The Problem With Stealing Lives That Are Not Yours

Jealousy is an easy rut to fall into – especially in this day and age of social media.

All you need to do is log into Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, and all that you see is just how well everyone is doing. Your childhood bully just got married to the hottest, sweetest, richest person you’ve ever seen. That girl that you talked to once at work just had the most beautiful baby you’ve ever seen, and all that she can talk about is just how happy she is. Your ex just found the job of their dreams, and is taking everyone they know (except you) out for sushi to celebrate. And here you are, sitting in your underwear on social media, wishing that you had even half of what they have.

A year ago, I got pretty caught up in my jealousy. I was at university, pursuing my bachelor’s degree and getting pretty good grades. But at the same time, I was single, I was unemployed, and I was feeling like I was missing out on something. I mean, I was good at the whole academic thing, and I enjoyed it, but other people had such different lives, and they all seemed so much happier than I was.

And upon graduating, I saw the perfect opportunity to get out of my life. I was going to pursue a so-called ‘normal life’, like everyone else had.

I tried to live like the people I was so jealous of. I tried to talk the way that they talked and do the things that they did, but it never felt natural to me. It always felt a bit like I was a puzzle piece, trying to force myself into a spot where I didn’t belong. I couldn’t get the happy and stable relationship that I saw advertised on social media, because I really wasn’t sure what I wanted. I couldn’t be satisfied with how I was filling the time, because it just wasn’t me. I found myself missing my old academic life, because I enjoyed it. It felt natural to me. And there was certainly nothing wrong with this life that I had forced myself into – I knew that it suited other people fine. It just didn’t suit me.

I began to understand this feeling a little better when I began to read about the yogic principle of asteya.

Asteya essentially means ‘non-stealing’, which might make you wonder how in the hell asteya has anything to do with what I just said. But the purpose of asteya is not to simply refrain from taking material goods from other people when you do not deserve them. Rather, asteya urges one to look deeper into themselves, to try to discover the reason why you feel the need to steal from them.

In the scenario that I just presented to you, I was stealing a bit of a life that did not belong to me. I didn’t fit into it, it wasn’t made for me, but I wanted it. I wanted it because I thought that I should have it. I wanted it, because I thought that what I had wasn’t good enough. I thought that wasn’t good enough, because I was good at reading and thinking critically and writing long essays, but I wasn’t good at all those things that you see people bragging about on social media. Getting an ‘A’ on an assignment doesn’t exactly get you the same kind of attention as receiving a diamond ring from your sweetheart, even if you pulled an all-nighter to do it.

But the thing is, we all have our strengths and we all have our weaknesses. We can work on our weaknesses, most certainly, but being honest about ourselves, being aware of who we are as a person, will make it much easier to work on those weaknesses than ignoring them ever would.

And maybe we will have the picture-perfect, bragging-rights-on-social-media type of life someday. But if we are ever going to achieve that, then it shouldn’t be forced, and it shouldn’t be created despite discomfort; it should all happen naturally. Otherwise, we aren’t really happy, are we?

And maybe we won’t ever achieve that sort of life, and that’s okay too. Maybe your happiness comes from sources different from other people’s happiness. Maybe your happiness isn’t found in a baby’s laugh, or a lover’s embrace, or a high-paying so-called ‘real job’. Maybe you have to create your own happiness – but just so long as it is happiness, does it really matter? As long as it is peaceful and natural and fulfilling, then it is valid. You are valid. You are enough.

I think that many of us get so easily caught up in jealousy because we have this internalized idea that we aren’t right, or we aren’t enough. We might not even be aware that this is so, but we feel it nonetheless. And when we are jealous, then we try to take lives that are not made for us. We try to force ourselves to do things that we are not ready for, and that we did not want, just because we think we aren’t valid if we don’t.

Just because you haven’t fulfilled the same accomplishments as some of your peers quite yet, that doesn’t mean that you won’t ever fulfill them. Every single human being is different; every single human being grows and develops at their own pace. There is no need to rush if you are not ready, because what you want will come to you in its own time. It’s okay if you aren’t there yet. So, for now, just have faith in that, and find comfort in the knowledge that what you are right now is exactly what you should be.

