There’s a cruel character, a voice in the dark, stalking around the edges, waiting for the misstep. Call this the inner critic or the drill sergeant or simply the relentless inner dialogue assessing each move.
Over the past year, I participated in a women’s practice group called WHIP (women’s house of integral practice.) We gathered for retreat and practiced across countries in our living rooms with the help of the interweb. Daily meditation. Three yoga classes per week, gathering for cloud calls to work intimately on our relationship to our dharmic expression, the deepening of practice and our unfolding and awakening love relationships with others and our bodies. Magic and transformation abound.
But of course we were failures.
Between the live practice sessions, the groups, the retreats and the online forum it was a bounty of support and practice. Who could possibly do it all? Who could possibly show up for it all? It was not intended that each of us suck the marrow from each moment. By the time we rounded our last retreat, many of the women in there had her own version of how her participation was inadequate. Or she was at least falling short somewhere in life.
I’d gotten a ton from those months of practice. I’d given a lot too. But my giving wasn’t enough. I knew it wasn’t enough. With every meditation I slept through, every yoga class I skipped or cut short, my self-judgement grew. Each failure to show up in the way my mind imagined possible was a mark against my contribution. The calls I was facilitating didn’t feel of value because I wasn’t doing enough everywhere else. I started to withdraw. By our last retreat I felt the shame of inadequacy and regret.
It was both fascinating and also a relief to know that I wasn’t alone in all of this. Of course I know this through my work. People let me into their inner worlds and I hear about the anguish of their failings, their longing for something else, for something more, to be better, to be different. I know this as a sweet and excruciating part of our human suffering. But knowing that others are in it, doesn’t seem to make it go away.
Our teacher, not one to leave the arising experience hidden in the background, gathered us in small circles and we explored what felt to me to be the very root of this suffering. We answered the questions “What suffering in the world do we feel that our care can’t solve?”
And so we went, woman by woman, one simple sentence at at time. Starving and suffering children. Domestic violence. Sexual violence. Greed and scarcity. War. Destruction of our food systems. Exploited people. Abused animals. And on and on and on.
And then closer in…the sick and suffering around us. Our family in pain. Our community in need. The challenges of our friends. The aches of our children. And then we confessed, when was the last time we felt self-loathing? three weeks ago. four days ago. last night. right this moment.
I’ve often felt overwhelmed by just how much suffering there is, by how much change is needed. And, as I’ve shared, I’ve pushed and judged myself around my ‘enoughness’. I’ve explored, quite deeply, within myself and with others ‘how would we know if we were actually enough? What is this perfection that we judge ourselves against?’ And here was my answer, here’s what I’ve felt I’ve been trying to solve the whole time, here’s where my own surges of self-loathing arise, when my care is not enough to take away the pain.
And so we distract or turn away or we perfect and strive. But this care, this ache to be better, if we stopped objectifying ourselves, our bodies, our accomplishments, our enoughness, if we could turn this genius of the feminine from the inside outward, behold something greater, we could allow our care to simply start by holding it, not solving it. Perhaps we could at least feel our solidarity, know that we’re here to come together and heal what’s been happening. When we do that, maybe, just maybe, we can escape the clutches of perfectionism and just do our work- with ourselves, each other and the world- in the way we’re able, from where we’re at. Imperfect. Complete. And with care.