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When we let go of the desire for self–improvement, we can relax with the mind instead of badgering it into well–being. By surrendering the battle with neurotic fixations, paradoxically they start to fall away, or at very least, the space created by dropping the struggle makes them seem less powerful, and loom less large.” Ed Halliwell

Have you ever noticed how many things we do with a subconscious motivation for self improvement?

Workout, drink bitter green juices, cleanse, hike forcefully up the mountain, fitness yoga, etc…..We may think these activities are nourishing but we do them with a subtle goal in mind. Even aggressiveness. Hell I even meditate too hard sometimes. Oy.

When did we lose the softness of allowing and enjoying and become betterment machines? When did we confuse self-improvement for self-care?

I work with this conundrum daily.

There are subtle ways I am aggressive towards myself, under the guise of self-care. It’s a slippery slope. I think I am acting in service of myself, but I’m not. And how do I know? I don’t feel better, or nourished, or satisfied, or delicious. I feel frantic and harried and exhausted. Yuck. Not what I was going for.

There is a subtle way I “should” on myself. I should not eat this. I should study dharma. I should stretch. And all these things are good things! They are things I truly enjoy and that benefit me. And yet – when done with the motivation of self-improvement, they feel like punishment. If I exercise more, I will love myself. If I restrict sugar in my diet, then I will accept myself. If I am a good dharma student, I will be worthy of praise. The list is infinite. What’s lacking is tuning into my body’s wisdom, my heart’s desire, my intuition. 

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What if I don’t want to exercise in this moment? What if I want to lay on my living room floor and let my mind drift? What if I want to eat the freaking chocolate bar because my body is craving it’s special, dark creamy medicine? Than what? Am I not worthy of love? Of acceptance? Pardon me, but BULLSHIT! It’s such an old pattern, such an outdated idea. What I’ve learned is that when I act on the “shoulds,” I feel drained and disconnected from myself. When I lean into the intuition, I feel present with myself, peaceful, dare I say NOURISHED! Why? Because I listened deeply to my needs. And then I met my needs.

And THAT, my friends, is self-love. That is self-acceptance. And that, oh yes, is self-care.

It’s not easy to undo these habits. I bring conscious awareness to this pattern every single day. And I still make choices that don’t serve me. And then I learn. And then I make another wrong choice, and I learn. It is a daily path, whose fruition I feel every time I slow down enough to listen. What does it take to stop the madness? Awareness. Where did I learn this? The dance floor.

I have caught myself dancing too hard hoping to burn some extra calories. I have caught myself moving in certain ways to impress others who may be watching. I have hurt my body by moving in ways it doesn’t want to, simply by spacing out.

BUT!

When I am present to the physical sensations in my body and let them speak louder than my thoughts – then my dance is nourishing, satiating, completely delicious. I feel cared for. I feel empowered. I feel sweet towards myself, like I have given myself a gift. A gift called listening. A gift called non-aggression. A gift called me. In this act, we find freedom. We break the chains of the endless self-improvement project, and open the door to the ultimate freedom- being, and loving, who we are.

Invitation: Next time you are oil-pulling, running, cleansing, or even doing yoga- ask yourself, “Is this what my body and heart really want? And am I acting with love? Or is this a front row seat on the self-improvement train?”  What could you do that would be an act of actual love for yourself? What could you do in this moment, that would leave you feeling nourished by your own self-care? There is no- “I will love myself in the future because I did this.” There is only NOW.

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Photo Credit: Mike Ricca

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