Given much of the world is experiencing lockdown – a sort of enforced retreat – we need to learn how to be with ourselves, and ideally how to enjoy being with ourselves too. Sounds simple, but for me it certainly wasn’t easy.
I’ve had a head start, though, having started Yoga in 2006 and also doing regular sitting meditation since 2015. The essence of these inward-looking practices is to spend time with ourselves and ultimately to make up and become friends with ourselves again. Once this work is done, so many new avenues open up and life feels full of potential and new energy. Before we go into that, let’s look at why it is so difficult to spend time with ourselves.
One of the major problems we have is the constant messaging of advertisers, educators and society inciting an individualistic competitive consumer outlook on life.
As we grow up, in formal schooling especially, we are incentivised to work hard basically so we can gain a competitive advantage so we are ready for living in a competitive world. The whole basis of the grading system is to score us – so we can be compared with others and see who is better at different tasks and skills. There are 2 fundamental problems with this.
Firstly, the greatest asset the human race has is not our ability to compete, but our ability to co-operate. Humans did not come to their place of dominance in the planet because they could compete as individuals against lions, or sabre-toothed tigers, but rather because we could co-operate and work in teams. Our education system needs to give far greater emphasis to develop our ability to co-operate and work together, rather than prepare us to compete as individuals.
The second problem, is that if we are only incentivised to work so that we are better than others, we will never be satisfied. There will always be someone better than us. But we are taught to keep striving on, striving on, holding on to the belief that if we could just be that bit better than those around us, and we keep climbing, we will finally find happiness at the top. For the rare individuals who manage to make their way right to the top of their given career path, such as Olympic Champions, Hollywood stars, Presidents, Prime Ministers, CEO’s etc., they know all too well that being at the top doesn’t in itself guarantee happiness. When they get to the top, there might be some temporary self-congratulation, and more people envying their position, but fundamentally, they will still be the same person with the same problems and they will still have to live with themselves.
The main difference is that they now know what it’s like to be at the top, and that there is no magical land there, where all their problems disappear.
Even if they are deeply satisfied with what they find at the top, then they will soon have to experience giving way to someone else who becomes faster, brighter, stronger, better looking etc.
So the individual competitive path is doomed to failure – ultimately we will always lose. In a co-operative path, working together, instead of against others, something different happens. When our happiness no longer depends on being better than others, we always win – because we’re not competing. We can be happy, rather than jealous when we see others’ achievements, because in a sense they become our achievements too. When we are with other people, not against them, we always win.
So how do you get a sense of being with others, when we are so used to competing all the time? I personally found Yoga, Meditation and Capoeira all guided me on this route, but you don’t need to do any of these. Anything that gives you a sense of connection to something bigger than just you, helps – it could be looking at the moon, the blue sky, the sea, or a smiling baby. It could be hugging a friend, a tree or even hugging yourself.
When we were in the womb, we were literally connected to the entire Universe around us – and these practices are designed to regain this ‘unborn’ perspective of connection with our World around us. In theory it sounds quite simple, but it’s not always so easy to put into practice.
One of the things that doesn’t help us is the strong pull of advertising in our consumer-heavy society. The main message behind almost all of the thousands of pieces of advertising which the average person sees each day is: your life could be better if you had what we’re selling. In other words, your life is not as good as it could be, or something’s wrong with your life. So if we are continually bombarded by this subliminal message, it’s no wonder that so many of us find it deeply uncomfortable to spend time with ourselves, or to look within to find the answer to our own happiness.
Once you realise that this is what advertising is doing to you, you can start to take back control of your own happiness by looking within. Engaging in the meditative arts isn’t all bliss, and living happily ever after, unfortunately. Part of this inward-looking process will uncover parts of your life that you don’t actually like, or which make you deeply uncomfortable. However, when we recognise these aspects of our being, as opposed to denying their existence, we can do something about them. We can either develop different habits, or we can accept them and change our relationship with them. There is a saying that the lotus flower blooms in the mud – so it is actually within these more difficult areas that we can find our liberation.
If we stick at these simple practices for long enough, we will come to realise that there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with us at all – contrary to what the advertisers would have us believe. Then we can truly befriend ourselves again. Particularly Yoga & Meditation have helped me walk this path. I get up on purpose before my family so I can have some time to practice alone. It’s not always easy, but when I do it, the rest of my day can flow so much better. During my practice, I often feel deeply satisfied, and when I don’t, then I know that there is a teaching somewhere within the difficulty, and I do not feel disheartened. The journey continues. Once I have given myself this early morning practice time, there’s much more of me to give to others in the rest of my day too.
This has helped me so much in my life, and is one of the main reasons I feel motivated to share these practices with others, and to be hopeful that despite all of the suffering during the Covid crisis, we can also take some positive steps forward, if we just give ourselves the chance. There is a huge opportunity for a shift in global consciousness for the better during lockdown. To help encourage this, I’m offering free/donation-based practice sessions online. Check www.soulmovement.org.uk/classes_1 for all the details - including how to connect and practice with us during this difficult period. Good luck, give yourself time, and go gently!