Many years ago a best friend gave me a small journal as a gift. I decided to use it as a quote journal, and I wrote within its pages the many small words and longer passages that felt inspiring along the pathways my life has taken. I still write in it when something strikes me – although I must admit its pages are dwindling and I’m writing smaller and smaller to cram things into its margins. I’m not sure what I’ll do once it’s full! Written upon one of first several pages is a small and simple quote from Anais Nin: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
I’ve looked upon those words so many times, but recently they have been ringing ever more true for me. I’m in the midst of a yearlong mentoring process as a part of my training through the lineage of Forrest Yoga. This mentorship program has been a course of study under a Forrest Yoga Guardian named Sandra Robinson – owner of Equilibrium Yoga Studio in Peterborough, England. She was absolutely the best choice for me: encouraging, wise, kind and insightful in all the ways I needed at this point in my journey. Through the weekends of work with her guidance and in a small group of other mentees, I realized that my life has made me see the world around me and within me in quite a critical way. As a result of this practiced critical world view, I don’t see things as they really are, I see them as I can criticize them or pick them apart for being imperfect.
From a young age I was a figure skater. I’ve written about my skating before and what a huge part of my life it was up until about age 16. It was a marvelous and challenging sport to grow up in. It cultivated in me great physical and mental discipline, strength, focus and perseverance. It also planted the seeds of perfectionism, ruthless pursuit of achievement, isolationism and severe physical injury. I can distinctly remember so many of the private coaching sessions being a list of every single thing I did incorrectly and directions to repeat movements over and over again until they were “perfect.” One coach in particular chose one element each session and I just repeated it over and over again for a whole hour – each repetition a new error was found. There was never a time I did the movement well enough – there was always something wrong with it. There was little praise – even as a young child. I learned to pick apart every edge, every glance and every turn, searching for any minute problem that would lose me points or bring the criticism of my coaches upon me. Competitive programs were recorded, dissected and then compared to fellow students. I felt pitted against the other students my coaches worked with, and they against me – we were all pitted against all the other skaters. This was supposed to foster some sort of healthy advancement, but really it just made all of us see the world as broken, imperfect, hostile in some way and with success and achievement always just beyond our reach because someone always skated better or because something always needed more work. Even when I won first place, a competition would end with details on what needed to be improved for next time.
I remember watching a random figure skating competition on television many years after I left skating myself. I was sitting with my partner and as each performer took to the ice my partner would say things like, “Wow! How graceful!” “That was an amazing jump” “Look at how fast she is spinning!” To these comments I would reply, “Her coaches told her to smile there. It’s not real” “She actually cheated the rotation of that jump and won’t get credit for it” “That spin traveled” (‘traveled’ is figure skater speak for a spin that doesn’t balance well on the blade). He noted long before I really understood it how totally and completely crazy it is that I could not appreciate the beauty in any of their movements – I could only see what they had done “incorrectly” or “not well enough.”
So we don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are. And I have for a very long time seen the world through the eyes of that child who could never do any movement “right” and who had to remain hyper-vigilant about where the next criticism was coming from. I’ve built years into a habit of being hyper-critical of myself and those around me. I’ve held myself to standards that are unreachable and downright unhealthy both in my careers and in my personal life. All of this because my early world view was one of extraordinary criticism, rigidity and perfectionism.
I like to say nowadays that I’m a recovering perfectionist. I’m learning how to soften my inner critic (and some days just plain steal her megaphone and shut her up). I’ve spent a long time coming to an understanding of why I saw the world as such a harsh place where good things couldn’t happen. Working with Sandra peeled back another layer for me – a layer of forgiveness. I couldn’t know how to see the world any other way, and allowing myself to acknowledge I’ve done the best I could with what I was given has brought a playful lightness to my continued exploration out of the old way I saw things. Our teacher, Ana Forrest, has a funny and very true saying, “We don’t evolve by punishment. If we did, we’d all be fucking enlightened.” If I punish myself for the way I’ve seen the world, for being “stupid enough” to follow my coaches, I get stuck back in that perfectionist-“I’m not enough”-nothing ever works out mentality. When I offer up to myself a forgiveness and really deep compassion for where I am now and what I have been through, change happens so much more effortlessly! I become a person who is enough just as I am. Now I can see the world as an inviting place, mistakes as realms of growth and discovery, and the beautiful things happening in and around me.
This journey into my own different world views also helps me to understand those around me with so much more compassion. A person may be seeing the world around them through a really tough pair of glasses. I feel more understanding of that now than ever before. When you read these words, what do you feel about the way you see the world? And is that the pair of glasses you want to see everything through? What if you decided it was time to try on a new pair? I leave you with some final words from Sandra that I’ve been silently repeating inside my head with every person I meet and that has been imbibing the way I see things these days, “We don’t love you for being perfect; we love you for being you!”