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When I was in second or third grade, I happily played “Little House on the Prairie” at recess every single day. I absolutely loved to escape into the story of Ma and Pa, Laura, Mary and Carrie Ingalls. One afternoon the girl who played Mary to my freckle-faced Laura didn’t show up. I saw her across the playground on the kickball field and ran to get her. As I approached, she rolled her eyes and said (loud enough for all the kickball kids to hear), “I’m not playing that stupid baby game with you. Grow up.”
In an instant, I was crushed. My friend had been mean. Worse, I was suddenly “out” and other kids were “in.” I hadn’t known such a thing was possible and my innocent perception of the world around me shifted dramatically. Out of the blue, I felt vulnerable for being me. (Not to mention, our beloved recess game was forever ruined. I’m pretty sure we never played again.)
Looking back at the little girl I once was, I’m sad for her. Not because my friend was mean. And not because I found myself at the bottom of a social totem pole I didn’t even know existed. That’s just life, right? An important, albeit painful, part of growing up.
I’m sad for that little girl because she would spend years trying to avoid this ever happening again. She was super nice, super helpful and super agreeable. She tried to be so nice, in fact, that no one would ever dream of being mean to her or shunning her again.
The good news is that the little girl was a pretty nice person to begin with. (If I do say so myself.) But still, sometimes she didn’t feel super friendly or super helpful or super agreeable. Sometimes she disagreed strongly. Sometimes she was grouchy. Sometimes she didn’t like what a friend was doing. Sometimes she had her own ideas of what would be fun or what was right or what was wrong. And, for a very long time, because she was afraid of being vulnerable, she kept those feelings and ideas to herself. Which really means that she kept herself hidden away.
I expect we all have a story like this. Moments like this are, unfortunately, an essential part of growing up into a strong, confident YOU. How long it takes us to do this growing up, however, varies wildly depending on temperament, sensitivity, natural confidence and so on.
As I still can be when I feel vulnerable, I was a little slow to stretch into this lesson. This is to say that I spent many years prioritizing being the person I thought others wanted me to be over the person I really was – not to mention the best person I could be. I spent many years worried about not being deemed OK or not being accepted, rather than deeming myself perfectly OK as I was.
Thank goodness I found yoga. This practice meets you exactly where you are and showers you with its gifts. Yoga doesn’t care if you’re strong or weak – it will make you stronger (and not just physically). Yoga doesn’t care if you’re flexible or stiff as a board – it will make you more flexible (and not just in your body). Yoga simply asks you to show up – as you are – and practice.
If you show up as you are not, things do not go well. If I had tried to pretend that I was stronger than I was when I first started practicing, I would have found myself flat on my face many times. If I had pretended to be more flexible than I really was, I would have gotten hurt. In fact, practicing yoga left me no choice but to modify the postures and movements so they were suitable for me until I was strong enough and flexible enough to do more.
Excitingly, becoming stronger and more flexible happened each day — and each day I was thrilled to find I could do more. This meant that I began to love showing up day after day as I was. While it was exciting to witness change, growth and development, this wasn’t the real gift. The real gift that the practice gave me was becoming profoundly comfortable showing up day after day on my mat as authentically me. As always, yoga’s lessons worked their way into the rest of my life almost effortlessly. In other words, yoga has made it easy and exciting for me to be me most of the time.
It turns out that I still don’t like to be deemed unworthy. (I suspect you don’t either.) It stinks when someone doesn’t like you. It hurts when your faults are pointed out. Despite knowing that not everyone is going to like us, despite being all too aware that none of us is perfect and despite (sadly) knowing that we will all encounter a mean girl or boy every once in a while, we still sometimes pour a surprising amount of energy into being good or nice or accepted. Which is – tragically – energy we divert from being ourselves.
As much as I don’t like to be judged or to be disliked, however, I really don’t like it when I’m not being myself. It simply feels wrong. All the practice I’ve had being me on my mat has given me the strength to find a way to be myself in most any situation. And, when I fall back into childish ways and “hide” behind a mask of goodness or niceness, the lessons I’ve learned about being true to myself give me the awareness and flexibility to take a deep breath and try again.
I hope you will take a deep breath and try again, too. The world is a better place when you and I both remember that we are perfectly OK right now.