How many of you have ever compared yourself to the people around you? How many times have you seen your friends accomplish incredible things and then compare what you’ve done in your life to their accomplishments? How many of you have ever felt crappy about yourself because your siblings or friends make more money than you do?
Four years ago I went to Santorini, Greece for the first time, and the experience was so incredible that I made sure that the first yoga retreat I ever organized on my own would happen there. Those of you who have been there know that Santorini is one of the most magical places on earth – in fact, being there almost feels like you’ve left earth, like you’re on another planet. The geography and landscapes are absolutely surreal, and the panoramas that are found there essentially consist of a whole lot of blue dotted by the white houses hanging off the cliffs. The island made such a huge impression on me that for at least a year after I went there, I found myself comparing it to wherever else I traveled. In 2009 I went to Spain and traveled the country constantly comparing everything Spain had to offer to Santorini’s treasures, and in the process, deprived myself of truly experiencing Spain’s essence. From the food to the beaches, nothing could live up to the magnificence that I had found in Santorini. It was only while visiting my last destination in Spain, Sevilla, that I snapped out of it and realized that if I kept comparing everywhere I went to Santorini, I would be setting myself up to be disappointed. It’s obviously not surprising that Sevilla proved to be my favorite Spanish city.
I came back last week from Germany after leading a yoga retreat in Croatia, and the last city I visited before coming home was Berlin. Before I go on, let me say one thing: I never wanted to go to Germany. I never thought it had anything as a country that I’d want to see, and I, on some level or another, didn’t want to visit the country that I associated with the mass genocide of millions of people. I ended up choosing to go to Germany to once again show myself that I don’t know everything about everything, and that I couldn’t let the sins of previous generations forever stain what could potentially be a great country. I was wrong. I loved Germany. More specifically, I loved Berlin. Loved. Like, I’d pack my stuff and move there in a heartbeat, kind of love. If you haven’t been there, make sure you go.
In the center of Berlin is a tower, similar to the CN Tower in Toronto and the Space Needle in Seattle. Once I saw it, I started drawing up comparisons in my head of the 3 cities, but quickly checked myself, aware of my tendency to cheat a destination of it’s individuality by comparing it to other places, and subsequently fell in love with it.
Being witness to the experience got me thinking about how conditioned we are to categorize and compare who we meet, where we go, and what we experience to people, places and experiences already in our frame of reference. We are used to seeing images of what famous people look like and then beating the shit out of ourselves because we don’t look the same. Instead of celebrating our loved ones’ successes with abandon, we, on some level or another, compare what they’ve accomplished to what we have or have not. We never broach the subject of income with people because that would immediately bring us to a place where we’re asking ourselves why we’re not making the same amount OR feeling superior because we’re making more than others do. From our homes to our clothes, from how often we travel to how often we eat in restaurants, everything gets measured up. On some level, this constant comparing and contrasting becomes a tool for control: we identify, classify, and discriminate all the criteria until we’ve put everything into a nice, compartmentalized category so that we can forget about it and move on, confident in the knowledge that it all makes sense to us. We use it to feed our egos, and we use it to make ourselves feel better about why we don’t live the lives we once hoped we would. We live with the illusion that we have control over that which really is uncontrollable, and the truth of the matter is that we are wasting our time. We are wasting our energy. We are robbing ourselves and others of the individuality that makes us who we are, all to make ourselves feel better about ourselves.
With all this mulling over in my head while in Berlin, I wrote down something that I wanted to share with you: Stop trying to control what is uncontrollable – you live with the illusion of control as you choose what to keep to yourself and what to make visible to others, what to say and what to hold back. The truth is that we have control over very little. As soon as we let go of the illusion that allows us to believe that our actions keep everything tidy and together, we will feel that same letting go in our body’s physiology and our mental energy.
Yoga students are always looking at each other, at magazines, or at DVD’s and comparing their own practice to the one on display. It’s good to have an idea of what a posture or sequence can look like, but it’s also important to recognize that the physical aspect of yoga is secondary to one’s breathing and overall awareness. We need to stop letting ourselves be second best. Every time we hold ourselves up to a standard that was never meant to be the example, we set ourselves up to fail. We willingly accept that we are inferior, allowing ourselves to be smaller and less empowered than we should be. If you’ve ever read or seen an interview with an Olympic athlete, you’ll know that the only competition that these people have is themselves. They don’t gauge where they are performance-wise based on where their peers are – they do their absolute best and channel all their efforts into that. We need to learn from this. Stop looking at what the people around you are doing/wearing/eating/driving/accomplishing and look at what you have to offer. Do your own thing. Go your own way. You are more capable than you know. You are more talented than you know. You are more of EVERYTHING than you know. It’s time to stop doubting that and accept that by comparing and criticizing and judging, you are wasting time. We are all holding onto darkness and negativity when we should be propelled forward and onward by light. Tap into it and let it show you where you’re supposed to channel your efforts. Do your best, and that’s all anyone else can ask of you. It’s all you could ever ask of yourself.