Drop the Defence
When I wrote the Blog This Year I Nearly Quit Teaching Yoga I was unsure of how I would move forward as a yoga teacher and how I would use the tool of social media in my work. For me I have found a comfortable place and a path that feels appropriate, with the understanding that there is no singular way in which yoga SHOULD be represented, and that each practitioner needs to answer this question for themselves. As I found a path that worked for me, bridging what I believe to be authentic teaching and practice with social media use, I began to notice that many in the yoga world still seek to explain and justify their portrayal of yoga online.
Reading these justifications regarding why it is okay to teach a certain thing, or portray yoga in a certain way I feel a hesitancy to fully get on board with the message being shared. The justification to the often anonymous consumer/student feels misplaced and belies a certain incongruency, or lack of surety about the path that is being taken. For me defensiveness is something that begins to transform and drop away the more we practice. When we notice ourselves getting defensive, or pre maturely justifying our choices without having even been questioned regarding those choices, we might ask ourselves what is going on? Why are we so defensive?
This blog is not a revisit of the social media and yoga debate – but the subtle defensiveness I have noticed reminds me of the way I, and others, unwittingly find ourselves defending our choices, words or beliefs. For me, when I began to consider what I thought is a responsible way to use social media, I noted that I had general reluctance to put myself out there as I didn’t think it was ‘yogic’ and essentially I was concerned that if I put myself out there, some people just wouldn’t be into what I am sharing.
Fast forward a few years and I feel that much has changed. I am not sure if it is hitting my forties, a result of practice, or just life experience – but these days I feel that I have less need to be ‘liked’ and thus less need to defend my choices or actions when it comes to my teaching or other aspects of my life. That said, at times if I am tired, or stressed, or busy I still feel the familiar pull towards justifying my actions, whether it is to my husband, kids or students. I think this is a pull many of us feel, and especially I have noticed it is a shared experience for many women … so much so that we may not even realise we are getting defensive!
Regardless of the why and how, this defensiveness and associated justifications get in the way of us being real, true and present.
When we find ourselves speaking or behaving in a way which is defensive, my experience is that there has been emotional triggers leading up to us defending ourselves from a perceived attack.
For many of us we are raised and encouraged to seek the approval of others. The opinions of others become central to our self-worth and internal narrative about our self. When we find ourselves making decisions that perhaps not everyone around us will like, or agree with, we can find ourselves entering into explanations as to why we have made these choices. Often our defensiveness is directly related to being perceived as less than, or wanting to avoid being judged. The emotional moves and counter moves we find ourselves making to keep others happy and maintain the image we wish others to have of us can be exhausting. I wrote about this pattern in my Blog ‘Setting Yourself on Fire to Keep Others Warm‘.
Now, having spent years since that blog reflecting on the way in which I ‘set myself on fire to keep others warm’ in so many areas of my life, I am somewhat surprised to find myself often in a space in which I don’t feel the same pull to justify my choices. And while this will always be a work in progress, to some extent I feel it has happened as I am now more comfortable and accepting of myself. I feel like I know myself a little better and I am and fully aware that I am ‘flawed’ and that those so-called flaws, are actually, as Leonard Cohen beautifully said cracks through which the light gets in.
In simple terms, I have been on a journey of truly becoming friends with myself.
Being defensive, whether about our yoga teaching, our parenting choices, the type of yoga practices we engage in, or our choices at work belies one pretty stand out truth – that we do not TRUST ourselves compeletely and are shying away from being all in with who we are, and how we find ourselves in the moment. Defensiveness is the opposite of standing in our own truth and owning it.
I think “getting all in” with who we are and owning it, means with arms and heart wide open we give ourselves a psychic bear hug. We smile softly to ourselves and acknowledge that we will be okay and that we are trying our best.
To not get defensive means to be ok with who we are, and the choices we are making. We get so comfortable with that, that we don’t need to pre-emptively justify our actions or decisions to others.
To me the antidote to the plague of defensiveness we experience in our lives is being real, honest and vulnerable. It is being open to the fact that someone else might not like what we do or the choices we make and being okay with that. Our role on earth is not to make everyone happy – that is not our job. Sometimes, for reasons that have nothing to do with us, people will not agree with or like our choices. With maturity, we begin to accept that, and over time even somewhat embrace it and we let go of making decisions based on needing to be liked, appreciated or loved.
My suggestions is figure out who matters to you. Whose opinion you really do want to know. Identify those people and go to them when you are making big decisions or unpacking a personal process or story. If they are practiced at being vulnerable and true, without needing to always justify their actions from perceived criticism you will be able to get enlightening feedback. These are the people who love you, who embrace you wholeheartedly.
The opinions of others, especially those not on that list can be deemed as irrelevant. It’s just background noise that you can choose to listen to, or tune out to.
It is essential to remember on this journey that we get defensive when we begin to feel a little vulnerable. But covering up that vulnerability with defensiveness gets in the way of truly connecting. If we are unable to show to person how we truly feel, we create distance in our relationships. Yet, sometimes it is not so easy to be vulnerable, because to be clear on how we are feeling, we need to have spent time getting to know ourselves, observing our patterns, and making friends with ourselves. Otherwise defensiveness becomes second nature and we don’t even fathom that perhaps a reluctance to be open and vulnerable was what spurned our justifications …
For me, as I journey into my forties I begin to see the deeper layers of defensiveness, or self-judgement that can easily trick my mind into beginning an internal and occasionally an external indulgence of my defensive self. But mostly, through sustained practice over time, I have begun to see the small moments, the ones in which I might remain true to myself and my choices, and trust deeply who I am where I am at, and how things will be and allow myself to stand in this truth.
It is not always an easy choice, but these days, through practice, I am glad to have this choice available to me. Regularly, I see people in a world of emotional hurt, not paying attention to all the small ways in which they are unwilling to embrace who they are. If only they could see that it is ok to be real, to be vulnerable and to own where they are at. It is that wholehearted acceptance and faith that we will be okay, that allows us to move forth in the world with equal parts ferocity, and fearlessness that comes from true vulnerability.
It is a work in progress for all of us, and it requires a deep sense of honesty. But once we begin to see our patterns we can start to make different choices. The result is like the clouds moving away from covering the sun to reveal a radiance and warmth that allows us to take off another couple of layers that we were hiding ourselves behind.
And then one day the time might come, in the words of Derek Walcott where,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
(image credit: unknown)
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