joy, bliss, fear, sadness or guilt. Do not give a value judgment to the emotions. It is not inherently bad to feel fear, sadness or guilt, just as it is not inherently good to feel joy or bliss—it is how we respond to these emotions that can make it bad. For example, if we respond to fear by excessively restricting ourselves and not taking (calculated, educated) risks, that response to the emotion has yielded the unwanted results, not the emotion itself.
Let’s give ourselves permission to do what we are doing. We can get trapped in an inescapable cycle of guilt if we allow ourselves. As an example, sometimes we feel guilty for not staying later at work, worried our boss will think we are not working hard enough. Then we feel guilty when we do stay later at work, worried we are neglecting our family and home responsibilities. It’s impossible to win, unless we give ourselves permission. Sometimes staying late is necessary. Sometimes, it’s fine to leave early.
Let’s give ourselves permission to love ourselves. We must make peace with ourselves and love ourselves as we are. Self-love is not something we must become worthy of. It is not something we earn by maintaining a certain dress size or diet or by attaining some career goal. We are always worthy.
Let’s give ourselves permission to fully experience our joy. Sometimes, our joy can be stifled by other feelings like guilt or anger. For example, the joy of receiving a promotion at work is stifled by anger that the promotion did not come sooner or guilt that other co-workers may be more qualified. Allow the joy to be fully experienced. Anger that the promotion didn’t come sooner is wasted. The past cannot be changed. Guilt that others may be more qualified is unfounded. Remember it wouldn’t make sense to choose someone who is not the most qualified for a promotion. Believe it.
Let’s give ourselves permission to be flexible. Starting a meditation practice and missed a day? Be flexible and be sure to resume tomorrow. Trying to start eating a vegan or vegetarian diet but a steak sounded really good? Forgive it. Nothing in this life is perfect and we are no exception.
To me, the comedian Pete Holmes embodies the lightness and joy I am describing. As a fan of his podcast, “You Made It Weird”, I have heard Pete describe his diet as “fleegan”—flexible vegan. He knows the value of flexibility. Pete tells a story in which he ate a quesadilla—decidedly not vegan—and after a brief moment of guilt, responded to himself with love instead, telling himself out loud, “I love you, Peter. I love you.”
To me, this video by Pete Holmes is a great representation of that mindfulness, lightness and joy we should all strive for. We should strive to respond to ourselves and others with playfulness, love and patience instead of guilt and self-loathing. Hit it back, baby!
Kathrine turned to yoga to deal with the stress related to higher education and completed her 200 hour training during her last year of law school. She is a firm believer in the healing power of yoga, having experienced it for herself…now if only she could convince her husband! Kathrine and her amazing husband live in Orlando, Florida. Connect with Kathrine on Facebook to learn more about her yoga journey!