A friend of mine has taken up as what I can only describe as a futile and foolish pursuit. She’s trying to have one perfect day/ week/ month: She sticks to her goals with food, exercise and sleep, and apparently she will be happy and fulfilled.
Now I’m not known for my positive outlook on life. I consider myself a realist, whilst others around me (whom I consider hopeless and frankly silly optimists) suggest that I’d make a great Demotivational Speaker. That whole ‘put your mind to it and you can do whatever you desire! Dreams come true! Impossible is nothing!’ thing. Fine for t-shirt slogans to shift sports-related products. Not fine for real-life goals. Impossible is a whole lot of things. Dreams very rarely come true and despite me putting my mind to it, achieving the standing splits is going to take decades of work, if indeed it will happen at all.
On that positive note, I ask you not to stop reading but bear with me. We live in a world where the illusion of perfection is at our fingertips. In the 80s and 90s (when I was a young ‘un), I remember the outcry over the rise in airbrushing in fashion magazines. This seems laughably quaint in comparison to the imagery we can scroll through in seconds on social media.
The rationale 20 years ago used to be that supermodels were genetic freaks of nature and magazines had experts to work a hefty amount magic and sorcery on photos to make them look so darned perfect. We knew we were being sold something, and the boundaries between reality and aspirational advertising were very clear.
Today, we can access transformative imagery of people ‘just like us’ displaying their weight loss/ smoothie bowl/ bow pulling pose, all before we’ve got out of bed in the morning. But what are they selling us? They’re selling us the message that if only we worked hard enough, we could be like them. If we too got up at 5am for an hour’s yoga practise every morning, we too could actualise the full extension of advanced yoga postures. Therefore if we’re not getting up at 5am, we are lazy; we are failing and we only have ourselves to blame.
I’ve spoken before about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Academically speaking, there is much criticism of this theory, but there seems to be a very real obsession with reaching the top of the pyramid: Self-actualisation (what we can be; we must be). This obsession, manifested through social media and the belief that we have to optimise every minute and opportunity for success is not making us happy. We are doomed to fail. Just like my friend who keeps failing her ‘one perfect…’ We cannot be perfect. Probably not even for one day. It is tiring, and we are unhappy and unfulfilled.
The relentless pursuit of pleasure and perfection will only ever make unhappy. Our expectations are what motivate us but also what demotivate us if we set the bar too high and inevitably fail and then negatively ruminate on how rubbish we are. I face this challenge every time I take a yoga class. I have expectations, but I never know how my body and mind are going to react. No two classes are the same.
Mindfulness has got caught up with this self-actualisation malarkey, and there is an inevitable backlash. Mindfulness is now being interpreted as the ability to constantly transcend the complex interaction of ‘us’ within our environment, neither of which we can always control.
This is not how I see mindfulness. Mindfulness is self-awareness, understanding how we react and behave within our surroundings. This is not always a positive and enlightening experience. This may result in accepting that we feel grumpy and shit and unhappy and like a failure.
If we crave and chase fulfilment and positivity the whole time, we will never be satisfied. It is only when we learn to accept that all emotion are sensations that are in context flux, and to stop constantly chasing this myth that we can be happy and feel acceptance all the time, will we actually, paradoxically, be happy. The good and the bad are both fleeting. Both are temporary and influenced by things around us we cannot control. It is totally unrealistic and unsustainable to think that we can maintain one state of mind all the time.
So enough already with the ‘one perfect…’ Enjoy the happy moments but then also recognising you may land on your backside attempting Toe Stand; feel sick during Camel and fall face down into a “share” (pah, who are they kidding?) packet of crisps and a bottle of wine when you get home. Laugh when you land on your arse. The biliousness during Camel will pass. Crisps and wine are fine, fine inventions in human history. And you are not perfect. And that is something to celebrate.
Yogi since 2005, Alex has practised hot yoga in studios across Europe and the USA, but Hot Yoga Society is her favourite!