This article is part of a series about the yamas. To read more, click here:

Ahimsa

Satya

Advertisements

This Is Your Truth

I believe that, nine times out of ten, people usually know what they want out of a scenario.

I believe that everyone has a little voice at the back of their mind, and this voice is usually the first one to react to something new. Sometimes it will react with excitement, in that brief moment of time before fear and the cycle of over-thinking kicks in. This voice is the one that reaches for your dream, the one that knows where you want to go and what will make you happy in the long run, but we so often bury it with doubt and fear and self-consciousness, just as soon as it has its chance to speak.

Sometimes this voice will react with distaste. Sometimes this voice is the one that begs you to get out of a scenario, please, because whatever is happening is killing your soul or your happiness or your dreams. Sometimes we listen to this voice when this happens, and sometimes we proceed to bury it beneath so-called ‘logic’.

We have this strange tendency to keep trying to bury the voice.

And sometimes, what the voice demands does come across as a little bit unrealistic. For example, when the voice is demanding that you quit your job immediately but there are still bills to be paid, then it might make sense to teach the voice a thing or two about patience. But, overall, I think that the voice is incredibly important.

Overall, I believe that this voice is where your truth lives. This voice is your satya.

And there might be many reasons why you would want to ignore the voice. Fear is a very strong one; fear is a great motivator. Sometimes, what the voice demands of us requires immense change, change that we do not know if we are capable of. The voice might put us at risk for rejection, disappointment, or failure, and all of this can be incredibly difficult to live with. The voice imagines beautiful, wondrous situations for us, and then our fear barges in to ask what we will do if those situations don’t become reality. And, more times than not, we don’t really have an answer.

But here’s the thing about fear – it’s sort of necessary if we’re going to lead any sort of fulfilling life. When our world is about to change, then fear is going to creep up on us, but if we don’t face it and keep going anyway, then our world stays the same. We never learn anything new. We never grow as individuals. Our situation in life never changes – and, sure, facing your fear isn’t a guarantee that your situation would change, but not doing it is a guarantee that it won’t.

You can give into fear, and nobody will claim that that isn’t a very human thing to do. But, end of day, the only way that you are going to lead a fulfilling life is by taking a chance and listening to the voice.

Connected to fear, expectation might be another huge reason why you would not want to listen to the voice. Maybe these are your own expectations – about how the world should be, or about how you should be. Maybe these are the expectations of others, being enforced on you. Maybe you silence the voice because you believe that the voice is telling you to do something that isn’t normal, that isn’t accepted. Similar to this idea of fear, you don’t want to be rejected. You don’t want to be told that you are wrong for who you are, and this can mean anything from dressing the way that you want, to being openly LGBT.

These expectations might try to tell you who you should be, but this voice exists for a reason. And this voice won’t go away, no matter how much you try to silence it.

If you avoid this voice for too long, then you simply become resentful. If you ignore this voice, then you begin to wonder how differently your life could have been had you listened to it from the beginning. You become regretful at best, convincing yourself that it is now too late to change anything, and at worst, you become resentful toward those others who actually gave in and listened to what the voice had to say. You call them “stupid” or “weird”, because they had the right circumstances or the courage to do what you never allowed yourself to.

And as I mentioned before, your voice won’t be correct one hundred percent of the time. Sometimes, you need to find a balance between your truth and the world’s logic. Sometimes, you need to stick with that dead-end, soul-crushing job, all while actively seeking out the job that the voice is pushing you toward. Sometimes, the voice does make things incredibly difficult, and sometimes you might curse the voice for putting you in these situations. But the thing about the voice is, even when you’re frustrated with it and you wish that you could do something else, you don’t truly mean it. When you give into the voice, then you know that you could not do anything else and still be satisfied. You know that this is your one and only option to ever truly grow and develop and be happy – if not today, then at least tomorrow.

Because this voice is more purely you than anything that your fears and doubts and expectations might say. All you need to do is sit yourself down, try to quiet everything else down, and really, truly listen.

This article is part of a series about the yamas. To read more, click here:

Ahimsa

Asteya

Do No Harm, Not Even To Yourself

If you identify as a yogi, then chances are, you’re aware of the term ‘ahimsa’.

For those of you who aren’t aware, ahimsa is one of the five yamas, or the moral and ethical guidelines that yogis try to live by. And ahimsa specifically refers to this idea of doing no harm, or engaging in no violence.

