We often come to yoga or meditation because we’re looking for a way to be more peaceful, more patient, or more _____ (insert area of particular lack here). We’re hoping that by starting another self-improvement project we can placate that insistent interior voice that is always letting us know that we’re not enough. But often, even when we start doing yoga we hear new self-criticisms: My hamstrings are too tight. My attention span is too short. I look fat in Lycra. I’m bad because I still eat meat. The critical interior voice is stronger for some of us than others, but I think we all have one. Often I find myself arguing with mine, or wishing we could get a divorce. “It’s not you-me, it’s me-me.”
I think sometimes as we age we can start to tune the inner critic out a little more because we recognize that it isn’t helpful or useful to listen to it. Although, sometimes, it really does have valuable things to say, and sometimes, it’s that inner critic that lets us know when we’ve acted unskilfully, or transgressed boundaries, or just been thoughtless about the needs of others. The thing is…there’s a time and a place.
Self-compassion is a really important practice but perhaps an even better way to deal with “the voice” is to step out of the kingdom of self-hood all together. Instead of self-improvement we can just practice being with just this—just whatever is happening right at this moment. No goals. No grasping. No trajectory. No past. No future. Doing whatever we are doing just for its own sake. That means worrying less about achievement, and appearance, and writing the story of me that we’re constantly working on, and more about acceptance, sensation, imagination and humour. It means that when you’re doing the dishes, you’re just doing the dishes. It means that when you’re feeling sad, you’re just feeling sad. You don’t need to fix it.
There’s no “you” at all really—just a bundle of memories and emotions and tissues that shift and change all the time. We’re all “great big bags of mostly water” (to quote a famous Star Trek meme) who self-generate a lot of misery. Slowing down can help us see that. Learning to lighten up and laugh a little more can help us appreciate that. We still need ambitions, projects, self-care and exercise, but we can hold them with less grasping, more looseness and more levity.