Listen up Y'all, this is Sabotage!
When I was in yoga teacher training, my wise mentors, gifted me the assignment of exploring how the yogic principle of Ahimsa applies to my life.
Ahimsa is the principle of non-violence- doing no harm through your thoughts, words, and actions. On a deeper level, Ahimsa is about relinquishing a life lived in fear. Ahimsa implores us to practice benevolence towards all living beings and the earth. It is seeing others with kind and loving eyes, offering acceptance and compassion rather than judgment and criticism. Ahimsa is more than just acting kind towards others though, it lies within, it starts with non-violent thoughts which is what become our words, and from those words our actions.
My initial response to the assignment was to focus on my ability to practice Ahimsa towards others. I wrote of the many years I worked in mental health and my high levels of compassion and empathy for others, about my sense of purpose and passion around supporting others health and well-being. I examined my peacekeeper role in my family and saw it too as a practice of Ahimsa.
This was surface level exploration, first glance kind of stuff, it was all a reflection of what I thought I was doing well and an avoidance strategy because of limiting beliefs that told me I couldn’t admit to any “weaknesses.” I have since worked with the heart of the matter.
While Ahimsa is about our relationship to the world around us, what we must give greater awareness too is the nature of the relationship we have with ourselves. Self-love, self-compassion, kind thoughts and words towards ourselves, prioritizing self-care and behaviors that support our greatest well-being; these I believe are real roots of Ahimsa.
I say that my teachers gifted me the Ahimsa assignment because it indeed was the gift of awakening me to a clear seeing of the way that I had been treating myself and how that impacts my relationship to the external world. It was a present because it truly broke me open- causing me to become aware of the constant comparing and contrasting of myself to others- the incessant evaluating of myself as more than or less than and the ability to acknowledge and reflect on feelings of unworthiness. It revealed to me the high expectations I place on myself and the self-critic that wants to point out all of the ways in which "I am not enough." Fears of all kinds have since been exposed, and thus the ability to face them head-on. The simple prompt to explore the concept of Ahimsa allowed me to feel, share and heal.
But alas just like anything else, it remains a WIP.
Becoming aware of the lack of Ahimsa towards myself was just the first step, shifting my thought patterns and outgrowing the limiting beliefs about myself, well that’s a whole nother story, but it is one that I am consciously and actively committed to rewriting.
Every day comes with the opportunity to challenge those sneaky old beliefs and thought patterns, that in their wicked and cunning ways try to rally and get me back on board with downgrading myself.
Luckily I have turned the up volume on my personal version of the “Sabotage” tune that plays in my head, and with my ability to hear I can employ my own tactics to tamper and quiet my inner saboteur.
This inner saboteur, we will call her ‘Fear Mongering Mona,' says shit like "Who do you think you are?" and "You should probably just give up." She questions me now as I am writing and tries to talk me out of teaching and coaching. She thrives on anxiety and low energy. She is competitive and compares herself to others, she also seeks approval and wants to be well liked. Mona shouts “imposter!” and has doubted me as a mother on multiple occasions. She likes to turn to foods and wine for comfort and thinks avoiding feelings is best. She can sense when I am on top of my self-care game; when my inner light is shining, and my power level is rising, this is when she employs her most aggressive attacks, and this is where I am working to thwart her efforts.
To Mona, I have learned to say “I can see you, I hear your ploys, and I am choosing to believe in and accept myself, flaws and all. Thank you, Mona, for reminding me how important my goals are to me.” Sometimes I simply respond with “I am love.” With this, she quiets, as fear can not conquer love.
I have said it a million times, and I will say it a million more, AWARENESS is the key to all change, and regarding expanding beyond limiting beliefs and old thought patterns that in turn become self-sabotaging behaviors, awareness is the first line of defense.
Without knowledge of the feelings and thoughts that do us harm, we cannot stop the violence we are imposing on ourselves. Furthermore, if you are unkind and judgmental towards yourself whether you believe it or not this is being express outwardly in some way.
