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Setu bhandasana. Some day!

We all look at others.

Figuratively, we look at what people are wearing, their hair, their makeup, the way they carry themselves.

Or we look to see what they’re doing — the report they prepared for work, something they wrote, something they created (art, music, etc.).

The question is, are we looking from a place of admiration, or a place of envy?

There’s a value in watching others, as a way to help you improve yourself. But you have to be aware of the dark side — watching others in order to see how you measure up. If you’re comparing yourself to others, you’re either going to feel bad about yourself because you don’t stack up, or you’ll end up with an inflated ego because you’re propping yourself up by thinking you are doing something better than others.

The more I practice yoga, the more I see both sides of this. I love to watch those who have mastered the Ashtanga yoga primary series. The human body has so much potential and is beautiful when getting into complicated poses. I just did this yesterday — I cannot get into setu bandhasana, and the teacher asked those of us who could not do it to watch those who could. I watched them, and learned. I know one day I will be able to do it, and I’m glad to be able to see what it looks like.

I’ve done something similar in my writing life. I read all the time. When I’m actively working on my own writing projects, I read books that are specific to the genre I’m working in. I read dozens of memoirs while I was writing my own, and now I’m reading  biographies and essay collections. I read these books from a place of admiration, as a model of the potential I have.

It wasn’t always this way. I was the person in the yoga class looking around and beating myself up because I couldn’t do the same pose as the person next to me. What was wrong with me? Where was my dedication? Clearly I wasn’t working hard enough and had to work harder. Or I’d see published memoirs and wish that was me. Again, it must have been something I was doing wrong — not working hard enough, lacking natural talent, etc. And I’m not saying that I still don’t slip. I will catch myself having those envious thoughts. But I hate how those thoughts make me feel, and I try to as quickly as possible reverse the direction of my thinking.

Watching from a place of admiration can help us be better at what we set out to do, whether it be yoga, writing, building houses, etc. We are all individuals with individual strengths. Admiration can be a beautiful thing — being genuinely happy for others and using that admiration in an instructional way to better yourself.