Ahimsa can be translated in many different ways in our life.

In the specific scenario of practicing yoga, ahimsa can be utilized by listening to your body. You never push yourself beyond what you are capable of. You do not cause yourself injury, and if you think that you might, then you back off a bit and forgive yourself, in full knowledge that if you just keep practicing, then you will eventually be able to push further, much safer.

I have heard ahimsa utilized as an explanation for why someone is a vegan or vegetarian – because they do not want to cause harm to any living creature on this planet.

We might frequently think about ahimsa utilized when it comes to our relationships. Ahimsa is an explanation for why we should not try to hurt other people. Why we should refrain from violence, or from intentionally harming another person’s psyche.

Yet, there is another use of the word ‘ahimsa’, one that I think is vital for everyone, yogi or otherwise, and one that I think needs to come before we utilize ahimsa in our relationships.

We need to practice ahimsa for ourselves.

And I’m talking about a very similar concept to practicing ahimsa in yoga: whenever something isn’t benefiting us, when it is only going to harm us in the long run, then we need to learn when to back off. And, I know, this sounds like common sense to most of us, but I think that there are many factors – some external, some internal – that makes us frequently push ourselves too far for our own health.

Expectations, for example, can be a form of harm that we put on ourselves – whether these be the expectations that others have put on us, the expectations that we put on ourselves, or the expectations that we place on the world at large. When we are constantly striving to prove something, first and foremost, we have a tendency to do harm to ourselves in an attempt to reach that goal. We sacrifice mental health. We pick ourselves apart, creating deep insecurities and self-hatred. We hurt ourselves, without even meaning to.

And according to the practice of ahimsa, all of this is a sign that we need to back off a bit on our expectations. Ease up. Allow things to be as they are, all in the faith that someday, they will grow to become something better. But we will not grow if we are constantly causing ourselves harm.

And there are millions of ways that we cause ourselves harm, every day.

We cause ourselves harm by holding onto toxic relationships that no longer serve us.

We cause ourselves harm by demanding that we fit into a specific image – that we be strong and silent and selfless and beautiful.

We cause ourselves harm when we allow people to hurt us, all in the effort to avoid hurting them.

And as a woman who lives in a society that tells my gender that we should be self-sacrificing at any given turn, as a person who has struggled with depression and anxiety, as someone who has literally self-harmed and battled eating disorders, I am no stranger to doing harm to myself.

But by doing harm to myself, I began to learn just how important self-love is. Because if you cannot love yourself, then you cannot fight for yourself. You cannot stand up and tell people when they are treating you in a way that you do not deserve to be treated.

When you cannot love yourself, then that opens you up to a plethora of harmful behaviours. It might create judgement or jealousy, as you look down on others who have what you feel you lack. When you feel angry about who you are as a person, then you take that anger out on other people, even if they had nothing to do with it.

When you cannot love yourself, then you cannot properly give love to the world around you. And, likewise, when you cause harm to yourself, then you cause harm to the world around you. That is because love will always start with you.

Part of ahimsa, in all of its translations, is simply accepting who you are as a person. Accepting that you are limited, but that you possess the ability to grow if you give yourself the chance to do so. This is why we back off on yoga poses that might cause us harm. This is why we stop being so hard on ourselves and the way that we look, or the place that we are in in our daily lives. Just because we can’t do something today, that doesn’t mean that we won’t be able to tomorrow – all it means is that we have to give ourselves time and patience to get to that place, and if we hurt ourselves in the process, then we stunt that growth. And it is easy to give time and patience to other people, but it is rarely natural for us to give it to ourselves. And we need it. We need it if we are ever going to grow, and do some lasting good in the world and in our lives.

So, breathe. Forgive yourself for what you perceive to be your faults. Give yourself time and self-care and a cookie, if you need it. And remember: do no harm, not even to yourself.

This article is part of a series about the yamas. To read more, click here:

Satya

Asteya

Why We Can’t Only Focus on the Positive

I understand that everyone wants to be happy.

That’s the goal in life, right? To be happy. To feel fulfilled. I mean, as long as we have this, our lives are successful, right?

