Authentic Self, Yoga, and Autophobia
a fear of being alone or of one's self.
Recently I faced one of my biggest fears -- being alone. I am probably not a true autophobic, but I struggle with being one-on-one with myself. I can’t fall asleep on nights when my husband is home late. I fear the day I wake up in the morning and my house is clean and quiet because my kids have all left the nest. Looking back now to my teenage years, I realize I clung to boyfriend after boyfriend because it felt safe. I don’t like being alone...maybe that's why I keep having kids? ;)
As many of you know, we recently found out we were pregnant with our third girl! I was equal parts elated and terrified when we found out. It was a (happy) surprise after all. Shortly after the surprise, I made it a point to plan some "me time" before the baby comes. Having lived through 2 babies in the last 5 years, I know my freedom with be put on a temporary hold for some time. Thus, a couple of weeks ago I splurged in a solo trip to California and filled it mostly with hiking, yoga, eating, and sleeping... TOTALLY ALONE. And it felt A-MAZ-ING. I was alone, but not lonely.
I started to think back to the times in my life when I felt most lonely, and surprisingly, during these times I was usually surround by other people. You know those moments, right? The moments when you feel like you don't fit in? Or somehow you just don't feel truly connected to those around you? I think back to these moments -- to college when everyone seemed to instantly bond while partying and braving dorm life, while I sat quietly by hoping to blend in. Or just out of school when I was dating a man who was unkind and chauvinistic, but I held tight to the idea of a relationship for fear of being lonesome. Or even in my very first yoga teacher training class, when everyone in the group seemed to be cooler, hipper, and happier than me. I felt as if I was outside looking in.
What do these lonely moments have in common? I think I was afraid of being my authentic self. I realize now that fear and insecurity kept me from being me in situations that were outside of my comfort zone. And if I was not able to be me, how was I going to connect with anyone else in a meaningful and healthy way?
It took me years to find the authentic ME. And it was my yoga practice that led me to my authentic self. How's that, you ask?
Yoga teaches us to be kind and accepting to all living things. This includes the self! As humans we are far from perfect, yet many of us often expect perfection. When we fail, it leaves us feeling completely defeated. Can we start to let go of the notion that things need to be perfect? Can we avoid this frustrating cycle? Come on! Life is not perfect! In time, we can learn to love and accept ourselves as one package deal -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Forgiveness starts to come sooner, and we experience less hiding from the world for fear of imperfection. Next time you take a yoga class try this -- avoid fixing your hair and your clothes when you stand in tadasna all sweaty and disheveled. Don't waste your energy. Just stand there being you... beautiful, messy you.
Keeping thoughts in check
Awareness of our internal world is a big part of our yoga practice. We need to bring awareness to our inner dialogue in order to let the chatter of the mind settle. If we pay attention to the conversations we have internally, we realize how critical and unkind we can be towards ourselves. And most of those critical thoughts are not even based in reality! Those harsh (and often false) thoughts can really hold us back. If we practice identifying the negative self talk, and replace those conversations with a deep sense of compassion, we can start to form new (and more enjoyable) pathways of thinking. I often say in my yoga and boot camp classes "No negative self talk is allowed!" Next time you notice your thoughts getting the better of you, ask yourself -- "Is what I am thinking true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" Practice what the Buddhists call Right Speech, even if it's just inside your own head.
So hum (I am that)
The use of the mantra So Hum (meaning "I am that") can help one cultivate feelings of connection and oneness. We are all part of a whole (the universe or the Divine or LOVE... whatever you want to call it), or at least that is what I am coming to believe. It is comforting to know that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. If we live that as a truth, then no matter who you are with or where you are you are, you always feel as if you belong. You are never really alone. Use so hum in a quiet seated meditation, or repeat it aloud or silently while walking. I used it often on my solo hikes in California and it left me feeling a deep sense of connection to nature, to the strangers I passed along the way, and to ME.