I've been taking more care with my words these days. Having learned from my yoga and meditation practices over the years not to identify with my thoughts, I try hard to no longer say "I'm tired," or "I'm furious," or "I'm over it."
Yoga philosophy teaches us that the world is in perpetual motion, that all realities are always changing, whether they're our bodies or relationships or thoughts. That underlying notion of a permanent "me"? Simply an illusion.
For instance: I bet the bathing beauties in this vintage photo never pictured themselves being old. They were eligible fair maidens, and it was summer, and they were rocking their swimming costumes and gossiping about dudes and where to find gin at the secret speakeasy behind the bathhouse, and having a grand old time.
And now, as I write, they're likely dead.
That's impermanence for you. All things arising, changing, and fading away.
(Including swimwear fashions, thank Shiva.)
That in mind, rather than saying "I'm exhausted, I'm angry, I'm sick of this," I decided to consciously practice saying "I feel exhausted," or "I feel angry," or "I feel sick of this."
So, "I'm mortified!" became "I feel mortified!"
See the difference?
In that tiny little shift from "I am tired" to "I feel tired," we let go of the stuckness of any of those feelings and acknowledge that very important fact that yes, right now in this very moment we might be experiencing sensations of exhaustion, or anger, or overwhelm. But we are not any of those sensations. And just like a feeling of hunger arises and then fades, so too does anger (exhaustion, irritation) arise and then fade, staying for a moment before it passes on.
It's just like what happens while you're holding a challenging yoga pose. Say, for instance, you're spending 5 breaths in natarajasana and you keep falling out. You're impatient with yourself and you just can't figure out how to pop into that backbending-standing-split right away. The chattering narrative in your mind becomes one big sweeping soap opera of how terrible you are and how you totally suck at this yoga and you might as well give up because look at that one girl up in the front row and how does she DO that and are your boobs hanging out of your shirt and why can't you just be STILL and then you wipe out and land on your butt and surely everyone in the whole room is watching and now they're definitely laughing at you because did you SEE how you wiped out of that pose?
And you still have 3 breaths left to go.
And those are the moments wherein yoga practice is all about witnessing, about watching the thoughts and saying to yourself, "Isn't that interesting? I feel self-conscious."
Or "Isn't that interesting? I feel wobbly, or inadequate, or small, or tight, or worried that my boobs are hanging out."
And rather than being inadequate, or tight, you are just, in that moment, feeling those things.
Because if there's one thing we learn from Buddhism, yoga, postmodernism, all of it, it's that there is no essence, there is no inadequate, unworthy, unlovable, fill-in-the-blank-with-your-own-self-doubting-adjective, capital-S Self.
We call this notion anatta: that idea that all aspects of self are fluid, ever-changing, and they are always and ever contingent upon the relationships in our lives.
You were once an infant, and now you are not. You were once a high school student, and now you are not. You were once a Nebraskan, and now you are not. You were once a dentist, and now you're a cheerleader.
You get my drift. None of it stays. Everything we think we "are" in the most solid of ways - even seemingly solid-as-a-rock identities like being a mother - you haven't always been, or you won't necessarily always be.
So let go of language that asserts that you ARE. Especially when it's in reference to mind-states like anger or fear or exhaustion or irritation. Because you aren't any of those things. You're just breath and consciousness. The feelings are simply sensations that will come and go, and you have the power to associate with those sensations, or to step back and say, "Oh, well, isn't that interesting - I feel clumsy and useless in this moment. But I know those feelings aren't me, and they will pass, along with all of my stories about who or what I am."
Maybe your ego is fed by your most-amazing arm-balance skills. Maybe you are a total yoga ninja, upside-down in a handstand at the top of the mat on every sun salutation. That's great. But you have to learn to really be present with those things, knowing they might very well change the moment you fall off your bike and break your collarbone and both wrists.
Then who are you, if you're no longer Bakasana-Into-Handstand Boy?
You're still you. Because you were never arm-balance man. That was an identity that lasted for a moment or two, or a year or two, and then it shifted.
So drop your stories.
I see the suffering that comes with identifying with our stories on so many people's faces in the course of a single class. They tell themselves, in cartoon story bubbles that might as well be lit up in blinking lights over their furrowed, self-judging brows: I'm too fat to do this pose, I'm too weak, I'm too uncoordinated, I'm too much of a novice to ever figure this thing out. So they give up or shrink away and run to the bathroom or take a drink of water to desperately try to skip those miserable 5 breaths in which they feel like Total Utter Failures.
Because they're believing the story that they're their arm balances (or their splits, or their Natarajasanas).
And they're not.
Just like you're not your house or your car or your abs or your hair. Because all of that will change, too.
(Ask any bald man. He wasn't always bald.)
At the base of all those sensations and identities and stories that arise, you are basic goodness. You are a particular shining spark of divinity. You are a bodhisattva, a unique and beloved child of God. (Plug in whatever word works for you best there.)
You get the point.
The rest is all just tissue paper, cream filling, cosmic bubble wrap.
So practice it. Notice your words. Offer some gentleness to your anger, your fear, your weariness. "Feel" them rather than "be" them. They'll all pass.
And what's left?
Bright, beautiful you.