There are countless ways to reach this end. So many, in fact, that everyone has their own ways – art, love, family, pets, whatever works at the end of the day to make you feel warm and fuzzy. But one method that I hear brought up often is to focus on the positive in life.

I won’t deny that this is a worthwhile method. Not an easy one, but effective if you can teach yourself to do it right. Because we as human beings have this tendency to want to focus on the negative, for whatever reason (it sounds counter-productive to that whole ‘everyone wants to be happy’ theory, doesn’t it?). Before we notice the good in a situation, we’ll fixate on the bad. We obsess about flaws and pain and hardship so much that we sometimes forget to notice the strengths and growth and love, even when it is there.

And I do believe that what you see is what you get. If all you notice is what’s rotten with the world, then you’re not going to have a very high opinion of the world, are you? There might be a whole other side of the story, but to you, that won’t matter; what you focus on becomes your truth.

This is why it’s so important to train your mind to notice the good in the world. Because the good is there; we just need to see it.

And I believe this. Whole-heartedly, I believe this; but then there are the people who take it one step too far.

I have known people who will preach the importance of noticing the good in the world, of creating a more balanced, aware outlook on life. And yet, when someone tries to speak up about real pain and suffering in the world, they will just go silent. They will remove themselves from the conversation until it comes right back around to being about something happier again.

I have known people who will pretend that they have no pain, that everything in their world is just fine, even when that isn’t the case. Even when they are going through serious, life-changing pain, they still can’t bring themselves to complain. They can’t make their concerns heard; they need to focus on the positive in life.

These people bother me.

Because, like I said, I agree with training yourself to notice the good in the world. That is very important. But just because we notice the good in the world, just because we celebrate it and encourage it and hope that it continues, that doesn’t mean that we can’t notice when there is pain and hardship in the world.

We need to notice the good in the world because there is good in the world, and that good is worth fighting for. That good is what gets us through our days, keeps a smile on our face, makes our hearts a little lighter and our world a little brighter. Without the good, we’d all just be broken shells of despair, unenthused and unmotivated to do anything.

But we can’t live solely in the good. Because it might make us temporarily happier, but it won’t erase the fact that other people are still hurting. And, in some ways, it might even make things worse for us in the long run.

Because if we aren’t acknowledging the bad, the pain, the hardship, then we aren’t fighting it. We aren’t standing up for the voiceless, so the voiceless just keep getting beat down. We aren’t standing up for ourselves, so people just keep taking advantage of us and testing how many lines they can cross. We aren’t fighting for anything, and so no battles are won.

When we don’t acknowledge the bad, then we don’t challenge the bad. We become bystanders, and to quote Martin Luther King Jr., “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

The world that we came into was not perfect. And I’m not even sure that there is a way to make it perfect, but I do know that the only way to make it better is to stand up and fight for what matters. Not sit back and ignore the bad because we don’t want to see it.

End of day, all of this simply comes down to balance. We need both, the good and the bad, in order to function in this society. We need to know that the world is flawed. We need to know that pain and hurt happens every single day, and it is an uphill battle trying to stop it. But we need to know that we can stop it; maybe not today or tomorrow or a year from now, but if we keep trying, if we keep fighting, we can make a difference. We need to know that this is a world filled with love, and people who want to make a difference, even if it is also filled with people who don’t care about or even notice the harm that their actions cause. We need to notice both, because both are just as prevalent in our society.

Loving-Kindness for 2018

The new year is almost upon us. And as it approaches, I wish for good things for myself.

I wish for happiness. I wish for ease. I wish for the ability to accept when I have made a mistake, and to allow myself forgiveness when I have not lived up to my own expectations. I wish for a moment where I sit among friends, laughing and at peace, without a care in the world.

I wish for strength. I wish for the resilience to move on when I have been insulted, when I have received bad news, when I have been knocked down a peg. I wish for the ability to keep going, to keep fighting. I wish for bravery and perseverance and ambition.

I wish for love. I wish for passion. I wish for art and heartbreak and inspiration.

I hope that I can find the ability to love myself, inside and out. I hope that I can become comfortable with my silence. I hope that I can feel beautiful with my flaws. I hope that I can really, truly accept that where I am in life is where I am meant to be; rather than simply insisting to myself that it is so without any real belief.