As a reminder to myself and reassurance to all, this bears repeating- becoming aware of your inner world does not happen overnight, it is an ongoing, daily commitment. The following are some additional strategies I have found useful in combating self-sabotage and tending to the state of my inner workings.
Allowing and Accepting feelings.
Many of us are taught to suppress and avoid any negative emotions, which results in that negative energy becoming stuck and unresolved, which may cause physical or mental illness. Is it any wonder that rates of depression and anxiety are astronomically high?
We might turn to substances, dangerous activities or other methods of numbing ourselves from feeling any pain, sadness, guilt, shame, anger or anxiety. What I have found is the more I allow myself to feel my feelings, as Rumi says “invite them to the table” the quicker they are able to pass through and the less likely I am to do further harm to myself. You can do this in the moment by simply acknowledging and naming the emotion, or journaling is another effective way to process your feelings. The act of putting the feelings to words, getting them out of your mind, is freeing.
Find healthier ways of coping and eliminate temptations and distractions from your environment.
I recently poured a half a bottle of wine down the sink because I found myself overly reliant on it at the end of the day as a means to unwind, and that is just not the kind of relationship I want to have with myself. I found I was avoiding feeling and that the wine itself was disturbing both my stomach and my sleep, and trust me I don't need any help losing sleep. I do not keep wine in my house (and I am not judging you if you do) I also keep sweet foods out (though Halloween blew that) and any other food or substance that I know myself to be overly tempted by. You might call this avoidance, I call it proactive preparation. Instead of turning to booze or food, I am working with noticing my energy and mood at the end of a long and trying day and CHOOSING to meditate, take a salt bath by candlelight, read a book, or practice restorative yoga. It does require more effort than uncorking the wine or plopping myself in front of the tv; however, the payoff speaks for itself.
Mantras and Affirmations are a great way to energize and love yourself, and whether you believe them or not over time with repetition, they have a way of convincing you that you are worthy of their message. For a while, I was journaling mantras every day and repeating them during my meditations. One day I actually wrote "I am love" on my fogged up bathroom mirror after a hot shower, after a few days I forgot about it and then a few weeks later (maybe I need to clean the bathroom mirror?) I saw it right at a moment that I was in need.
Communication and connection.
You never know how another person is feeling, you might assume that no one would understand your feelings but how could they if you never share them. Other peoples perceptions of us (which we worry and give far too many f’s about) are only based on surface level appearances, we have to open the door to reveal the real truths of ourselves. We are all humans, we share common ground in our sufferings, being open with others invites them to do the same. It creates a safe space of love and acceptance, space for Ahimsa.
Face your fears with curiosity and courage.
Whatever it is that you fear, you grow beyond it when you allow yourself to act bravely and do or say whatever it is that scares you. If you do this from a place of being curious about the outcome, of how you will grow or what change becomes possible, it is a little less scary. This might sound silly, but I have taken to an act of courage every morning, I turn the water to the coldest setting and plunge myself into the cold for a minute or so. It never fails that right before I do this, I hear myself trying to talk myself out of it, and it is then that I crank the water to cold and breathe through it. The result is I actually feel invigorated and energized, I also know that I have started the day facing a fear, even if it is a silly one.
Have patience with yourself and a pulse on the progress you have made! We live in a world of instant gratification, we want things to have happened yesterday, and spend too much time dwelling on what has yet to happen. The tendency to focus on what we haven't accomplished overrides our ability to honor and appreciate all the progress we have and are making. If you have a goal, a special project, a dream that you are working on; please be kind and patient with yourself, whatever it is, it's worth taking the time to create. Spending too much time telling yourself you haven't achieved x,y, or z isn't going to make it happen; in fact, it is more likely to slow momentum or make you feel completely stuck. Bottom line, harping on your perceived shortcomings or what you haven't done yet, it is sabotage Y'all, and you don't have to take it!
So now I turn to you, offering you these prompts so that you might become curious about your inner world and so that you might cultivate Ahimsa for yourself.
What does your inner voice of sabotage say? What is his/her name?
What are the limiting beliefs you have about yourself?
What emotions hijack your behaviors? What do you turn to, to cope?
What was the last act of love and kindness you engaged in towards yourself?