August is a hard month for me. I long for escape to nature, for solitude, and inspiration. Instead I just feel depressed. I end up spending the majority of the month butting heads with my worst critic- myself. It's not August that's to blame, but my own perception of my life.
In yoga, the practice of svadhyaya is sometimes translated as "study of the self". It's an important part of any spiritual path if we ever hope to be at peace with our own lives. We can engage in svadhyaya in our daily living through mindful attention to the present moment and we can create a formal practice of svadhyaya with things like meditation, mindful yoga, or journaling.
As we cultivate self study in our everyday lives we start to understand how our own perceptions of ourselves and our world create a feedback loop of recurring reactions and habits. For me, this is sometimes a painful process- like looking at my reflection in one of those terrible lighted magnifying mirrors and seeing all the crap inside my pores. Ugh! Similarly, when we get up close and personal with our own heart, we are likely to discover some things that make our stomach turn with guilt, shame, or sadness.
This is where loving-kindness comes in.
We must be tender and gentle with ourselves, otherwise our self study can easily turn into a blame game where our inner critic loudly tells us how insufficient we are. For me, this often triggers a reaction where I feel the need to "step up my game", to be better, do more, study harder, make more money, stop doing this, start doing that. You get the picture.
But, if we can have some compassion for ourselves and perhaps even hold some loving space for our inner critic to be heard, we will uncover something beautiful there- a desire for our lives to have purpose and meaning; a need to connect and to love; and a heart that wants more out of life than to play itself on repeat. Maybe, with loving kindness we could turn that critic into a cheerleader- someone who roots for us and keeps us aware and motivated to align ourselves with our deepest values.
Yesterday, after a challenging meditation practice (by challenging, I mean boring and totally distracted), I was moved to write. What came out was a love letter to myself. When I was done, I felt like I had just received a big hug from someone I love. You can read the letter below.
I encourage you to write your own love letter as a practice of deep listening and compassion. At first, it might feel cheesy and awkward, but just do your best to stay open. You don't have to share it with anyone else. It's a gift from you to you.
I am writing you a love letter because I feel like I owe it to you. I have been pretty hard on you over the past 35 years. Also, this month is August -your most challenging month, so I feel like you could use a love letter. It’s the time of year when you bump right up against some really deep patterns of uncertainty, boredom, laziness and insecurity. I see how afraid it makes you to feel these things and how it makes you want to run away- away from your life and your commitments. I see how the desire to separate yourself from your own life might seem like a quick and easy fix and I know there is something very exciting about the idea of embarking on a brand new path- entirely alone- where you can just recreate yourself again. I don’t blame you for buying into the idea that you can “be better” and “do better”. That message is out there loud and strong and sometimes it overpowers that smaller voice inside of you that says “I am enough.”
I want to apologize for being one of the voices in the “be better” chorus. It was displaced insecurity on my part and a total betrayal to you. I promise to be kinder from now on. You are kind, smart, and hard working. You are generous. You are soulful. You are a gifted teacher. I promise to believe in you from now on. I think that, together, we can forge a really beautiful path through life- one that is filled with love, joy, purpose and pleasure. I think I can be the best teammate you have ever had because I trust you with my whole heart.
I know that there are some big questions that you are working out right now and I know that your pattern is to try to figure things out alone. I really admire that streak of independence in you! Let’s work them out together and let’s invite some other people who love you to help you work it out too. I think that they really would love the invitation. I know it’s scary to just lay your heart out there, so be gentle with yourself, but be brave too. These people deserve your trust.
I hope that this August can be different for you. I hope that you can enjoy yourself. I hope that you can lighten up! I hope that you find a way to move your body every day, to be inspired by books, art and deep passionate conversations; to practice staying open to change by actively engaging with nature- your own, and the world around you. All the answers you need are right there.