And you, you reading this right now, please tell me: what do you wish for yourself? I have given you the starting place, the platform to jump off of; now, soar.

As the new year approaches, I contemplate those I love.

I wish for 2018 to bring fewer worries to my mother, because she deserves a break. I wish for her to continue finding her place in the world, to continue developing who she is and celebrating the truth of that.

I wish for 2018 to bring my sister all the things that she has worked so hard for; the home that she wants, the education that she strives for. I wish for her to find happiness and peace in the life that she has been building.

I wish for 2018 to bring healing to my friends who found only pain in 2017. I wish for my friends to be able to find who they are and really, truly express themselves. I wish for them to feel comfortable in their skin. I wish for them to speak up and be heard and be loved.

I wish for justice for the ignored, the ones who receive justice so rarely. I wish for more wronged women to feel comfortable saying, “me too”. I wish for more families of the murdered to stand up and shout, “black lives matter”. I wish for further battles for equality, because even if they aren’t won in 2018, they are still worth fighting.

Now, imagine those who you love, my dear reader. What do you hope for for them? What do your friends and family need most from the new year?

As the new year approaches, I contemplate those I do not think of, in one way or another.

I think of those who took time out of their day to compliment me, to tell me that they like my hair or my make-up. I think of them, and I thank them for their small attempts to brighten my day. I hope that they see beauty whenever they look in the mirror.

I think of those who paused, just a moment, to tell me a joke while I was at work, to try to make me smile. I hope that the new year gives them every reason to smile as well.

I think of them, and I hope to take their lead into the new year. I hope to be the one who gives others reason to smile when they have none. I hope to make other people feel beautiful when they don’t. I hope to make other people feel comfortable when they aren’t.

It is difficult to think of parties who we might be neutral to, dear reader. We are so quick to judge everyone as either a positive or negative influence in our lives, and we are so quick to forget the ones who we deem easy to ignore. But as we head into the new year, I implore you; who might you be neutral about? And what do you hope for for them?

As the new year approaches, I contemplate those who have wronged me.

Forgiving is difficult, and forgetting is ill-advised. If we forget, then we bear the risk of repeating our past mistakes, when those mistakes were made so that we can grow and learn, so that we can avoid ever putting ourselves into that situation again.

But for this new year, I hope that those who have wronged me will gain growth and knowledge themselves. I hope that they can find it within themselves to understand what transpired between us – not only from their limited understanding of the situation, but from my perspective as well. I hope they can come to understand that they have wronged me. I hope that they can make peace with that and learn from that, and avoid doing it to anyone else.

But I understand that my power is limited in this new year. I know that I cannot control the actions of others, and I know that I cannot make someone else see what they won’t. So as much as I hope that those who have wronged me will learn from their mistakes and avoid repeating their actions in the future, I will not count on it. In 2018, I will not be putting all my energy into fixing someone else.

Instead, I hope to put my energy into fixing me. I hope for the strength and the compassion to forgive those who have wronged me. I hope for the open-mindedness to see things from their perspective, and accept that I am not always right. I hope for the patience to be able to deal with those who are dismissive of me.

I hope for the ability to learn from my mistakes. I hope for the perceptiveness to know when I have been ill-treated, and I hope for the wisdom to know when to leave a situation that is not constructive to me.

I know that I cannot hope to avoid pain in 2018. But, knowing that, I hope that I will learn from that pain, and become better for it. I hope that I will not be weighed down by the depression and despair that is always coming.

And maybe you, dear reader, are hurting. Maybe you cannot bring yourself to say one nice thing about those who have wronged you, and if that is so, then I understand. I am not here to judge you, or insist that you should feel different; you shouldn’t. How you feel now is how you should be allowed to feel. But that being said, confront the wrong. What do you hope for from it? Are there any kind words that you can speak for anyone involved – for those who have wronged you, or for yourself? The pains of 2017 will still be there in 2018, but that doesn’t mean that 2018 can’t bring healing.

As the new year approaches, we contemplate all beings. This is a time for contemplation, after all, and nothing escapes that. We hope for happiness. We hope for peace. We hope that better times stand ahead of us, that the future is filled with so many possibilities. The important thing is, we hope. And in this time of year, we take a moment to send loving-kindness to everyone.