I’m in month eight of a year-long yoga teacher training program and aside from helping me become more Zen, I’m learning loads and discovering much about myself. One discovery: I don’t want to teach. I want to share. My goal next year after I’m certified is to share the lessons I’ve learned through yoga. As a writer, I wish to share much of the same. Whether it be creating poetry with the words swimming in my head or writing this blog, sharing is why I write. So I will approach “teaching” yoga much in the same way I will this blog (now that I’m back from an extended hiatus during which I was dealing with many personal and family things…I’m sure I will share those details in blogs to come), I will simply share the aha’s I’ve had and those to come.
One lesson, is that while many traditional meditation practices are filled with mantras and chants in Sanskrit, really anything repeated enough times to yourself can become a mantra. And this is a double-edged sword. Anything negative you repeat to yourself can become a mantra too, only a hurtful one. If, after every mistake you make in life, you’re telling yourself, “I can’t do anything right,” the belief your seating deep within your soul is “I am not good enough.” And I’m here to tell you, you sure are good enough. You’re better than good enough. You are magnificent. If you’re telling yourself all day every day you hate this and you hate that, then your mind, body and spirit will begin to react to almost any disturbance with an aggressive reaction. Your body will tense, your heart will feel heavy and you won’t be allowing room to enjoy the good parts of life.
That was me. I believed I couldn’t do anything right and I wanted to be perfect so that meant anytime I made the slightest mistake from dropping the knife while chopping onions to forgetting a deadline to losing my temper with one of the kids, I was berating myself. “Stupid!” “Clumsy!” “Really? Again? Can’t you do anything right?” Deeper and deeper I planted that seed of self-hatred. Worse and worse my stress levels and meltdowns became.
I hated everything. I hated cell phones, they never work right and I can’t stand the sales people calling and I’m tired of texting and I’m tired of being around people who can’t have a face-to-face conversation without checking social media. I hated traffic. I wouldn’t drive because people where I live drive either too slow or too fast, don’t use blinkers, don’t seem to know how to merge and our lights are timed horribly. I hated the education system in America. Why the hell do Kindergarteners have homework when they already go to school for more hours in a day than my generation did? I hated capitalism and Amazon prime for being so convenient but creating so much waste.
All day long it was I hate me and I hate this about society and I hate that about my life. Not very Zen.
When I first started meditating about four years ago and going to classes and meetings and reading self-help books on lowering stress and being happier and loving yourself, I remember being told to be grateful. The secret lies with being grateful for all you have rather than wanting what you don’t. When you’re grateful you accept life’s challenges with a polite thank you and you’re appreciative of the lesson you learn. Etc. Etc. Etc.
I read all this and I understood the message from the get-go. It makes sense, after all. Obviously when we’re feeling thankful we don’t feel angry. You can’t feel both at the same time. Try. Go ahead and try to think of something you’re truly, to your core, thankful for and think of something that makes your blood boil at the same time. You can’t. You might feel thankful then fell angry, but they will not happen simultaneously.
And then I read this stuff and I’m thinking to myself, “Of course I’m grateful. I love my kids, my husband, my mom…” but was I really? Or was I being conditionally grateful? Overall I was always thankful to have them in my life, but at the same time I was berating all of them when they acted in a way I didn’t find appropriate. If my husband was late, I was screaming my head off on the phone at him before hanging up. Is that showing gratitude for the fact he works his ass off supporting his family? If I get angry with my kids every time they have a bad day and give attitude or get into trouble at school or leave a mess in the living room, am I showing them gratitude? Or, am I passing that “You can’t do anything right” belief right on down to them?
So I kept reading the books and practicing meditations and trying to add more gratitude into my life. Right away I found it was, as it is with most things, incredibly easy to be grateful when everything in life was going well. When work is stressing me out and my little one is having a tantrum while the oldest is out after curfew again and I’m fighting with my husband on a daily basis, it’s a lot harder to be grateful. Coming out to your car not starting ten minutes before you need to be in a mandatory meeting, it’s hard to be grateful. Getting an unexpected bill in the mail you hadn’t budgeted for, it’s difficult to find gratitude. You’re sick with a cold for the umpteenth time and missing yet another day of work, gratitude might as well be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. “How the fuck am I supposed to find gratitude when my world is falling apart?” I used to ask in these darker times.
The answer is quite simple and a lot of hard work at the same time. Say “Thank you.” When the asshole cuts you off in traffic, don’t curse at him, say “thanks for not hitting me.” When your kids are screaming at you, tell them “Thank you for feeling safe enough with me to share your feelings.” (I know that’s a tough one, but give it a try, you’ll probably surprise the hell out of them the first time, they won’t know how to respond to that!) When you’re sick, say “gracias for the day of rest.” Say it over and over and over again long enough, and a time will come when you’ll actually feel those thank you’s because you will honestly begin to look at the more positive side of challenges.
I remember a meditation teacher telling me to be grateful for the sweater I was wearing. I internally rolled my eyes and thought, “that’s taking it a bit far, don’t you think?” But today I’d say, no, it’s not. The more times a day you can find to say “thank you,” rather than complain about something that’s gone wrong, I promise you will retrain your brain to be a more positive thinker. And before you know it you’re dealing with your second pulled back in two months which has you off your mat and out of the yoga studio and you’re saying to yourself, “thank you for this.” Why do I thank my hurt back? Because one day I’m going to have a student who keeps injuring their body and I’m going to be a gosh darn expert on how to heal and how to prevent. And for that knowledge and the strength I’m gaining by learning to persevere despite setbacks, I’m thankful. So today is a thankful Tuesday for me. How about you? What do you have to be thankful for today?
Do you have a mantra helping you be a Zen mama? Contact me if you’re interested in sharing it here on Zen Mama Mantras.