(originally posted 11/2016)
Teddy Roosevelt is my spirit animal. Go ahead and read it again. Teddy Roosevelt is my spirit animal. I have been working a lot with comparison. What does that mean…well, for me it means digging around for quotes I can use with my students, coming up with writing prompts, and journaling-so much writing around this one!
Back to why I have a newfound love for Teddy Roosevelt: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” That sentence…that’s why. He has a ton of other excellent quotes, and they may or may not show up here at some point, but comparison and joy (and really the thievery of comparison) are themes that have been brewing lately for me.
I recently started working out again. Walking, weight training, cardio, etc. I feel great. All of this activity has helped me become a better yoga teacher because I’m recognizing even more how actions are tied to one another. I knew it; I always have. But this reminder has been wonderful. And it’s reconnected me to some activities that over the years have been joyful.
Let me tell you a little more about this, so it all makes sense. Once upon a time, I was a triathlete. (Yes I called myself that, because I completed those races without medical assistance, injury or death; I earned that right. I will not tell you it was pretty…that would be a lie.) I trained and raced, and trained some more and raced some more. I really enjoyed the training more than the race. I’m a lousy competitor. I respect those who work hard enough to win, and I really just want everyone everywhere to get along, so this lack of competitive drive shows up all the time on a racecourse. My only goal was ever to finish, but even finishing required devotion and practice. Bhakti, even before I knew what that word meant. (Funny how bhakti showed up then, and is my regular practice now.) And for me, with bhakti came joy on a whole new level.
Fast-forward a few years…
I have undergone some significant changes in all areas of my life. I became a yoga teacher. Then I became a business teacher. I left corporate work to become an entrepreneur. I got married to someone who’s genuinely happy for me to do the work I do in the world. I lost a baby. I had a surgery that required opening my abdomen, and required 5 weeks of time to recover and heal. (I like those words “recover and heal.” Those are the words from the doctor…not me. 5 weeks is what it took for me to be able to go back to work. Recovery and healing…that took a little while longer. ) I was involved in a car accident that killed my car, and set me back a bit physically, just when I thought I was getting a handle on moving again. Pepper several physical moves around our area throughout these events. Now you have the best picture I can paint.
The last few years have yielded some huge opportunities for me to examine how I feel about my physical self. All of those changes have added up and subtracted from my scars, both visible and invisible. I’ve learned some valuable lessons that I might not have otherwise.
What does all this have to do with comparison? This: it’s the most violent attack we can inflict upon ourselves. Comparison is a monster. It shows up at times when you have bigger things to accomplish, and steals your joy. When I started going back to the gym after way too long of a time, what do you think I said to myself in the mirror that day? I’d love to tell you that I looked at myself and beamed. But I can’t. What I can tell you is that that monster and I talked to myself using words I’ve never considered saying to another human. It was cruel. I said some really nice things about the woman running next to me on the treadmill, or the young girl lifting weights. The only positive about that experience is that I did have that alarm bell go off. You know the one…the one that got installed while I was on my yoga mat. I caught myself. I didn’t do it fast enough, but I caught myself. One gift of yoga is awareness. I was aware of what I was heaping on myself. I noticed my monster.
To compare is to estimate, measure or note the similarity or dissimilarity (thank you, Google.) Did I measure? Did I note the similarity or dissimilarity? Oh hell yes. Thankfully, and more importantly though, I noticed how I was feeling about all this comparison and I knew I would not allow myself to go down that road again.
Ahimsa is one of the yamas that shows up a lot for me. It’s where I practice most. (If you’re reading this and you need more info about the yamas and their place in yoga, I’d love to talk to you. Click here to reach me.) It means non-harming. The root of the word, hims, means to strike. Adding A at the beginning changes that meaning to not striking. You could also interpret it as compassion.
So how does comparison go with ahimsa. For me, they are two sides of the same coin. My first instinct that day at the gym was harmful. I looked around and compared myself to those other people. I don’t know anything about them, but I sure did assume a lot. Now, I did this at the gym. But guess where else this happens? Yes, you get a prize for answering yoga. It’s easy to look around the studio during class and see what’s happening on someone else’s mat. Before you may even recognize it, your balance is off and the monster is chatting. But does it matter? NO. You matter. Your practice. Your body. Your breath. Your soul. That’s all that matters.
And while I’m at it…let’s just drop the comparison all around. The gym and the yoga studio are easy targets. But what about business? What happens when our friend has a success? Do we sincerely congratulate them and celebrate with them? Are we genuinely pleased for them? Or do we paste on a smile, figure out an exit strategy, and get the hell out of dodge while that monster tells us all about a)how did they get/do/experience that, or b)why can I get/do/be that?
What I’ve learned is this: If I am being true to myself, who can I compare myself to? No one. Because there’s only one of me. ONE. Just one. If I am living, practicing and working from my soul, I have no competition. There’s no one I can compare to me but ME. That does mean that I have to strive to be my best self. But that’s all it means. I am my fabulous, imperfect self. And if I am, guess what? SO ARE YOU. You are just as fabulous and imperfect as me, in your own wonderful ways. Again, that’s all that matters.
I am still going to the gym and back on track. I am feeling better each day. The monster has gone quiet. My practice has changed, so hopefully it will stay that way. And if it doesn’t…well I have a plan for that too.
Remember the swear jars of our youth? How about a comparison jar for our present? Same rules, but higher stakes. I have one. It’s on my bathroom counter, where I can not avoid it. Today it’s empty. And I am grateful.
Care to join me with your comparison jar?
Peace, love, and yoga.