I’ve been talking to a lot of newcomers in recovery lately and they’ve reminded me of one of the road blocks I stumbled over early on in my own sobriety: getting stuck in the comparison game.
I didn’t start going to meetings voluntarily. I was court ordered to attend three a week after getting arrested for a DUI. Since getting sober was the last thing on my mind, I spent the first few weeks hidden in the back corners of rooms, never sharing and only listening to whoever else was contributing their story that day. Sitting there in almost paralyzing fear, completely reluctant to connect with anyone, I carefully noted each and every way I differed from the details that I heard.
I had never been homeless. I’d never done heroin. I’d never crashed my car.
When I met the woman who would eventually become my sponsor and told her that I had decided I wasn’t as bad as many of the people I had been hearing, she offered me two sound pieces of advice. First, she told me to put the word “yet” at the end of all of the sentences I had just used to distinguish myself. I hadn’t been homeless, yet. I hadn’t done heroin, yet. I hadn’t crashed my car, yet.
The second piece of advice was to stop comparing, and start relating. She explained that while often the circumstances and details of our stories can sound quite different, the feelings we experience are often the same. She also helped me begin to see that all these “different” people were using the same solution to get and stay sober. As much as I had wanted to remain unique, it appeared there was a perk to being like everyone else: If this thing worked for them, it could work for me too.
Relating to others and doing what they had done to get sober turned out to be a good plan. I had a sponsor, I was working the steps, I was going to meetings–that was all going well for me. As I got further into my recovery and began to get healthier though, I discovered a new problem. Now that I had the basics down, I was starting to encounter real life. I realized I needed to be a bit more particular about who I emulated. I didn’t always want the results that someone else had, which often meant that I would have to do something different than what they did. It all felt so confusing. I had connected to all these people, I identified with them. I followed their lead and life had gotten better. Now I had become so good at taking direction, it hadn’t occurred to me that the next pointer might be to start listening to my own intuition.
Over the years I’ve been continuously working to find the balance between taking direction from others and listening to my own voice inside. There’s a lot to be said for both and I think when I’m in alignment, these things work together. I believe that there’s a great power in the Universe that’s available to guide me and that power speaks through other people. If I’m not listening, I can miss out on what might be the next right thing for me to do. At the same time, my intuition has developed in a way that makes me trust it. If a message I am receiving from someone else crosses that intuition instead of matching up with it, I try to dig a little deeper and get more comfortable in that gray area. Enter, guidance nugget #3 from my sponsor: Take what you need and leave the rest.
I’m someone who always wants to improve. No matter what the task–running, writing, cooking, whatever–I want to get better. With that as a constant, I often have to remind myself that there are several ways to measure progress and the work that I put into these conquests ultimately affects me and no one else. Case in point: I’ve been struggling a lot in my yoga practice lately. I’ve recognized that this struggle has come most intensely in the past couple of months–ironically the time that I have also decided that I’d like to pursue becoming certified as a Bikram instructor.
I’ve got a teacher that I really admire who I’ve been taking a lot of classes with lately. She offers me a lot of corrections and clearly cares about guiding me through my practice. If there’s anything she’s been emphasizing the past couple months it’s that I think too much. I can’t tell you how many times during class I hear, “Cat, stop thinking and get into the posture.”
In more ways than one, this has been one of the most valuable insights into my practice that I’ve ever gotten. I do think too much. In yoga, in running, in writing–I’m often thinking instead of doing. I’m a master in overcomplicating things. This instructor is always trying to remind me that the yoga is simple and that I know it–that it’s my brain getting in the way of my body.
I’ve listened to this advice. I’ve taken it in. In the past couple of months I’ve worked harder than ever to let go of all the garbage flowing through my head that doesn’t serve me. In some ways I think my teacher might say that I’ve missed the point–that “working on” letting go and thinking less is really just more thinking. Either way, I know that my intention is true and I do feel like I’m moving toward some new openings.
Unfortunately, I think I’ve also taken her advice and steered it in a direction that doesn’t align with my own intuition. I’ve become hard on myself in a way that feels wrong. Sitting out or getting into a posture late is the ultimate failure. Feeling out of breath or tired feels inexcusable. Every falter brings the impending thought: How are you going to make it through teacher training if you can’t handle this?
For years, yoga is what’s taught me to be kind to myself. It’s allowed me to get quiet, to listen to my body–to honor it, keep it safe, and be patient with it. Yoga–more than anything else, is also where I’ve learned to stay in the present–to meet myself wherever I am in that moment and accept it.
It feels like that’s what’s been lost the past couple months–presence and acceptance. I’ve wanted to please my teacher. I’ve wanted to show I am working hard. In my attempt to push myself I’ve drowned out the voice that’s made the yoga room feel like a safe haven for me for years. Instead it’s felt like a stage, one where I’m performing and seeking validation.
Take what you need, leave the rest.
My teacher’s right, I do think too much. In order to get back to the practice that really serves me though, I need to stop worrying about my thinking, release all my expectations, and take each moment one at a time. Sometimes I’ll push. Sometimes I’ll rest. Judgement is not required at the end of either outcome. I realized the other day in class that becoming a teacher isn’t about me getting “better” at the yoga. It’s about becoming a conduit–a channel through which life lessons and healing can flow through and be realized and understood through physical movement. I love this yoga. It’s saved my life. It keeps me grounded and on my toes, all at the same time. It allows me to be confident and curious–content, but always seeking.
Since my package just ran out at my studio and we are going on holiday soon, I decided to purchase a few classes somewhere else to fill this week. I think practicing somewhere new in NYC and then getting to take classes all around the UK is going to help me lighten things up again. I think being a “new” student may be just what I need to get my ego out of the equation and get back to having fun in the yoga room. I’m looking forward to finding that quiet again–that soft silence where I can hear my messengers clearly, and their words can meet with my intuition and guide me along–one step at a time.
Do you usually follow your intuition? Do you trust it? Have you always, or has it taken you some time to get there?
How much do you value the advice of other people?
Have you ever gotten caught up in something you loved and stopped loving it? Running, yoga, cycling?
Do you think too much? Does it ever stop you from acting? Please share, I’d love to hear from you!
header image: william farlow