I don’t usually spend time standing naked in front of a full length mirror. But earlier this week, I found myself stepping out of a shower into the harsh fluorescent lighting of a hotel bathroom. And coming face to face with me. All of me.
One moment I was singing in the shower, the warm water gently falling over me, happily looking forward to the day with my family, and the next I was visually assaulted by the pale, middle-aged woman looking straight at me. Who the hell is that?
As I averted my eyes and reached for the towels I could feel the monkey stirring in my brain. And I decided right then to intercept him. I redirected my thoughts to something that I say to people near the end of every yoga class I teach: “Take a moment now to be grateful. For your body and your breath.” And that is exactly what I did. I looked that pale old lady right in the eyes and took a moment to be grateful.
Go on, monkey, I thought. Gimme all you got. Tell me about the cellulite. The wrinkles. The spider veins. Tell me all about the effects of time and gravity and complex carbohydrates. I don’t care what you have to say today. Today I am coming strictly from a place of gratitude. I am grateful for this body that gets me through this life. That is all. You can’t bother me today.
If I stay in this moment, this present moment of gratitude, I know I can be satisfied with things just they way they are. But if I slip out of the present moment I will lose my happiness. Because as soon as I slip out of this moment, comparison will creep in. And as Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
I can stand here and simply be grateful for this amazing machine that allows me to travel through this world, or I can allow my joy to be stolen. As soon as I compare my body to the bodies I see on all sorts of screens, mine won’t be so amazing any more. And if I start to compare this current body to the one I had twenty years ago, or ten, or even three, this one won’t be as good. I will find one flaw after another.
Sure, I can compare myself to someone whose body is much older, much more wrinkled, much less fit, but then I am silently stealing their joy. This life is not a competition. The one who dies with the best thighs doesn’t win a single thing.
I recently read the book Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr. It is about, among other things, competitive yoga. From the beginning I thought that I would be aggravated by the book. In my mind, “competitive yoga” is an oxymoron. The mat is not a place for ego or competition. The mat is a place where I can be present in the moment and let go of all judgment because judgment causes suffering.
Competition requires comparison, and comparison is always followed by judgment.
My mat is no place for comparison. I can be on the mat in a pose, connected to my breath, feeling absolutely amazing. Then I look up and catch a glimpse of that gorgeous thin ex-dancer. Her pose is all twisty and bendy and beautiful. And all of a sudden I no longer feel amazing. I feel awkward, extra-curvy and lumpy. Joy stolen.
So, I can look around the room and find someone else. Someone less flexible than I am. Someone who looks like they are struggling. I can compare myself to them so that I can feel better about my pose. And I can steal their joy.
I don’t want to steal anyone’s joy.
I teach yoga to all sorts of people; kindergarteners who have no idea what personal space is, seniors who have never been on a mat before in their lives and have a hard time balancing, yoga teachers who can bust out handstands anytime anyplace. I never judge their practices as good or bad, but I always hope they can find some joy on their mats.
I am just happy that they come to class. I am just happy that I have the chance to share something I love with them. And it is this pale, lumpy, middle-aged body that allows me to share my joy.
And that is beyond compare.