Maybe you don’t have to always be “your best self”

There’s a common meme -and many books- these days suggesting we should aspire to “be our best self”.

This taps into the Western ideology that we all need to work hard to improve ourselves and attain our goals – be they financial, career, personal or spiritual. This seems to originate from the ancient Greek culture of developing the “perfected man” and Western culture has absorbed this idea instinctively. Ambition like this is a fine quality we can all use to create change or improve the world now and again.  And of course it’s also a great business model for service suppliers (like yoga centres) to sell you special techniques you think you don’t yet have to attain this tantalizing “best you”.

The downside of this paradigm of continued personal growth is that you are constantly made to feel lacking in some way, denting acceptance of where you are now because you feel somehow deficient or not-enough.

Whilst you may still have work to be done, the traditional Yogi would have dismissed any (dualistic) idea of attainment or “reaching enlightenment”. They knew there never was any separation in the first place from your true (best) self or from everything that is already divine…we just forget this truth or fail to see it due to our upbringing and conditioning. In this light, Yoga can instead be considered as a tool to clean away the illusion of not being enough or having to “get somewhere”. The irony is we are already there but we keep doing the wrong things to help ourselves to realize this.

The way to change this perception of a long and demanding path leading to perfection and make the most of ourselves is to try and practice yoga from a different starting point.

Swami Ananda Kumar says “the goal of meditation is self knowledge, not self-improvement”. 

Swami Ananda Kumar says “the goal of meditation is self knowledge, not self-improvement”.  The insight we learn is eventually one of self-acceptance and a lessening of normal human desires to be anywhere or anyhow other than we are already since we are already part of a divine whole and don’t need perfecting.

So next time you’re made to feel “not enough” or deficient in some way, stop and query where that idea came from and remind yourself you may be right where you need to be already. You can try practicing present moment awareness by focussing on your breath in a class to make your current reality extraordinary. Or walk mindfully with full awareness of your surroundings rather than mulling over your schedule for the day ahead.

there is part of you in every star in the infinite universe and a little bit of every star inside you

And if you still feel you should always be making more of your life, then remember we are all part of the original Big Bang which means there is part of you in every star in the infinite universe and a little bit of every star inside you since we all share the same origins. That should make you feel “your best self”…the trick is to keep remembering. 

One of my teachers used to say “it’s very very simple, but it’s not easy”. But you’ll find regular yoga helps wake you up from this spiritual amnesia to realize you were never not your best self; you just needed to understand yourself in a different way. 

I guess that still sounds like a good business model to make you keep coming to class to remember what you’ve forgotten. But at least this approach offers the idea of helping you see that you’re enough as you are (if you could only appreciate your divine perfection) and does not keep telling you that you’re not good enough and not yet your best self.

Mark O’Brien, July 2019

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