Not Mindful. Not Perfect. Just Me.

“No! Why don’t YOU stop? We’re just trying to get in this car!” I shout to the cyclist at the top of my lungs.

“Christ. What was that at all about?” I ask the Uber driver as I finally get in.

A woman zooming through the city streets on her bike had just yelled at my sister and I to get out of the way. The driver admitted he shouldn’t have picked us up in the bike lane. This is when I realized Toronto has bike lanes. Oops.

Although I value kindness and compassion, I slip up and lose it sometimes. I get impatient, frustrated, and angry. Instead of pausing before I react, I react.

I share this to be clear with you: I’m not perfect. I’m not enlightened. I’m not mindful a hundred percent of the time. Heck, I don’t think I’m mindful twenty percent of the time. When someone or something pushes the right button, mindfulness goes out the door.

But you know what? I’m able to pause much more than I did before. My reaction time is getting longer, and I sometimes don’t react at all. Some things that used to drive me crazy don’t faze me one bit now.

And when I do go overboard, like I did on the streets of Toronto, I don’t blame myself as much as I used to. I don’t waste my energy and mind space beating myself up for being a fraud. The old inner dialogue used to be quite nasty, and used to go on for hours, if not days.

“Who do you think you are, Josette? Preaching compassion, mindfulness, and nonviolent communication all over your social media. You’re one to talk. Those yoga and meditation retreats are working wonders, eh? Wow. You are the embodiment of a Zen monk. I think you need to do a bit more work on yourself before you start preaching again.”

Helpful, right?

Thankfully, my inner dialogue is much gentler now. Now it involves me acknowledging the embarrassment, guilt, annoyance, or anxiety that come when I react in a way that isn’t congruous with my values. Then I might run through the scenario a few times trying to describe what happened. After that, I consider why things may have happened the way they did, looking at it through lens of the other person, and through the lens of my emotions or experience. Essentially, I pause. There’s a lot of power in the pause.

I credit this shift to my daily meditation practice (sometimes it’s just 5 minutes a day), consistent contemplation (journaling, blogging, talking with like-minded friends, counselling…), and various movement practices (see my last post). But this shift took a some time. It wasn’t overnight, and it’s still a work in process. And truthfully, I may never get there… where ever “there” is really.

I’m so glad I’ve come down from my pedestal of perfection. I’ve learned the hard way — almost a 40 year practice — that perfection is a painful goal to strive for (click to tweet). It just sets me up for failure, anxiety, and overwhelm. To avoid all that, I’ll take a few non-Zenlike outbursts any day.


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What do Brad Pitt, binge eating, and feeling feelings have in common?

We’ll get to Brad Pitt in a minute.

First, what’s your weakness? Ice cream, Netflix, wine, Instagram, or the S-Town podcast? Mine is potato chips: ahh, that crispy, salty, greasy goodness. Omitting a few enlightened exceptions such as the Dalai Lama, — who I highly doubt is bingeing on sour cream and onion chips and the latest Orange is the New Black — we’ve all engaged in some kind of binge behavior. Why do we do this?

In her Untame the Wild Soul podcast interview with Elizabeth DiAlto, Samantha Skelly defines bingeing as a way to numb out because we can’t deal with what’s going on. Essentially, we can’t deal with our emotions.

When I look back on my life, I recall many moments when I didn’t realize this is what I was doing. I had no idea I was running away from my difficult emotions because I didn’t know it was okay to acknowledge them.

Elizabeth might reply to this experience by saying, “You didn’t know what we didn’t know.” I love this because it helps me be gentle with myself, and it also helps me take a step forward. Now that I do know, I can choose differently. I can start to gather tools to face my resistance toward feeling those challenging feelings.

This resistance often looks like self-blame and self-shame. To get beyond the resistance, Samantha asks, “Can you love the resistance?” For example, when I indulge in a can of Pringles or my Instagram feed, it’s usually because I’m bored or dissatisfied with the moment. Instead of doing something more loving, such as reading or meditating, I grab for these distractions. But rather than making myself feel guilty, can I love the part that scrolls through the feed, or pops the lid? Can I be gentle with this part of me instead of making it bad? It’s in this love that change happens.

Interestingly, Brad Pitt had something to say about this in the May 2017 GQ cover story, :

I mean I stopped everything except boozing when I started my family. But even this last year, you know—things I wasn’t dealing with. I was boozing too much. It’s just become a problem. And I’m really happy it’s been half a year now, which is bittersweet, but I’ve got my feelings in my fingertips again. I think that’s part of the human challenge: You either deny them all of your life or you answer them and evolve.

(…)

Sitting with those horrible feelings, and needing to understand them, and putting them into place. In the end, you find: I am those things I don’t like. That is a part of me. I can’t deny that. I have to accept that. And in fact, I have to embrace that. I need to face that and take care of that. Because by denying it, I deny myself. I am those mistakes. For me every misstep has been a step toward epiphany, understanding, some kind of joy. Yeah, the avoidance of pain is a real mistake. It’s the real missing out on life. It’s those very things that shape us, those very things that offer growth, that make the world a better place, oddly enough, ironically. That make us better.

There’s no doubt that sitting with difficult feelings is hard to do. I have yet to deeply my examine some deeper challenges. This requires courage. And because loving yourself can seem a bit vague, it also requires tools and guidance.
To get the specifics on what you can do to face your binge behavior, I highly recommend listening to the podcast linked above and visiting Samantha Skelly’s website, Hungry for Happiness.

Choosing Happiness?

“How can we be happy?” asked Wonjangnim.

“When we’re in the moment,” I responded. But that was only after I had processed a silent emotional roller coaster ride on my yoga mat.

Not long before he had asked this, I desperately raised my hand, wanting an answer no matter how silly my question sounded.

“How do we know we’re happy?”

“You just know. You’re either happy or you’re not. You just choose in the moment.”

A wave of sadness came over me. Tears started to well.

If he had asked me how I felt at the beginning of class, when he was asking everyone else, I would have replied, “Happily relaxed.”

But now the realization hit me in the heart: I so often seem to choose anxiety and disappointment.

Then, came grief. All the time I’ve wasted. All those moments I chose to over-analyze every.little.thing. All those moments: gone.

But then again, what was he talking about? Choosing happiness didn’t feel like a choice at all! How annoying that he thinks we can choose! Come on. Really?

And as that angry thought was crossing my mind, he asked, “How can we be happy?”

It was clear as day.

I raised my hand again, “When we’re in the moment.”

The sadness was gone. The grief was gone. The anger was gone. I came back to a relaxed, happy state.

“That’s right. You have to choose. You have to answer like that,” Wonjangnim remarked.

And this is why we come to yoga. This is why we do things we love: because before a certain, point we don’t really have a choice. We are led and directed by habit and conditioning. We can’t help it.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be different.

Keep feeling. Keep watching. Keep letting go. Come back. Choose happiness.


*I dedicate this post to my dear friend and yogini sister, Michelle D’Almeida. Not only is she a good friend, but she’s also a precious teacher. On this Friday I learned a lot about the power of feeling your feelings through her courage to feel, watch, let go, and come back. Thank you for being real and raw, my dear. Your courage is contagious. Never forget this.

*Also, a big thank you to HK Ku for translating during this Friday’s class at Ayurveda Yoga. These insights couldn’t have happened without you.